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Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

An Early Printed Book on the Battle of Lepanto

by Jennifer Bryan on 2022-04-22T17:10:31-04:00 in Special Collections & Archives, History | Comments

October 7, 2021 marked the 450th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the greatest naval battle in early modern history and the last major combat between galley fleets.  The forces of the Holy League, under the command of Don Juan of Austria, and the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Müezzinzâde Ali Pasha, engaged in a five-hour mêlée that resulted in victory for the Christian powers.  They had checked the Ottoman advance through the Mediterranean that had begun with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Detail of Andrea Vicentino's Battle of Lepanto in the Ducal Palace, Venice, from Alethea Wiel, The Navy of Venice (New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1910), DG676.8.W6 1910b

Giovanni Pietro Contarini wrote one of the earliest accounts of Lepanto, published in Venice in 1572 just months after the battle.  It is an invaluable source for all subsequent histories of the war between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire.  In 1573, the printer Pietro Perna (1519-1582) of Basel, Switzerland issued Latin and German translations of Contarini’s work.  Perna was an Italian from the Republic of Lucca, who arrived in Basel in 1542 and became the leading printer of the city.  His printer’s device bears the motto in Latin, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.”  Among the rare books in Special Collections & Archives is one of Perna's 1573 Latin editions, bound in vellum with simple decoration. 

First page, after the prefatory matter, of Ioan. Petri Contareni Veneti Historiae De Bello Nvper Venetis A Selimo II Tvrcarvm Imperatore Illato, Liber Vnvs, Ex Italico sermone in latinum conuersus, A Ioan. Nicolao Stupano Philos. Et Medico.  DR516.C65 1573.

Pietro Perna's printer's device.

Vellum binding with simple decoration featuring a central fleuron.

Title page with manuscript notation indicating this volume was once part of the court library of the Prince-Bishop of Eichstätt.

The manuscript note on the title page indicates that the volume was once part of the court library of the Prince-Bishop of Eichstätt. The bishops of Eichstätt were princes of the Holy Roman Empire, subject to the spiritual jurisdiction of the archbishops of Mainz, and ruled over considerable territories in the Circle of Franconia (circles were administrative units within the empire). In 1802, the see was secularized and incorporated in Bavaria.  It is unknown who donated the volume to the Naval Academy, which was accessioned into the library's holdings in 1861, almost three hundred years after its publication.

Map of the Battle of Lepanto from Perna's Latin edition.  Note that the title is in German.

Contarini's History opens with the Ottoman campaign against Cyprus in 1570 and culminates with the Battle of Lepanto.  According to the translator of Contarini's original 1572 Italian edition, "the History is the first comprehensive account of the war and the only one to attempt a concise but comprehensive overview of its course and the Holy League's triumph....Significantly, it is also the only account by an immediate observer."


Contarini, Giovanni Pietro.  From Cyprus to Lepanto.  Translated by Kiril Petkov.  New York and Bristol:  Italica Press, 2019.  (Source of quote, page xvii).  DG678.2.C6613 2019 

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., s.v. "Eichstätt."  Guggenheim Collection AE5.E36 1910-1922

The Oxford Companion to the Book, s.v. "Perna, Pietro."  Z4.O89 2010

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