A pirate raid in the Ionian off Kefalonia, in the spring of 1609 AD.

The Ionian has long been an important crossroads of the Mediterranean crucial for transport between East and West, North and South. In the time of the travelers many were those who crossed it, visited the Ionian Islands and were enchanted by their beauty.

A Scottish traveler William Lithgow, traveling from his homeland to the Holy Land via Venice in the spring of 1609, had to cross the Adriatic Sea to Corfu to continue his journey through the Ionian Sea. He boarded a merchant ship bound for Zakynthos, but as they sailed the strait between Ithaca and Lefkada coming from the west of the open sea, they were attacked by a Turkish pirate ship and after escaping, they found refuge in Argostoli.

Thus was recorded a pirate raid off Kefalonia 411 years ago with beautiful details that give us an intuitive understanding of the dangers faced by travelers at sea. Of course we will never know if the feeling of courage of the protagonists as described is completely sincere, but in any case we are offered information about the opinion of a visitor who wandered in our islands, as he described points of interest and products of Kefalonia (and others Ionian islands in the rest of the book) which he considered important!

It is interesting that names of the era are recorded that alienate us today such as Ithaca which was then referred to as “Little Kefalonia” (Cephalonia minor) while the Strait of Ithaca and the region of Sami are referred to as “Valley of Alexandria” (Val d ‘Alessandria) ! Also interesting are the comments about the products and even more about the history of the place visited by the traveler and author. It seems that in the short passage with his exploratory look he explores the people, their lives, the roots of the tradition and the daily life of the place that hosts him.

The following is a narration of the events in a free translation from the book (translation: Telemachos Beriatos) and then an excerpt from the original is quoted. Lithgow writes:

“… I boarded a small Greek sailing merchant ship with other Greeks, Dalmatians, Italians, Armenians and Jews, all 48 in number, bound for Zakynthos. With strong and favorable winds in twenty-four hours we arrived in Kefalonia (“Ile Cephalonia the greater”) and settled near Ithaca (“Cephalonia minor, or the lesser Ithaca, now called Val di Compare”), known as the place where the son was born of Laertes, Odysseus.

On our left we saw Agia Mavra, formerly Lefkada… as we crossed the strait the captain saw a sailboat approaching from the open sea and sent an observer sailor to the top of our mast, he confirmed that it was a Turkish pirate from the city of Bizarre of Tunisia), with the course and purpose of the raid on our ship. Despair gripped the crew and passengers and the opinions sought by the captain were divided. Most responded that it would be better to surrender than to fight, confident that their friends would pay a ransom to return home safe and sound. But I, the wandering pilgrim so far from my homeland, had no hope of redemption. In the face of the gloomy possibility of slavery I turned to the master and told him that as he had told me, half the boat and most of the cargo was his so I advised him to prepare himself, to promise his sailors double wages and to encourage the passengers, to prepare the two cannons, the musket and the gunpowder, spears and swords. Because who knows, the Lord can save us from the unbelievers. My urging resonated and reassured everyone, despair gave way to courage and determination as it seemed that it was better to enter the battle than to wait for the consequences of the raid. may the Lord save us from the unbelievers. My urging resonated and reassured everyone, despair gave way to courage and determination as it seemed that it was better to enter the battle than to wait for the consequences of the raid. may the Lord save us from the unbelievers. My urging resonated and reassured everyone, despair gave way to courage and determination as it seemed that it was better to enter the battle than to wait for the consequences of the raid.

To implement our plan we all worked, some under the deck on the cannons, some cleaning the muskets, some preparing the shells and gunpowder, others the swords and other weapons, others securing the hatches. The master decided to take places under the deck to protect ourselves from bullets and debris but also from a sudden result. The courage of the men who would defend their lives and their freedom was such that I honestly believed that we looked like we were three times as many. Everyone stood ready with his harpoon (portable firearm) and his spear, leaving our fortunes to the Almighty. And so we watched their fiery greeting.

The battle started with great anger and deafening shelling. And with a pathetic response we sent our own fiery fireballs that resounded in the clouds and that raised the hope that struggled with fear within us. After a long and dubious battle filled with cannon and musket shots, the Turks withdrew overnight determined to resume the attack the next morning. But as if someone was protecting us, a severe storm broke out and at dawn we escaped from our pursuers. And we had to seek refuge in the bay of Argostoli in Kefalonia, both because of the violent weather and because of our wounded ship. In this battle, three Italians, two Greeks and two Jews were killed with eleven more fatally wounded (s.s. probably means in critical condition) and with me also taken in the right arm by a small projectile. But we were not sure what damage we did to the unbelievers, but we only knew that we threw the middle mast at them and dismantled the stern part of the inner deck, because the Greeks are not experienced gunners nor our yawns were a big inconvenience to them as they did not attempt to board. our ship (s.s. the yarrows were more effective as a defense against attacking men). But anyway, after we landed on the shore we thanked the Lord for our unexpected salvation and buried the dead Christians in the courtyard of a Greek church and the Jews on the beach. because the Greeks are not experienced gunners nor our yawns were a big inconvenience for them as they did not try to board our ship (s.s. yawns were more effective as a defense against attacking men). But anyway, after we landed on the shore we thanked the Lord for our unexpected salvation and buried the dead Christians in the courtyard of a Greek church and the Jews on the beach. because the Greeks are not experienced gunners nor our yawns were a big inconvenience for them as they did not try to board our ship (s.s. yawns were more effective as a defense against attacking men). But anyway, after we landed on the shore we thanked the Lord for our unexpected salvation and buried the dead Christians in the courtyard of a Greek church and the Jews on the beach.

This bay of Argostoli is two miles long and is surrounded by two hills, on one of them there is a strong fortress that guards the passage to the narrow gulf. It was here that the Christian fleet gathered in the year 1571 (they parked in the natural port of Sami on October 6, on the eve of the Battle of Nafpaktos), when they came to appease the wrath of the great Turkish armada that was currently chartering in Patras, in the territories of Greece and stood against them after having conquered Cyprus last year by the Venetians.

The island of Kefalonia was originally called Ithaca and was especially known as the Kingdom of the worthy Odysseus, who excelled all other Greeks in eloquence and sharpness of spirit. He was referred to as Doulichion by Strabo. And from ancient writers Kefalonia was named by Kefalos, leader of the army of Amfitryon (who campaigned against the Televos or Tombs, then inhabitants of Kefalonia). Amphitryon, a Theban leader who had conquered the island and killed in battle Pterelaos, king of the Televos, ceded it to Kefalos to rule it. This was a noble man from Athens, one day he killed his wife Prokridas on the hunt with an arrow intended for hunting, he turned to Amfitryonas who, pitying him, handed over the island to him and thus took his name. Kefalonia lies at the mouth of the Gulf of Nafpaktos opposite part of Aetolia and Acarnania on the mainland. It has a perimeter of 156 and a length of 48 miles.

The land is mountainous, full of mountains but still extremely fertile, producing Malvasia (Malvasia, sweet wine from a variety of grapes in the region of Monemvasia), Muskadine (variety of grapes), vino Leatico (Italian variety of grapes), raisins, olives, figs honey, spring water, Pine, Mulberry, Palm and Cypress and many other kinds of fruit in abundance. The trade of which feeds the Venetians who own it.

Leaving this storm-tossed caramel, I said to cross the island. On the first day of the trip I passed through many beautiful villages and wonderful fields especially the “Val d ‘Alessandria” (s.s. that was then called Sami of Kefalonia) where the Greeks told me that their ancestors were defeated in battle by the Macedonian conqueror . They also showed me the ruins of a temple that had long been dedicated to Zeus at the top of Mount “GarGasso” (apparently meaning Mount Aenos, which may have had a different name at the time). And on the second day I hired two fishermen with a small boat to take me to Zakynthos, twenty-five miles away. … ”

The following is an excerpt from the book regarding the part of the trip that concerns the raid off the coast of Kefalonia (the spelling is that of the original text and the “misspelling” we observe was something natural for the time).

The full title of the book is: ” The total discourse of the rare adventures painefull peregrinations of long nineteen yeares travayles from Scotland to the most famous kingdomes in Europe Asia and Affrica ” (AD 1609) by William Lithgow and according to the information first published in the year 1632 in London while a digitized book published by the University of Glasgow in 1906 is available, which was the basis for this article.

 

(page 54)

“… From there (Corfu) after certaine daies abode, I imbarked in a Greekish Carmesalo, with a great number of passengers, Greekes, Slavonians, Italians, Armenians, and Jewes, that were all mindefull to Zante, and I also of the like intent; being in all fourty eight persons: having roome windes, and a fresh gale, in 24 houres we discovered the Ile Cephalonia the greater; and sayled close along Cephalonia minor, or the lesser Ithaca, called now Val di Compare, being in length twenty, and in circuite fifty sixe miles, renowned for the birth of Laertes sonne, Ulysses;

 

On our left hand toward the maine, we saw an Iland, called Saint Maure, formerly Leucas, or Leucada; which is onely inhabited by Jewes, to whome Bajazet the second gave it in possession, after their expulsion from Spaine: The chiefe City is Saint Maure, which not long agoe was subject to Venice. This Ile Saint Maure was aunciently contiguate with the continent, but now rent asunder, and invironed with the sea: In this meane while of our navigable passage, the Captaine of the vessel espied a Saile coming from Sea, he presently being moved therewith, sent a Mariner to the toppe, who certified him she was a Turkish Galley of Biserta, prosecuting a straight course to invade our Barke. Which sudden affrighting newes overwhelmed us almost in despare. Resolution being by he amazed Maister demaunded, of every man what was best to doe, some replyed one way, and some another: …”

 

(page 55)

“… Insomuch, that the most part of the passengers gave counsel, rather to render, then fight; being confident, their friends would pay their ransome, and so relieve them. But I the wandring Pilgrime, pondering in my pensive breast, my solitary estate, the distance of my Country and friends, could conceive no hope of deliverance. Upon the which troublesome and fearfull appearance of slavery, I absolutely arose, and spoke to the Maister, saying: The halfe of the Carmosalo is your owne, and the most part also of the loading (all which he had told me before:) wherefore my counsel is, that you prepare your selfe to fight, and goe encourage your passengers, promise to your Mariners double wages, make ready your two peeces of Ordonance, your Muskets, Powder, Lead and halfe-Pikes: for who knoweth, but the Lord may deliver us from the thraldome of these Infidels, My exhortation ended, he gave good comfort, and large promises to them all: So that their affrighted hopes were converted to a courageous resolution; seeming rather to give the first assault, then to receive the second wrong.

 

To performe the plots of our defence, every man was busie in the worke, some beloa in the Gunner-roome, others cleansing the Muskets, some preparing the powder and balles, some their Swords, and short weapons, some dressing the halfe-pikes, & others making fast the doors above: for so the Maister resolved to make combate below, both to save us from small shot, and besides for boording us on a sudden. The dexterous courage of all men was so forward to defend their lives and liberty, that truly in mine opinion we seemed thrice as many as we were. All things below and above being cunningly perfected, and every one ranked in order with his Harquebuse and pike, to stand on the Centinell of his owne defence, we recommended our selves in the hands of the Almighty: and in the meane while attended their fiery salutations. …”

 

(page 56)

“… In a furious spleene, the first Hola of their courtesies, was the progresse of a martiall conflict, thundring forth a terrible noise of Galley-roaring peeces. And we in a sad reply, sent out a backe-sounding echo of fiery flying shots: which made an aequivox to the clouds, rebounding backward in our perturbed breasts, the ambiguous sounds of feare and hope. After a long and doubtfull fight, both with great and small shot (night parting us) the Turkes retired till morning, and then were mindfull to give us the new rancounter of a second alarum. But as it pleased him, who never faileth his, to send downe an unresistable tempest; about the breake of day we escaped their furious designes; and were enforced to seeke into the bay of Largostolo in Cephalonia; both because of the violent weather, and also for that a great lake was stricken into our Ship. In this fight there were of us killed three Italians, two Greekes, and two Jewes, with eleven others deadly wounded, and I also hurt in the right arme with a small shot. But what harme was done by us amongst the Infidels, we were not assured thereof, save onely this, we shot away their middle mast, and the hinder part of the puppe; for the Greekes are not expert Gunners, neither could our Harquebusadoes much annoy them, in respect they never boorded. But howsoever it was, being all disbarked on shoare, we gave thanks to the Lord for our unexpected safety, and buried the dead Christians in a Greekish Church-yard, and the jewes were interred by the sea side.

This bay of Largastolo is two miles in length, being invironed with two little Mountaines; upon the one of these two, standeth a strong Fortresse, which defendeth the passage of the narrow Gulfe. It was here that the Christian Gallies assembled, in the yeare 1571. When they came to abate the rage of the great Turks Armado; which at that time lay in Peterasso, in the firme land of Greece, and right opposite to them; and had made conquest the yeare before, of noble Cyprus from the Venetians. …”

 

(page 57)

“… The Ile of Cephalonia was formerly called Ithaca, and greatly renowned, because it was the heretable Kingdome of the worthy Ulysses, who excelled all other Greekes in Eloquence and subtility of wit. Secondly, by Strabo it was named Dulichi: And thirdly, by auncient Authors Cephalonia, of Cephalo, who was Captaine of the Army of Cleobas Anfrittion. The which Anfrittion, a Theban Captaine having conquered the Iland, and slaine in battell Pterelaus King of Teleboas, for so then was the Iland called, gave it in a gift of government to Cephalo. This Cephalo was a Noble man of Athens, who being one day at hunting killed his owne wife Procris, with an arrow in steed of his prey, whereupon he flying to Amphitrion, and the other pittying his case, resigned this isle to him, of whom it taketh the denomination: Cephalonia lyeth in the mouth of the Gulfe Lepanto, opposite to a part of Aetolia and Acarnania in the firme land: It is in circuit 156. And in length 48. Miles.

The land it selfe is full of Mountaines, yet exceeding fertile, yielding Malvasia, Muskadine, vino Leatico, Raysins, Olives, Figges, Honey, Sweet-water, Pine, Molberry, Date, and Cypre-trees, and all other sorts of fruites in abundance. The commodity of which redounds yearely to the Venetians, for they are Signiors thereof.

Leaving this weather-beaten Carmoesalo, layd up to a full sea, I tooke purpose to travel through the Iland; in the first dayes journey, I past by many fine Villages and pleasant fields, especially the vaile Alessandro; where the Greekes told me, their Ancestors were vanquished in battell by the Macedonian Conquerour. They also shewd me on the top of Mount Gargasso, the ruines of that Temple, which had beene of old dedicate to Jupiter: and upon the second day I hired two Fisher-men in a little Boat, to carry me over to Zante, being twenty five miles distant. …”

Telemachus of Beriatos

3-star CMAS diver, PSS Technical Diver

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