Tuesday 1 September 2020

The Siege of the Castle of St George, Kefalonia, 1500

A change in scenery from the north of Tudor England and the fighting around Wark to the Venetian fortress of St George on the Island of Kefalonia. Last week my friend Tom visited and we decided to give the Ottomans a test run and play a scenario set during the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499-1503, the Siege of the Castle of St George. This was a campaign that was made more unusual by the Venetians being joined by Gonzalo de Cordoba in a effort to recapture their island.

The Siege of the Castle of Saint George, 1500

The Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499-1503 began with an Ottoman attack on Venetian held Lepanto, which was taken in August 1499. The war had continued to go badly for the Serene Republic with a ferocious storming of Modon (modern day Methoni) in August 1500 following a bitter siege. This led to the surrender of the nearby Venetian positions of Coron and Navarino. By the end of the year, aided by the diplomacy of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, El Gran Capitan, Gonzalo de Cordoba, and his Spanish veterans joined a Venetian force under Bendetto Pesaro, launching an assault on the Greek island of Kefalonia in an attempt to strike back at the Ottomans who had recently taken the island and its primary fortification, the Castle of St George.

The commander of the fortress was a tough Albanian named Gisdar Aga. He refused an offer to surrender from de Cordoba instead sending him a gift of a bow and golden plated quiver filled with arrows. He had a determined garrison of seven to eight hundred men under his command which included Janissaries. The Spanish and Venetians laid siege to the castle with the aid of Pedro Navarro who de Cordoba had recently recruited into his service.  Depsite Navarro's natural talent for mining and engineering the Ottomans held on, hurling fireballs onto the attackers and "fishing" them with iron hooks  nicknamed "wolves" if they got too near the walls. One of de Cordoba's Captains, Diego Garcia de Paredes, known as the "Samson of Estremedura " was caught by one of these hooks. Dangling and being lifted up to his death he was only saved by an arquebusier climbing onto the cliffs and shooting the defender who was "fishing" his captain.

Everytime the Spanish would approach the gates the intensity of the Ottoman arrows and the sallys from the gate were such that El Gran Capitan had his men make a large armoured box on wheels from which they could safely shoot artillery at the gate. Gisdar's men even attempted to bury their way out, building a tunnel through which they intended to assault the Spanish from and attack de Cordoba and his officers in their camp! The camp sentries heard the digging and Navarro countermined the tunnel leading to some particularly unpleasant deaths for the Ottoman miners. An indication of the savagery of the siege is given by the fact the Venetians impaled some of the Turkish survivors of the mine. An assault by 2,000 Venetians, advised against by de Cordoba was also repulsed. The castle finally fell on 24 December 1500 following days of mining and bombardment and an assault on five different points of the castle.

A view of the table from the Spanish and Venetian camp. The Spanish retinue are deployed in the camp with the armoured wagon while the Venetians are positioned around the gun battery. Gisdar Aga's troops will enter from the Castle of St George, seen at the top of the photo. The Ottoman surprise attack will come from one of the Spanish and Venetian flanks.

The Game

The game combined various events of the siege into one action. The Spanish had to try and push the armoured wagon to within range of the gates while Pedro Navarro would attempt to plant an explosive mine against the walls. At the same time the Ottoman Garrison would sally out of the gates to defend while another force, perhaps having emerged from a secret tunnel, would attempt to strike the Venetian and Spanish camp.

As normal we played the game using the modified "Renaissance Rampant" rules that Stuart and myself have adapted.


The ditch gave +1 armour against shooting and was difficult terrain for combat and movement.

The hill was not special terrain.

The Earthworks (around the Spanish Venetian camp) were half move to cross, unless using the gate. If a unit behind them was atttacked the defender fought as normal while the attacker counted as in difficult terrain. Units defending the earthworks got +1 armour from ranged attacks.

The Venetian Gun Battery could not be moved through but the earthwork around was difficult terrain for combat and movement.

The sconce (in front of the castle walls) gave +1 armour from ranged attacks if any part of a unit was in it and counted as difficult terrain for combat. There was no movement penalty for moving through it.


The Venetians deployed around their gun battery (see the picture above).

The Spanish deployed with the war wagon inside the camp (see the picture above).

The Ottomans did not start on the table.

Gisdar Aga and his garrison could sally out at any time from the castle gates with a move activation.

The surprise attack retinue could only arrive once the first fighting, ranged or close combat had taken place between Gisdar Aga's sally and the Venetians or Spanish.  On a D6 roll of  5+ the Ottoman player could attempt to bring them on in that turn. If this failed they could come on in the following turn on a 4+ and so on. They entered the table via move activations but the Ottoman player had to roll a D6 once the 1st move activation was successful. On a 1-3 the counter attack would arrive on the Spanish and Venetian left flank and on a 4-6 they would arrive on the Spanish and Venetian right flank. Until this dice roll neither player would know what side they would arrive from.

The "Armoured" Artillery Wagon

This started the game deployed with a Spanish unit who could push it 6" a turn. They could still fire when pushing it but could not attack. The wagon gave a pushing unit +1 armour against missile attacks. The Spanish Venetian objective was to get the wagon to the edge of the ditch in front of the castle gates. It could be pushed over the battery earthwork at half move.

If the unit pushing the wagon was destroyed then another infantry unit, Spanish or Venetian, but not mounted, could begin to push it on a move activation to the Wagon.

If unguarded, ie no unit was accompanying it, Ottoman units could move into contact with the wagon and destroy it on an activation of 8+ on 2D6 the following turn. They could make repteaded attempts to do this. It could not be destroyed by missile attacks.

The Gun Battery 

If an Ottoman unit could get into base to base contact with the sides or the rear of any part of the gun battery on the following turn they could destroy in on a 2D6 roll of 7+. They could make repeated attempts to do this. The battery itself was in difficult terrain, that being the earthwork it was on.

The Venetian and Spanish Camp

If an Ottoman unit could get into base to base contact with the large tent in the camp the following turn they could destroy in on a 2D6 roll of 6+. They could make repeated attempts to do this.

Pedro Navarro and the powder charge

If Navarro's Arquebusier unit could get to any part of the walls of the Castle of St George the following turn on the 2D6 roll of 7+ they could plant a powder charge. The unit could make repeated attempts to do this.

Honour Points

Victory was based on Honour Points. These were as follows.

The Spanish and Venetians

6 Honour Points if they could get the wagon into position in front of the castle gate.
5 Honour Points if Pedro Navarro could plant the charge against the walls.
5 Honour Points if they could kill Gisdar Aga.

The Ottomans

3 Honour Points for destroying the armoured Wagon.
3 Honour points for killing Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan.
3 Honour points for killing Diego Garcia de Paredes.
3 Honour points for killing Pedro Navarro.
3 Honour points for killing Bendetto Pesaro.
3 Honour points for destroying the Venetian Battery.
3 Honour points for raiding the Venetian Spanish camp - to be considered to have done this they had to destroy the large tent in the centre.

The Venetian Gun Battery. In this game it was an objective for the Ottomans to try and reach and destroy.

The Armies

The armies were as below. Tom took command of the Spanish and Venetian Retinues whilst I took command of Gisdar Aga's Ottomans.

 Gonzalo de Cordoba's Spanish

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Gonzalo de Cordoba, El Gran Capitan)
1 Unit of Foot Knights (Diego Garcia de Paredes)
1 Unit of Spanish Arquebusiers (Pedro Navarro)
2 Units of Rodeleros
1 Unit of Spanish Arquebusiers

Bendetto Pesaro and the Venetians

1 Unit of Foot Knights (Bendetto Pesaro)
2 Units of Italian Infantry
2 Units of Venetian/Balkan Archers
2 Units of Stradiots
1 Unit of Italian Pike

Gisdar Aga's Garrison

1 Janissary Agha (Gisdar Aga)
1 Unit of Janissary Archers
2 Units of Janissary Infantry
2 Units of Azab Archers
1 Unit of Azab Handguns
1 Unit of Azab Infantry

The Ottoman Surprise Attack

1 Unit of Zirhli Nefer (Armoured Retinue leader)
2 Units of Janissary Archers
1 Unit of Janissary Infantry
2 Units of Azab Archers
2 Units of Azab Infantry

The first units of Ottoman defenders sally from the castle gates.

A view from the walls of the Castle of St George. Gisdar Aga and his men can be seen surging out of the gates to meet the oncoming attack.

Ottoman handgunners take up a defensive position in the castle's dry ditch.

The battle developed slowly with the Spanish and Venetians cautiously pushing forward, obviously aware that the Ottoman defenders may have had something up their sleeves. Gisdar Aga and his retinue emerged from the castle gates and took up positions in the fort's dry ditch. One unit of Janissaries pressed on down the rocky slopes and engaged with some of the Venetians, only to be sent back in retreat when the stradiots, no strangers to warfare with the Turks, began to skirmish with them.

The cautious start to the fighting allowed de Cordoba's veterans to push forward with the war wagon. A unit of Venetian infantry was the first to attempt an assault on the castle itself. Throwing back some of the garrison's archers they succeeded in charging into the dry ditch and taking on Gisdar and his Janissary bodyguards. In a surprise turn of events the castle's captain was the first to be slain in the melee, his bodyguards beating a hasty retreat towards the walls! Things were not going well for the Ottomans.

A unit of Janissary archers moves forward to engage with the Venetians.

The Janissaries are pushed back with casualties as the stradiots skirmish with them.

Most of the Ottomans in front of the castle take cover in the ditch as the stradiots ride forward.

A unit of Venetian infantry engages with some of Gisdar's azab archers as they push on in the assault.

The scene in front of the castle gates.

The Venetian infantry charge into the ditch and Gisdar Aga is slain!

As Gisdar fell in front on the gates a roar went up from the plain beneath the castle walls as the Ottoman counter attack was launched. Janissaries and azabs struck the Spanish and Venetian right flank. As the stradiots caught in the charge attempted to ride out of the way the two units of Spanish arquebusiers, one under the command of Pedro Navarro found themselves in the perfect position to unleash a hail of shot into the oncoming Janissaries. With two devastating volleys they instantly took the momentum out of the Ottoman surprise assault.

At the same time the fighting at the dry ditch beneath the castle's walls intensified. The Venetian infantry who had defeated Gisdar continued to fight on against numerous attacks from the Turks whilst the rodeleros pushing up the war wagon came under increasingly heavy attacks from the Ottoman archers and handgunners. The wagon provided them with extra cover but it was not enough to shelter all of them and their casualties mounted.

As the castle's commander falls the Ottoman surprise attack surges onto the field. Unfortunately for the Ottoman attackers they have charged right in front of two units of Spanish arquebusiers!

An overview of the battlefield. The Spanish can be seen pushing the wagon into position whilst the Venetian infantry are still attacking in the ditch. To the left of the picture the Ottoman counter attack can be seen.

The Spanish rodeleros push the armoured wagon into position so that it's gun can be used against the gates.

Having already pushed the rodeleros from their position defending the wagon the defenders then try and stop the Venetian commander, Bendetto Pesaro, and his men from protecting it.

The Spanish veterans succesfully pushed the war wagon, with the artillery mounted inside it, into position in front of the castle gates. Things were certainly going well for the Spanish and Serene Republic. When the rodeleros were finally forced from their perilous position by the constant Ottoman attacks the Venetian Captain, Bendettto Pesaro took on the mantle of protecting the wagon and gun. His Italian and Balkan troops continued to skirmish with the Turks in the ditch.

In the centre of the field the Ottoman counter attack did make some head way. The archers drove Pedro Navarro's arquebusiers back and he finally fled, being unable to reach the walls of St George's Castle and plant the explosive charge his men were carrying. As some of the Ottomans attempted to reach the Spanish and Venetian camp their armoured Janissary leader engaged in a duel with de Cordoba. As the melee swarmed around them both they were parted and the fight was inconclusive.

Balkan light archers in Venetian employ skirmish with the defenders in the castle's ditch.

Despite constant attacks Bendetto Pesaro and his retainers defend the Spanish artillery wagon. Behind him Pedro Navarro is about to flee the field following a sustained attack on his Spanish veterans.

The armoured Janissary captain of the counter attack engages El Gran Capitan in a brief and inconclusive duel.

The Spanish and Venetians have succeeded in keeping the surprise attack in check.

The fighting on the now bloodied slopes in front of the castle continued with the Venetian pikemen trying to force the ditch. They were sent back and Bendetto Pesaro and his bodyguards were left to fend for themselves against the Ottoman defenders. In the centre of the field the counter attack had by now been well and truly checked. A band of jinetes who had been out scouting the island returned to reinforce the camp and help fight off the Turks. A unit of azab archers did make it into the camp only to be chased down by the "Samson of Estremedura",  Diego Garcia de Paredes, who soon sent them fleeing back to the walls of the castle.

The defenders at the gate finally managed to push the Venetian Captain, Bendetto Pesaro, and his men at arms away from the war wagon. Their aim had been to capture or slay Pesaro but he managed to get safely back down the rocky hill where the Venetians and Spanish still had numbers. In a final act of defiance the Ottomans in the dry ditch managed to topple the war wagon and dismount the gun it was protecting. It had been a long and bloody day for both sides.

Back at the castle walls the Venetian pikemen lead an assault up the already bloodied slopes.

Some of the Turkish azabs attempt to get into the Spanish camp and loot it. They are stopped by the "Samson of Estremedura",  Diego Garcia de Paredes. Accompanied by his fellow dismounted men at arms he makes short work of them.

In the bloody melee around the castle ditch the Venetian captain, Bendetto Pesaro, has been pushed back. 

The Ottoman's manage to topple the unprotected armoured wagon but they have suffered heavily in the engagement with the loss of nearly all of the counter attacking force and the garrison's captain, Gisdar Aga.

This was a scenario where the various objectives and the element of surprise really helped to create an exciting and challenging game. Both of us were constantly having to decide what objectives to focus on whilst letting the chance to achieve others escape. Until the Ottoman counter attack arrived neither Tom nor I knew which flank it was going to be from and this added a great element of tension. In the end the Ottomans did rather badly only managing to remove Pedro Navarro from the game and toppling the war wagon. The Spanish and Venetians did succeed in getting the war wagon into position although we never clarified whether it had to be there at the end of the game! They were also successful in killing Gisdar, the tough Ottoman captain.

I may have to revisit this campaign as there were other elements such as the fire balls launched down the slopes and the "wolves", or iron hooks, the defenders used that could be fun to incorporate in another scenario. As a final note the actual Castle of St George can be seen here: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/d2/9a/c4/d29ac41b8960e744b12e86ee4deaf553.jpg. It is easy to see why it was such a tough nut to crack back in the autumn of 1500.


  1. That’s a very well thought out scenario. Looks a real nail biter. Great game.

    1. Thank you, I did completely rewrite it half way through which I think helped!

  2. Epic gaming, Oli! Fabulous terrain and such a variety of beautifully painted figures.

    1. Thank you Dean, it was fun to test the Ottomans out.

  3. Terrific game. Nice to see an Ottoman army in such a setting. Great eye candy as well. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you, it was an unusual Siege, El Gran Capitan against the Ottomans. I may have to return to this campaign.

  4. Fantastic battle report and minis! Great and inspirational

  5. Lovely looking table,splendid terrain, great looking Ottomans and Venetians/Spanish!
    Best Iain

    1. Cheers Iain, it was fun to see the Ottomans in their first outing, perhaps the cavalry can join them next time.

  6. Super post again Oli, the terrain and miniatures are great eye candy, i dont know much about the Ottomans except their war against the infamous Vlad the Impaler, the brutality of two different faiths at war makes the Wars of Roses seem a bit more civilized !

    1. Thanks Chris. I think I had to do an Ottoman army in the end as they had such a big impact in the 16th Century. I can use lots of my collection against them as Venetians, Hapsburgs, Hungarians or Knights of St John. At some point I may even do a "what if" scenario where a relief force sent to the Siege of Rhodes from England actually arrives instead of sinking in the bay of Biscay which is what actually happened! Things did get particularly brutal at times between the opposing faiths although there were probably more dealings between the Turks and Christendom then you would imagine.

  7. Great game very fun to read this battle, finally the army. Ottoman in Action.

    1. Cheers Ronin, yes it was really great to get the Ottomans on the table!

  8. What an epic spectacle Oli, a visual feast ! were you happy with the ottoman unit profiles?

    1. Thanks Stuart.

      Yes and no on the profiles. They seemed ok, a hell of a lot of archery though, but I need to do more games. One Ottoman retinue was just defending the trench the whole time which really changes the dynamic and the other Ottoman retinue arrived only to be slaughtered by arquebus fire from the Spanish. Definitely need some more games with them and to give them a run with the cavalry in a more standard scenario.

  9. Thank you Ollie great report of our battle, it was as you say certainly a tense one and a finely balanced game. I could certainly never relax waiting for that Ottoman suprise attack.

    It will definately be good to try the Ottomans again with their cavalry and see how they all perform together.

    1. It was great fun wasn't it Tom, you were a formidable opponent with those Spanish and Venetians!

      Yes we will certainly give the Ottomans another outing soon!

  10. Love it Oli Ottomans versus Venetians is one of my favourite conflicts great background for a cracking looking game.


    1. Thank you Willie, I loved your posts featuring your collections of Venetians and Byzantines as opponents for your Ottomans. I may well do some more games set during this conflict.