THE THIRD WAR WITH GENOA - THE BATTLE OF THE BOSPORUS

The commercial rivalry in their far-away settlements was as usual the origin of the third war between the two maritime republics.

In the early IVX centuries the maritime waterway through the Aegean, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea was by far the most lucrative trade route for the western sea-powers. Especially the ports of the Black Sea were the main channels through which the production of Norther and Eastern Asia flowed into Europe: precious stones and spices from India were taken to the southern shores of the Black sea; furs, timber and raw commodities from Russia were brought down the Don river.

Both Venice and Genoa established their own settlements in the Tartarian town of  Tana on the Don river estuary but Genoa had also a settlement in Caffa (modern day Feodosiya in Crimea).

In 1249 a private quarrel in Tana between an Italian merchant and a Tartar resulted in the murder of the latter. The Khan Djanibek was particularly outraged and vented his fury by expelling all the Italian merchants from the town. The Genoese offered them asylum in Caffa which easily resisted the raids of the Tartars and they also blockaded the Don river to persuade the Khan to grant the Latin the erection of a citadel in Tana. The Venetian though preferred to manage things their own way, did not support the common cause, reconciled themselves with the Khan and tried to force the blockade with their merchant ships. The Genoese seized the Venetian ships and this was the first sparkle that started the new war.

Both maritime powers first tried to reach an agreement to join forces to protect their Black Sea bases against the raids of Djanibek, Khan of the Tartars but unfortunately the negotiations were not finalized. 

Genoa though since 1273 had had the strategic advantage of their citadel in Pera opposite Costantinople, located in the northern shore of the Golden Horn and was allied to with the Ottoman sultan Orkhan I who controlled both banks of the strait. Furthermore the Genoese in 1346 managed to gain control over the key island of Chios with its precious alum mines (alum was used for the manufacturing of colors). The two maritime powers and trade competitors kept being in each other's way and the incidental encounters of one side's merchant ships with the other's patrolling warships often resulted in bitter clashes to siege the vulnerable cargos. Such frequent conflicts built up the bitter resentment that eventually progressed into full-scale warfare.

In 1350 the Venetians claimed that the Genoese had taken possession of a few Venetian cargos in Caffa; Venice asked Genoa for a compensation and the release of the prisoners but the negotiations failed. This occurrence led to the first major clash as Venice decided to send a fleet of 35 under the command of Marco Ruzzini to the Aegean Sea; the fleet incidentally came across a convoy of Genoese merchant ships loaded with precious goods in the harbor of Castro near Negroponte (modern Euboea); the Venetians decided to attack and took 10 of 14 cargos. 4 Genoese ships managed to escape and reached Chios where they spread the news. A few Genoese galleys then left from Chios and set sails to Negroponte where they pillaged the harbor in revenge.

These conflicts started the new war.

Genoa at the time was at the peak of its power as the Guelph and Ghibelline factions were managing to coexist peacefully and govern the republic efficiently. The "Superba" decided to make a massive military and financial effort, imposed an extraordinary levy and fund raising to put together a armed fleet of 64 galleys.

Venice on the contrary was not doing well at all: a bubonic plague had decimated three fifths of the population, manpower shortage was a dramatic problem and the city was able to crew a fleet of only 25 galleys with sailors and combatants that were not up to the usual standards. Venice had to outsource manpower from Dalmatia and the other colonies and made special efforts to find suitable allies.

The Venetians turned to Genoa's enemies and contacted King Peter IV of Aragon (Pere III of Catalonia) who was eager to unroot the Genoese presence from the island of Sardinia.

Peter IV of Aragon

King Peter IV of Aragon

The Aragonese had taken over the whole island of Sardinia but for the town of Alghero that was still controlled by the Genoese. King Peter IV agreed to provide Venice with 18 galleys; he also agreed to supply manpower for 12 Venetian galleys at the rate of 1000 ducats per month. The Venetians reached a similar agreement with John VI Kantakouzenos, the Byzantine emperor who was at odds with the Genoese over their settlement of Pera and managed to get 12 galleys and manpower for 8 galleys at the same price.

John VI Kantakouzenos

John VI Kantakouzenos

The Genoese fleet of 64 warships set off from Genoa on July 13th 1351 under the command of Admiral Paganino Doria. Doria was hoping to come across the Venetian fleet before it could join the Catalan fleet off Sicily where they were supposed to meet; but could not find any of them and therefore decided to raid some Venetian settlements in the Adriatic Sea.

Meanwhile the Venetian Admiral Niccolò Pisani, the commander of the only operational venetian fleet of 22 galleys in the Aegean Sea, was sieging Pera in Constantinople with the help of Byzantine soldiers. When he came to know that the Genoese fleet was about to arrive he decided to set sail to Negroponte. It was the summer of 135. Paganino Doria arrived in Negroponte with his 64 galleys fleet and laid siege to the island but the Venetians managed to hold out and Pisani sank momentarily his own galleys to prevent Doria from burning them.

In the meantime the Aragonese fleet of 21 galleys, under the command of Ponc de Santa Pau and the Venetian fleet of 20 galleys commanded by Admiral Pancrazio Giustinian had met in Messina and was sailing to Negroponte.

As the allied fleet arrived in Negroponte in October to relieve Pisani, Admiral Doria retreated to Chios where he recruited (to draft) some manpower to compensate for the losses suffered during the siege in Negroponte. He then raided Mitilene and Eraclea and eventually reached Pera in an attempt to prevent the joining of the Aragonese-Venetian fleets with the Greek fleet;  Ponc de Santa Pau, Giustinian and Pisani, the allied armada, set sail to Costantinople to link up with the Byzantine flotilla.

Orhan the emir of the Turks of the Oslam was against the Kantacouzenos and therefore on Doria's side; when Doria’s fleet finally arrived in Pera, Orhan supplied the Genoese with food and also kept them informed on the movements of the enemy’s fleet. On the other side, the emperor Kantakouzenos was waiting for the allied fleet to continue the siege of Pera.

On February 13 Paganino Doria deployed his 64 warships in front of the Bosphorus to prevent the allied armada to enter Costantinople and join with the Greek fleet; but the Venetian-Aragonese were sailing with a favorable strong wind; Doria realized his fleet could not resist the impact and therefore retreated; Pisani triumphantly entered Costantinople port and joined with the Byzantine fleet of 8 galleys commanded by Admiral Costantino Tarcaniota.

The same day the allied armada of 89 galleys faced Doria's fleet of 64 galleys in the late afternoon.

The battle was very chaotic as neither side managed to deploy an orderly formation. Furthermore a very violent storm broke out and the sky suddenly became dark. The fleets were scattered in several groups of ships that engaged in isolate and fierce duels in the darkness of the storm. In the evening it was already difficult to be able to tell friend from foe but the battle went on with fury through the stormy night until the following morning.

Although the allied fleet outnumbered the Genoese, for some reasons the 8 Greek galleys did not take part in the battle and several Aragonese galleys ended up stranded or aground as the sailors were not familiar with the very tricky Bosporus shallow waters.

Both sides suffered very heavy losses: it is not certain how many soldiers died, perhaps about 4000 from each side (including Pancrazio Giustinian and Ponc de Santa Pau who was wounded in combat and died a few weeks later in Constantinople).

Doria’s fleet lost 16 galleys whereas the allied fleet lost 26.

Both sides claimed the victory but the outcome of the battle was uncertain.

Pisani decided to leave the next day as his fleet was exhausted; this led many to believe that the Genoese had won the battle. The Aragonese also left as they had done their part and were more concerned about events in the western Mediterranean.

The emperor John Kantakouzenos was therefore left alone and he was forced to sign a peace treaty with Doria in May 1352. According to the terms of the treaty the Genoese had the right to keep Pera and to have access to all the ports of the Empire. The Emperor was also forced to deny access to Catalan and Venetian ships in his ports.

Doria left Costantinople in June and arrived in Genoa in August, but his effort was not considered a success given the massive financial and military effort made by the ligurian Republic; there were no celebrations since the expedition did not obtain any  decisive results against very heavy losses. Venetians were left alone to dispute the Black Sea trade route against the Genoese, a task that was now more complicated than since the Genoese had now consiolidated their alliance with the Ottoman sultan Orkhan I who controlled both banks of Bosphorus waterway.

The war naturally shifted to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The following clash took place in Sardinia in 1353.

It was time for the Venetian to reciprocate the military effort that the Aragonese had offered them in the Bosforus. The Aragonese wanted to take the town of Alghero that was still held by the Genoese in Sardinia. The Catalan captain Bernat de Cabrera had put together a fleet of 45 galleys and 3 big ships with a "castle" with 400 soldiers each that were meant to fight in the island for the siege of Alghero. The Venetian admiral Niccolò Pisani joined him in Minorca with a fleet of 20 galleys. The Genoese had a fleet of 52 galleys under the command of Admiral Antonio Grimaldi.

On August 29th 1353, while the siege of Alghero was going on in the mainland, the 2 enemy fleets came in sight of each other. Grimaldi had 44 galleys chained together and left 4 free for each wing.

The Venetian Aragonese fleet was deployed in the similar chained formation but the free galleys were 8 for each wing. Furthermore they could also dispose of 3 castellated big ships loaded with 400 catalans soldiers each. These big ships did not have rowers and could only rely on wind power, but the sea was dead calm then. While two rows of chained galleys were rowing and slowly approaching each other, the loose galleys started to fight. The 3 big castellated ships were not taking part to the fight but before the 2 chained formations could engage battle, a strong wind rose up and pushed the three big ships towards one wing of the Genoese chained fleet. Three Genoese galleys could not resist the impact and sank. The Catalans soldiers threw a hail of stones and arrows at the Genoese and Grimaldi, seeing the turn things were taking, ordered to loose 11 galleys from the not engaged wing and together with the other 8 already loose galleys stood out to sea, perhaps in an attempt to surround the enemy. Then for some reason, maybe because the sailors refused to sail back to combat, the 19 Genoese warships set sail to Genoa; the rest of the fleet had to surrender.

The Genoese lost 33 galleys, 2000 men were killed in combat and 3500 were taken prisoners. Only 320 soldiers from the Venetian-Catalan fleet were reported dead.

Antonio Grimaldi (one of the leaders of the Guelph faction) was blamed for the humiliation in Alghero. Civil war in Genoa between the Guelph and Ghibelline factions was prevented by the appointment the Archbishop Giovanni Visconti (Lord of Milan) as leader of the Republic of Genoa.

Visconti was the most powerful of the Italian Lords and was from the Ghibelline faction and therefore very much against Venice which had Guelph leanings. Visconti sent an ambassador to Venice (poet Francesco Petrarca) to invite Doge Andrea Dandolo to sign a peace treaty but Dandolo refused, thinking that Visconti was only trying to buy some time to reorganize his army. Venice sought alliance with Estensi, Carraresi and Gonzaga and the war went on in the mainland but without major battles.

As a matter of fact the Genoese wanted to seek revenge. Visconti supported the plan of arming 33 warship under the command of Paganino Doria. After raiding the coasts of Catalonia in 1354 Paganino sailed to the Adriatic Sea where he first took some Vednetian merchant ships, then pillaged the Venetian settlements of Lèsina and Curzola and eventuyally raided Parenzo (croatia) in August 1354.

The Venetians ordered Niccolò Pisani, who was then sailing off Sardinia, to rush back and defend the homeland with his fleet of 35 galleys and 5 castellated big ships.. Paganino Doria did not dare to attack Venice and sailed out of the Adriatic Sea towards Greece. Pisani. Pisani chased down Doria all the way to Chios but the Genoese declined battle and went to Modon to join another Genoese fleet of 10 galleys under the command of Visconte Grimaldi. Pisani also reached Modon but pulled into a nearby port called Portolongo located south of the Peloponneso to give his men a rest and repair some ships.

Doria appeared in Portolongo on November 4th 1354 and invited Pisani to fight but it was the Venetian’s turn to decline battle. The Venetian 5 castellated big ships and 14 galleys were monitoring the mouth of the harbor while the other 21 galley were beached. In the darkness of the night of November 4th Giovanni Doria (Paganino's nephew) managed somehow to roll his galley undetected through a gap in the floating picket. It is not sure whether the Venetians simply did not see him or if they thought they could close him in and take his galley. In any case a few other Genoese galleys managed to follow Giovanni, caught the Venetian army unprepared for combat and quickly subdued them; in the meantime the 5 Venetian big castellated ships and 14 galleys found themselves surrounded by 22 galleys outside the armor and 13 inside and soon had to surrender.

The Venetians suffered heavy losses: 4000 men were either killed or drowned while trying to escape and about 5000 were made prisoner including Admiral Niccolò Pisani who was taken to Genoa. Paganino Doria left 15 galley to patrol the Aegean and returned to Venice with 50 galleys to receive the triumphant welcome he had been denied after the battle of Bosforus. Both Genoa and Venice, exhausted by the war negotiated a peace treaty that was signed in June 1355.

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