Siege of Shkodra

Siege of Shkodra
Part of Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479)

Gatteri's 1860 etching of the 1478 siege
DateMay, 1478 - April 25, 1479
42°02′47″N 19°29′37″E / 42°02′47″N 19°29′37″E / 42.0465; 19.4935
ResultOttoman victory;Treaty of Constantinople (1479)
Shkodra was ceded to the Ottoman Empire
Fictitious Ottoman flag 2.svg Ottoman Empire

 Republic of Venice
Albanian resistance forces[1][2]

Coat of arms of the house of Crnojevic.svg Lordship of Zeta
Commanders and leaders

Modern estimations: Tens of thousands
[citation needed] Contemporary Ottoman and Shkodran chronicles: 150,000—350,000 soldiers[3]
8,000-40,000 under Gedik Ahmet after sultan left the siege in September 1478[4][5]:365
1,600 inside the garrison[6]:15
Unknown number of forces outside the garrison
Casualties and losses
At least 12,000 on July 22
Allegedly one-third of the Ottoman forces on July 27[5]:364
Approximately 1,000 inside the garrison[6]:15
200 sailors and 2 galleys from Lezhë
300 captives from Drisht
Object of the siege: an ancient Albanian citadel on the Bojana River

The Siege of Shkodra of 1478–79 was a confrontation between the Ottoman Empire and the Albanians[7][8][9] and Venetians at Shkodra (Scutari in Italian) and its Rozafa Castle during the First Ottoman-Venetian War (1463–79). Ottoman historian Franz Babinger called the siege “one of the most remarkable episodes in the struggle between the West and the Crescent.”[5]:363 A small force of approximately 1,600 Albanian and Italian men and a much smaller number of women[6]:10–13 faced a massive Ottoman force containing artillery cast on site[10]:134 and an army reported (though widely disputed) to have been as many as 350,000 in number.[11]:160 The campaign was so important to Mehmed II “the Conqueror” that he came personally to ensure triumph. After nineteen days of bombarding the castle walls, the Ottomans launched five successive general attacks which all ended in victory for the besieged. With dwindling resources, Mehmed attacked and defeated the smaller surrounding fortresses of Žabljak Crnojevića, Drisht, and Lezha, left a siege force to starve Shkodra into surrender, and returned to Constantinople. On January 25, 1479, Venice and Constantinople signed a peace agreement that ceded Shkodra to the Ottoman Empire. The defenders of the citadel emigrated to Venice, whereas many Albanians from the region retreated into the mountains.[12] Shkodra then became a seat of the newly established Ottoman sanjak, the Sanjak of Scutari. The Ottomans held the city until Montenegro captured it in April 1913, after a six-month siege.


Fatih Sultan Mehmet II went personally to lead the siege

Shkodra, also known as Shkodër, Skadar, and Scutari, was both a strategic town and an important region of Albania Veneta. After being held by the Balšić (Balsha) noble family since 1355, Shkodra was taken by the Ottomans in 1393,[13] retaken by Đurađ II Balšić in 1395, then ceded (along with the nearby fortresses of Drivast, Dagnum and Šas) to the Republic of Venice in 1396.[14]:305

Sultan Mehmed II had already conquered Constantinople in 1453, but now desired to dominate the Albanian coastline and be better poised to cross the Adriatic and march upon Rome.[10]:134 Scanderbeg had thwarted Ottoman success in Albania for a quarter of a century; his League of Lezha, a united front of Albanian forces which was formed in 1444 to resist the Ottomans,[15] had collapsed in 1450.[16] Scanderbeg died in 1468; nevertheless, Kruja and some northern Albanian garrisons were still holding with Venetian support.

The Venetians and the Ottoman Empire had been at war since 1463, the Ottoman Empire seeking expansion and the Venetians seeking to secure their trading colonies. Venice held and was arming a number of Albanian towns, including Shkodra, which it had taken in 1396[17]:68 and renamed Scutari. By 1466 Venice considered Shkodra the heart and capital of Albania Veneta.[18]:531

Shkodra was so important to the Empire’s aims that, shortly after the siege, Ottoman chronicler Ashik Pashazade called it "the hope of passage to the lands of Italy."[19] The Ottomans attempted to take Shkodra in the siege of 1474. Sultan Mehmed II's commander Suleiman Pasha failed; therefore the Ottomans retreated and the sultan planned a more powerful offensive.

Meanwhile, Mehmed II had demanded that Venice surrender Kruja, Shkodra, and other Albanian towns in exchange for peace, and added leverage to this demand by instructing Iskender Bey, the sanjak bey of Bosnia to invade Friuli. Count Carlo da Braccio repulsed the invaders, but before returning to Bosnia, "the Turkish bands nevertheless did enormous damage and carried away large numbers of men and cattle." Despite these losses, Venice refused to yield to Mehmed II's demands to surrender Shkodra, being its "last bastion in the East."[5]:360–361 In 1477 the Ottomans captured most of the nearby territory of Zeta together with Žabljak and defeated the main army of Ivan Crnojević late in 1477 or early 1478.[20] Crnojević soon recovered Žabljak[21] but held it only briefly while the Ottomans concentrated on their attack on Shkodra.[22] Among the population of Shkodra there were people who were suspected to be connected to the Ottomans and who supported the surrender of the city.[23]