October 1571. One of the greatest naval battles in human history –before the 20th century-, took place in the waters of the Ionian Sea. As an outcome of the tragic (for the Christians) turnout of the war between the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks for Cyprus, the European states formed the Sacra Lega, the Holy Coalition, in order to confront the Ottoman tide. The states that formed the Sacra Lega were Spain, Genova, the Knights of Malta, the German Empire and – off course – Venice with her possessions in the Levant. The Sultan, on his behalf, gathered as many warships as possible from his empire and the vassal emirates of Northern Africa.
In total, about 150,000 man and over than 500 warships collided in the area of the Echinades islands, in a fierce close combat, which lasted five full hours. The naval battle ended with the glorious victory of the Christians, but the bloodshed was heavy for both rivals: the Christians lost about 11,000 souls, while the Ottoman casualties reached 29,990 men.
The fierceness of the fighting was raised by the propaganda of the two rivals, since both the Pope and the Sultan (as the Great Chaliph), each on his behalf, had declared holy war, promising their followers full forgiveness for their sins, and the status of martyr to the dead of the war.
The Corfiots, as vassals of the Venetian Republic, fought also in this harsh battle, having already to demonstrate an exceptional tradition in the wars against the Ottomans. According to the Chrysobul of 1386, by which the Corfiots swore faith to Venice, they were obliged to maintain and man three war galleys to serve beside the metropolitan navy. In 1571, though, due to the exceptional circumstances, Corfu offered four galleys to the Sacra Lega: the “Christ of Corfu”, with Christoforos Contocales as sopracomitto (captain), the “Eagle of Corfu” under the command of Pierros Buas, “Saint Michael” under Georgio Cochinnes, and the “Angel of Corfu” of captain Stylianos Chalikiopoulos.
Nevertheless, a closer look at the list of the warships that fought in the battle, reveals another galley under commander Marcos Fiomachos, named “Saint Peter”. Hence, we should reconsider the number of Corfiote galleys and men that fought in Lepanto, regardless the possibility that Fiomachos fought as a privateer. In any case, the crew of “Saint Peter” were mostly Corfiotes, as proved by a document from the Historical Archives of Corfu.
From the commanders mentioned above, Christoforos Contokales gained glory, as he managed to seize the galley of the Pasha of Rhodes, while, on the other hand, Pierros Buas suffered a martyr’s death, after been captured by the Algerian Admiral Ulutch Ali, who ordered to skin him alive. Buas’ galley was captured while it rushed to cover a gap that threatened the centre of the Christian line. Eventually, “Saint Peter” was surrounded by the enemy ships and its crew was massacred.
One of the Corfiots serving in the fatal galley was Theodoros Picernes from the village of Kalafationes, as we are informed by the following document:
CONTRACT FOR THE REPLACEMENT OF A DRAFTSMAN (translated)
May 5th 1571
Mr Antonios Mavros from the village of Counavades, of the Practoria of Gyros, and mr Theodoros Picernes from the village of Kalafationes, both agreed as follows: because mr Antonios was placed in the Galley of the Noble Master Buas, to work himself, as and the other men of the Island, so, the said mr Theodoros promises to work in the said galley in his place, as replacement, for as much time as the rest islanders will work. And in the name of the above (agreement) he (mr Antonios) promises to pay him (mr Theodoros) zeckins in total 24, and a pair of trousers, and to receive (mr Theodoros) the usual wage from the Governor, and the contribution of the village, as the rest of the draftsmen. The 24 zeckins, the said Picernes received from the said Antonios. Mr Christos Macres and mr Ioannes Lagadites guaranteed for mr Picernes. If he leaves (the service) they will serve in his behalf.
A.P.C. (H.A.C.), Notaries, Vol. N 328, p48r
Theodoros Picernes was seeking for a revenue and, since he possibly had an experience as a galley serviceman, he replaced the draftsman Antonios Mavros in the fatal galley of Pierros Buas. The documents of the notaries from the Historical Archives of Corfu do not include more information for his fate. But, having in mind the end of the captain of the Galley, it is rather improbable that the brave villager from Kalafationes survived the Battle.
For centuries, this Corfiot warrior remained unknown and unmentioned, among so many others, but we now are able to address him by name the respect we owe to the thousands of our ancestors that kept away the Ottoman Conqueror from our island and the Christian Europe.
 A.P.C. (H.A.C.), Notaries, Volume Π 41, p. 135v
 Practoria: administrative district, part of Baylato.
This article was written by Andreas Grammenos and was published (in Greek) in the newspaper "Η Κέρκυρα Σήμερα"