The Two Sieges of Rhodes: The Knights of St. John at War, 1480 and 1522
Eric Brockman (reprint of London 1969 first edition), Barnes & Noble, New York, 1996, $7.98.
For the past few years, the bookseller-publisher Barnes & Noble has been reissuing a selection of notable works on arms andmilitary history–not only providing out-of-print books but also producing satisfactory ones at very reasonable hardcoverprices. That in itself would be enough to recommend putting Erik Brockman’s 1969 book on a shelf of must-have militaria, butthis latest reissue has more to recommend itself.
The two major attempts to wrest Rhodes from the Knights Hospitalers of St. John in 1480 and 1522 are not as well-known asthe more celebrated siege of their subsequent base on Malta in 1565, but they should be, because they marked the first criticaltests of the Order’s effectiveness with new technology. At its closest point, the island of Rhodes is only about 10 miles frommainland Asia Minor. And after the Ottoman Turks had taken Constantinople in 1453, they could concentrate on harassing theborders of eastern Europe and exacting restitution from the hated Knights of Rhodes.
Gunpowder technology was essential in the Knights’ defense of Rhodes against Sultan Mehmet II’s 70,000 Turks in 1480.That, combined with attritional defensive tactics, esprit de corps, and almost superhuman abilities in hand-to-hand combat,enabled the Knights–with less than 5,000 men–to attain victory. The Knights’ prowess was put to the ultimate test in 1522,when the young and ambitious Sultan Suleiman sent against them an overwhelming 200,000 men and a siege train larger thanthat used at Constantinople. With Rhodes still holding out, an obsessed Suleiman made the unprecedented decision to continuethe siege through the inclement winter weather. Even with their walls reduced, the depleted defenders held against repeatedassaults until the Knights accepted a conditional surrender offer to evacuate the island–but the sultan had purchased it with90,000 lives.
The two sieges of Rhodes, illuminated in Brockman’s informative, readable style, highlighted and typified the stoic courage anddiscipline that made the Knights of St. John unique in the annals of warfare.
William J. McPeak