Battle of Préveza Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

At Préveza, an Ottoman fleet led by Admiral Barbarossa won a nominal victory over a fleet of the Holy League. While the battle was largely inconclusive, it served to convince Venice that the Ottoman navy was too formidable to be easily defeated, and the republic ceded control of the Mediterranean to the Turks the following year.

Summary of Event

In 1533, Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificent made the Barbary corsair Barbarossa admiral of his fleet. The already significant naval resources of the Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire;western expansion were placed at Barbarossa’s disposal. In return, he added his own pirate Privateers;Barbary fleet to that of the Turkish navy, cobbled the combined ships and crews into a single, well-disciplined force, and used Turkish wealth to build larger and more heavily armed warships. Barbarossa spent the next five years waging a war of Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1534, he captured Tunis. In 1537, he pillaged Italy’s coast and conducted an unsuccessful siege of Corfu. Over the next year, he added Patmos, Aegina, Ios, Paros, and Skyros to the Ottoman Empire. All five islands had belonged to the Republic of Venice Venice, Republic of . Préveza, Battle of (1538) Barbarossa Charles V (1500-1558) Doria, Andrea Gritti, Andrea Paul III Süleyman the Magnificent Barbarossa Gritti, Andrea Paul III Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) Doria, Andrea

Venice, led by Doge Andrea Gritti, was at the time a member of the Holy League Holy League , an alliance that also included Pope Paul III and the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V (Spain’s Charles I). The league, whose fleet was commanded by Genoa’s Andrea Doria, had been responsible for breaking the Siege of Corfu and had retaken Tunis from the Turks in 1535. Süleyman’s forces, however, continued to gain territory and influence in the region. Moreover, despite Charles V’s trust in Andrea Doria, many members of his fleet remembered that he had fought on the side of the French against the emperor before switching sides in 1528. The disunity of the allies against them served only to strengthen the Ottomans’ position, and the Ottoman navy was clearly in the process of becoming the dominant power in the Mediterranean at the time of the Battle of Préveza in late September of 1538.

The league had spent the previous four months assembling a fleet large enough to challenge Barbarossa’s corsair navy. Gathered at Corfu, their fleet consisted of 246 craft armed with twenty-five hundred guns and with close to sixty thousand men on board—twenty thousand Germans and the rest Italians and Spaniards. The force included 55 Venetian galleys, 27 papal craft, and 49 of Doria’s Genoese vessels. The rest were Spanish warships dispatched by Charles V. Barbarossa had only 150 galleys under his command, and his ships were for the most part less heavily armed than those of the Holy League. They were, however, lighter and more maneuverable as a result.

The Holy League’s members were not in agreement over the best strategy to use at Préveza. The Venetians mistrusted the tactics of their longtime Genoese rival, Andrea Doria, so several alternative battle plans were considered. The league planned to attack the Ottoman fleet in the Gulf of Arta, a large inlet on the west coast of Greece with an extremely narrow entrance. The Ottomans had a fortress on the northern shore of the entrance. The initial battle plans called for infantry troops under papal commander Marco Grimani to land and establish an artillery position overlooking the entrance to the gulf. They could either capture the Ottoman fortress at Préveza on the north shore or simply create a makeshift temporary fort at Actium on the south shore. The league also considered sinking a ship at the entrance to the Gulf of Arta, trapping the Ottoman fleet within. When the time for action arrived, however, Doria, anxious to avoid serious losses and as mistrustful of his allies as they were of him, refused to implement any plan.

Pope Paul III had striven to unite Christianity against the Ottomans, a goal to which Andrea Gritti and Charles V also subscribed, but the Holy Roman emperor had participated reluctantly and belatedly in the war in the eastern Mediterranean. One reason for Charles’s reluctance was that the pope had remained neutral in Charles’s own long-standing feud with another Catholic monarch, France’s King Francis I. Furthermore, Charles had little interest in who controlled the eastern Mediterranean, and he was at any rate uncertain about how serious a blow could be dealt to the Ottoman navy under the skillful command of Barbarossa. Charles had sent an emissary to Barbarossa to try to lure him into changing sides. However, the respective terms of agreement—relinquishing of territory by Charles or sabotaging of Ottoman vessels by Barbarossa—proved to be mutually unacceptable, assuming that the negotiations had been at all serious rather than a simple delaying tactic. Whatever the case, on September 20, the negotiations ended and the Holy League’s navy prepared to attack the Ottoman fleet in the Gulf of Arta.

The league reached the entrance to the gulf on September 27. Because most of Barbarossa’s 150 men-of-war were significantly lighter than the Holy League’s castle-like galleons, however, Admiral Doria was leery of trying to negotiate the sand bar at the mouth of the Gulf of Arta. The heavier craft would be sitting ducks: caught in a narrow inlet, unable to maneuver with the sandbar limiting their movements, and incapable of returning fire with their side cannons so long as they were pointed forward. Moreover, the Ottomans would have friendly territory behind them to fall back to if necessary. Once he understood the situation, Doria decided to withdraw. The entire fleet turned around. It anchored the next day, September 28, 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Préveza.

Assisted by similarly intrepid corsairs such as Turgut Reis (also known as Dragut Reis) and Sidi Ali Reis, Barbarossa set off in pursuit of Doria’s fleet and, on catching up, attacked the heavier league galleons head-on. When the Christian fleet attempted to maneuver into formation to repel the Ottoman attack, its ships became separated and uncoordinated, as Doria and the Venetians did little to support one another. The naval tactics followed at this encounter had become standard by then, however, so even without direct cooperation, the fleet managed to stay together.

The two fleets faced each other in line abreast, with a center and two wings, one of which would keep close to, and thus be protected by, the coastline. This tactic, which would later be followed at Lepanto in 1571, was reminiscent of tactics followed in Renaissance land battles. Doria was resolved to maintain his own ships as intact as possible and left the brunt of the fighting to the Venetians and the papal forces. As it turned out, however, little fighting took place. The toll on both sides was still light, with Doria losing only seven vessels, when a storm threatened. The Genoese admiral decided to withdraw at once and ordered the fleet to return to Corfu. Barbarossa let them go, claiming victory. Indeed, at the end of the day, Barbarossa had outsailed and outmaneuvered his old adversary, even though this was not the fight to the finish that the two older men had expected for so long. Barbarossa was handsomely rewarded for this victory by the sultan.


At the Battle of Préveza, the Christian navy failed to engage in serious combat, let alone to defeat, the much smaller and lighter Ottoman navy. Nor did it return to make another attempt to seize control of the eastern Mediterranean. As a result, the Ottomans dominated the region for the next thirty-three years. The battle demonstrated that Andrea Doria, arguably the most brilliant admiral in the Holy League, was nevertheless unable to hold together the forces of an extremely uneasy alliance long enough to defeat their common foe. The complicated political maneuvering of the various members of the alliance meant that Pope Paul III’s dream of launching a new Crusade, uniting the Catholic West against the Islamic forces of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, was doomed to failure.

In the wake of the battle, Venice, mistrustful of its allies—especially Admiral Doria—and frightened at the possibility of further, retributive Ottoman strikes against its still-extensive territory, sued for peace. The republic signed a humiliating peace treaty with the sultan in 1539 and formally abandoned the Holy League in 1540. Under the peace treaty, the Venetians relinquished Castelnuovo (now Hercegnovi, Yugoslavia) on the Adriatic Coast, a fort controlling the mouth of Cattaro Bay (the Gulf of Kotor) a few miles south. They ceded equally strategic territories in the Aegean Sea as well. Additionally, Venice agreed to pay 300,000 ducats as war indemnity. It was not until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 that Christendom retrieved the maritime dominance and prestige it had lost at Préveza.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bicheno, Hugh. Crescent and Cross: The Battle of Lepanto, 1571. London: Cassell, 2003. This work, which describes Préveza as a “scene-setter” for Lepanto, includes an excellent map showing the lay of the land at Préveza, the Gulf of Arta, and Corfu. Maps, diagrams, chronology, bibliography, appendices, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brummett, Palmira J. Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Emphasizes the Ottomans’ attention to naval power. Glossary, bibliography, illustrations, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clot, André. Suleiman the Magnificent. Translated by Matthew J. Reisz. New York: Saqi, 1992. Contains an appendix detailing problems of maritime makeup and personnel. Maps, genealogy, chronology, bibliography, appendices, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Imber, Colin. “The Navy of Suleiman the Magnificent.” Archivum Ottomanicum 6 (1980): 211-282. A highly detailed account of the technology, armaments, makeup, and personnel used by the Ottoman navy at the time of Préveza. Glossary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Merriman, Roger B. Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966. Includes a short but pointed discussion of the Battle of Préveza. Bibliographical notes, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vucinich, Wayne S. The Ottoman Empire: The Record and the Legacy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965. Sets the Battle of Préveza into diplomatic context. Bibliography, index.

1463-1479: Ottoman-Venetian War

1478-1482: Albanian-Turkish Wars End

June 28, 1519: Charles V Is Elected Holy Roman Emperor

1520-1566: Reign of Süleyman

June 28, 1522-Dec. 27, 1522: Siege and Fall of Rhodes

Feb., 1525: Battle of Pavia

Oct. 20-27, 1541: Holy Roman Empire Attacks Ottomans in Algiers

1552: Struggle for the Strait of Hormuz

May 18-Sept. 8, 1565: Siege of Malta

July, 1570-Aug., 1571: Siege of Famagusta and Fall of Cyprus

Oct. 7, 1571: Battle of Lepanto

Categories: History