22 November 2006
Marcantonio Bragadino Venetian commander
Marcantonio Bragadino who surrendered to theTurks was given very special treatment - it began with the slicing off of his nose and ears. He was whipped daily, given hard and humiliating labour , forced to kiss the earthunder the Turkish general's feet. His teeth were broken and then in Famagusta's central square - flayed alive. His voice , reciting the misere mei Deus ,gradually weakened. He was dead by the time his executioners knives reached his groin. His skin was stuffed with straw , hung from the mast of Mustapha'sflagship and passed in triumph along the Cypriot coast.
Marcantonio Bragadino- Venetian commander <1569-1602>
The admiral Marcantonio Bragadino was a remarkable Venetian commander who defended Famagusta during the wars of XVIe century against the Turks. It was shown compétant and courageous but, at the end of several months of seat, it was obliged to go. The Turkish chief offered honourable conditions to him and Bragadino left the fortress to sign rendering, vêtu dress crimson of its load, accompanied by the officers by his staff and protected from the sun by a large red umbrella from ceremony. The pasha accepted it initially courteously. But suddenly, during the ceremony, Turkish rose of a jump, showed Bragadino of atrocities towards the prisoners and ordered that the Venetian officers are massacred on the spot.The fate of Bragadino, was worse still. With three recoveries, it was about to be decapitated and by refinements of cruelty, one ordered to the torturer to stop. Its nose and its ears were cut, its body was mutilated, and during 10 days it was, each morning, charged with ground baskets, led on the Turkish fortifications and to stop in front of the tent of the pasha where it was to kiss the ground. One hoisted it with the yard of a ship and one let it be balanced there during hours. It suffered all kinds of mocking remarks sadistic and degrading. Finally, it was led on the great place of the city, was stripped, connected with a pile and sharp sectional view in the presence of the pasha. Its skin was empaillée and walked in the streets on a cow, with its red umbrella above him signs derision of it. And when finally the pasha regained in triumph the Gold Horn, this macabre trophy was balanced with the bowsprit of the ship standard.The skin was preserved at the arsenal Turkish of Constantinople. Years later, the Venetian ones took it again, some say bought it and others stole it. One can see today below the bust of Bragadino a small stone ballot box where its yellowed and seamed skin rests, carefully folded, like a handkerchief in a drawer with linen.
October 7, 1571
Near the Gulf of Lepanto
The future author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, served on one of the Christian galleys in what he called the greatest naval sea battle in history and the most important to that time for the safety of Europe. The Turks had been massing an enormous fleet for an invasion of Italy. The preparations began to be reported on many months in advance. It was the year 1571 when that fleet was gathered near a port in Greece, not far from the Gulf of Lepanto.For over a year, Pope Pius V had tried to alert the great powers of Europe to the coming menace. But England, France, and the regional powers of what later became Germany were preoccupied with the turmoil of the Reformation.Only Don Juan of Austria, the bastard son of the king of Spain, was stirred by the danger. Despite his youth, despite his modest standing, Don Juan sent out urgent appeals and eventually gathered a sturdy fleet, outfitted with new warfare technologies invented in the West and rapidly mass-produced by the fledgling ship-building and armament firms of what was later to be called “Western capitalism.” He gathered fleets from Venice and Genoa, from Spain, and from the Knights of Malta. In a deliberately preemptive strike, blessed by the pope, this small fleet set sail to catch the Turkish armada before it left the waters of Greece.The Venetians, on the left flank of the battle line, were especially passionate. Not long before, the Turks had so battered an island port maintained by Venetians (and others) that the Venetian commander, Marcantonio Bragadino appealed for a truce. The Turks promised him and his subjects safe passage — and then took him prisoner, beat him, cut off his nose and ears, put a collar on him, and made him crawl like a dog before the conquering army. In a little cage, he was hoisted up on the mast of the galley so that all in the fleet and on land could see him. Then he was brought down flayed mercilessly, his skin carefully stripped from his body as he died (the skin was later stuffed with straw and sent off to Constantinople as a trophy). Thousands of Venetians and others were slaughtered on the spot, or driven off in captivity for service on Turkish galleys or in Turkish harems.But other elements of the Christian fleets were also angry. For decades now, the Turks had used their near-supremacy in the Mediterranean to make constant raids on the Christian communities near to the sea, and hauled away young women and men for the harems, and stronger men for the galleys.Indeed, many of the galley slaves pulling the oars of the Turkish fleet sailing proudly and confidently into the Gulf of Lepanto were Christians captured in these and other ways. There they were starved, beaten, and living in their own waste, kept just strong enough to pull on the great oars, to which they were chained. Furiously, below decks, some of these galley slaves were struggling to break through their chains once the battle was joined. Finally some did, and rose up from below deck swinging their chains and causing mayhem among already embattled Muslim sailors.
As the Captain of the Venetian forces at the siege of Famagusta on Cyprus in 1571 Bragadin suffered one of the most brutal and painful deaths imaginable, during a period of history that turned out to be very significant in the relationships between the Christian states of the 'West' in Europe and the Islamic empire in the 'East'.
I'm currently reading a 1936 work by H.V. Morton called "In The Steps Of St. Paul", and he recounts the story of Bragadin's death thus:
When the Turks entered Famagusta, this gallant soldier was brought before the Turkish general, Lala Mustafa, who pretended to execute him. He was forced to bare his neck three times to the executioner's sword, which each time was slowly lowered. Eventually, at a sign from the Turk, his nose and ears were cut off. "Where is your Christ now?" asked the Pasha. "Why does He not come and help you?" Those who watched the scene have left accounts in which they tell with what dignity and in what proud silence the tortured man bore himself. For ten days he was forced to carry earth to the ramparts and to kiss the ground each time that he passed the Pasha's tent. Then he was hoisted in a slung seat, with a crown tied at his feet, to the yard-arm of the flagship, and thus exposed to the jeers of the Turkish forces. At the end of ten days Bragadino was led with drums and trumpets to the great square of Famagusta, stripped, tied to a pillar, and slowly flayed alive ... Bragadino's skin, stuffed with straw, was tied to a cow and, with a red umbrella held over it in mockery, was paraded through the town. The tortured body was cut up like meat and portions hung on the gates of Famagusta. When the Turks sailed for Constantinople they tied the stuffed skin of Bragadino to the yard-arm and paraded it round the ports of the Mediterranean.
My sources dispute what happened next. Alberto Toso Fei's "Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories" book claims that the skin was captured from the armoury in Constantinople where it was on display as a war trophy. H.V. Morton claims that it was sold back to Bragadin's sons at a price. Either way the skin of the Ventian captain now resides in an urn set into a marble tribute to him, which features a head-and-shoulders bust of Bragadin and a sculpted relief of his death scene.
Fei's book quotes chronicles of the time describing the skin when it arrived in Venice:
It was folded in the width of a sheet of paper, solid and palpable as if it were a small cloth; you could still see the hairs of the chest attached to it, and on the right hand which had been skinned the unfinished fingers with the nails which still seemed alive...