Austro-Turkish War (1787–91)

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Austro-Turkish War
Part of the Ottoman–Habsburg wars
An Ottoman Army on the march in Bulgaria in 1788
Date 1787–1791
Location Southeastern and Eastern Europe


Holy Roman Empire Habsburg Empire  Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Holy Roman Empire Emperor Joseph II (d. 1790)
Holy Roman Empire Emperor Leopold II
Holy Roman Empire Freiherr von Laudon
Ottoman Empire Selim III

The Austro–Turkish War of 1787 was an inconclusive struggle between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires. It took place concurrently with the Russo–Turkish War of 1787–1792.


The decision to launch the war was made by the Austrian ruler Joseph II, who was in an alliance at the time with the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great.[1] The Austrians entered this war in February 1788, though they had by now lost their best chance for an easy victory.[2] The slow preparations of Russia resulted in the Ottoman concentration on Belgrade.[3] The Austrians relied on Russian support in Moldavia, which only began in late 1788, and Joseph II seemed to have been reluctant to fight the Ottomans.[3] In July, the Ottomans crossed the Danube and broke into Austrian Banat.[3] Shortage of supplies struck both sides, while disease struck the Austrian soldiers.[3] As many as 50,000 Serb refugees flooded across the Danube, causing logistical problems for the Austrians.[3] In mid-August, Joseph II dispatched 20,400 soldiers into Banat.[3] A Serbian Free Corps of 5,000 soldiers had been established in Banat, composed of refugees that had fled earlier conflicts in the Ottoman Empire.[2] The Corps would fight for liberation of Serbia and unification under Habsburg rule.[2] The Turks took the military initiative, driving back the Austrians from Mehadia and overrunning the Banat (1789). Later on, the balance shifted toward Austria: the Turks were expelled from the Banat and Bosnia, and Belgrade was taken in a three-week campaign by the aging Field Marshal Laudon.[4] Habsburg-occupied Serbia (1788–92) was established. The Austrian army also decisively participated in the victories of Focsani and Rymnik under the overall command of Suvorov and Josias of Saxe-Coburg conquered Bucharest.

On the Turkish side, the war was a disaster, due not to the losses of land to Austria (which were largely recovered in negotiation) but to the territorial gains of Austria's ally Russia; see Russo–Turkish War (1787–1792).

Emperor Leopold II, Joseph's successor, was compelled to end the war due to the threat of Prussian intervention in support of the Ottomans.[5] In the final negotiated outcome at Sistova in Ottoman Bulgaria,[6] Austria's gains were "meagre".[1] Austria returned all the territory from its conquests save the small town of Orsova and a strip of land near the Bosnian-Croatian border.[7]

The home front in Austria[edit]

Within Austria the war was "debilitating and unpopular". He adds that "the morale of the cultural elite was severely eroded; fears of conscription led many aristocratic families to leave Vienna, and there were widespread feelings of disillusionment with Emperor Joseph, a sense that he had betrayed the promise of an enlightened reform movement." (see Enlightened despotism). Braunbehrens describes the war thus: "There was open opposition, ... fueled by the enormous economic burden it placed on the population. Food prices had risen drastically and in some cases doubled; bakeries had been looted for the first time in Vienna's history."[8]

A consequence of this social disruption was that the vibrant musical life of Vienna was greatly diminished, with the closure of two opera companies and decline of concerts and salon performance.


At the front, disease played a major role. According to Volkmar Braunbehrens, in the Austrian army during 1788 there were "epidemics: the lazarettos were filled to capacity, half the army was sick, and thousands of soldiers died". Joseph II spent most of the war at the front, and was one of those who fell ill there; he ultimately died of his illness after his return home (20 February 1790).[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Britannica, 1988
  2. ^ a b c Paul W. Schroeder (1996). The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. Oxford University Press. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-19-820654-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Virginia Aksan (14 January 2014). Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged. Routledge. pp. 163–. ISBN 978-1-317-88403-3. 
  4. ^ Britannica, 11th edition
  5. ^ Virginia Aksan, Ottoman Wars: An Empire Besieged, (Taylor & Francis, 2007), 138.
  6. ^ Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in an Age of Revolutions, 1783-1793, (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 263.
  7. ^ Charles W. Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815, (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 210.
  8. ^ Braunbehrens 1990, 312
  9. ^ Braunbehrens 1990, 311


  • Braunbehrens, Volkmar (1990) Mozart in Vienna. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, 1988 edition, article "Austria", p. 500
  • Miller, W. (1901) "Europe and the Ottoman Power before the Nineteenth Century," The English Historical Review, Vol. 16, No. 63. (Jul., 1901), pp. 452–471.