In the Siege of Malta, the Knights Hospitaller defended the island despite being heavily outnumbered by the invading Ottoman troops. Malta was such a small island, the Turks were the masters of the Mediterranean at the time and the Knights were outnumbered, so this battle became well-known throughout Europe.

Did the knights employ any notable new tactics/strategy during this defense that contributed to their success? Something creative that got imitated afterwards?

Or was their success mainly caused by "normal" factors such as the strength of the fortification or mistakes from the Ottomans?

  • 1
    Welcome to our website! It's an interesting question, my answer on the way. Feel free to fill in your profile. :) Apr 4, 2013 at 18:26
  • Yes, they invented malted milk shakes. Oh, wait, that's not a military innovation. Aug 27, 2015 at 2:47

1 Answer 1


The answer is yes. While both the strength of fortifications and terrible mistakes from the Ottomans (I would also count the great determination and strategy of defenders as a third condition) played a highly important role, during the siege, Hospitallers used also a kind of defensive weapons that were unavailable to any other forces of their times.

I recommend the lecture of memoirs written by Correggio, one of the arquebusiers who were fighting at Malta during the siege. But as I can't provide any English language quotes from that, I'll quote the book "Malta 1565: Last Battle Of The Crusades" by Tim Pickles.

We can read there about the famous Greek fire, the secret of which (according to Correggio) was stolen by the Hospitallers from Byzantine Empire during the times of crusades. But what's important, Holy Knights improved it by the new invention of special hoops.

It played a crucial role during at least few important days of the siege (but probably much more of them), starting from the first days of June. Tim Pickles writes about it:

Now was the time to use weapons, which the defenders prepared for just such a moment: Greek Fire, a sort of napalm molotov coctail in the earthenware pots that could be thrown up to 30 yards. The Trump, a primitive flame thrower which gave off the flame several yards long fed by sulfur resin and linseed oil; and the firework hoop made of light wood soaked in dried and similar flammable liquids and impregnated with gunpowder. This last weapon was specially designed as an anti-personnel weapon against the Turks. When lit they were then thrown over the walls using tongs, and would land on or in front of the attackers, several of whom could be entangled in one hoop. Their traditional Turkish robes would soon catch fire and the effect was devastating.

  • A side note for Drux: at the time of battle, Jean de la Valette, who led the defenders, was 70 years old. Apr 4, 2013 at 21:27
  • 1
    I have two quibbles with the contents of this answer: 1 - Greek Fire was supposedly invented in 672. Unless they did something unusual with it, a 900 year old technique can hardly be considered an innovation. 2 - I don't see how the quoted passage jibes at all with Wikipedia's statement that nobody is really sure how it was made. At best this is just Mr. Pickles' theory, right?
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 4, 2013 at 23:29
  • 2
    Both your quibbles complete themselves. Greek Fire was invented much earlier, but its technique vanished and that's how it's use is exceptional in the history of 16th century. As I've written in my answer, various sources (starting with Correggio, as the first place I've heard about the use of Greek Fire during the siege is it's Polish synopsis) claim that Hospitallers knew that and used during the siege, with descriptions how the mentioned hoops were used. And they are described by as knight's innovation to use specially against the Turks. Apr 5, 2013 at 0:30
  • Without a doubt there had to be at least something similar to Greek Fire used at Malta, what made chroniclers to write about that and refer to it as the original Greek Fire. Apr 5, 2013 at 0:32
  • It's said that the siege is well described in the following 16th century source by Heinrich Pantaleon: uni-mannheim.de/mateo/camenahist/pantaleon1/te12.html unfortunately my language skills make the lecture unavailable for me. Apr 5, 2013 at 0:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.