Map of Herceg Novi, showing the fortifications built by the Venetians during the siege of the city by the Ottomans.
Artist unknown, ca. 1589.
In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire seemed to be moving inexorably west. Although an enormous alliance of Christian Europeans had managed to halt the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1829, ten years later the existential dread hadn’t faded.
At the time, Montenegro was a colony of Venice, but the wealthy Italian city-state was built on trade that had been ruined by the Ottoman conquests, and so they turned to their allies to help them defend their holdings. 15,000 Spaniard infantrymen were sent east to defend the colony. Castelnuovo (modern Herceg Novi) was the primary beachhead and first line of defense.
In June of 1539, the Ottomans attacked, besieging the city. The siege lasted nearly two months, finally ending in a bloody battle on August 5. In the end, the Ottomans were the victor, and the city would be theirs for the next 150 years. But the victory was Pyrrhic, with estimates of 20,000 or more Ottoman soldiers killed.
The battle was also a disaster for the Spanish soldiers, nearly all of whom were killed - the hundred or so who survived were captured and enslaved by the Ottomans. Their glorious deaths as martyrs to a Christian Europe were a source of inspiration to thousands, though, and they were memorialized in endless songs and poems of the day.