Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Battle of Vienna: 1683

The Battle of Vienna 1683

I have just returned from a 3 week jaunt to Greece and Turkey. While thoroughly versed in Ancient Greek and Roman history, the more modern history of that area has eluded me. It is only in recent years (researching different stories) that my research path has crossed that of the Ottoman Empire and a visit to Istanbul and the Topkapi Palace in particular has opened my eyes to the extraordinary power that was once wielded by the Ottoman Sultans.

As my historical interest has mostly been English history, I had not really investigated much beyond the shores of England until, ironically, I became involved in this blog. This is a naive approach to historical study because history is comprised of inter connected events and people and English history does not stand on its own without touching that of European history and European history in turn is intimately interested in the Ottoman Empire which existed on its edges for over 400 years and presented a very real and present danger, particularly to the Austro-Hungarian borders controlled by the Holy Roman Empire. Immediately you can see there is a conflict between Christian and Muslim interests and this continued to roll on right through to the nineteenth century (Crimean War - see my article on causes of the Crimean War HERE) and to the very start of the First World War.

But this blog is about the seventeenth century and so I propose a very quick look at one encounter between the Ottoman Empire and the Levant within the context of that century.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683
By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Empire controlled the Mediterranean through its mastery of  northern Africa, the Holy Land, Greece and the Aegean Sea. It also controlled the Balkan countries and Hungary.  Over the two preceding centuries it had risen to the zenith of its power and influence but the 17th century would begin to see its decline. The “Habsburg-Ottoman” wars had been ongoing conflict since the 15th century as the Habsburg dynasty defended its territories in Spain and in Austro/Hungary.

Vienna was the prize the Ottoman Empire sought for its strategic importance in controlling the Danube and land trade routes. It had come close to gaining it in the 1530s when the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, laid siege to the city. Although badly outnumbered, Archduke Ferdinand, resisted stoutly and the Ottoman army withdrew, allowing Ferdinand to regain some of the lost territory in Hungary. By the start of the sixteenth century, Europe dissolved into the Thirty Years war (which I have written about in earlier posts HERE). The destabilisation allowed the Ottomans once more to set their sights on Vienna and in 1663 the Ottomans once more invaded Austria.

Their advance ended disastrously at the Battle of St. Gotthard, owing mostly to the intervention of the French on the side of the Austrians. Unfortunately the distraction of the French conquests on the Rhine did not allow the Austrians to follow through on their victory and the Ottoman Empire remained in control of Hungary, a predatory and restless neighbour.
Jan Sobieski/King John III of Poland

The Ottomans turned their attentions on Poland where they were comprehensively routed by the Polish commander, Jan Sobieski (to be elected King John III in 1674). A brilliant military commander, Sobieski’s forces roundly defeated the Ottoman incursion at the battle of Khotyn in 1673.

In March 1683,following agressive moves from the Ottomans in Hungary, the Polish King signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold in which the powers mutually agreed to come to the aid of the Vienna or Krakow, should the Ottomans attack again. In June of that year, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha, his forces bolstered by troops from Transylvania and Tartars from the Crimea and invaded Austria and on 14 July 1683 laid siege once more to Vienna.
Grand vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha
 Despite being well prepared, the besieging forces cut off all outside resupply routes to Vienna and by September, the city was suffering severe hardship. Kara Mustafa could possibly have taken the city at that point with an all out attack but it is speculated that he wanted to take the city and all its treasures intact and an attack of that nature would inevitably lead to destruction and looting.

The Treaty of Warsaw had been invoked and in September Jan Sobieski and the Polish forces joined with those of Leopold. Command of the 70,000 allied forces was given over to Sobieski and he turned to confront the Ottoman forces of over 150,000.

Sobieski and the allied forces at the Battle of Vienn

The battle commenced at 4am on 12 September. The Ottomans had misjudged the Christian forces, allowing them to cross the Danube unopposed. The Ottomans launched an attack on the city hoping to take it before the Holy League forces arrived but they were too late. The brilliant leadership of Sobieski culminating in a massive cavalry charge, led to victory after a hard fought battle lasting well into the night. As the allied forces triumphed, the crescent moon disappeared behind a cloud, taken as a bad omen for the Ottoman forces.

Paraphrasing Caesar, Sobieski is said to have opined… “Veni, vedi, Deus vicit” (I came I saw, God conquered).

The execution of Kara Mustafa Pasha by strangulation

The Ottomans lost over 60,000 men as well as their entire baggage train. Kara Mustafa was executed by the Jannissaries in Belgrade and the defeat at Vienna marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe. By 1699 they had lost Hungary and Transylvania and in 1699 signed the Treaty of Karlowitz with the Holy Roman Empire.

And as a culinary legacy of this great battle, the Austrian bakers devised a pastry in the shape of crescent moon… a delicacy taken to France by the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette - the croissant. It is also said the “bagel” was also a legacy of this battle… a bread in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate the great charge of the Polish cavalry. 

 (Alison's next book, a regency set romantic suspense, LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR will be released by Escape Publishing on 1 May)