The Battle of Lepanto was one of the most famous events in the history of Western Europe. American military historian Victor Davis Hanson stresses that this battle is a good example of the advantages of the capitalist system of Venice in comparison with the imperial model of the Ottoman Empire. First, Venice had more advanced military technology. For instance, Venetian Arsenal was the center of the development and mass production of the latest designs of ships and weapons. Secondly, the fleet of the Venetian Republic had more professional commanders, soldiers and sailors. Thirdly, the Republic of Venice had an effective capitalist economy, which created conditions for the construction and maintenance of large and powerful fleet. In this way, Hanson tries to explain how the capitalist system of Western European states proved its effectiveness in the Battle of Lepanto.
According to Hanson, the Arsenal was the best military institution in the 16th century. He stresses, «Even under normal conditions the Arsenal was able to launch an entire fleet of galleys within a few days, utilizing principles of ship construction, financing, and mass production not really rivaled until the twentieth century” (Hanson 259). Furthermore, Hanson points out that since ancient Greece the European states produced high-quality weapons and formed large armies thanks to the freedom of entrepreneurship. Free flow of information and competitive environment created conditions for the development of military science in Venice and other Western countries. The Ottoman Empire had no such advantage and so it was compelled to import new military technology. However, this explanation is not convincing. Hanson does not take into account the existence of periods of prosperity and decline of various states. Western European states began to develop rapidly during the 16th century. Author does not examine the impact of great geographical discoveries, Renaissance, the Reformation and other phenomena on the development of Venice, Spain and the Ottoman Empire. Thus, Venice technological superiority over the Ottoman Empire could be due not only to the capitalist system but also to other factors.
Hanson also underlines the high level of training of commanders, soldiers and sailors of the Christian armada. He is convinced that it was a very important factor for the victory in the Battle of Lepanto. Most of the sailors and soldiers were hired professionals or citizens of the city-states. They had a much higher level of skills and better motivation than the soldiers and sailors of the Ottoman fleet. Ottoman peasants, who made up the bulk of personnel of the Ottoman fleet, were worse prepared for battle. Hanson stresses that the capitalist system gave resources for recruitment, training and arming a large number of sailors. However, he does not explain why this factor played an important role only in the Battle of Lepanto. The Ottoman Empire had a strong fleet which attained victory over the fleets of European countries in the 15th and 16th centuries. Therefore, Ottoman sailors could also be experienced and well prepared. Thus Hanson’s thesis that Ottoman soldiers and sailors were worse prepared is somewhat questionable.
The efficiency of the capitalist economy was another factor, which enabled Venice to resist Ottoman Empire. Moreover, according to Hanson it was the main cause of the Holy League victory in the Battle of Lepanto. Venice was a small city-state, but it had enough resources for maintenance of the Arsenal and a huge fleet. Hanson convinced that Venice was able to achieve such results due to the capitalist system. Entrepreneurs create production for manufacturing harquebus, guns, ships and other goods. These productions competing with each other and conquered new markets. In this way, the capitalist system has stimulated the economic development of the Western European states. Non-European states did not take an active part in the development of this system and therefore they could not compete with European states in the production of new technological products. That is why the Ottoman Empire was compelled to import new technological inventions and to attract European professionals and scientists. For example, Ottoman Empire copied the Venetian Arsenal, but it could not copy the capitalist system, which stimulated the emergence of more and more inventions. In this way, Hanson explains the basic premise of the Holy League victory in the Battle of Lepanto. This explanation is quite convincing. However, the author probably exaggerated the weakness of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Technological backwardness of the Ottoman Empire became visible much later in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to the Erik Zurcher only in the second half of the nineteenth century the situation in the Ottoman Empire became critical, “It lacked the manpower, the money and the industrial base necessary to compete successfully with European powers” (Zurcher 72). Thus, Hanson explains the key role of the capitalist system in the victory of European countries over the Ottoman Empire.
Finally, Hanson’s argument about the advantages of the capitalist system as the Venice economic system over Ottoman economic system is quite convincing. However, these arguments have some disadvantages. The author pays inadequate attention to external factors. In addition, he pays much attention to review trends and little attention to specific events that preceded the Battle of Lepanto. Thus, Hanson provides a good explanation for the advantages of the capitalist system of Venice compared to Ottoman Empire.