After being forced out of Rhodes by the Ottomans in the early 16th century, the Knights Hospitaller spent seven years residing in Sicily without an official home or garrison, but around 1530, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V decided to gift the order the islands of Malta and Gozo, as well as the port city of Tripoli in North Africa, as a fiefdom. The emperor’s motivations varied, but most historians believe he granted the knights the territory partially out of religious devotion and mainly to protect those regions from the looming Ottoman threat. Both Malta and Gozo were between Sicily and the North African coast and were prime locations for the Ottoman Empire to try to make their next move to gain inroads into Europe.
In 1565, the Knights Hospitaller were attacked by Suleiman, who sent 40,000 soldiers to attempt to wrest control of Malta from them. This would become known as the Great Siege of Malta, lasting from May 18-September 11. The first two months of the siege were devastating for the Hospitallers, who lost most of their cities and half of their 8,000 knights. On August 23, the Ottomans launched their last assault upon Malta. The fighting was intense, and even wounded knights participated. The Ottoman army was unable to break through the Order’s fortifications, as the garrison had repaired the worst of the damages and any breakages to avoid giving the Ottomans an advantage. After the Great Siege of Malta, the Knights Hospitaller would have no more decisive victories against their enemies, which should come as no surprise given that by the time the Ottomans left, the order only had 600 men capable of fighting.