On the evening of September 11, 1683, Jan Sobieski, the King of
Poland, stood among the woods on one of the western hills overlooking Vienna, the capital of the Hapsburg Empire. In front of him
was the city, surrounded by its massive walls and defended by a small garrison which was, in turn,
surrounded by the army of the Ottoman Empire which had besieged the city
since July 14 and was now on the verge of taking it. As the evening
wore on was he thinking about Goodnight Vienna,
the title song of Ringo Starr's 1975 album, composed by John Lennon,
perhaps as part of a collective unconscious memory of a future event (as
suggested by THC in Fat Bass)?
Perhaps not. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, what was the King of Poland
doing lurking about in the hills outside Vienna that night? What train
of events brought him there onto the territory of the Hapsburg Emperor,
Leopold I? And why are the events of the following day so important?
Those events started a thousand years earlier.
Although not exclusively a religious tale (on that, see more below) it
began with the assaults of Moslem armies on Europe, starting in the east
with the first (and unsuccessful) siege of Constantinople (674-77), the Byzantine capital,(Wikipedia Commons) and in the west, with the landing of the Berber/Arab forces of
Tariq ibn Ziyad at Gibraltar in 711. On the Iberian peninsula the
Moslem invaders quickly destroyed the Visigoth kingdom, sweeping through all but the mountainous northwest
corner and surging into France, raiding as far north of the Loire River until
turned back by Charles Martel near Tours in 732. For the next 300
years, Christian rulers maintained a tenuous hold on the northern area of
Iberia before launching the reconquista which was completed in 1492, followed immediately by the expulsion of the Jews and, in 1609, by a
final expulsion of Moslems, and the decision to support the Genoese sailor Christoforo Colombo in his crazy scheme to sail west to India.
In the Central
Mediterranean, the attacks, launched from North Africa by Arabs and Berbers, began
with a landing in Sicily in 828 and the conquest of the entire island by the end of the century. The tangled relationships between Arabs and Christians can be seen in what happened during the 9th and 10th centuries in Southern Italy, a region fragmented among duchies, principalities and empires. On one hand, Arab raiders plundered the island of Ischia (near Naples) in 812 and, in 846, sacked those parts of Rome outside the ancient Aurelian walls,
including looting relics from the original St Peters Basilica. It was this period
that saw the construction of the Saracen towers on the Amalfi Coast to
provide warning against Moorish slave raiders. On land, Arab emirates were established on the heel of Italy at Bari (846-71) and Taranto (until 879) from
which raids were conducted deep into interior Italy the main booty from which were slaves and leading to widespread devastation, including (location of Bari and Taranto) the destruction of the abbey at Monte Cassino. Even after the emirates were destroyed land and sea raids continued well into the next century.(From Wikipedia; includes some inaccuracies, such as missing Duchy of Naples, between Amalfi and Capua, but close enough)
On the other hand, Neapolitan merchants sold slaves to the Arabs and imported Arab mercenaries to protect the Duchy from the neighboring Christian Lombard (Benevento, Capua and Salerno) principalities. The relationship of the Duchy of Naples with the Arab states and the number of Arabs residing in the city led the Carolingian Emperor Louis II, while campaigning in the area, to complain that Naples was a "second Palermo [the Arab capital of Sicily] or Africa". When a civil war broke out between the Lombard principalities each hired large bands of Arab mercenaries who were allowed to plunder the area during their "down time" between fighting and when Gaeta, a coastal principality between Naples and Rome, felt threatened by its neighbors it imported an Arab band which carved out a territory from which it launched raids for three decades. The Duchy of Amalfi grew rich on its trade with North Africa and Egypt and when the Pope and the Byzantines attempted to form a Christian alliance to drive the Moslems from the region it failed because Salerno, Naples and Amalfi entered into a peace treaty with the Arabs. All this finally ended when in the late 11th century, Norman adventurers reached Italy and began establishing a kingdom
on both the Italian mainland and in Sicily, completing the conquest of
the island in the 12th century, though slave raids from North Africa and later, the Ottoman Empire, were to continue for hundreds of years (it is estimated that over a million Europeans were taken as slaves in these raids, which extended as far north as Ireland, between the 9th and 19th centuries). Of course the slave trade went both ways and not just in Naples. During the 9th-11th centuries the Scandinavians who established raiding and trading colonies in what is now Russia, sold Slav slaves to the Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad and during the 10th century heyday of the Cordoba Caliphate in Spain it purchased Slav slaves captured by Christian Crusades against still-pagan Slavs in the Baltics. Later, as the Christian reconquest of Spain progressed, Muslims in the recovered territories were routinely enslaved; for instance, in the 13th century after the conquest of the island of Minorca by the Kingdom of Aragon almost the entire population was sold into slavery.
The East saw several
surges back and forth between Christians and Moslems. Between the 7th
and 9th centuries, the Islamic Caliphate kept the pressure on the
Byzantine Empire. Though they failed to capture Constantinople the
Byzantine empire remained weak and all of its remaining Asian
possessions, in what is now Turkey, were constantly raided and
plundered. Beginning in 863, the Byzantines regained the initiative,
eventually recapturing Antioch in Syria and reaching the modern day
borders of Iraq and Iran but after a disastrous defeat in 1071 at
the hands of the Seljuk Turks (who had recently arrived from central
Asia) at the Battle of Manzikert, the Byzantines lost most of their
Asian lands over the next 20 years and issued an appeal to Christian
Europe for help, triggering the Crusades.
The sequence of Crusades went through two phases. In the first
(1098-1187), the Christians were broadly successful, recapturing
Jerusalem (first occupied by the Moslems in 634) and establishing
kingdoms in Lebanon and Syria. The second phase (1187-1291) saw a
resurgent Arab coalition, initially led by Saladin, and
the fall of Jerusalem and the extinguishing of the Christian
kingdoms. In the midst of this the Byzantines suffered another massive
defeat in 1181 and lost most of their Asia possessions. The mixture of motives underlying the Crusades is illustrated when, in response to another Byzantine call for help against the Moslems a Western European, Catholic led crusade in 1204 ended up directed not against its supposed target but resulted instead in the sacking of the Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople and setting the Byzantine Empire on the last phase of its slow decline.
was out of the wreckage of the former Byzantine provinces located near
the Sea of Mamara, in what is now western Turkey, that the Ottomans
first arose in the late 13th century. The origins of the Ottoman state
remain murky and there is still controversy over the extent to which it was Islamic
inspired in its early years or arose as a confederacy of raiders open to
anyone whether Moslem or Christian, though predominantly led by Moslems
(see, for instance, The Nature of the Early Ottoman State by Heath
Regardless of its specific origin, the
Ottoman state was fortunate in that its first eleven rulers, from the
accession of Osman in 1299 to the death of Suleiman the Magnificent in
1566 were very capable and the state expanded to become an empire.
After seizing much of the Aegean coast of Turkey, the Ottomans crossed
into Europe, seizing Gallipoli in 1354.(Suleiman) Over the next few decades their
armies overran much of the Balkans, including defeating the King of
Serbia on the fields of Kosovo in 1389, the lingering Serbian memory of which led to the war in Kosovo during the 1990s. The great Aegean port of Salonica fell in
1402 and by 1420 Turkish territory completely surrounded the
shrunken remnants of the Byzantine empire which was reduced to
Constantinople and a few outposts in Greece.
Christian Kingdoms of Europe launched two crusades against the Turks
but these were crushingly defeated at Nikopolis in 1396 and Varna in 1444
(both in Bulgaria) and so the area consisting of present day Greece,
Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Albania became subject to the Ottomans
for most of the next four centuries. In 1453 Constantinople finally fell to the
Ottomans and the last morsels of the Byzantine Empire were gone by
1461. In 1480 an Ottoman force briefly landed in Southern Italy and
their momentum seemed unstoppable but their gaze was to turn away from
For the next few decades the Ottoman rulers
looked eastward and their armies overran the Middle East and Egypt
bringing them to the borders of the Persian Empire and taking control of
the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Suleiman the Magnificent began his rule in 1521 Ottoman ambitions
returned to Europe. As recounted in The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of,
the Grand Turk seized the island of Rhodes from the Knights
Hospitallers. In the Balkans, the Hungarian king was killed at the
Battle of Mohacs in 1526 and within a few years a Turkish Pasha was
sitting in Budapest, Wallachia and Moldavia (current day Romania) became
Ottoman vassals and in 1529 the Turks made their first attempt to
capture the Hapsburg capital of Vienna.
also saw the growth of the Ottoman Navy. The shipyards at
Constantinople produced scores of well-equipped galleons and the new
vassal corsair states of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis, Oran) supplied
brilliant admirals (and pirates) like Hayreddin Barbarossa. During the mid-16th century
its fleet controlled the Mediterranean. And it had a Christian
ally in its contest with the House of Hapsburg, ruler of much of central Europe and Spain. The greatest European enemy of the Hapsburgs was the King
of France and the King was willing to make common cause with
the Turks despite religious differences. This cooperation reached its
peak in the 1540s when the Turkish navy was allowed to winter at Toulon
in the south of France. In the spring, on their cruise back to
Constantinople, the Turks seized 6,000 captives from Italian coastal
Throughout this period economic, geopolitical and religious matters led to alliances and conflicts that were not just along Christian/Moslem lines. France's primary enemies were the Habsburgs in Germany, Austria and Spain, making the Ottomans a natural ally. Poland saw the Habsburgs and Russia as their biggest threats and were often willing to make accommodations with the Ottomans who viewed the same two entities as enemies and recognized the value of Poland as a counterweight. Once Protestantism told hold in northern and central Europe there were occasional alliances of convenience between the Christians reformers and the Ottomans against the Catholic Habsburgs (this aspect would play a role in the events leading to the Ottoman attack on Vienna in 1683 - see Part II for more). Once England rejected the Catholic church and came into conflict with Spain it sought out the Ottomans as a potential ally. In 1590-1 Sultan Murad, Henry IV of France and Elizabeth I of England attempted to negotiate a common strategic plan for attacking Spain, including an Ottoman attack on Portugal (then under Spanish rule) in order to install an English backed claimant to its throne. Though the plan did not come to fruition, it demonstrates the complex motives that drove European alliances and conflicts.
The end of Suleiman's regime saw the
contest between the European kingdoms and the Ottomans become more
even. In 1565 the Turkish siege of Malta ended with a humiliating
defeat and, in 1571, a combined Hapsburg, Venetian, Genoese, Papal and
Maltese fleet wrecked the Ottoman navy in the Gulf of Lepanto on the
Greek coast, though the corsair raids continued and the coastal fishing villages on the north side of the sea remained in fear for centuries.
With stalemate at sea the Ottomans were beginning to be drawn into a more settled relationship with the other European powers as ambassadors began to be regularly exchanged and more Europeans visited Constantinople but the fight for dominance was not over and further alliances across religions would be forged in this struggle.
Part 2 . . . Tomorrow