Selim II, the Sot, ruled the Ottoman Empire in the later stages of the 16th century. Though he showed little inclination for actually ruling the empire, this was slightly counterbalanced by the fact that his advisor, Sokollu Pasha was a man of exceptional intelligence and vision, the last of Suleiman the Magnificent’s three great advisors. Sokollu would slow the damage that such an utter disgrace of a sultan, like Selim, could inflict on the country.

The ineffective sultan would have been more than happy to never make an actual decision in his life, but others around him saw this as a political advantage. One Joseph Nasi, a Portuguese man of Jewish descent, and one with an avowed hatred of the Venetians was one such person. By allying with the influential Lala Mustafa, Nasi set about to convince the Sultan that the Venetian island of Cyprus would be a perfect target for Ottoman expansion, and so it was that Selim overrode Sokollu for the first time.

Sokollu meanwhile had been trying to get several projects underway. The Ottoman military was slated to assist the revolting Moors of North Africa, specifically present day Tunis which was then a conquest of the Spanish, while a plan was being drawn up to cut a canal through the Sinai peninsula. The plan for the canal was shelved for a short while because of a revolt in the province of Yemen, on the southwestern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the expedition to relieve the Moors had not even been fully planned yet when Selim II demanded an invasion of Cyprus.

Leading to the Invasion

The protagonist of this plan, Nasi, was successful in convincing Selim to invade Cyprus and as a reward for the “idea” was promised the Cyprus as his and given ten islands in the Cyclades chain, which were of extreme value for their unique ability to support both vineyards and sugar plantations. These islands alone made Nasi a massively rich man, but Cyprus, which produced cotton, sugar and wine would make him even richer. Some problems did stand in the way of the invasion though.

Not only did Sokollu not support the proposed invasion of Cyprus, but the political state between the Ottoman Empire and Venice was one of peace. As well, the Ottoman empire was increasingly looked to as a major problem for Europe and attempts to gather an alliance to stand up to it, while not being successful as of yet, where happening regularly. Selim though was convinced that the island should be taken and so a diplomat was dispatched to Venice. The diplomat listed a rather unattainable list of grievances by the empire towards the Venetians and demanded that either these be redressed or that Cyprus be ceded to the Ottoman Empire. The Venetians refused on both accounts.

Invasion of Cyprus

So it was that in the summer of the year 1570, Lala Mustapha Pasha and an Ottoman fleet was dispatched with 60,000 men, including cavalry and artillery for the invasion of Cyprus. Selim II, meanwhile, decreed the typical Ottoman promise; promising to protect the common peoples of the island and to respect their properties and lives, Selim requested that the nearby bey do his utmost to win the hearts of the people of Cyprus. Considering the fact that the Venetians had let this land languish for years, allowing the island’s Frankish overlords to rule the people by the fist, it did not take much effort to bring them over to the Ottoman side. The Venetians, hoping to scare their subjects on Cyprus into submission, after the news of the Ottoman’s landing on Cyprus had sparked a few pro-Turkish revolts, killed several hundred people. On the other hand, the Greeks that the Ottoman armies would liberate as they marched where treated well and thus food and partisan support was a sure guarantee for the Ottoman forces in Cyprus.

The Ottoman force’s main targets were the cities of Famagusta and Nicosia. The entire island of Cyprus was heavily fortified, past raids by the Ottoman navy had forced the Venetians to improve the coastal and city defenses of the area to further protect its investment. Among these fortifications, Nicosia was the most heavily fortified, and should it have a strong force to defend it, it might have been impossible fore the Ottoman troops to take it. Though the Ottoman troops moved easily toward Nicosia, with no engagements, they waited for reinforcements from North Africa before actually assaulting Nicosia.

As luck would have it, the Ottoman forces did not need the reinforcements for this siege. Nicosia did not have a strong force, they were badly commanded and had bad moral, and thus the defenses of the city were not much use in preventing the Ottoman siege. Within six weeks, on September 9th, 1570, the garrison in Nicosia surrendered. When the Ottoman forces finally entered the city, the slew the garrison troops and commanders and sacked the city. The churches where converted to mosques and the young men and women were taken as slaves and transported to Istanbul. It is said though that the slave ship was destroyed by a devout Christian woman who set the magazine compartment alight; though the fact that it was a single ship and it was destroyed to protect the virtue of its occupants makes the account somewhat subject to disbelief.

Mustafa now marched for Kyrenia, but word of the massacre of the Nicosian garrison had spread fast and the city surrendered without a fight. Only Famagusta remained against the Ottoman forces. The Venetian governor of this city, one Marc Antonio Bragadino, managed to greatly motivate the defenders of Famagusta and the city not only withstood the Ottoman siege, but would remain inviolate for three months. Though the Ottoman forces shelled the wall and even opened a large breach, which was only held due to a strong defense and then patched with burning debris, the city managed to hold up.

When finally there was said to have been only three barrels of powder left to the defenders, the garrison had choice but to surrender. Bragadino, having greatly impressed Mustafa, was granted his honorable surrender and the Venetian forces sallied from Famagusta in order to parley with the Ottoman leader. Though the two leaders met and conferred together, relations quickly broke down over accusations that Bragadino had massacred Ottoman prisoners. In a rage, Mustafa took Bragadino prisoner and eventually had him flayed alive in the main square of Famagusta when the Venetian refused to convert to Islam. Overall, the island fell with Famagusta, though the invasion would spark the Holy League and lead to the Battle of Lepanto, the Ottoman Empire would suffer no lasting damage from that engagement and under a very uncharacteristic form of benevolence, for that day and age, Cyprus would be brought fully within the fold.


Kinross, L. (2002). The Ottoman centuries: Rise and fall of the Turkish empire. Perennial.

Library of Congress (1996). Cyprus: Ottoman Rule. Retrieved March 8, 2004 from

Quick Note:Let's not get this mixed up with the Turkish invasion that took place 404 years later in 1974. Thanks

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.