Saturday, February 8, 2020

A New Project: The Cross and the Crescent, Malta, 1565 - Turgut Reis 'The Drawn Sword of Islam' - for Awdry's Atoll

I've been plinking away on this submission since the beginning of the Challenge and so I'm quite happy to finally see it off my desk and 'going live'. 

I've had an interest in the Ottoman empire since my university days when we studied its collapse after the end of the First World War. My curiosity was rekindled a few summers ago after reading Roger Crowley's excellent '1543' on the Siege of Constantinople, his 'Empires of the Sea' and Tim Willcocks' 'The Religion' which recounts the siege of Malta in 1565. This fascination was further stoked after a recent vacation to Malta where we toured the fortifications of Valletta and took in its wonderful (and brand spanking new) national war museum. It was after this visit I felt committed to doing something hobby-wise for this period.

Sarah looking across to Fort St. Angelo from near Fort St. Elmo.

A cross-section model displaying elements of the Maltese fortifications.
A wonderful selection of Ottoman arms and armour from the Great Siege.

So this will serve as the first instalment of a new project where I hope to dabble in the period between the 15th and 17th centuries where the Ottoman Empire posed its greatest challenge to the West. This will roughly span from the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 to the second Siege of Vienna in 1683.

230 years may seem to be a fairly broad brief, but I think the uniforms and equipment of the belligerents did not vary too much during this time, with only gunpowder arms becoming more prevalent in the later period. 

As to colour and interesting subject matter? I think I'll be absolutely spoiled for choice, what with silk-clad Janissaries, Christian knights in full plate, fierce Barbary pirates, winged hussars...the list goes on and on. It should be a feast of colour and options.

Over the past few years, I've been collecting miniatures and terrain for this project and  finally thought it high time to get something accomplished.


For his location on Challenge Island, Michael asks us to create a vignette whose base is the same dimensions as the humble Compact Disc. 

Accordingly, this post features the Ottoman commander, Turgut Reis, reviewing his troops before the walls of St. Elmo. 

Turgut Reis, 'The Drawn Sword of Islam' (known as Dragut Reis in the West) was one of the chief Ottoman commanders during the siege of Malta. He's a fascinating character with a storied career.

At the age of 12 Turgut apprenticed as a cannoneer, advancing to the rank of master of siege artillery. At around 30 he took to the seas and over the next 50 years became one of the most successful corsairs and fleet commanders in history.

After impressing the Sultan with his dash and vigor, he succeeded Barbarossa in 1546 as Ottoman supreme commander in the Mediterranean. He harried Christian coastlines, captured islands and cities, took tens of thousands of captives and made himself rich on the spoils of war. He became Bey of Algeria in 1548 and later took Tripoli from the Knights of St John in 1551. By the time of the Great Siege of Malta Turgut was 80 years old but still very vital.

Fittingly Turgut met his fate facing his old adversaries, the Knights of St John. During the siege of St Elmo he was hit by a piece of flying debris from a nearby cannon shot. Tenacious facing death as he was in life, he held on for six days, just long enough to receive the news that the fortress had fallen.

The vignette I've come up with has the mounted Turgut and his bannerman moving through a group of Janissaires, with a unit of Algerian corsairs in the background.

So, what's with the two Janissaires carrying the cauldron? Great question! I was a bit perplexed as well. After a bit of reading what I found is that in order to foster greater elan, where every janissary thought of his brothers-in-arms as family, the corps’ military vocabulary and symbolism drew heavily on that of the kitchen. 

For example, the janissary headgear, called a börk, was decorated with an ornamental kaşık-lık (spoon holder), to show that all janissaries were messmates. Domestic terms were also applied to the janissaries’ ranks and organization. The corps as a whole was called the Ocak (hearth) and each orta (regiment) was commanded by a çorba-başi (head-of-soup) who in turn was assisted by a sekban-başi (head of hunting-hounds). Non-commissioned officers bore such titles as sakka-başi (head water-carrier), karakullukçu (scullion) and aşçi-başi (master cook). Finally The sultan’s title among the janissaries was bizi besleyen baba or ‘the father who feeds us.’

The pride of each orta was its great copper cauldron called a kazan.

On the march, kazans pots were carried in the place of honour at the head of the regiment. In camp, they were placed in front of each çorba-başi’s tent to serve as a rallying point. The worst crime any janissary could commit was to allow his regiment’s cauldron to be captured by the enemy. If a kazan was lost in battle, all the regiment’s officers were dishonourably discharged and the orta forbidden to parade in public with its replacement.

Napoleon had his eagles, whereas the Sultan had his soup pots! 


Another interesting thing I discovered was that it was not uncommon for Ottoman units to have very ornate finials atop their standards and headgear. These were often crafted to depict their specific administrative role or branch of service. 

So I thought it might be visually interesting to try to incorporate a few of these into some of my units. I tarted up a finial for both Turgut's standard, (a relatively straighforward crescent and orb) and a rather more ostentatious galley for his fierce corsairs.

A blob of miliput, plastic rod and a card

3D printer to the rescue

Accompanying Turgut, is a mixed group of Barbary corsair spearmen and archers.

My thanks to Byron for making up these sabot bases according to my whacky design.

These models are from Footsore miniatures and were an absolute joy to work on. Though they are targeted for around the 7th century I think they can easily be used for periods right up to the Renaissance.

I really wanted to reinforce the mixed composition of much of the Ottoman force, so I really went to town with the varied colours and patterns.

My great thanks to Michael for the providing the inspiration for getting this done and to all of you readers for patiently indulging me with this long post. I'm very stoked about this project and hope to have some more figures to show you in the coming weeks.

Thanks again!