1571: Marco Antonio Bragadin, flayed Venetian

On this date in 1571, the commander of a Venetian garrison was flayed by the Turks.

Marco Antonio Bragadin (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) — or Marcantonio Bragadin — was the captain of Famagusta as an Ottoman Empire near the peak of its power began to wrest Cyprus from eight decades of Venetian control.

The Turks sacked the wealthy Cypriot capital Nicosia in September 1570, slaughtering or enslaving the inhabitants. Bragadin thereupon received an inducement from the invaders to surrender the last Venetian outpost still remaining in Cyprus: the severed head of Nicosia’s general.

Bragadin was having none of it.

Milord pasha of Carmania,

I have seen your letter. I have also received the head of the lord lieutenant of Nicosia, and I tell you herewith that even if you have so easily taken the city of Nicosia, with your own blood you will have to purchase this city, which with God’s help will give you so much to do that you will always regret having encamped here.

The Famagustans didn’t get quite that much help from God, but they forced a dear purchase in blood. For nearly a year, they repelled the siege; starving and exhausted, they at last accepted a merciful surrender only to have the entire garrison slain (the link is in Italian) at the beginning of this month.

The entire garrison, save Bragadin.

Special torments were reserved for the general who had given them such trouble. Executed Today friend Melisende’s Historic Biography post on Bragadin recounts the nauseating Calvary of the Venetian: mutilated, dragged around his fallen fortress, then exposed on the docks for flaying alive. The skin was stuffed with straw and sailed back to Istanbul as a war trophy for the Sultan Selim II.

One can see here, of course, the narrative of East vs. West in a war for civilization itself, although one should observe that the overthrow of Catholic hegemony on Cyprus restored the privileges of the Orthodox church. But the fall of Cyprus was itself the backstory for one of the pivotal naval battles of the age two months later, the Battle of Lepanto, at which a league of Mediterranean powers including Venice decisively checked Ottoman influence at sea, pre-empting a likely invasion of Italy.

Bragadin, for his part, became a potent symbol blending civic and religious martyrdom in what turns out to be (post-Lepanto) a victorious cause. One might say that he fulfilled a need.

Cultures which have drawn nourishment from their legendary martyrs feel a need to prolong the spectacle of their suffering. They hark back to the desire to keep the dying man with them; and the memory of this desire strengthens their tales of holy victimhood, dramatizes them, keeps them alive. Bragadin’s torture was long-drawn-out, and it must be constantly remembered as such.

… Christians’ preoccupation with relics has been complex, enduring and, at times, feverishly obsessive. It has reached high points in moments when Catholic doctrines and practices have felt most dramatically threatened. During Marcantonio Bragadin’s lifetime, and during the period immediately following, Christendom trembled before the encroaching Muslims. In this context, the story of Bragadin’s martyrdom acquired particular potency: not because the Church proclaimed him a saint, but because by analogy, he seemed to bring the ancient Christian matrydoms up to the present. He seemed to make those sufferings real and explicit, lifting them out of their legendary fogginess. Step-by-step, piece-by-piece, he “demonstrates” the martyr’s ordeal, almost as in a manual of suffering.

Nor was the fulfillment merely conceptual. According to this page on Rome tourist destinations, the painting of St. Bartholomew‘s flaying executed for the ancient basilica of Santi Nereo e Achilleo in the 1600 Jubilee alludes directly to the more contemporary event — notice the dark, turban-clad figure on the left.

In 1596, one of the few survivors of Cyprus nicked Bragadin’s hide from Istanbul and returned it to Venice, where it remains today entombed as a relic at the Basilica di San Zanipolo.

On this day..

10 thoughts on “1571: Marco Antonio Bragadin, flayed Venetian

  1. Do you know that the Italian commander you are proud of is giving orders to the Turkish prisoners in the same way that he is taken captive and that the heads and ears he applies are used to cover his skin. It is only by creating stupid legends.
    The same was done to him. You are barbari as long as you look at the events with a neutral look.

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  6. Recently I have been reading the history of the Ottoman Empire. and am amazed at how barbaric the Turks were: they were cruel beyond imagination. Given how barbaric, and monstrous the Turks were, I wonder how the Greeks could ever forgive them for their atrocities. As a nation the Turks must really come clean with their history, in the way Germany has, and that will be a step in the right direction.

  7. Only savages can do things like that to a honourable war prisoner.
    Such people do not belong to the civilized world,nor to a civilized continent. And the Armenians would vouch for this assertion.

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