Battle of Vienna
|Battle of Vienna|
|Part of the Great Turkish War, the Ottoman–Habsburg wars, and the Polish–Ottoman War|
Battle of Vienna, 11 and 12 September 1683
|Commanders and leaders|
| John III Sobieski
Count Marcin Kątski (relief force)
Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg (garrison)
Charles of Lorraine
John George III of Saxony
Georg Friedrich of Waldeck
Julius Francis, Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg
Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria
| Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha
Kara Mehmed of Diyarbakir
Ibrahim of Buda
Abaza Sari Hussein
Pasha of Karahisar
130 field guns + 19 medium-caliber cannons
|Casualties and losses|
Dead during battle: 4,500:661Dead during siege: 12,000
|Dead during siege: 20,000
Dead during battle: 8,000-15,000:661
The Battle of Vienna (German: Schlacht am Kahlen Berge or Kahlenberg; Polish: bitwa pod Wiedniem or odsiecz wiedeńska; Modern Turkish: İkinci Viyana Kuşatması, Ottoman Turkish: Beç Ḳalʿası Muḥāṣarası) took place in Vienna on 11th and concluding on the 12th of September 1683 after the imperial city of Vienna had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months. The battle was fought by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations in league with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Holy League) against the invading Muslim Ottoman Empire and chiefdoms of the Ottoman Empire, and took place at Kahlenberg Mountain near Vienna. The battle marked the first time Poland and the Holy Roman Empire had cooperated militarily against the Turks, and it is often seen as a turning point in history, after which "the Ottoman Turks ceased to be a menace to the Christian world". In the ensuing war that lasted until 1698, the Turks lost almost all of Hungary to the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.
The battle was won by the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the latter represented only by the forces of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. (The march of the Lithuanian army was delayed, and they reached Vienna after it had been relieved.) The Viennese garrison was led by Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg, an Austrian subject of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. The overall command was held by the senior leader, the King of Poland, John III Sobieski, who led the Polish forces.
The opposing military forces were those of Ottoman Empire and those of Ottoman fiefdoms commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. An Ottoman army of approximately 90,000–300,000 men began the siege on 14 July 1683. The Turkish forces consisted of 60 ortas of Janissaries (12,000 men paper-strength) with an observation army of c.70,000 men watching the countryside. The decisive battle took place on 11 September, after the united relief army of about 46,000 men had arrived.
Historians suggest the battle marked the turning-point in the Ottoman–Habsburg wars, a 300-year struggle between the Holy Roman and Ottoman Empires. In fact, during the sixteen years following the battle, the Austrian Habsburgs gradually recovered and dominated southern Hungary and Transylvania, which had been largely cleared of Turkish forces. The battle is also noted for including the largest known cavalry charge in history.
Capturing the city of Vienna had long been a strategic aspiration of the Ottoman Empire, because of its interlocking control over Danubian (Black Sea to Western Europe) southern Europe, and the overland (Eastern Mediterranean to Germany) trade routes. During the years preceding this second siege (the first had taken place in 1529), under the auspices of grand viziers from the influential Köprülü family, the Ottoman Empire undertook extensive logistical preparations, including the repair and establishment of roads and bridges leading into the Holy Roman Empire and its logistical centres, as well as the forwarding of ammunition, cannon and other resources from all over the Ottoman Empire to these centres and into the Balkans. Since 1679, the plague had been raging in Vienna.
On the political front, the Ottoman Empire had been providing military assistance to the Hungarians and to non-Catholic minorities in Habsburg-occupied portions of Hungary. There, in the years preceding the siege, widespread unrest had become open rebellion against Leopold I's pursuit of Counter-Reformation principles and his desire to crush Protestantism. In 1681, Protestants and other anti-Habsburg Kuruc forces, led by Imre Thököly, were reinforced with a significant force from the Ottomans,:657 who recognized Thököly as King of "Upper Hungary" (the eastern part of today's Slovakia and parts of today's north-eastern Hungary, which he had earlier taken by force of arms from the Habsburgs). This support included explicitly promising the "Kingdom of Vienna" to the Hungarians if it fell into Ottoman hands.:129 Yet before the siege, a state of peace had existed for twenty years between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire as a result of the Peace of Vasvár.
In 1681 and 1682, clashes between the forces of Imre Thököly and the Holy Roman Empire (of which the border was then northern Hungary) intensified, and the incursions of Habsburg forces into Central Hungary provided the crucial argument of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha in convincing the Sultan, Mehmet IV and his Divan, to allow the movement of the Ottoman army. Mehmet IV authorized Kara Mustafa Pasha to operate as far as Győr (the name during the Ottoman period was Yanıkkale, in German Raab) and Komárom (in Turkish Komaron, in German Komorn) Castles, both in northwestern Hungary, and to besiege them. The Ottoman Army was mobilized on 21 January 1682, and war was declared on 6 August 1682.
The logistics of the time meant that it would have been risky or impossible to launch an invasion in August or September 1682 (a three-month campaign would have taken the Ottomans to Vienna just as winter set in). However this 15-month gap between mobilization and the launch of a full-scale invasion allowed ample time for Vienna to prepare its defence and for Leopold to assemble troops from the Holy Roman Empire and set up an alliance with Poland, Venice and Pope Innocent XI. Undoubtedly this contributed to the failure of the Ottoman campaign. The decisive alliance of the Holy Roman Empire with Poland was concluded in the 1683 Treaty of Warsaw, in which Leopold promised support to Sobieski if the Ottomans attacked Kraków; in return, the Polish Army would come to the relief of Vienna if it were attacked.:656, 659
On 31 March 1683, another declaration, sent by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha on behalf of Mehmet IV, arrived at the Imperial Court in Vienna. On the next day, the forward march of Ottoman army elements began from Edirne in Thrace. The Turkish troops reached Belgrade by early May. They were joined by a Transylvanian army under Prince Mihaly Apafi and a Hungarian force under Imre Thököly, laid siege to Győr, and the remaining army of 150,000 moved toward the city of Vienna.:660 About 40,000 Crimean Tatar troops arrived 40 km east of Vienna on 7 July,:660 twice as many as the Imperial troops in the area. Emperor Leopold fled Vienna for Passau with his court and 60,000 Viennese, while Charles V, Duke of Lorraine withdrew his force of 20,000 towards Linz.:660 The main Turkish army arrived at Vienna on 14 July, now only defended by Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg's 15,000 men.:660
The King of Poland Jan III Sobieski prepared a relief expedition to Vienna during the summer of 1683, so honouring his obligations to the treaty. He left his own nation virtually undefended when departing from Kraków on 15 August. Sobieski covered this with a stern warning to Imre Thököly, the leader of Hungary, whom he threatened with destruction if he tried to take advantage of the situation — which Thököly in fact attempted. Jan Kazimierz Sapieha the Younger delayed the march of the Lithuanian army, devastating the Hungarian Highlands (now Slovakia) instead, and arrived in Vienna only after it had been relieved.
Immediately, tensions rose between Poland and the various German states, above all Austria, over the relief of the city. Payment of troops' wages and supplies while marching was predominant among these. Sobieski demanded that he should not have to pay for his march to Vienna, since it was by his efforts that the city had been saved; nor could the Viennese neglect the other German troops who had marched. The Habsburg leadership hurriedly found as much money as possible to pay for these and arranged deals with the Polish to limit their costs.
Events during the siege
The main Ottoman army finally laid siege to Vienna on 14 July. On the same day, Kara Mustafa sent the traditional demand for surrender to the city.
Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining 15,000 troops and 8,700 volunteers with 370 cannon, refused to capitulate. Only days before, he had received news of the mass slaughter at Perchtoldsdorf, a town south of Vienna where the citizens had handed over the keys of the city after having been given a similar choice. Siege operations started on 17 July.:660
The Viennese had demolished many of the houses around the city walls and cleared the debris, leaving an empty plain that would expose the Ottomans to defensive fire if they tried to rush the city.:660 Kara Mustafa Pasha solved that problem by ordering his forces to dig long lines of trenches directly toward the city, to help protect them from the defenders as they advanced steadily toward the city.
The Ottomans had 130 field guns and 19 medium-calibre cannon, insufficient in the face of the defenders' 370 cannon. Mining tunnels were dug under the massive city walls to blow them up with substantial quantities of black powder.:660 According to Andrew Wheatfield, the outer palisade was around 150 years old and mostly rotten so the defenders set to work knocking very large tree trunks into the ground to surround the walls. This seriously disrupted the Ottoman plan adding almost another three weeks to the time to get past the old palisade. 
This combined with the delay in advancing their army after declaring war, eventually allowed a Polish relief force to arrive in September.:660 Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact with its riches, and that he declined an all-out attack, not wishing to activate the right of plunder which would accompany an assault.
The Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food supply into Vienna. Fatigue became so common that Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg ordered any soldier found asleep on watch to be shot. Increasingly desperate, the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs when, in August, Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine defeated Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5 km north-west of Vienna.
On 6 September, the Poles under Jan III Sobieski crossed the Danube 30 km north-west of Vienna at Tulln, to unite with the Imperial troops and the additional forces from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia. Louis XIV of France declined to help his Habsburg rival, having just annexed Alsace.
An alliance between John III Sobieski and the Emperor Leopold I resulted in the addition of the Polish hussars to the already existing allied army. The command of the forces of European allies was entrusted to the Polish king, who had under his command 70,000-80,000 soldiers facing a Turkish army of 150,000.:661 John III Sobieski's courage and remarkable aptitude for command were already known in Europe.
During early September, the experienced 5,000 Ottoman sappers had repeatedly blown up large portions of the walls between the Burg bastion, the Löbel bastion and the Burg ravelin, creating gaps of about 12m in width. The Viennese tried to counter this by digging their own tunnels to intercept the depositing of large amounts of gunpowder in subterranean caverns. The Ottomans finally managed to occupy the Burg ravelin and the low wall in that area on 8 September. Anticipating a breach in the city walls, the remaining Viennese prepared to fight in the inner city.
Staging the battle
The relief army had to act quickly to save the city and so prevent another long siege. Despite the binational composition of the army and the short space of only six days, an effective leadership structure was established, centred on the King of Poland and his heavy cavalry (Polish Hussars). The Holy League settled the issues of payment by using all available funds from the government, loans from several wealthy bankers and noblemen and large sums of money from the Pope. Also, the Habsburgs and Poles agreed that the Polish government would pay for its own troops while still in Poland, but that they would be paid by the Emperor once they had crossed into imperial territory. However, the Emperor had to recognise Sobieski’s claim to first rights of plunder of the enemy camp in the event of a victory.
Kara Mustafa Pasha was less effective at ensuring his forces' motivation and loyalty, and preparing for the expected relief-army attack. He had entrusted defence of the rear to the Khan of Crimea and his cavalry force, which numbered about 30–40,000. There is doubt as to how far the Tatars participated in the final battle before Vienna. Their Khan refused to attack the Polish relief force as it crossed the Danube on pontoon bridges and refused to attack as they emerged from the Wienerwald.:151, 161
The Ottomans could not rely on their Wallachian and Moldavian allies. George Ducas, Prince of Moldavia, was captured, while Șerban Cantacuzino's forces joined the retreat after Sobieski's cavalry charge.:163
The confederated troops signalled their arrival on the Kahlenberg above Vienna with bonfires. Before the battle a Mass was celebrated for the King of Poland and his nobles.
The battle started before all units were fully deployed. At 4:00 am on 12 September 1683, the Ottomans attacked, seeking to interfere with the deployment of the Holy League troops.:661 The Germans were the first to strike. Charles of Lorraine moved forward with the Imperial army on the left, with the other Holy Roman Imperial forces in the centre and, after heavy fighting and multiple Turkish counter-attacks, took several key positions, especially the fortified villages of Nussdorf and Heiligenstadt. By noon, the Imperial army had already severely mauled the Turks and had come close to break through. Though shattered, the Ottoman army did not crumble at that moment.
Mustafa Pasha launched his counter-attacks with most of his force, but held back some of the elite Janissary and Sipahi units for a simultaneous assault on the city. The Ottoman commanders had intended to take Vienna before Sobieski arrived, but time ran out. Their sappers had prepared a large, final detonation under the Löbelbastei to breach the walls. In total, ten mines were set to explode but they were located and disarmed.:169
In the early afternoon, a large battle started on the other side of the battlefield as the Polish infantry advanced on the Ottoman right flank. Instead of concentrating on the battle with the relief army, the Ottomans continued their efforts to force their way into the city.:152 Hence, the Poles could make good progress and by 4:00 pm, they had the village of Gersthof, which would serve as a base for their massive cavalry charge. The Ottomans were in a desperate position, between the Polish forces and the imperials. Charles of Lorraine and Sobieski both decided on their own to resume the offensive and finish off their enemy.
The imperials resumed the offensive on the left front at 3:30 pm. At first, they encountered a fierce resistance and were stopped. This did not last long, however, and by 5:00 pm, they had made further gains and taken the villages of Unterdöbling and Oberdöbling. They were now very close to the central Turkish position (the "Turkenschanz"). As they were preparing to storm it, they could see the Polish cavalry in action.
It is recorded that the Polish cavalry slowly emerged from the forest to the cheers of the onlooking infantry, who had been anticipating their arrival. At 4:00 pm, the Polish hussars first entered into action, battering the Turkish lines and approaching the Turkenschanz which was now threatened from three sides (the Poles from the west, the Saxons and the Bavarians from the northwest and the Austrians from the north). At that point, the Turkish vizier decided to leave this position and to retreat to his headquarters in the main camp further south. However, by then, many Ottomans were already leaving the battlefield.
The allies were now ready for the last blow. At around 6:00 pm, the Polish king ordered the cavalry attack in four groups, three Polish and one from the Holy Roman Empire. Eighteen thousand horsemen charged down the hills, the largest cavalry charge in history.:152 Jan III Sobieski led the charge:661 at the head of 3,000 Polish heavy lancers, the famed "Winged Hussars". The Lipka Tatars who fought on the Polish side wore a sprig of straw in their helmets to distinguish themselves from the Tatars fighting on the Ottoman side. The charge easily broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were exhausted and demoralised and soon started to flee the battlefield. The cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps and Kara Mustafa's headquarters, while the remaining Viennese garrison sallied out of its defences to join in the assault.:661
The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the attempt at sapping and the assault on the city and the advance of the Holy League infantry on the Turkenschanz.:661 The cavalry charge was one last deadly blow. Less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna. The first Christian officer who entered Vienna was Margrave Ludwig of Baden, at the head of his dragoons. At one point during the battle, Kara Mustafa panicked and ordered the execution of 30,000 Christian hostages.
The Ottomans lost at least 20,000 men during the siege and between 8,000-15,000 during the battle with Sobieski's forces.
The Holy League troops and the Viennese took a large amount of loot from the Ottoman army, which King John Sobieski vividly described in a letter to his wife a few days after the battle:
Ours are treasures unheard of... tents, sheep, cattle and no small number of camels... it is victory as nobody ever knew before, the enemy now completely ruined, everything lost for them. They must run for their sheer lives... General Starhemberg hugged and kissed me and called me his saviour.
Starhemberg immediately ordered the repair of Vienna's severely damaged fortifications to guard against a possible Ottoman counter-strike. However, this proved unnecessary.
Soon, the Ottomans disposed of their defeated commander. On 25 December 1683, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed in Belgrade in the approved manner, by strangulation with a silk rope pulled by several men on each end, by order of the commander of the Janissaries.
Despite the victory of the Christian allies, there was still tension between the various commanders and their armies. For example, Sobieski demanded that the Polish troops be allowed to have first choice of the spoils of the Turkish camp. The German and Austrian troops were left with smaller portions of the loot. Also, the Protestant Saxons, who had arrived to relieve the city, were apparently subjected to verbal abuse by the Catholic populace of the Viennese countryside. The Saxons left the battle immediately, without partaking in the sharing of spoils and refusing to continue pursuit.
Sobieski went on to liberate Grau and northwestern Hungary after the Battle of Parkany, but dysentery halted his pursuit of the Turks.:662 Charles V took Belgrade and most of Serbia in 1686, and established Habsburg control over southern Hungary and most of Transylvania in 1687.:663–664
The victory at Vienna set the stage for the reconquering of Hungary and (temporarily) some of the Balkan lands in the following years by Louis of Baden, Maximilian Emmanuel of Bavaria and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years, losing control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process before finally desisting. The Holy Roman Empire signed the Treaty of Karlowitz with the Ottoman Empire in 1699.
The battle marked the historic end of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe.
After the battle of Vienna, the newly identified constellation Scutum (Latin for shield) was originally named Scutum Sobiescianum by the astronomer Johannes Hevelius, in honour of king John III Sobieski. While there are some stars named after non-astronomers, this is the only constellation that was originally named after a real non-astronomer who was still alive when the constellation was named, and the name of which is still in use (three other constellations, satisfying the same requirements, never gained enough popularity to last).
Because Sobieski had entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin (Our Lady of Częstochowa) before the battle, Pope Innocent XI commemorated his victory by extending the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, which until then had been celebrated solely in Spain and the Kingdom of Naples, to the entire Church; it used to be celebrated on the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity of Mary and was, when Pope St. Pius X intended to make room for the celebration of the actual Sundays, transferred to 12 September, the day of the victory.
The Pope also upgraded the papal coat of arms by adding the Polish crowned White Eagle. After victory in the Battle of Vienna, the Polish king was also granted by the Pope the title of "Defender of the Faith" ("Defensor Fidei").
In honour of Sobieski, the Austrians erected a church atop the Kahlenberg hill north of Vienna.
When the Ottomans were pushed away from Vienna, their military bands left their instruments on the field of battle and that is how the Holy Roman Empire (and thus the other Western countries) acquired cymbals and the timpani.
It is said that the victors found in the Ottomans' abandoned luggage the tárogató, a double-reed woodwind instrument that was to become the Hungarian national symbol for freedom after Francis II Rákóczi's defeat against the Habsburgs in 1711.
One legend is that the croissant was invented in Vienna, either in 1683 or during the earlier siege in 1529, to celebrate the defeat of the Ottoman attack on the city, with the shape referring to the crescents on the Ottoman flags. This version of the origin of the croissant is supported by the fact that croissants in France are called Viennoiserie, and by the French popular belief that Vienna-born Marie Antoinette introduced the pastry to France in 1770.
Another legend from Vienna has the first bagel as being a gift to King John III Sobieski to commemorate the King's victory over the Ottomans. It was fashioned in the form of a stirrup, to commemorate the victorious charge by the Polish cavalry.
After the battle, the Viennese discovered many bags of coffee in the abandoned Ottoman encampment. Using this captured stock, Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki, a Pole living in Vienna, opened the third coffeehouse in Europe and the first in Vienna. He mixed cream and honey with the otherwise bitter Turkish coffee and it was named in honor of the Chaplain-General of the Imperial forces, Friar Marco d'Aviano, the Capuchin friar and confidant of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, the foam on the top of the coffee resembling the brown hood of the Capuchin friars. The Italian word for a Capuchin friar is cappuccino.
The train route from Vienna to Warsaw is also named in Sobieski's honour.
The Battle of Vienna is commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw, with the inscription "WIEDEŃ 12 IX 1683".
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The defeat of the Ottoman Army outside the gates of Vienna 300 years ago is usually regarded as the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. But Walter Leitsch ask whether it was such a turning point in the history of Europe? ... However, it marks a turning point: not only was further Ottoman advance on Christian territories stopped, but in the following war that lasted up to 1698 almost all of Hungary was reconquered by the army of Emperor Leopold I. From 1683 the Ottoman Turks ceased to be a menace to the Christian world. ... The battle of Vienna was a turning point in one further respect: the success was due to the co-operation between the troops of the Emperor, some Imperial princes and the Poles. ... However the co-operation between the two non-maritime neighbours of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, the Emperor and Poland, was something new. ... Walter Leitsch is Professor of East European History and Director of the Institute of East and Southeast European Research at the University of Vienna.
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- Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Army in 17th century from kismeta.com
- The Battle of Vienna at the Wilanów Museum Palace
- (German) German TV: Türken vor Wien
- (German) Arte TV: Türken vor Wien