Battle of Vienna

Battle of Vienna
Battle of Vienna
Part of the Great Turkish War, Ottoman–Habsburg wars and the Polish–Ottoman War
Battle of Vienna 1683 11.PNG

Battle of Vienna on 12 September 1683
Date 11–12 September 1683
Location Vienna, Holy Roman Empire, today Austria
Result Decisive Holy League victory
Herb Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodow.svg Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
 Holy Roman Empire
Grand Duchy of Tuscany
 Ottoman Empire
Ottoman fiefdoms:
Flag of Krim Khanat.svg Khanate of Crimea
 Principality of Moldavia
 Principality of Wallachia
Principality of Transylvania
Commanders and leaders
Jan III Sobieski
Holy Roman Empire Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg
Ottoman Empire Kara Mustafa Pasha
84,400 150,000
Casualties and losses
Among other losses: Unknown

The Battle of Vienna (German: Schlacht am Kahlenberg, Polish: Bitwa pod Wiedniem or Odsiecz Wiedeńska, Turkish: İkinci Viyana Kuşatması, Ukrainian: Віденська відсіч / Viděns'ka Vidsič) took place on 11 and 12 September[2] 1683 after Vienna had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months. It was a battle of the Holy Roman Empire in league with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (Holy League) versus the Ottoman Empire and fiefdoms of the Ottoman Empire at the Kahlenberg mountain near Vienna. The battle marked the beginning of the political hegemony of the Habsburg dynasty in the Holy Roman Empire and Central Europe.

The battle was won by the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The forces of the Holy Roman Empire were led by Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg subordinate of Leopold I Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor. Command of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as overall command, was held by the King of Poland, Jan III Sobieski.

The alliance fought the army of the Ottoman Empire and those of Ottoman fiefdoms commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The siege itself began on 14 July 1683, by the Ottoman Empire army of approximately 150,000 men.[3] The besieging force was composed of 60 ortas of Janissaries (12,000 men paper strength) with an observation army of c.70,000[4] men watching the countryside. The decisive battle took place on 12 September, after the united relief army of approximately 80,000 men had arrived.

It has been suggested by some historians that the battle marked the turning point in the Ottoman–Habsburg wars, the 300-year struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. However, an opposing view sees the battle as only confirming the already-decaying power of the Ottoman Empire. Over the sixteen years following the battle, the Habsburgs of Austria gradually occupied and dominated southern Hungary and Transylvania, which had been largely cleared of the Ottoman forces. The battle is also notable for including the largest cavalry charge in history.



The capture of the city of Vienna had long been a strategic aspiration of the Ottoman Empire, due to its inter-locking control over Danubean (Black Sea-to-Western Europe) southern Europe, and the overland (Eastern Mediterranean-to-Germany) trade routes. During the years preceding the second siege (the first one was in 1529), under the auspices of grand viziers from the influential Köprülü family, the Ottoman Empire undertook extensive logistical preparations this time, including the repair and establishment of roads and bridges leading into the Holy Roman Empire and its logistical centers, as well as the forwarding of ammunition, cannon and other resources from all over the Ottoman Empire to these logistical centers and into the Balkans.

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.[citation needed] There, in the years preceding the siege, widespread unrest had become open rebellion upon 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, who recognized Thököly as King of "Upper Hungary" (eastern part of today's Slovakia and parts of today's northeastern Hungary, which he had earlier taken by force of arms from the Habsburgs). This support went so far as explicitly promising the "Kingdom of Vienna" to the Hungarians if it fell into Ottoman hands.[citation needed] 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.

Sultan Mehmed IV

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 Ottoman period: Yanıkkale, German: Raab) and Komárom (Turkish: Komaron, 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.

King Jan III Sobieski

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 got 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 defense and for Leopold to assemble troops from the Holy Roman Empire and to 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 concluded a treaty 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 attacked.

On 31 March 1683 another declaration, sent by Kara Mustafa 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 troops reached Belgrade by early May, then moved toward the city of Vienna. About 40,000 Crimean Tatar forces arrived 40 km east of Vienna on 7 July, twice as many as the Imperial troops in that area. After initial fights, Leopold retreated to Linz with 80,000 inhabitants of Vienna.

The King of Poland Jan III Sobieski prepared a relief expedition to Vienna during the summer of 1683, honoring his obligations to the treaty. He went so far as to leave 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 tried to. Jan Kazimierz Sapieha the Younger delayed the march of the Lithuanian army, instead devastating the Hungarian Highlands (now Slovakia), and arrived in Vienna after it was relieved.[5]

  Troops Infantry Cavalry and Dragoons Cannons Total
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Holy Roman Empire forces total relief: 29,600 17,800 124 47,250
    Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Imperial troops 8,100 10,350 70 18,400
    Flag of Bavaria (lozengy).svg Bavaria 7,500 3,000 26 10,500
    Flag of Baden-Württemberg.svg Swabia & Franconia 7,000 2,500 12 9,500
    Electorate of Saxony Saxony 7,000 2,000 16 9,000
Herb Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodow.svg Crown of P-LC 16,450 20,550 28 37,000[6]
Habsburgs and their confederates estimated total: 46,050 38,350 152 84,400

Events during the siege

Sipahis of the Ottoman Empire at Vienna

The main Ottoman army finally layed siege to Vienna on 14 July. On the same day, Kara Mustafa sent the traditional demand for surrender to the city.[7]

Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining 11,000 troops and 5,000 citizens and volunteers with 370 cannons, refused to capitulate. Only days before, he had received news of the mass slaughter at Perchtoldsdorf,[8] a town south of Vienna whose citizens had handed over the keys of the city after having been given a similar choice.

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. 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.

Although the Ottomans had 300 good cannons, the fortifications of Vienna were very strong and up to date, and the Ottomans had to find a more effective use for their gunpowder: mining. Tunnels were dug under the massive city walls to blow them up with substantial quantities of black powder.

The lack of urgency by the Ottomans at this point, combined with the delay in advancing their army after declaring war, eventually allowed a relief force to arrive. Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact for its riches, and declined an all-out attack in order to prevent the right of plunder which would accompany an assault.[9]

The Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food supply into Vienna,[10] and the garrison and civilian volunteers suffered extreme hardships. Fatigue became such a problem 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 beat Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5 km northwest 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. France declined to help its Habsburg rival. Louis XIV of France chose to use the opportunity to invade the western territories of the Holy Roman Empire, mainly Alsace [see: War of the Reunions].

During early September, the experienced 5,000 Ottoman sappers repeatedly blew up large portions of the walls, the Burg bastion, the Löbel bastion and the Burg ravelin in between, creating gaps of about 12m in width. The Viennese tried to counter 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 Nieder wall in that area on 8 September. Anticipating a breach in the city walls, the remaining Viennese prepared to fight within the city walls.

Staging the battle

Sobieski at Vienna by Juliusz Kossak

The relief army had to act quickly to save the city and to prevent another long siege. Despite the bi-national composition and the short time of only six days, an effective leadership structure was established, centered on the King of Poland and his heavy cavalry.

Kara Mustafa Pasha, on the other hand, was less effective, despite having months of time to organize his forces, ensure their motivation and loyalty, and prepare for the expected relief army attack. He had entrusted defense of the rear to the Khan of Crimea and his cavalry force, which numbered about 30 - 40,000.

Polish hussars armour, dating to the first half of the 17th century, Polish Army Museum, Warsaw.

There are serious questions as to how much the Tatar forces participated in the final battle at Vienna. Their Khan felt humiliated by repeated snubs by Kara Mustafa. He reportedly refused to attack the Polish relief force as it crossed the mountains, where the Tatar light horse would have had an advantage over the Polish heavy cavalry.[9] Nor were they the only component of the Ottoman army to defy Mustafa openly or refuse assignments.

This left vital bridges undefended and allowed passage of the allied forces, which arrived to relieve the siege. Critics of this account say that it was Kara Mustafa Pasha, and not the Crimean Khan, who was held responsible for the failure of the siege.

Also, the Ottomans could not rely on their Wallachian and Moldavian allies. The Romanians resented the Ottomans, who extracted heavy tributes from their countries. The Ottomans also intervened in the internal politics of these countries, seeking to replace their ruling princes with men who would be mere Ottoman puppets. When George Ducas, Prince of Moldavia and Şerban Cantacuzino, Prince of Wallachia learned of the Ottoman plans, they tried to warn the Habsburgs. They also tried to avoid participating in the campaign, but the Ottomans insisted that they send troops. There are a great number of popular legends about the Wallachian and Moldavian forces in the siege. Almost invariably, these legends describe them loading their cannons with straw balls, in order to make no impact upon the walls of the besieged city.

On arrival of the confederated troops on the Kahlenberg above Vienna, they signaled their arrival with bonfires. In the early morning hours of 12 September, before the battle, a Mass was held for the King of Poland and his nobles.


Battle of Vienna, painting by Józef Brandt
Polish soldiers 1674-1696

The battle started before all units were fully deployed. Early in the morning, at 4 AM, the Ottomans attacked, seeking to interfere with the deployment of the Holy League troops. Charles of Lorraine moved forward with the Imperial army on the left and the other Holy Roman Empire forces in the center.

Mustafa Pasha launched a counter-attack 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 another large and final detonation under the Löbelbastei,[11] to breach the walls. While the Ottomans hastily finished their work and sealed the tunnel to make the explosion more effective, the Viennese "moles" detected the tunnel in the afternoon. One of them entered and defused the load just in time.

At that time, above the "subterranean battlefield", a large battle was going on, as the Polish infantry launched a massive assault upon the Ottoman right flank. Instead of focusing on the battle with the relief army, the Ottomans continued their efforts to force their way into the city.[citation needed]

After twelve hours of fighting, the Poles held the high ground on the right. The Holy League cavalry waited on the hills, and watched the infantry battle for the whole day. At about 17:00 h, the Polish King ordered the cavalry attack in four groups, one of the Holy Roman Empire and three Polish. Twenty thousand horsemen charged down the hills (the largest cavalry charge in history).[citation needed] Jan III Sobieski led the charge 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 broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were tired from the long fight on two sides. In the confusion, the cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault.

The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the sapping attempt and the brute force assault on the city. The arrival of the cavalry turned the tide of battle against them, sending them into retreat to the south and east. In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna.

After the battle, Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar's famous quote by saying "Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vincit" - "We came, We saw, God conquered".

Return from Vienna by Józef Brandt, Polish army returning with loot of the Ottoman forces.


The Ottomans lost at least 15,000 men dead and wounded in the fighting, plus at least 5,000 men captured and all cannons, compared to approximately 4,500 dead and wounded for the forces of the Holy League.

The loot that fell into the hands of the Holy League troops and the Viennese was as huge as their relief, as King 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 of, the enemy now completely ruined, everything lost for them. They must run for their sheer lives ... Commander Starhemberg hugged and kissed me and called me his savior.[12]

Starhemberg immediately ordered the repair of Vienna's severely damaged fortifications, guarding against a possible Ottoman counter-strike. However, this proved unnecessary. The victory at Vienna set the stage for Prince Eugene of Savoy's re-conquering of Hungary and (temporarily) some of the Balkan lands within the following years. The Holy Roman Empire signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1699.

Long before that, the Ottomans had 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.


"Sobieski Sending Message of Victory to the Pope" by Jan Matejko
"Sobieski meeting Leopold I" by Artur Grottger

The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years, losing control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process, before finally giving up. The end of the conflict was finalized in 1699 by the Treaty of Karlowitz.

The battle marked the historic end of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe.

The behavior of Louis XIV of France also set the stage for centuries to come: The Holy Roman Empire had to fight wars simultaneously in the West and the East. While its troops were fighting in the Holy League in defense of Vienna, Louis ruthlessly used the occasion, before and after the battle of Vienna, to annex territories, such as Luxembourg and Alsace. The biography of Ezechiel du Mas, Comte de Melac illustrates the devastations of large parts of Southern Germany by France.

Plaque at the Polish Congregatio Resurrectionis church on Kahlenberg
Plaque memorializing the 300th anniversary of successful defense against the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna

In honor of Sobieski, the Austrians erected a church atop a hill of Kahlenberg, north of Vienna. The train route from Vienna to Warsaw is also named in Sobieski's honour. The constellation Scutum Sobieskii (Sobieski’s Shield) was named to memorialize the battle.[13] Because Sobieski had entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin (Our Lady of Czestochowa) 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 universal Church; it is celebrated on 12 September.

Cultural legacy

After the battle of Vienna, the newly identified constellation Scutum (Latin for shield) was originally named Scutum Sobiescianum by the astronomer Johannes Hevelius, in honor of Jan III Sobieski. While there are some few 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.

Religious significance

The feast of the Holy Name of Mary is celebrated on 12 September on the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church in commemoration of the victory in this battle of Christian Europe over the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Empire. Before the battle King Jan had placed his troops under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the battle Pope Innocent XI, wishing to honor Mary, extended the feast to the entire Church.

Musical legacy

It is said that when the Ottomans were pushed away from Vienna the military bands left their instruments on the field of battle, and that is how the Holy Roman Empire (and therefore the other Western countries) acquired cymbals, triangles, and bass drums.

The Austrian composer Johann Joseph Fux memorialized the battle in his Partita Turcaria, which bore the sub-title, "Musical portrait of the Siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683".[14]

Culinary legends

Several culinary legends are related to the Battle of Vienna.

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 of 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 French are referred to as Viennoiserie, and 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 Jan Sobieski to commemorate the King's victory over the Ottomans that year. It was fashioned in the form of a stirrup, to commemorate the victorious charge by the Polish cavalry. The veracity of this legend is uncertain, as there is a reference in 1610 to a bread with a similar-sounding name, which may or may not have been the bagel.

After the battle, the Viennese discovered many bags of coffee in the abandoned Ottoman encampment. Using this captured stock, Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki opened the third coffeehouse in Europe and the first in Vienna,[15][16] where, according to legend, Kulczycki himself added milk and honey to sweeten the bitter coffee, thereby inventing cappuccino. There is no contemporary historical source connecting Marco d'Aviano, the Capuchin friar and confidant of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, to this spurious creation.

See also


  1. ^ comments on XVII century epistolography by Antoni Zygmunt Helcel, 1860, Kraków
  2. ^ Date of Battle
  3. ^ siege of vienna (europe 1683) -- Britannica Onl
  4. ^ Bruce, George (1981). Harbottle's Dictionary of Battles. Van Nostrand Reinhold. 
  5. ^ Davies, Norman, God's Playground, a History of Poland: The origins to 1795, (Columbia University Press, 1982), 487.
  6. ^ Exact Polish Order of Battle and Strength Reports as of 1 August 1683
  7. ^ The original document was destroyed during World War II. For the German translation, see here
  8. ^ Palmer, Alan, The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, p.12, Published by Barnes & Noble Publishing, 1992. ISBN 1-56619-847-X
  9. ^ a b Bates, Brandon J. (2003). "The Beginning of the End: The Failure of the Siege of Vienna of 1683" (PDF). Brigham Young University. Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. Retrieved 28 August 2006. 
  10. ^ Ripperton, Lisa. "The Siege of Vienna". The Baldwin Project. Retrieved 28 August 2006. 
  11. ^ "Duell im Dunkeln" (in German). 2DF. 6 November 2005.,1872,2392407,00.html. Retrieved 28 August 2006. 
  12. ^ "Letter from King Sobieski to his Wife". Letters from King Sobieski to his wife. University Of Gdansk, Department Cultural Studies Faculty of Philology. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  13. ^ Grzechnik, Slawek K.. "Hussaria – Polish Winged Cavalry". Archived from the original on 15 June 2006.,%20Sep%2012,%201683. Retrieved 28 August 2006. 
  14. ^ Description of contents of album "Alla Turca"
  15. ^ Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds, p.10. Basic Books, 2000. ISBN 0-465-05467-6
  16. ^ Millar, Simon. Vienna 1683, p. 93. Osprey Publishing, 2008. ISBN 1-84603-231-8.


  • Stéphane Gaber, Et Charles V arrêta la marche des Turcs, Presses universitaires de Nancy, 1986, ISBN 2-86480-227-9.
  • Bruce, George (1981). Harbottle's Dictionary of Battles. Van Nostrand Reinhold. 
  • Cezary Harasimowicz "VICTORIA" Warsaw 2007, novel ISBN 978-83-925589-0-3
  • Alan Palmer, The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, Published by Barnes & Noble Publishing, 1992. ISBN 1-56619-847-X.

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