Book Review: Rhodes Besieged: A New History


by Robert Douglas Smith & Kelly DeVries

Stroud, Glouc.: History Press/Chicago: Independent Publishers Group, Trafalgar Square, 2012. Pp. 206.. Illus., tables, appends., notes, biblio, index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 0752461788

In Besieged Rhodes, military historian DeVries and museum curator Smith join forces to retell the epic story of the long defense of Rhodes by the Knights Hospitaler against the Ottomans. 

The Ottomans first tired to take the island fortress in 1480, but failed after four months of often fierce fighting.  Although Sultan Mehmet II was prepared to renew the siege, his death in 1481 led to a long uneasy peace.  In 1522 the young Sultan Suleiman I initiated a second siege.  After six months of heavy fighting (June-December), the Knights surrendered on good terms, decamping to Malta, where Suleiman would once more besiege them in 1565 with very different results..

In preparing this new account of the siege, the authors draw upon many sources, including, documents, letters, and personal narratives, and make excellent use of physical evidence as well, including artifacts from swords and cannon to moats, bastions, and curtain walls.  They provide a rather detailed analysis of the defenses, the siege works, and the weaponry.  Their account of the siege is prefaced by a look at the earlier history of the Knights and firmly fixed in the larger theater of European-Mediterranean politics.  The narrative of events include excerpts from many eye witness accounts, which makes for a more vivid treatment.  The authors also give us looks at the principal leaders, and the work is supported by numerous illustrations.   

Despite a surprising lack of maps (some of the illustrations help), Besieged Rhodes is not only a very good account of these critical events, but also provides a good look at the evolution of siege craft in the period.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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