Ottoman-Portuguese War for the Indian Ocean - DOCUMENTARY
In the previous video, we covered the Ethiopian-Adalite War, one of many regional struggles across the Indian Ocean world to become influenced by the growing Ottoman-Portuguese rivalry. Today we return to the open sea to examine the later years of the increasingly global war and the evolution of Ottoman policy across the reigns of four Grand Viziers. Shoutout to MagellanTV for sponsoring this video! If you are a history fan you should be signed up to MagellanTV - a new type of streaming service with more than 3000 documentaries and the richest and most varied History content available anywhere: ancient, modern, current, early modern, war, biography and even historical fiction shows. Any fan of history would spend days and weeks watching MagellanTV's historical documentaries and will still have content to watch – new documentaries are added all the time, it is like a rabbit hole! If you enjoy our videos on the Ottoman empire, you will surely like their 3-episode series called the Ottomans vs. Christians: The battle for Europe, which covers the key events in
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However, despite the failure of Hadim Suleiman Pasha, governor of Ottoman Egypt, to capture the port, the more extensive campaign of 1538 was welcomed in Constantinople as a huge success. On the military side, control of Yemen had been won by the Ottoman fleet before it departed for Diu. But Hadim Suleiman, despite his age and infirmity, was also waging a determined diplomatic campaign against Portugal - one that was expanding the Ottoman reach far faster than ships or soldiers could.
At the same time Hadim Suleiman was besieging Diu, a fleet of freebooting corsairs - operating out of the Kerala region and led by Pate Marakkar - began preying on Portuguese shipping in South India and the Sea of Ceylon, allied with the Ottomans in a close echo to the Barbary Corsairs of North Africa. Even as far away as modern Indonesia, the outreaches and political connections of 80-year-old Hadim Suleiman were winning bloodless victories for the Ottoman Empire, with four ships bearing a tribute in spice from the Sultan of Aceh arriving in the Red Sea in 1538 before returning to Aceh the following year loaded with Ottoman troops under the command of Hamad Khan. Even in Gujarat, the defeat at Diu had not been as complete as it might have seemed. The Ottoman merchant community in Gujarat held enough political sway in the Sultan’s court to get their leader, Khadjar Safar, appointed Governor of Surat - and enough wealth to organize fortifications and ships of their own in preparation for another attack. In light of these successes, Hadim Suleiman Pasha would be elevated to the position of Grand Vizier by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1541, heralding a period of intense Indian Ocean focus for the Ottoman Empire. On the Portuguese side, by 1541, the situation was beginning to look rather dire.
Portugal remained the dominant Indian Ocean power in many respects - both Pate Marakkar’s fleet and Hamad Khan’s 1539 attempt to besiege Portuguese Malacca had been defeated. But Ottoman influence remained strong in both theatres - and as the Ottomans aimed mostly to protect independent Muslim merchants and revitalize the long-blockaded Red Sea trade routes, they continued to find easy allies against Portuguese dominance. Further complicating this period is that both Sultan Suleiman and King John III of Portugal claimed a divine mandate to control the Indian Ocean - Suleiman through his role as Caliph, and John through the Treaty of Tordesillas and accompanying Papal Bull Inter Caetera. This religious aspect of the conflict made compromise difficult, and even as the Portuguese position grew weaker, John remained unwilling to make significant concessions in exchange for peace. Instead, after being on the defensive throughout the past years, the Portuguese decided to put their fleet to the test in a major counterattack targeting the Ottoman shipyards of Suez.
In January of 1541, the Governor of Portuguese India, Estevao da Gama - son of legendary explorer Vasco da Gama - sailed for the Red Sea with a fleet of 40 ships and 2300 soldiers. The expedition was facing major problems before it had even departed, however. Khadjar Safar, in Surat, had caught wind of the attack and sent the Ottomans advance warning. The fleet would also find itself plagued with massive supply issues, becoming apparent as they reached their first destination of Massawa. The intention had been to make only a short stop in Massawa, from which Estevao’s younger brother Christovao and his 400 musketeers could disembark while the fleet resupplied before continuing on to Suez.
But with the Ethiopian-Adal war raging and famine ravaging the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopians in Massawa were unable to provide nearly enough food or supplies to last the large fleet to Suez. This meant that nearly half of the ships and soldiers intended for the Suez assault were forced to stay behind in Massawa, living off the meager charity the subjects of Galawdewos could provide. In addition, the Portuguese were largely unfamiliar with the Red Sea, having previously simply blockaded it at the Strait of Aden, and the poor winds caused the remainder of Estevao’s ships to make slow progress. The thirsty and dwindling fleet was forced to divide twice into ever-smaller task forces, raiding Suakin and several villages along the Arabian coast while heat and lack of water took a sharp toll. By the end of March, only 16 small oared ships and 250 men remained with Estevao, the rest of the fleet having turned back to Massawa - this paltry force arrived at Suez in late April to find it well-reinforced with a strong battery of shore guns and 2,000 Sipahi cavalry.
After a short exchange of fire, the hopelessness of the Portuguese situation became clear, and the retreat was called. Another excruciating month would pass before Estevao made it back to Massawa, where he found that mutiny had wracked the fleet as it lay in port, with over one hundred soldiers deserting only to be set upon and killed by tribesmen under Ahmed Gragn’s banner. More ships and men were lost to storms on the return to Goa - a humiliating end to the largest-scale offensive the Portuguese had ever attempted in the Indian Ocean.
In the aftermath of this catastrophic defeat, the Portuguese were forced to watch as Ottoman merchants ventured out ever further and Hadim Suleiman won ever more allies, with Ottoman merchants regularly trading as far South as the Swahili coast by 1544. The greatest threat to the now-dominant Ottoman Empire in the coming years would not come from further Portuguese offensives, but from factionalism. Despite his successes in the Indian Ocean, Hadim Suleiman Pasha was removed from his position as Grand Vizier in 1544 after accusations of embezzlement and died later the same year. In his place rose Rustem Pasha, the Sultan’s son-in-law and a major rival of both Hadim Suleiman and his protege, Daud Pasha, who had taken over as governor of Egypt. Rustem’s paranoia and distrust of Daud - who had once spread a false rumour that Rustem suffered from syphilis while the two men had been competing for the hand of the Sultan’s daughter - would lead to several heavy-handed attempts to weaken his rivals in the Indian ocean provinces, with often disastrous results. The first example of Rustem’s distaste for Indian Ocean matters would be in 1546 when Khadjar Safar, and Sultan Mahmud of Gujarat launched a second attack on Diu.
This assault had been years in the preparation and had every possibility of success - but despite this, Rustem refused to send any direct Ottoman support for the siege. The governor of Zebid, being a relative of Khadjar Safar’s, did send a small detachment of Janissaries and artillery to support the Gujarati effort - but compared to the huge expedition Hadim Suleiman had taken to Diu in 1538, it was clear little support would be coming from Rustem Pasha or the Ottoman central government. The Gujarati force was powerful in its own right though, and the second defence of Diu stretched the Portuguese almost to the breaking point, as all available ships and soldiers were brought to reinforce the vital fortress.
The officer in charge of the Gujarati center, a Turk by the name of Safi Agha who had previously overseen the construction of Surat’s walls, built a set of stone ramparts facing the fortress walls from which the Gujarati and Ottoman cannons began firing in June 1546. The accurate return fire from the defenders would neutralize much of the artillery, however, and Safi Agha was himself killed by falling debris as Portuguese cannons battered the ramparts. In August another officer, Jahangir Khan, would deal severe damage to the fort through the use of sappers and cause great casualties to the Portuguese defenders within. But the overall commander of the Gujarati army, Burhan ul-Mulk, failed to capitalize on the breach in the fort’s walls, later being accused of cowardice by Arab chronicler Zafar ul Walih. An attempted night attack on the damaged fortifications by another Turk, Jhujhar Khan, was discovered and repulsed by the Portuguese with Jhujhar being struck in the temple by a bullet and falling from the walls to his death.
By the time the Portuguese viceroy arrived with further reinforcements to break the siege in November, both sides had taken severe casualties in the long months of bombardment and assaults, yet the fort still held firm. Khadar Safar had been among the fallen, and his community of Ottoman merchants and expatriates had borne the brunt of the fighting, suffering the most severe casualties and largest expenses - largely ending their existence as a major political power within Gujarat. Much like in the first siege of Diu, the defeat of Ottoman allies at Diu was partially offset by opportunistic gains elsewhere - while the full strength of Portuguese India was devoted to defending Diu’s walls, Ottoman governors and allies in Arabia sacked Muscat, captured the Portuguese-allied port of Qishn, and ousted a rebellious tribal governor in Basra to bring the crucial province under direct Ottoman control. But Rustem Pasha’s abandonment of Hadim Suleiman’s network of alliances had cost the Ottomans a unique opportunity to oust the Portuguese from India, and his policies would create further disasters in the coming years.
The first of these would be the appointment of Uveys Pasha as governor of Ottoman Yemen in 1547. Uveys was a young and inexperienced officer, chosen for his personal loyalty to Rustem rather than talent. Within a year of his taking office, the whole of Yemen had risen up in revolt against the Ottomans, with local leaders inviting the Portuguese in to aid their rebellion and Uveys Pasha being assassinated. This one rebellion came very close to undoing the Ottoman’s gains of the previous decades, and only quick action on the part of Daud Pasha - circumventing the chain of command and bypassing Rustem - allowed the rebellion to be crushed before the Portuguese could intervene. After this debacle, Rustem made no further interventions in the Indian Ocean for several years, allowing relative peace to exist between the Ottomans and Portuguese from 1547 until 1552. But in 1552, Rustem would be back to meddling in full force, launching a massive but poorly-conceived offensive against the Portuguese island stronghold of Hormuz.
Before the expedition had even been launched, several problems were obvious. For one, the five years of peace had been very profitable for the Ottomans, as numerous Portuguese merchants had begun to trade illicitly with the Ottomans in Basra rather than make the far longer journey around Africa. Despite the official ban on this trade, even the captain of Portuguese Hormuz seems to have had commercial contacts in Basra, demonstrating that relations were warming up between local Ottoman and Portuguese representatives even as the two empires remained hostile. A direct attack on Hormuz would shatter a status quo that had been very much in the Ottomans’ favour.
Another problem was the command structure of the great fleet Rustem Pasha was assembling in Basra - most of the captains and admirals in charge were Rustem’s loyalists from the Mediterranean navy, with little or no experience in the Indian Ocean. In overall command was Piri Reis, a legendary admiral, and explorer in his own right, but now nearly 90 years old and reluctant to return to service. The last problem was a heavily armed Portuguese warship that had arrived in Hormuz, purely by chance, just ahead of the Ottoman fleet in April 1552. Having lost a large portion of their munitions in a shipwreck prior to making landfall, the Ottoman force pillaged the surrounding city but found themselves unable to crack the fort’s defenses, bolstered as they were by the warship’s crew and guns. At this failure, Piri Reis quickly lost his nerve and brought the fleet back to Basra, then abandoned his command to flee back to Suez with his plunder.
Upon his return, the storied admiral would be executed for abandoning his post, while the fleet lay leaderless and trapped by a Portuguese blockade of the Strait of Hormuz. A first attempt to break this blockade by Murad Beg came close to succeeding, before being foiled by changing winds - a second attempt by Seydi Ali Reis, another Mediterranean admiral without any Indian Ocean experience, saw the Ottoman fleet ambushed near Muscat and destroyed almost entirely. The defeated Seydi Ali Reis managed to escape, eventually taking refuge with the Ottoman merchants of Gujarat after being cut off from returning to Suez, but few others were so lucky. This string of naval defeats was a far greater disaster than any the Ottomans had yet faced in the Indian Ocean, and a major humiliation for Rustem Pasha, who was removed from his position as Grand Vizier later the same year.
In his place arose first Semiz Ali Pasha, and then in 1565 the famous Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who would oversee the last years of the Ottoman-Portuguese War and serve as Grand Vizier for three Sultans. There would be no further confrontations on the scale of Diu or Hormuz after Rustem Pasha’s reign - a smaller, failed attempt to capture Bahrain was made in 1559, and support was given to an Acehnese assault on Malacca in 1568, but the Ottomans would not assemble another fleet of sufficient size to challenge the Portuguese in an open naval confrontation. This is not to suggest the Ottomans had been defeated or given up on their Indian Ocean ambitions, however. Having learned from the mistakes of Rustem Pasha, Semiz Ali Pasha placed the Indian Ocean fleet under the command of Sefer Reis, an incredibly successful corsair with years of experience raiding Portuguese shipping in India. Under Sefer Reis, the war took on a very different shape - large, expensive Portuguese expeditions aimed at capturing Sefer would fail year after year, unable to corner the wily corsair.
Smaller expeditions or poorly-defended merchant ships would be set upon like lightning and captured, dragged back to Sefer’s home base of Mocha. As the years dragged on, the costs of continuing the war continued to mount for the beleaguered Portuguese, while more and more of the lucrative Indian Ocean trade flowed into Ottoman ports - the Ottomans would see success by land as well, landing a strong force in Massawa under Ozdemir Pasha in 1556 and conquering modern Eritrea. Meanwhile, independent merchants and corsairs from Arabia to Siam to Sumatra were joining the Ottoman cause, forcing the Portuguese to fight a decentralized guerilla war across the extent of their vast naval empire.
The Ottomans would never fully drive the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean, and while many mark the 1559 Bahrain campaign as the war’s end, privateering and jockeying for influence would continue between the two powers until Portugal’s 1580 annexation to Habsburg Spain. Given the massive discrepancy in size and resources between the two powers, Portugal’s dogged defense is quite remarkable - facing down one of the world’s greatest empires, surrounded by its allies and tributaries, the small Iberian kingdom had waged decades of unceasing warfare and scored decisive victories in many of the war’s largest confrontations. But the accomplishments of the Ottomans were remarkable in their own right. When they had taken over from the Mamluks, the Portuguese had ruled unopposed in the Indian Ocean, with the Red Sea blockaded and the Egyptian spice trade all but strangled. Just a few decades later, the Ottomans controlled the dominant share of the Indian trade, while the Caliphate - a title that had been all but meaningless since the Mongol sack of Baghdad - was again seen as a source of prestige and authority for the Ottomans by Muslims across much of the Indian Ocean world.
Though the Dutch and English would become dominant in the Indian Ocean in later centuries, at the expense of Portuguese and Ottomans alike, the legacy and prestige of these victories would be remarkably long-lasting - more than three hundred years later, English officers serving with Indian soldiers in the First World War would report fears of mutiny, writing of the great respect their Muslim soldiers held for the Ottoman Sultan. We will talk about the Ottomans and Portugal more in the coming episodes, so make sure you are subscribed and have pressed the bell button. Please, consider liking, commenting, and sharing - it helps immensely. Our videos would be impossible without our kind patrons and youtube channel members, whose ranks you can join via the links in the description to know our schedule, get early access to our videos, access our discord, and much more. This is the Kings and Generals channel, and we will catch you on the next one.