Wednesday 15 February 2023

The Siege of Modon, 1500

This weekend my friend Tom visited (check out his Hundred Years War blog here: and we continued our series of wargames. We played out a scenario based on the fall of the Venetian held Greek town of Modon, now called Methoni, to the Ottomans in August 1500. It meant we could give the harbour and boat their first outings as terrain pieces. I guess a Venetian galley would've been more suitable than a Carrack, but it looked the part none-the-less. This game also fitted in well with one of our previous table top clashes that centred around the Spanish aid that was sent to the Venetians under the leadership of El Gran Capitan, Gonzalo de Cordoba, following this siege,

The Siege of Modon, August 1500

The Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499-1503 started badly for the Republic's Greek Colonies. The 12 August 1499 saw the Venetians attempt to destroy the Ottoman fleet under Kemal Reis at Zonchio, but most of the Venetian galleys refused to engage resulting in a missed opportunity to stop Ottoman naval progress. Following the initial engagement at Zonchio inconclusive naval clashes took place at Zante and Cape Papas over the next few days but the Ottomans were able to sail into the Gulf of Corinth leading to the surrender of Lepanto at the end of August 1499.

The new year saw pressure building on the outlying defences of Modon. Along with Coron, Modon was a principal Greek colony of Venice, being held by the Venetians since the start of the 13th century. Together the two colonies were known as the "two eyes of the republic". Both were located on peninsulas, being surrounded on three sides by the sea and as such relying heavily on naval force as a defence. During the first Ottoman-Venetian war of 1463-1479 the Ottomans had used artillery to take Negropont, both to breach the walls and probably to hold the Venetian relief fleet at bay with coastal batteries. This had led Modon and Coron to be refortified with up to date artillery fortifications on their landward sides at the end of the 15th century. A late 15th century image of the town is shown below and the ruins is shown below whilst the ruins can be viewed here:

Modon c.1486 from Bernhard von Breydenbach's "Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam"

Three years before the siege Modon was visited by the Cologne Pilgrim and Knight, Arnold von Harff, who was pleased to find a German master gunner, called Peter Bombadere (obviously a name suitable for his trade!) who gave him a tour of the town. Harff described the tour as such "He showed me the strength of the town and the artillery, and it is in truth a small town but strong. On the land side it has three suburbs with three walls and three ditches hewn out of the natural rock, on which they are building daily. He took me round the innermost wall, which was very thick and built of rough stones: in addition there were many fine cannon, great carthouns and slings". It is clear from this description that following the first war with the Ottomans the Venetians had been preparing Modon's defences and were still in the process of doing so in 1497.

On 30 January 1500 2,000 Turkish horse and 1,000 infantry were engaged near the town, whilst by February the garrison were skirmishing with Ottomans within 4 miles of its walls. By June the garrison of Modon estimated an Ottoman force of 12,000 was close to the town, with more reinforcements and heavy guns on their way. The siege began on 8 July 1500 with perhaps as many 60,000 Ottomans having arrived. Bombards were used against the outer walls but the Ottoman heavy guns were few. The first attacks were made against the suburbs of the town which had not been cleared of houses and consequently had to be cleared under fire from the attackers. The 9th of July saw the arrival of galleys under Valerio Marcello whilst further naval reinforcements arrived with Girolamo Pisani on the 12th, adding reinforcements of up to 1,200 men to the small garrison. In the face of constant assaults the Venetian defence of the suburbs was given up on 16th July with the garrison retreating behind the "innermost wall" as it had been described by Harff . The Ottoman Sultan, Bayezid II, arrived by land on 17th July with Ottoman ships arriving the following day. The Venetian defenders now estimated the Sultan's army to be around 90,000-100,000 strong.

The Venetians knew that most of the Turk's heavy artillery would be brought to the siege via their fleet. As such Girolamo Contarini, in command of the Venetian fleet, engaged Kemal Reis and the Ottoman fleet at Navarino on 24 July 1500 in an attempt to stop the besieging force being further augmented. Two of the Venetian's great galleys were overwhelmed in the clash and Contarini's own galley nearly sunk. With the galleys of Venice being unable to halt Kemal Reis his fleet landed nine bombards and two mortars at Modon the following day, 25 July. This meant they could now intensify the bombardment of the town and it became continuous, the Ottoman gunners working day and night. The reports of two of the garrison's senior officers, Marco Gabriel and Antonio Zantani, described the ceaseless bombardment with the two Ottoman mortars firing randomly into the town. The defending forces were rapidly running out of powder and arrows.

Having been unable to stop the main Turkish fleet from reaching the siege Girolamo Contarini made a desperate attempt to relieve Modon. Five of his best galleys were loaded with 400 additional troops, more master gunners and carpenters along with 400 barrels of gunpowder and 15 cases of arrows. During the night of 9-10 August four of these galleys succeeded in breaking through the Ottoman vessels patrolling the waters surrounding the town. Many of the surviving garrison came down to the water to help unload the supplies. This left the landward walls with only a skeleton defence to hold them. A Janissary assault was launched by the Ottomans who were able to secure part of the walls. As the Janissaries broke into the town fierce fighting continued through the night . Bayezid had ordered that no quarter be given to adult males resulting in the deaths of perhaps 800 to 1000 of the garrison. Of the garrison's senior officers Antonio Zantani died in the fighting whilst Marco Gabriel (see the contemporary image below) was taken as a prisoner to Constantinople only to be executed the following year. Following the fall of Modon the arrival of the Ottoman fleet at Coron led to its surrender whilst the Venetians would strike back, with Spanish aid under Gonzalo de Cordoba, in December at Cephalonia.

Vittore Carpaccio "Young Knight in a Landscape", this may well be one of the Venetian captains from the siege, Marco Gabriel, with Modon in the background although I have also seen suggestions the Knight is Franceso Maria della Rovere.

The Scenario

The game was based on the Ottoman assault of the innermost wall of Modon and the fight for the town itself. It was played using our Renaissance Rampant version of Lion Rampant. The Ottoman forces were positioned in the ditch beneath the walls whilst one Venetian retinue, under Antonio Zantani, was positioned near the walls within the town and the other, under Marco Gabriel, was just outside the walls around the harbour. The aim of each side was to control the town via the defence or capture of three towers.

As the actual assault took place at night we did consider adding night time rules and halving the ranges of the missile weapons or making it harder to roll a "hit" but in the end we left this out.

Special Rules

The Mortars

To represent the random firing of the mortars into the town every other turn the Ottoman player could decide to fire a mortar into Modon. The Ottoman player placed a template and decided where he wanted the mortar shot to land. He then rolled a scatter dice (a D6 with arrows on it) and 3D6. The template would then deviate by that amount before being placed. Any unit with a base under the template would take a 6 dice attack hitting on 5+ with a minus one to armour.

The Venetian Guns

Although desperately low on powder the Venetian defenders still had some artillery pieces left. At the start of the game the Venetian player took eight playing cards. For every picture card drawn, king, queen, jack, he drew he could place an artillery piece in one of the buildings on the board, which he noted in secret. At the start of his turn he could fire one of these if it was within range of an Ottoman unit. It fired just like an organ gun from our modified rules. Each piece could only fire once per game, the crew were assumed to have fled after the gun was fired.


For the Ottoman units entering Modon the ditch did not hinder movement but the walls facing the ditch took a turn to cross via ladders or through the breach. Access in and out of the harbour was only through the main harbour gate or the sally port. The small walls in the town gave cover and counted as difficult terrain to fight over. The whole of the walled orchard was difficult terrain and gave cover.


Within Modon there were three towers which formed objectives, two were fortifications and one was the large church (see the photo below). The Ottoman player had to storm each of these three towers (with the troops raising an Ottoman flag from each tower!) to win the game.

To storm a tower an Ottoman unit had to be in base to base contact with it. On the following turn a successful move activation would mean that a flag had been raised from the tower. Once taken a tower could be retaken by the Venetians in the same way as a unit never stayed in the tower. If at any time the Ottomans held all three then Modon had fallen!

The table showing Modon's harbour where the retinue of Marco Gabriel is deployed. The Ottoman objectives are the tall church tower on the left, the large tower in the centre of the photo by the harbour gate and the large white tower, in the foreground to the left.

The other end of the table showing the Ottoman besiegers about to storm the walls.

A view of the table from above. To the left is the harbour with Marco Gabriel's Retinue. In the centre is the orchard (which would be the centre of the fighting in the game) around which is deployed Antonio Zantani's retinue. To the right are the Ottomans gathered in the ditch ready for the assault.

The Armies

Each army was divided into two separate retinues for the game. Tom took command of the Venetian defenders in the game whilst I took command of Bayezid II's besieging Ottomans.

The Venetian defenders of Modon

Marco Gabriel's retinue (deployed around the harbour)

2 Units of Foot Knights (one includes Marco Gabriel retinue leader)
2 Units of Italian Infantry
2 Units of Balkan archers
1 Unit of Italian Pike
1 Unit of Italian Arquebusiers
2 Units of Italian Crossbowmen
2 Organ Guns to assign to 2 of the above units

Antonio Zantani's retinue (deployed within Modon)

2 Units of Foot Knights (one includes Antonio Zantani retinue leader)
2 Units of Italian Infantry
2 Units of Italian Arquebusiers
3 Units of Italian Crossbowmen
2 Organ Guns to assign to 2 of the above units

The Ottomans

The Janissaries

1 Janissary Agha (retinue leader) 
2 Units of Zirhli Nefer
3 Units of Janissary Archers
1 Unit of Janissary Arquebusiers
4 Units of Janissary Infantry

The Azabs

1 Ottoman Captain (retinue leader and same rules as the Janissary Agha)
3 Units of Azab Archers
1 Unit of Azab Arquebusiers
4 Units of Azabs

As always the captions under the photos are a good way to follow the action but a brief summary follows.

The Ottoman army of Bayezid II

The Ottoman attackers. The janissaries will form the first wave of the attack supported by the azabs.

Venetian reinforcements disembarking in the harbour. 

The Venetian troops form up in the harbour ready to enter the town and defend it against the Ottomans.

Venetian arquebusiers and crossbowmen, supported by an organ gun, lie in wait within the orchard.

The assault begins and the zirhli nefer, the armoured janissary assault troops, lead the storming of the breach.

The janissaries begin to scale the walls of Modon.

The Venetian defenders under Antonio Zantani take up position around the orchard.

The assault on Modon looked to start well for the Ottomans with an initial wave of janissaries quickly getting over the walls or through the breach and into the streets. Whilst the Ottomans scaled the walls the Venetians around the harbour moved into the town to add support to their countrymen who were already inside and had taken up defensive positions. This first line of Venetian defence proved key as they were immediately able to pour shot and crossbow bolts into the janissaries forcing them to charge forward and attack whilst a large part of the Ottoman force was still outside Modon's walls.

The zirhli nefer assault troops and the janissary arquebusiers and archers accompanying them took heavy casualties as they pushed on and tried to gain control of the walled orchard just beyond the walls. The Venetians had hidden an organ gun behind the orchard gates which fired with deadly effect into the oncoming janissaries. The Ottomans needed to use their strength of numbers to sweep away the defenders in the orchard but the delay caused by clambering over the walls of Modon gave the Venetian defenders enough time to deal with the oncoming janissaries without being totally overwhelmed. 

With barely any Venetians left manning the breached walls the Ottomans are quickly into the beleaguered town.

Venetian crossbowmen supported by infantry armed with polearms await the attack.

The azabs storm the walls.

The Ottoman flag is already flying from one of the gun towers but this is not one of the three objectives.

The zirhli nefer charge the orchard. They come under a hail of shot from the organ gun and defending arquebusiers.

A view from above the walls as the Ottoman assault spills into the town.

The zirhli nefer supported by janissary arquebusiers 

Janissaries charge into the town but they are already taking heavy casualties.

Venetian troops enter Modon via the harbour gate.

The walls have fallen but the Venetian defenders still hold the town.

Venetian crossbowmen face the attacking Ottomans.

A view across the town as the Ottomans charge into Modon.

As the Ottomans surge into Modon many of them are still outside the town and yet to scale the walls or climb through the breach.

A unit of armoured janissaries crashes into some Venetian skirmishers. The Venetian light infantry are sent back in disarray.

A bloody battle has developed around the orchard. Facing a storm of bolts and arquebus shot from the Venetians the janissaries seek temporary respite behind the orchard wall.

Marco Gabriel's men rush into the town to support Antonio Zantani's embattled infantry.

Having pushed back the venetian skirmishers the armoured janissaries are now coming under heavy fire. They are soon brought down and the attack falters.

The Venetians give ground in the orchard as more janissaries join the fray.

Mortar shots launched from Bayezid's siege lines came crashing into the Venetian colony. They did considerable damage to the forces of the Serene Republic but also managed to kill some Ottomans as shots landed around the orchard which had become the epicentre of the fighting. The Venetians and janissaries sent attacks back and forth as each side attempted to gain the advantage. The orchard walls were valuable cover for both sides with the orchard itself proving difficult to fight in. 

In front of the town's main church, on the Ottoman right flank it seemed as if progress was being made by the attackers. This was where the main weight of the assault fell as here the janissaries were backed up by swarms of azabs. They pushed forward and it looked as if they would reach the church on numerous occasions but the Venetian defences were too strong and although bitter melees broke out in the streets as the Venetians clashed with the janissaries and azabs the Ottoman attack was always just staggered enough to prevent a breakthrough.

The town house and orchard is the centre of a bitter struggle.

Azabs and janissaries enter the orchard. 

Antonio Zantani and what is left of his retinue form up around the church.

Azabs and crossbowmen clash in a fierce melee right in front of Modon's church.

Stradiot reinforcement's have managed to get into the town to support the Venetian defenders. Together with a unit of Venetian swordsmen they defeat the Janissary Agha, the morale of the attackers plummets.

The azab captain attempts to rally the attackers urging them to press on with the assault.

The constant rain of shot and arrows on the Ottomans began to take its toll. During the fight a unit of Stradiots had made it through the Turkish siege lines and into the beleaguered town. They skirmished with the janissaries until the janissary Agha attacked them and drove them back. The Agha was then attacked by Venetian swordsmen and slain in the street. This had a terrible effect on the Ottoman morale and caused many of the janissary units to flee back over the walls.

Antonio Zantani commanded the Venetians from the front and stood defiantly guarding the church doors. The captain of the azabs attempted to take up the reins and rally the faltering Ottoman army by leading an attack on Zantani but he was quickly slain in the attempt and the Turkish morale crumbled further. The damned orchard, or what was left of it, was finally in Ottoman hands but Modon most certainly wasn't and the assault had failed.

The church tower looks to be within reach, the Ottomans throw unit after unit at it in an attempt to raise the crescent flag over the town...

...but casualties are mounting and, reinforced by the men from the harbour, the Venetian defence is too formidable.

The azab captain is slain in a clash with Antonio Zantani.

Having suffered horrendous casualties the Ottomans have taken the orchard but Modon remains firmly in the hands of its Venetian defenders!

This game should have been titled "The Battle of the Orchard" as it became an endless back and forth over this small walled area! In command of the Ottomans it was as if I could never bring enough troops to bear at the right moment and instead just drip fed units into endless fighting around the walled garden. Tom did a great job of preventing his troops from getting too drawn into melees with the janissaries and instead held back just enough to keep them from overwhelming his troops.

The mortar rules were a lot of fun and when combining them with the urban nature of the fighting and the endless arrow and arquebus shooting it felt more like a World War Two game at some points! If we replayed the game I think we would certainly change the terrain set up so the orchard would not effectively block the main attack and force the Ottomans up narrow channels. It would also be interesting to make it more specifically a "night attack" and have rules reducing the effectiveness of ranged attacks due to the darkness.

The Ottomans may have failed to take even one of the three target towers but we had a lot of laughs ( and maybe a few moans on my part!) about the endless orchard fighting and it certainly made for an absorbing wargame. Being able to finally set the table up with the harbour, carrack and town walls was fantastic, it really felt as if I was leading the miniatures in a full scale storming of the walls. We already have some ideas for our next game, let's just hope it doesn't feature a walled orchard!


  1. Just stunning Oli! What make is the ship?

    1. I am glad you liked the post Peter, thank you. The boat is a 3d printed one based on Columbus's "Santa Maria" that I have converted. It is available here:

  2. What a tremendous report - a clear narrative, good background history, and clear pictures. This has really provided a great start to my day. I hope there is more to come.

    1. Cheers Stephen, really good to hear you enjoyed the battle report, it makes the write up all the more worthwhile.

  3. Yeah you were right Oli, this game did look really good in the pictures. Pity it was such a pig to play for the Ottomans, to be honest I played the Italians thinking I'd have the harder end of it! Looking forward to the next one.

  4. It's always hard balancing these things you want to give each side a fighting chance, but it's very easy to overcompensate one way. On retrospect as we discussed we agreed the terrain was too favourable to the Venetians, we could also have delayed the entry of the 2nd retinue and perhaps had smaller Venetian forces. Nightfighting would also perhaps have balanced things as you said.

    1. It threw up some interesting questions didn't it. I agree things like delaying the 2nd retinue or adding nightfighting would really change it up. I was hoping the battle would go right into the heart of the town but the Venetian wall of steel held firm!

      Still made for a great game though and a lot of entertainment in the "Battle for the Orchard" - yes we will do another one soon mate, I have quite a few ideas of what scenarios to do next

  5. What a spectacular looking and hard fought game. Superb!

    1. Thank you Peter, this was a game we had wanted to try for a while. It was indeed a hard fought game and the Ottomans just couldn't break through the Venetian defences!

  6. Absolutely top notch! Brilliant write up and the table is museum quality! Thanks for sharing Oli- love your posts...and love the Ottomans even more- nice figures!

    1. Thank you John, it was great to be able to set it all up on the table - there will hopefully be some more battle reports on the way in the next few months.