Thursday, January 22, 2015

1683 Siege of Vienna - A Turning Point

1683 Battle of Vienna
The Siege of Vienna in 1683 was the last attempt of the Ottoman Empire to encroach in Europe. With a huge army, the Ottomans battled for the control of city and with time. Against them, another coalition of Catholic armies aiming to stop the Ottomans from capturing the Austrian city and advancing towards Europe. The Siege of Vienna was a turning point in European history.

The 1683 Siege of Vienna was a result of continuing complication in the European geopolitics. The Holy Roman Empire, an entity composed of numerous German principalities was still under the Habsburg family during the 17th century. Besides the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg also ruled Spain. At the middle of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, France, under its Sun King, Louis XIV, continued to avoid a containment by the Habsburg. In 1670’s King Louis XIV waged war against the Dutch Republic and its allies, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Meanwhile, in the east, the Ottoman Empire was also busy with its own conflicts. The Empire was at war against the Poles. During the course of that war, the Ottomans advanced its territories to Ukraine. Eastern Europe and Western Europe had their own regional conflicts. 

In 1678, France was keen in destabilizing the Hapsburgs once again. The French contacted a certain Imre Thokoly that they would support his quest for the independence of the Hungary from the Holy Roman Empire. Thokoly was encouraged and began a revolt against the Austrians. However, the might of the Holy Roman Empire was stronger than the Hungarians had estimated. Louis XIV, in behalf of the Hungarians, asked the Ottoman Empire for their support for the Hungarian cause. On the other, the Ottomans made promise that once the war with the Poles ended, they would turn their focus back to the west. Indeed, once the war against the Poles ended in 1682, on August 6 of the same year, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV declared war against the Holy Roman Empire.

The Ottomans had their own reasons to turn their attention from the north turning to the west. One of their reason was glory. If Sultan Mehmed IV succeeded in capturing the Holy Roman Empire, he would outshine his distant predecessor, Suleiman the Magnificent, who failed to capture Vienna in 1524. Another reason was the ambitions of the Mehmed IV’s Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa. The Grand Vizier had the ambition of capturing lands up to the Tiber River and for his horses to gallop triumphantly at the St. Peter’s Square. Besides booty and land, glory drove the Ottomans to declare war upon the Holy Roman Empire. 

Meanwhile, the Holy Roman Empire faced a lot of challenges. The Magyars was a problem. Then, the Ottomans threatened the Holy Roman Empire and Vienna. In addition to the problems was the incompetence of its own ruler. Emperor Leopold was indecisive, uncharismatic, and disturbed. When the Ottoman Army began to march towards Vienna in April 1683, Leopold did a huge political and public relation blunder. Instead of staying and encouraging the people of Vienna to remain strong and fight the invaders, Leopold, instead, evacuated the city. Many were disgusted by the act. On his way to Linz, peasant mocked and even spit to the Holy Roman Emperor.

But Leopold was not all incompetent and unprepared. When the Ottomans declared war, he appointed Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, to command the Imperial Army against the Ottoman forces. Charles V commanded over 70,000 troops. He faced an army twice of that size. The Ottoman forces commanded personally by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa. Mustafa had an army between 140,000 to 240,000 men. It was made of the made bulk of the Ottoman Army composed of the Janissaries and cavalry, including the dreaded Sipahi. But it was also composed of armies of other tributary principalities of the Ottoman Empire, like the Crimean Khanate, Wallachians, Moldovians, and Transylvanians. Hungarians who rebelled against Holy Roman Empire also linked up with the Ottomans. If Charles decided to fight the Ottomans, his army would be slaughtered. The Duke knew this and he decided to avoid a direct confrontation against the Ottoman army. But part of this plan was evacuating Vienna as well. He planned to bolster his forces by pleading to neighboring Catholic nations to join their fight against the Ottomans. When the Catholic armies of other kingdoms arrived, only then they would confront the Ottomans head on. 

By July 14, 1683, the Ottoman Army arrived at the gates of Vienna. Viennese were heavily outnumbered. Charles V left the city with 10,000 troops, 600 cavalry and artillery pieces. They were commanded by Count Ernst Rudinger von Starhemberg. The Imperial defenders were also supplemented with 5,000 civilian volunteers organized by the charismatic Mayor of Vienna, Andreas von Liebenberg. Although the numbers were not on their side, the Viennese defenders showed determination in defending their city. Citizens helped strengthen the walls and erected barricades. Houses constructed besides the walls were demolished. Around Vienna, fields were cleared to provide clear view for the artillery. Women also contributed by digging defensive trenches surrounding the city. The Viennese prepared for the Ottoman onslaught.

On the other side of the story, the Ottomans amass a large force outside Vienna. They surrounded it their white tents and with their artillery. The Ottomans arrived on July 14 but only began the siege operations on the 17th. The bombardment began. Miners began to dig underground towards the city walls. The plan was to dig all the way to the foundation of the wall and plant it with explosives. With an explosion, the wall above it would collapse, then the elite Janissaries would then assault the breached walls. Simultaneously, the Ottoman cavalry cut off the city from its supply. Cutting the supplies brought starvation to Vienna. However, the Ottomans faced challenges that were artificial. Logistics became difficult. Feeding a large army needed a lot of attention and detail. And the Grand Vizier was not all together dedicated in bringing Vienna down. He found time bathing in other captured cities. He was hesitant in launching a full scale barrage against Vienna because he wanted it preserve for his later pleasure and showcase as his own personal city. His agitation from destroying Vienna led to a weaker attack against the Austrians. And added with the determination of the Viennese, the Ottomans faced stiff resistance.

The Viennese managed to hold the Ottomans. Their artillery attacks made the Ottomans think twice before launching a direct assault. They also made measures to detect any digging operation beneath the city walls. They placed buckets of water beneath the city walls. When ripples appeared, it meant that there was a digging operation nearby. Another measure was their defensive trenches. It also helped to make the digging of the Ottomans difficult because it meant that they had to dig deeper in order to show their position by digging close to the trenches. 

The climax of the Siege began on September 1683. The city suffered starvation. Breaches in the wall were being made. On September 4, a breech was made in Burgbastel. The Viennese defenders defended it with all their might. They held until September 11, when the Ottoman entered the destroyed walls. But then, a relief army arrived. On September 11, 1683, a coalition force from neighboring Catholic states arrived.  It was composed of 75,000 to 80,000 men and led by the Polish King Jan III Sobieski. Jan Sobieski was made commander upon his request as part of his contribution. If wasn’t the commander, he won’t join. The Duke of Lorraine gave in but retained command of the Imperial forces. Sobieski brought with him 20,000 Polish forces, composed of his notorious and celebrated Winged Hussars. Alongside the Poles were additional 20,000 troops from other German States, like Saxony and Bavaria, and Sweden. Also, the Catholic army was supported and funded by Pope Innocent XI, Spain, Portugal, and other Italian states as well. Grand Vizier Mustafa then faced battle from two fronts. One from the city, and one outside his encirclement. 

On September 12, 1683, the relief army attacked the Ottomans at Kahlenberg. The battle began at the early morning of 4 am until the late afternoon of 5 pm. King Jan Sobieski himself led the charged of the Winged Hussars. At the end of the battle, the Ottomans ran away with Grand Vizier Mustafa. The Ottomans left behind 10,000 to 15,000 casualties. The allied forces suffered 2,000 casualties. But the Ottomans also left a huge pile of bodies. During the course of the battle, they managed to execute 5,000 prisoners that they held. Nevertheless, the allied forces won a victory. Jan Sobieski then said a paraphrase from Caesar, “I came, I saw, God conquered.” 

After the battle, Vienna was relieved. The Catholic Army pressed on. On October, they defeated the Ottoman Turks in Parkany in modern day Slovakia. Then on November, they cleared Hungary of the Ottomans. By the December, the Ottomans were back to their borders in the Balkans. On Christmas day, after the disastrous defeats, Sultan Mehmed IV executed Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa. 

The 1683 Siege of Vienna had a lot of legacies. Politically, it marked the end of the status of the Ottomans as a threat to Europe. With the death of Grand Vizier Mustafa was the power and glory that was the Ottoman Empire. After the Siege, the Ottoman Empire became known as the sick man of Europe. But the Ottomans were not alone. Poland also saw its last appearance in the western Europeans stage as an independent kingdom. After the Siege, it had to focus its attention to Baltic where a conflict of two powers began – Russia and Sweden. Surprisingly, the Siege also left great contributions to the culinary world. When the Ottomans retreated after the Battle of Kahlenberg, they left their huge supply of caffeine in a black bean – coffee beans. The Viennese and Europe then began to be introduced to the enticing aroma and taste of coffee. After the siege, a baker made a new bread that shaped like a crescent – croissant. A celebration of devouring the Turks, symbolized at its crescent shape. The 1683 Siege of Vienna was an event that changed Europe forever.

See also:
Holy League: The Victor of Lepanto
Ottoman Coffee
Turks and Croissant?
Winged Hussars

Davis, P. An Encyclopedia of Great Sieges: From Ancient Times to the Present. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001.

Mikaberidze, A. (ed.). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011.

Parsons, N. Vienna: A Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Tucker, S. Battles that Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011.


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    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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