Episodlet 5 – The Other Battle of Vienna

Arguments have been made that my choice of the 1529 Siege of Vienna in episode 52, was not really a battle in the pure sense of the word, and the fact that there was another, possibly equally important clash of the same name. Yes, there was another battle between the Ottoman Empire and this time, an alliance led by the Holy Roman Empire including the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Hapsburg Hungary, Zaporozhian Cossacks, and Wallachia. The Battle of Vienna of 1683 is also known as Schlacht am Kahlen Berge or the Battle of the Bald Mountains.

This clash was also revolved around siege by an invading Ottoman Empire army as was the 1529 Battle of Vienna. Similar to the first fight, the Ottoman’s had a vastly larger army estimated at 170,000 to the Viennese army of 11,000 with a relief force numbering about 75,000. The difference between the two was that there was an actual one-day battle between the clashing sides, and it occurred on September 12, 1683, at Kahlenberg Mountain. 

The ongoing hostilities between the Holy Roman Empire and Hapsburg Austria and the Ottoman’s were going on for centuries, but there was another underlying issue that helped fuel the fires, and that was the battle between Catholics and Protestants, particularly in Hungary. It was also part of what is known as the Great Turkish War.

One of the things that made the Ottoman Empire so vast and powerful was their toleration of multiple religions. The Catholics of eastern Europe were not so tolerant of the Protestants. This was something that the Ottoman’s were to try to take advantage of. In 1681 Protestants led by Imre Thököly were given supplies and troops to fight the Hapsburgs. Another issues that gave the Turks a sign that they just might win this time was the 1679 outbreak of bubonic plague that swept through Vienna, killing over 70,000 residents. 

Vienna’s location in northeastern Austria was a gateway city into Europe as well as a trading center. That and controlling it would give access to all of the cities that lined the Danube River which flows through the heart of the city. This is one of the reasons the Ottoman’s made three significant attempts to seize it.

The failure of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1529 to conquer Vienna stung in the hearts and minds of the Ottoman’s. Leading the siege in 1683 was Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa at the behest of Sultan Mehmed IV. The gathering of troops and supplies began in mid-1682, with a declaration of war on August 6th. Problem was, they couldn’t start the journey toward Vienna because of the upcoming winter. This delay, provided the Viennese and their allies to get ready. It would prove to be the main reason why the siege and the battle would not go well for the Ottoman’s.

The threat that the Turks saw in Hungary which precipitated their attack was partly fabricated by Kara Mustafa. He overstated the trouble on the border, lying to Sultan Mehmed IV. It was to cost him his life.

Taking Vienna was not the first goal of the invasion forces, it was agreed that the city of Gyor was to be taken first. Gyor was halfway between Budapest and Vienna on one of the most important roads in Central Europe. Kara Mustafa decided on his own to bypass the somewhat heavily fortified city and head straight to his preferred target. When Mehmed was notified where he was staying in Belgrade, he was, as Caroline Finkel states in her book Osman’s Dream, “astonished by his grand vizier’s blatant disregard of his explicit orders – but impotent to change the course of events.”

The people of Vienna were prepared to make it through a siege, but after two months, things were beginning to look bleak. Relief was on its way with an army led by the Polish King, John III Sobieski with a combined force of 60,000 men. Kara Mustafa had 30,000 men to defend against the troops coming at him from what he thought was an area of dense forest and mountainous terrain that would stop any invaders. He was decidedly wrong.

The battle that ensued on September 12, 1683, was a complete rout of the Ottoman’s. Many died, others were captured, and thousands fled the scene, cold and hungry. Aside from destroying the besieging army, Sobieski’s men plundered the rich baggage train left behind. Some of the lavishly embroidered tents that they captured can still be seen in museums in Krakow, Poland to this day.

This Battle of Vienna was a turning point in European and Ottoman history. The Europeans saw it as the end of the threat of the Turks into their lands. The Ottoman’s didn’t see it that way, but they would in 1699 with the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz which ended the Great Turkish War that was fought between 1683 and 1697. This was the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire that would culminate in its dissolution after World War I in 1922. The Battle of Vienna was the harbinger of things to come.

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