Fighting for Otranto

Time for another battle. They’re appealing first because for the most part they happen on an obvious discrete date as opposed to cultural changes that kind of get smeared across the calendar in lumpy streaks. And second, they do have dramatic consequences especially if you lose.

For instance the Battle of Otranto on … oh, wait. It went on for days. From July 28 through August 11 of 1480 in fact. And then on August 14 the victorious Ottomans beheaded some 800 Christians for refusing to convert to Islam.

It’s an interesting method of proselytizing. We came hundreds of miles, invaded your country, sacked your city so our God must be the real deal because otherwise this bit of sharp metal will go through your neck. Not quite the Sermon on the Mount, mind you. But pointed. Especially as the Ottomans had taken Constantinople just 27 years earlier and apparently had their eye on Rome next. It probably used to be a mosque like, you know, the Temple of Solomon, Hagia Sophia and so on.

Obviously the Ottomans are not the first nor the last to kill prisoners. Christians have done it too. And doubtless they have sometimes ungently suggested that adopting the faith of the guy with the sword you don’t have any more might incline him to mercy. But the fact that by the time Otranto was recaptured in May 1481 some 12,000 of its inhabitants had reportedly been killed and another 5,000 enslaved helps explain the animosity directed at Ottoman attempts to drag Europeans to an appreciation of their religion by killing them en masse otherwise.

The 800 victims of the initial effort at religious persuasion were subsequently declared martyrs and are still celebrated in Italy, by the way. And Islamic militants are still beheading people for not converting.