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Marco Antonio Bragadin, also Marcantonio Bragadin, (Venice, 21 April 1523 - Famagusta, 17 August 1571) was a Venetian lawyer and military officer.

Bragadin joined the Fanti da Mar (marines) Corps of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. In 1569, he was appointed Captain-General of Famagusta in Cyprus and led the Venetian resistance to the Ottoman conquest that began in 1570. He was gruesomely killed in August 1571 after the Ottomans took the city, the fall of which signalled the end of Western presence in the Mediterranean island for the next three centuries.

Contents

Life

After a short stint as lawyer in 1543, Bragadin pursued a career in the navy, being entrusted with several posts on the Venetian galleys.

Once back in Venice Bragadin was pressed into the city's magistrates; in 1560 and later in 1566 he was made a galley governor, without, though, having occasion to actually assume command of a ship.

In 1569 he was elected as Captain of the Kingdom of Cyprus and moved to Famagusta, then a rich port, where he assumed civil governorship over the whole island, well aware that a decisive clash with the Ottoman fleet was in order.

Bragadin worked hard to fortify Famagusta thoroughly, since the introduction of gunpowder meant that scientifically studied fortifications with solid walls were needed. So the harbour was endowed with strong defenses, such as the Martinengo bastion, an excellent example of modern fortification granting easy defense on both sides of its walls.

The Turks landed at Cyprus on July, 3, 1570. Nicosia fell in two months' time; its garrison was slaughtered. The head of the locumtenens regni ("viceroy"), Niccolò Dandolo, was sent to Bragadin, who, undaunted, got prepared for the enemy assault.

The Siege of Famagusta

Famagusta came under siege in September; the Ottoman forces kept pressure on for months, while their artillery relentelessly pounded the city's bulwarks.

Marcantonio Bragadin led the defence of Famagusta with Lorenzo Tiepolo, Captain of Paphos, and general Astorre Baglioni.

According to Venetian chroniclers (numbers should always be looked at with some skepticism), about 6,000 garrison troops stood against some 100,000 Turks with 1,500 cannons, backed by about 150 ships enforcing a naval blockade to stave off reinforcements and victuals.

The besieged garrison of Famagusta put up a heroic struggle lasting well beyond the most optimistic assumptions, against far superior enemy numbers and without any hope of help from the motherland. Furthermore the Turks were employing new tactics. The entire belt of walls surrounding the town and the exterior plain was filled with earth up to the top of the fortifications. In the meantime a number of tunnels were dug out towards and under the city walls to undermine and breach them.

In July, 1571 the Turks eventually breached the fortifications and their forces broke into the citadel, being repulsed only at a high price. With provender and ammunitions over, on 31 July Bragadin had to agree to a surrender.

Death and legacy

157-1576 Titian's Flaying of Marsyas. Some researchers such as Helen Lessore speculate that Bragadin's flaying provided the inspiration for this painting.

Famagusta's surrender was not unconditional. It was provided for the surviving defenders and the civilians willing to move to Candia. However the Turks did not show the same basic respect towards the unlucky Bragadin. After painful humiliations, he was subjected by the Turks to a most excruciating torment: being flayed alive at the docks. Bragadin's quartered body was then distributed as a war trophy among the army whereas his skin, stuffed with straw and sewn, was reinvested with his military insignia and exhibited riding an ox in a mocking procession along the streets of Famagusta. The macabre trophy, together with the severed heads of general Alvise Martinengo, Gianantonio Querini and castellan Andrea Bragadin, was hoisted upon the masthead pennant of the personal galley of the Ottoman commander, Amir al-bahr Mustafa Pasha, to be brought to Constantinople as a gift for Sultan Selim II.

Bragadin's skin was later purloined from the Constantinople's arsenal in 1580 at the hands of the young Venetian seaman, Girolamo Polidori, who brought it back to Venice. The skin was preserved first in the church of San Gregorio, then in that of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where it still is.

Bragadin's fame rests upon the incredible resistance that he made against the vastly superior besieging forces, and the horrible cruelty the winners exerted upon him after taking Famagusta. From a military point of view, the besieged garrison's perseverance required a massive effort by the Ottoman Turks, who were so heavily committed that they were unable to redeploy in time when the Holy League built up the fleet later victorious against the Muslim power at Lepanto. Historians to this day debate just why Venice did not send help to Bragadin from Souda, Crete. It is alleged that among the Venetians some thought about putting the limited military assets to better use in the forthcoming clash, already in sight, which would climax in the Battle of Lepanto.

Bragadin's death was that of a martyr to Venetian soldiers and citizens. Word of his agonizing death galvanized Venetian soldiers in the fleet of the Holy League. The Venetian seamen went on to fight with greater zeal at the Battle of Lepanto than any of the battle's other combatants.

Literature

  • U. Foglietta, The Sieges of Nicosia and Famagusta. London: Waterlow, 1903.
  • John Julius Norwich, A History of Venice. Random House 1982, pbk. Vintage 1989. ISBN 0-679-72197-5 (bpk)
  • Hugh Bicheno, Crescent and Cross: The Battle of Lepanto 1571. Phoenix, London, 2003. ISBN 1-84212-753-5
  • T. C. F. Hopkins, "Confrontation at Lepanto - Christendom vs. Islam"
  • G. Monello, "Accadde a Famagosta, l'assedio turco ad una fortezza veneziana ed il suo sconvolgente finale", Cagliari, Scepsi e Mattana, 2006.
  • Roger Crowley, "Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the center of the World." Random House: New York, NY. 2008.
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