April 25, 2019 5 min read1 Comment
The battle of Vienna/siege of Vienna in 1683 changed the course of European history forever. Fought against the Ottoman empire and led by Polish King Jan III Sobieski, this achievement forbid the Ottomans from taking over the continent.
In 1683, Poland was the part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a dual state or a bi-confederation of Poland and Lithuania led by a common monarch. As such, it was one of the largest countries of what was then eastern Europe. Officially, the union lasted from 1569, though the personal union began with the marriage of the Polish queen and Lithuania’s Grand Duke. The state collapsed after the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.
During that time, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth fought against outside enemies, one of them being the Ottomans, who planned to seize Europe. The time from 1683 to 1699 is known as the Third Polish-Ottoman War, a part of the Great Turkish War, beginning with the conflict and the Polish victory in the battle of Vienna.
Another important union to remember during this time in history is the one known as the Holy League (or Sacra Ligua in Latin), an alliance organized by Pope Innocent XI in 1684, with a wish to oppose the Ottoman Empire with combined forces of its opponents. Its members were the Papal States, The Holy Roman Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Tsardom of Russia and, of course, the Polish-LIthuanian Commonwealth.
The Ottoman Empire had a strategic intent of capturing the city of Vienna due to its power and control of the trade routes. The first unsuccessful siege of Vienna took place in 1529, led by Suleiman the Magnificent.
Hungary was not internally a stable country in the years preceding the siege. Torn by religious and political conflicts, it was the perfect spot to become a playground of foreign forces. The Ottomans knew that and provided military assistance to the Hungarians and the non-Catholic minorities in the Habsburg-occupied territories, hoping for their support when the time came for Ottomans to take control, promising them a recognized Kingdom of Vienna in return.
The Ottoman forces were mobilized on 21 January 1682 and in August of the year, they declared a war against the Holy Roman Empire, which was, at the time, trying to take control over Hungary. As the Ottomans took a lot of time to attack, the Holy Roman Empire had a lot of time to prepare and organize its allies and the plan of defence.
The Holy Roman Empire concluded an alliance with Poland in 1683’s Treaty of Warsaw, where Holy Roman Emperor Leopold and Polish king John (Jan) III Sobieski promised to help each other out if the Ottomans were to attack them.
In April of 1683 the Ottoman army, with the support of Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha, began moving towards Vienna, joined by a Transylvanian army under Prince Mihaly Apafi and a Hungarian force under Imre Thököly - some 150,000 men. On their way, they were also joined by 40,000 Crimean Tatar troops outside of Vienna. Leopold fled Vienna with his court.
Polish king John III Sobieski took to the besieged Vienna, risking tensions with German states, like Austria, mainly because of the matter of the cost of the upcoming war and the payments of the soldiers. He also got no support from Louis XIV of France, who refused to help.
On July 14, the Ottoman army laid siege and Kara Mustafa sent the demand for the surrender of the city. The leader of the remaining troops refused to capitulate, as he heard the news of the surrounding city Perchtoldsdorf and the mass slaughter that happened there even though the city had surrendered to the Ottomans. The houses around the city walls of Vienna were intentionally demolished to leave the Ottomans exposed to the defensive fire. So the Ottomans dug tunnels under the city walls to be filled with black powder to blow up the walls. But it is said that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact to be able to retain its riches.
The Ottomans moved on to cut food supply into Vienna. In August, Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, defeated Thököly at Bisamberg, 5 km of Vienna. On 6 September, Sobieski and his armies crossed the Danube 30 km away of the city and united with the Imperial troops, along with forces from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia and were also joined by Zaporozhian Cossacks and the famous Polish hussars. All of these forces were to be lead by John III Sobieski, known far and wide for his expertise as a commander: some 80,000 against the 150,000 of Ottoman’s. The battle was nearing, as the Ottomans progressed into the city.
On 12 September 1683, the relief forces got to action. The attack came from the Ottoman side, at 4 AM, wanting to interfere with the deployment of the troops of the Holy League. The Germans were the first to fight back. By noon, they took control over fortified villages of Nussdorf and Heiligenstadt, weakening the Ottoman army. Mustafa Pasha fought with most of his force, keeping some of the elite troops for a parallel assault he was planning on the city, wanting to create a strong detonation through ten mines - this plan was caught in time and the disaster was prevented.
In the afternoon, Polish infantry advanced on the other side of the battlefield. Instead of fighting back here, the Ottomans focused on making their way into the city. This helped the Poles progres on their side and take over the village of Gersthof. The Ottomans got cornered, finding themselves between the Polish and the Imperial forces. The villages of Unterdöbling and Oberdöbling were taken over, getting them close to the central Ottoman position. Then, at about 4PM, the Polish cavalry appeared - hussars, well known and well respected warriors of the time. This made the vizier retreat to his headquarters, and many Ottomans flee the battlefield. At about 6PM, John III Sobieski ordered the attack of the cavalry, in four groups: around 18,000 horsemen charged down the hills, making this the largest noted cavalry charge in history. This attack broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were already exhausted and demoralized.
Three hours later, the battle was won. It is said that John III Sobieski paraphrased the famous quotations of Julius Caesar, saying: I came, I saw, God conquered.
This battle was one of the most disastrous ones in the history of the Ottoman empire, making them lose about 15,000 men and get another 5,000 captured. The walls of Vienna were ordered to be immediately repaired in case of another siege. In the December of 1683, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed in Belgrade. Although the war was far from being over, the battle weakened the Ottomans greatly and marked the end of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. In 1699, the Holy Roman Empire signed the Treaty of Karlowitz with the Ottoman Empire.
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October 29, 2021Mike this was a great piece on “Good King John III”. I know that Henry Sienkiewicz wrote a novel on this in his Post Trilogy days. I have been trying to get an English translation on it
without success. Maybe one of your readers can help me…