The Ottoman Ousting of the Knights of Rhodes

By Jan Hillgaertner |

June marks the 400th anniversary of the earliest surviving Dutch newspaper, the Courante uyt Italien, Duytslandt, &c., published on 14th June 1618 by Caspar van Hilten in Amsterdam. To mark the occasion, our blog posts this month will focus on the history of news printing.

In the collection of rare books in Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum one can find a relatively large number of short and ephemeral editions containing news that turn out to be very rare. One of those rare books, surviving in exactly one known copy, is the Wie der Turckisch Keiser sich hat gelegert für Rodyß unnd mit grosser macht und gewalt gestürmet, printed in Landshut in 1522 by Johann Weissenburger (USTC 706841). The title featured the words ‘new zeytigung’, or ‘new tidings’; a characteristic phrase that would often appear on short editions containing the latest news. And that was exactly what Weissenburger provided with his edition: The short pamphlet of eight pages tells the story of the Siege of Rhodes in which Ottoman troops managed to expel the Knights of Rhodes from the Aegean island in late 1522.

Title page of The Siege of Rhodes by the Ottomans
Title page of Wie der Turckisch Keiser sich hat gelegert (Landshut: Johann Weissenburger, 1522). USTC 706841. Berlin, Deutsches Historisches Museum, R 53/4701.19.

The work shares many of the typical characteristics of a German news edition of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whoever printed the first of the surviving ten editions of this text cannot be determined with certainty. What is clear however is that the printer must have had access to a translated transcript of an intercepted letter. The nobleman Marcus Bongnol had sent the letter from Rhodes to an unknown recipient in Chania, a city on Crete. This formed the basis of the text. It is most plausible to think someone with links to Venice happened upon this letter, translated it and sent her or his translation onward. Venice at that time exerted the greatest political influence of all European territories in the southern reaches of the Aegean Sea and it is, we can assume, that the translation found its way to Germany by way of Venice. Intercepting and printing letters was by no means uncommon.

The text touched upon a popular subject matter. Ten different editions of the same text have come down to us. And it was predominantly printers in the southern and south-western corner of the Holy Roman Empire who took to printing and re-printing the text. Apart from Weissenburger’s Landshut edition, we can trace printers and publishers of the same text with slight variations in Augsburg, Munich Nuremberg, Speyer, Strasbourg and Vienna.

The edition held in Berlin is the only surviving copy of the lot printed by Johann Weissenburger of Landshut in 1522. Weissenburger had relocated from Nuremberg to Landshut in 1513. At that time, the city was only a shadow of its former grandeur. Emperor Maximilian I effectively ended the War of the Succession of Landshut. Johann Weissenburger managed to secure a position as a chaplain that would provide his subsistence. His attempts to become the official printer to the University of Ingolstadt in 1517 proved futile, as did his efforts to sell his printing workshop to Hans Turnknopf of Regensburg three years later.


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Jan Hillgärtner is a doctoral student at the University of St Andrews. His research focuses on the emergence of the newspaper industry and the modes of reporting in seventeenth-century Europe. He is currently compiling the first bibliography of German-language newspapers printed in the seventeenth century. Since 2014 he serves as Assistant Editor to Book History Online. You can follow him on Twitter @JanHillgaertner.


All images used with the permission of the Deutsches Historisches Museum.

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