Siege and Battle of Vienna
The great 60-day siege of Vienna during July–September 1683 was the second effort by the Ottomans to take the capital city of the Habsburg Empire, their most powerful European rival. The siege captured the attention of all Europe as did no other event of the century, and in Catholic countries funds were raised as if for a Crusade.While Ottoman power was not what it had been in the first siege of Vienna in 1529, Habsburg ruler and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was under attack from several sources. In the west King Louis XIV of France was endeavoring to add chunks of the Holy Roman Empire to his holdings. In Royal Hungary (the Habsburg portion of Hungary), Hungarians incited and financed by the French and the Ottomans rebelled. When the Habsburgs moved to put the insurgency down, the Hungarians appealed to the Ottomans for assistance. Sultan Mehmed IV responded by leading a large army up the Danube to take Vienna. Actual field command was in the hands of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha. Mehmed IV called upon and was assisted by Transylvania, his vassal state. Louis XIV did not positively assist the Ottomans but at least declined to join the proposed Crusade against them.
With the addition of Transylvanian units, the Ottomans advanced up the Danube with perhaps 200,000 men. Ahmed detached part of his army to besiege Györ and then continued the advance toward Vienna. On July 7, 1683, the first Ottoman troops reached the gates of the city. On their approach, Emperor Leopold I and the court as well as about 60,000 inhabitants fled. Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, with an Austrian army of some 20,000 men also retired, to Linz. This left Vienna defended by a garrison of perhaps only 15,000 men commanded by Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. The Viennese had ample time to prepare, and they demolished houses around the city walls and cleared away the debris to provide clear fields of fire for their artillery, which was both more numerous and more modern than that of the Ottomans. The Ottomans had only a few heavy pieces, sent up the Danube by barge.
On July 14 the main Ottoman force arrived at Vienna and encircled the city. Siege operations commenced on July 17. Starhemberg sought to keep the Ottomans off guard by frequent sorties, while the small imperial forces under Duke Charles tried to contain Ottoman raiding.The vastly superior Ottoman numbers soon began to tell nonetheless. The Ottomans undertook mining operations and made a number of breaches in the city walls through which they launched assaults. The defenders contained the penetrations by throwing up makeshift fortifications, but by the beginning of September Starhemberg’s force was down to about half of its original strength and running short of critical supplies.
At this point a Polish army arrived in present-day Wiener Neustadt, on the other side of a small mountain range from Vienna. The Polish army was under the personal command of King John III Sobieski, who was honoring a mutual defensive pact made in late March with Leopold I. Sobieski made the forced march of 220 miles from Warsaw in only 15 days. He now assumed command of an allied force of some 70,000 men: 30,000 Poles; 18,500 Austrian troops led by Duke Charles; 19,000 Bavarians, Swabians, and Franconians under Prince Georg Friedrich of Waldeck; and about 9,000 Saxons commanded by Elector John George III of Saxony. As the relief force approached Vienna, scouting reports spread terror among the allied troops, but Sobieski managed to keep them moving forward.
Sobieski’s arrival surprised Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, who nonetheless continued siege operations in an effort to take Vienna before battle could be joined. The Battle of Vienna began early on the morning of September 12, 1683, when at 4:00 a.m. the Ottomans attacked in an effort to interfere with the allied deployment. Fighting raged all day. The battle was decided by a surprise allied cavalry charge led by Sobieski in person from the hills near the city directly on Kara Mustafa’s headquarters at about 5:00 p.m. The remainder of the Viennese garrison sallied to join in. During the fighting a cloud caused the crescent moon to fade from the sky, an omen that is said to have produced consternation among the Ottomans.
By nightfall the Ottomans had been defeated and were in full flight, although they found the time to execute thousands of Christian prisoners, including children, taken in their march against Vienna. Sobieski suspended the pursuit that night, fearing an ambush. The battle itself claimed some 2,000 killed and 2,500 wounded on the allied side. The Ottomans lost some 10,000 dead and 5,000 wounded as well as 5,000 prisoners taken along with all their cannon. Sobieski is said to have paraphrased Julius Caesar when he said, “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit” (“I came, I saw, God conquered”).
Sobieski’s victory was the last great military effort of the dying Kingdom of Poland. The next month Sobieski pursued the Ottomans into Hungary and inflicted a serious defeat on them before dysentery forced an end to the pursuit. The Polish contribution was not appreciated, as Sobieski noted with some bitterness. It certainly did not save Poland. Indeed, it strengthened the Habsburgs at the expense of Poland. In the late 18th century Austria took part in two partitions of Poland. The relief of Vienna in 1683 did put an end to the Ottoman dream of further European conquest.
Barker, Thomas M. Double Eagle and Crescent: Vienna’s Second Turkish Siege and Its Historical Setting. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1967.
Hoskins, Janina. Victory at Vienna: The Ottoman Siege of 1683, a Historical Essay and a Select Group of Readings. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1983.
Kinross, Lord [John Patrick]. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: William Morrow, 1977.
Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500–1700. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
Stoye, John. The Siege of Vienna. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1965.