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Turning Points in History : The Battle of Kahlenberg (Vienna) 1683

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Park, Sang Woo
Term Paper, AP European History Class, October 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Background
II.1 Ottoman Empire's Expansionist Policy
II.1.1 Start of the Expansion
II.1.2 Process of the Expansion in Europe
II.2 Military System of the Ottoman Empire
II.2.1 The Gazi
II.2.2 The Janissaries
II.2.3 Conscription
II.3 Brief History of vents prior to the Battle of Kahlenberg
II.3.1 The First Siege of Vienna 1529
II.3.2 Difficulties in Hungary
III. The Great Turkish War
III.1 Conflict between Hungary and the Ottomans entering the War
III.2 Why Vienna ? The Will to Capture Vienna
III.3 The Second Siege of Vienna
III.4 The Turning Point in the War : the Battle of Kahlenberg
IV. The Aftermath of the War
V Why the Ottomans Lost
V.1 Delay in the Attack
V.2 A United Force
V.3 Corruption of the Janissaries
V.4 The Leadership of Sobieski
VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            The Ottoman Empire had been expanding into Europe ever since Constantinople fell to the Turks. Wherever the Muslim armies went, no one could stop them. Churches turned into mosques, and many Christians were converted to Islam at the point of a sword. Soon, the Ottomans were in Austria. The Ottomans were trying to conquer the city Vienna, since the fall of Vienna meant an open road for the rest of Western Europe. In this paper, I will examine how the Turks failed in conquering Vienna in the Battle of Kahlenberg and retreated.

II. Background

II.1 Ottoman Empire's Expansionist Policy
            The Battle of Kahlenberg was the crucial turning point of the Great Turkish war which was part of the Ottoman Empire¡¯s expansion policy. Therefore, it is important to know about the start of the expansion and how it progressed.

II.1.1 Start of the Expansion
            During the early history of the Ottoman Empire, political factions within Byzantium employed the Ottoman Turks as mercenaries in their own struggle for imperial supremacy. In the 1340's, a usurper's request for Ottoman assistance in a revolt against the emperor provided the excuse for an Ottoman invasion of Thrace on the northern frontier of the Byzantine Empire. The conquest of Thrace in 1371 gave a foundation for the Ottoman Empire to go on with its westward expansion. Over the next century, the Ottomans further expanded the empire by taking larger parts of the Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor.

II.1.2 Process of the Expansion in Europe
            The Ottoman Empire proceeded to conquer the lands of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The Southern half, which includes Thrace, was previously conquered in the Battle of Maritsa in 1371, and Sofia was conquered few years later in 1382. Then, the Tarnovgrad in 1393, the northern rest after the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, except Vidin, which fell in 1422; Albania in 1385 in the Battle of Savra and again in 1480; Constantinople in 1453 after the Battle of Varna and Second Battle of Kosovo; Greece in 1460; Serbia by 1459 and again by 1499; Bosnia in 1463 and Herzegovina in 1482. (1)

II.2 Military System of the Ottoman Empire
            Highly mobile Turkish cavalry and skilled archers are important features of the Ottoman army. It is also certain that the Expansion of the Ottoman Empire was carried out rapidly due to special Military systems. In the following Paragraphs I will examine the military system of the Ottoman Empire during the Ottoman wars.

II.2.1 The Gazi
            The Ottomans were initially a nomadic people who followed shamanistic religion. However, contact with various civilizations led to the introduction of Islam and under Islam influence, the Ottomans acquired their greatest fighting tradition, that of the gazi warrior. The gazi were well trained and highly skilled warriors. It was their religious duty to ravage the countries of the infidels who resisted Islam, and force them into subjection. (2)

II.2.2 The Janissaries
            While the gazi warriors fought for Islam, the greatest military asset of the Ottoman Empire was the standing paid army of Christian soldiers, the Janissaries. Originally created in 1330 by Orhan, the Janissaries were initially Christian captives from conquered territories. However, the system commonly known as "devsirme" was soon adopted. In this system non-Muslim children of the rural Christian populations of the Balkans were conscripted before adolescence and were brought up as Muslims. Educated to believe in Islam and trained as loyal soldiers, the janissaries were forced to provide annual tribute in the form of military service. (3)
            Under Sultan Murad I, the Janissaries became the first Ottoman standing army, replacing forces that mostly comprised of tribal warriors whose loyalty and morale could not always be trusted.
            They were rewarded for their loyalty with grants of newly acquired land and Janissaries quickly rose to fill the most important administrative offices of the Ottoman Empire. Special laws regulated their daily life cutting them off from civil society such as being forbidden to marry. (4)

II.2.3 Conscription (5)
            Apart from the Janissaries, in 1389 Ottoman Army introduced a system of conscription; when needed, every town and village should provide a fully equipped conscript at the recruiting office created by the order of the Sultan. This new force of irregular infantrymen was called "Azabs" and they were used in many ways: to build roads and bridges for the army, to support the supplies to the front-line, and sometimes they were even used as cannon fodders to slow down the enemy advance.

II.3 Brief History of Events priot to the Battle of Kahlenberg

II.3.1 The First Siege of Vienna (1529)
            The First Siege of Vienna is very important because later in 1683 a second Siege is held in the same place. The Second Siege happens in the Battle of Vienna which is the topic of this paper. Therefore, we must also pay attention to the previous Siege of Vienna.
            In August 1526, Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I defeated the forces of King Louis II of Hungary in the Battle of Mohacs. (6) Louis II was killed in battle. Following the partial conquest of Hungary, Suleiman turned his attention to Austria. Austria was at that time ruled by Ferdinand I of Habsburg. Since the Hungarian throne was vacant, many rulers tried to seize it but it was Ferdinand who actually got the throne by marrying Louis II's sister.
            Recognizing Austria as a powerful enemy, Suleiman prepared for an attack at its heart, Vienna.
            In the spring of 1529, three years after the defeat of Hungary, Suleiman's army began a general mobilization in Ottoman Bulgaria, mustering a host of perhaps as many as 325,000 men, 90,000 camels, and 500 artillery. (7)
            The huge army included a force of 12,000 of the elite Janissaries and a small force of Christian Hungarians fighting for their new Turkish ruler.
            The news of the approaching Turks gave terror to the inhabitants of Vienna. Failing to convince his brothers for help, Ferdinand I fled to Bohemia while leaving the defense of the city to a seventy-year old German mercenary by the name of Nikolaus, Graf von Salm.
            Salm arrived with 1,000 German Landsknechte, formidable mercenary pikemen, and another 700 Spanish musketmen. The garrison of the city consisted of 23,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 75 cannons. Salm reinforced the city's three-hundred year old walls and stored food for the fight. However, when the Turks actually came in September, they were less intimidating and the city was able to fend off the enemies.
            However, it is said that Suleiman terminated the siege, unlike the situation in 1683, not because he was defeated by a superior relief force, but simply because losses in battle and casualties due to various plagues did not seem to be worth the price. (8)

II.3.2 Difficulties in Hungary
            In governing his own lands Leopold I (1658-1705) found his chief difficulties in Hungary, where unrest was caused partly by his desire to crush Protestantism. (9) A revolt was suppressed in 1671 and for some time Hungary was treated with great severity. After another rising in 1681, the Emperor adopted a less repressive policy, but this did not stop the Hungarians from revolting again.
            The Problem of the Habsburg Empire in the 16th Century concerns two conflicts: The Hungarian and the Turkish. While the Habsburg dynasty struggled for recognition in Hungary against the claims of Hungarian princes, the Turkish were threatening the outside boarders of Hungary and Austria. These two issues were separate but interrelated in the sense that the trouble in Hungary helped the Turkish conquest.

III. The Great Turkish War

III.1 Conflict between Hungary and the Ottomans Entering the War
            On the Political front, the Ottoman Empire had been providing military assistance to the Hungarians and to the non-Catholic minorities in Hungary. 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 forces, led by Imre Thököly, were reinforced with a significant force from the Ottomans, who recognized Thököly as king of Hungary. This support went so far as explicitly promising the "Kingdom of Vienna" to the Hungarians if it fell into Ottoman hands. (10)
            Yet, due to the Peace of Vasvar (1664), the Ottomans didn't attack.
            However, as the clashes between the forces of Habsburg and the forces of Imre Thököly intensified in 1681 and 1682, the grand vizier of the Turks, Kara Mustafa, was able to convince his Sultan to enter war. As a result, on 6 August 1682, the Ottomans declared war.

III.2 Why Vienna : The Will to Capture Vienna
            The capture of the city Vienna was, for a long time, the strategic aspiration for the Ottoman Empire.
            Vienna of Austria was, during the Middle-ages, home to the Babenberg dynasty and in 1440 became residence city of the Habsburg dynasties from where Vienna eventually grew to become the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and a cultural center for arts and science, music and fine cuisine. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman armies were stopped twice outside Vienna. (11)
            Therefore, after the first failure to capture the city in 1529, the Ottoman Empire undertook extensive logistical preparations.
            They repaired and established roads and bridges leading into Austria and other logistical centers, as well as the forwarding of ammunition, cannon and other resources from all over the Empire to these logistical centers and into the Balkans. (12)

III.3 The Second Siege of Vienna
            By June, the Turks had invaded Austria and King Leopold and his court fled to Passau. On July 14, the Turks reached Vienna. (13) About 40,000 Tatars which was more than twice the Austrian forces in that area arrived
            On the day they arrived, Kara Mustafa, leader of the Ottoman forces, sent the traditional demand for surrender to the city. However, Ernest Rudiger Graf von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining city with the remaining 11,000 troops and 5,000 citizens and 370 cannons, refused to capitulate.
            The Ottomans tried to break the walls of the city, however failed due to their inferior artillery. Therefore, the next thing they did was to dig tunnels under the massive city walls to blow them up with explosives. Some of these explosives did serious damage and opened the gaps in the walls. The Austrians rallied to build barriers in the gaps, and managed to keep the Turks out. However, the Turks continued to damage the walls, creating gaps about 12 meters in width. The Austrians tried to counter by digging their own tunnels, to intercept the deposit of large amounts of gunpowder. Despite their efforts, the Turks finally managed to occupy the Niederwall on 8 September and Vienna was put into grave danger.

III.4 The Turning Point of the War : The Battle of Kahlenberg
            In microscopic view, the Battle of Kahlenberg freed the Siege of Vienna. However, in macroscopic view, the battle ended the expansion of the Ottomans, which has been continued for a long time. Kahlenberg is a mountain located within present-day Vienna.
            The Battle of Kahlenberg took place in September 12, 1683 after Vienna had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months. (14) The outcome of this battle would have a profound effect on the future of Eastern Europe. The Battle of Vienna was mainly fought by the Turks, with about 150.000 Tatars on their side, against a less numerous combination of Polish, German, and Austrian forces.
            This was a short summary of the battle, and I will be examining it in detail in the following part.

III.4.1 Events during the War
            As I have mentioned in the previous section, Vienna was fending off the Turks but the defense was soon going to break. Unfortunately for the Turks, their lack of urgency, combined with the delay in advancing their army after declaring war, eventually allowed a relief force to arrive.
            The Ottomans had cut virtually every means of food supply into Vienna and the garrison and the civilian volunteers suffered extreme casualties. Therefore, by August the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs. However, the people of Vienna were lucky.
            On 6 September of 1683, the Poles lead by King Jan III Sobieski crossed the Danube to unite with the Imperial forces and additional troops from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia who answered the call for a Holy League that was supported by Pope Innocent XI. (15) Only Louis XIV of France, Habsburg's rival didn't answer the call.
            By that time, King Jan III Sobieski of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been made commander-in-chief of his own 30,000 polish men, 18,500 Austrian troops led by Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, 19,000 Franconian, Swabian and Bavarian troops led by Prince Georg Friedrich of Waldeck, and 9,000 Saxon troops led by Johann Georg III, Elector of Saxony.
            Now, remember the urgent situation the city of Vienna was in when the walls were breaking down. It was then, at the last possible moment on the evening of September 11th, that Jan Sobieski arrived at a hill north of the city, leading a force of 40,000 Poles and their German and Austrian allies.
            The battle began soon afterwards, in the early morning hours of September 12th. At 4 AM, the Turks attacked seeking to scatter the deployment of the Holy League troops. Charles of Lorraine moved forward with the Austrian army on the left and the German forces in the center. Kara Mustafa launched a counter attack, with most of his force, but held back some Janissary for an attack on the city. He wanted to conquer Vienna before Sobieski arrived. However, while the Turks hastily finished their work and sealed the tunnel to make the explosion, the Austrian "moles" detected the tunnel in the afternoon. One of them entered and defused the load just in time.
            At about the same time Sobieski, with the fearsome Winged Hussars and with 20,000 men behind him, led a cavalry charge down the hill into the right flank of the Ottoman army. The Hussars were one of the most formidable fighting forces of the time, and the sound of the wind through the feathers of their artificial wings was said to unnerve the enemies' horses and drive soldiers into panic. The war ended in less than three hours. The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of the previous assaults on the city. The arrival of the cavalry turned the tide of battle against them, sending them into retreat to the south and east.
            After the battle, Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar's famous quote by saying "Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vicit" - "We came, We saw, God conquered." (16)

IV. The Aftermath of the War
            The Turks 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 Habsburg-Polish forces. (17) Kara Mustafa was executed in Belgrade later that year, by order of the commander of the Janissaries, paying the ultimate price for his failure. John III Sobieski returned to Poland a hero. In honor of Sobieski, the Austrians erected a church atop a hill of Kahlenberg. The train route from Vienna to Warsaw is also named in Sobieski's honor. Austria gradually regained its lost territories. Austria signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1697.

V Why the Ottomans Lost
            To some, it may be strange that the Holy League forces won the battle since the Ottomans had 150,000 warriors while the League had only 40,000. There may be many factors concerning the issue, but I will be introducing the largest four of them.

V.1 Delay in the Attack
            It is very likely that the Turkish would have won the war easily if they had been quicker in action. However, the 15 month gap between the mobilization in January 1682 and the actual full-scale invasion in March 1683 gave plenty of time for the Habsburg forces to prepare their defense. It also proved most decisive that the Habsburgs and Poland concluded a treaty during this winter in which Leopold would support Sobieski if the Turks attacked Krakow of Poland; in return, the Polish Army would come if Vienna was attacked.

V.2 A United Force
            One of the main reasons the Turks had such success in the Balkans and Eastern Europe was that their Christian enemies were unable to unite against them. However, it was a united horde that advanced inexorably through the mountain passes and across the plains towards Vienna. Austria and Poland had long been traditional enemies, only lately coming to alliance in the face of the common threat. Pope Innocent XI recognized the danger posed by the Ottomans, and, in the name of God and the Church, called on all the rulers of Central Europe to unite against the common foe and save Vienna. (18)

V.3 Corruption of the Janissaries
            Janissaries were originally an elite force of the Ottomans. However, as the Janissaries became aware of their own importance they began to desire better life. Soon, the Janissaries gained prestige and influence over society. When Janissaries could practically extort money from the Sultan and business and family life replaced martial fervor, their effectiveness as combat troops decreased. (19)

V.4 The Leadership of Sobieski
            In History Sobieski is described as an intelligent, talented, and a brave man. He was also a patriot of Poland and always wanted the best for his country. He also had great leadership over his men. More important than arms, manpower, tactics, supplies, and even courage, leadership is what makes the difference in any war. When Jan Sobieski led his men down that hill into the Ottoman forces, it was his presence at the front of the charge that demonstrated his dauntless nature and absolute determination. Character cannot be faked, and men who recognize this kind of character in their leader will follow him into the gates of hell.

VI. Conclusion
            The battle of Kahlenberg (Vienna) contains two significances. The first significance is that it marked the end of the Ottoman expansion into Europe. Although no one realized it at that time, after the war, the Ottoman Empire kept declining, losing control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process.
            The second is of religious significance. The Holy league had united under the name of God and fought under the name of god in order to defeat the Islam Turks. Furthermore, the feast of Holy Name of Mary is celebrated on 12 December 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.
            To conclude, the Ottomans could have won the battle, but due to many reasons they failed to conquer Vienna. As a result, the Great Turkish war faced a turning point and the Turks retreated from Europe.

IX. Notes

(1)      Article : Ottoman wars in Europe, in Wikipedia
(2)      Holt 1977 p.283
(3)      Ottoman Empire, from All About Turkey
(4)      Janissaries, from All About Turkey
(5)      ibid.
(6)      Article : Siege of Vienna, from Wikipedia
(7)      Article : Siege of Vienna, from Absolute Astronomy,
(8)      Kann 1977 p.38. "The Turkish Wars"
(9)      Article : Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, in Wikipedia
(10)      Article : The Battle of Vienna, in : Wikipedia
(11)      Article : Vienna, in Wikipedia
(12)      Article : The Battle of Vienna, in : Wikipedia
(13)      Jan III Sobieski: 1674-1696 and The Siege of Vienna of 1683, World History Chronology
(14)      Battle of Vienna, military history, from
(15)      Article : The Battle of Vienna, in : Wikipedia
(16)      ibid.
(17)      ibid.
(18)      The Other September 11th, from : Gates of Vienna
(19)      Article : Janissary : revolts and disbandment, from Wikipedia

X. Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2008.
1.      Robert A.Kann, A history of the Habsburg Empire 1526-1918, Berkeley : UP (1974) 2nd ed. 1977
2.      Article : Siege of Vienna, from : Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th edition, 1998
3.      Article : Vienna, in : Wikipedia,
4.      Article : Battle of Vienna, in : Wikipedia,
5.      Article : Siege of Vienna, in : Wikipedia,
6.      Article : Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, in Wikipedia,,_Holy_Roman_Emperor
7.      Article : Ottoman wars in Europe, in Wikipedia,
8.      Jan III Sobieski: 1674-1696 and The Siege of Vienna of 1683, World history Chronology
9.      All About Turkey
10.      Article : Siege of Vienna, from : Absolute Astronomy
11.      Article: Battle of Vienna, military history, from,
12.      Article: The Other September 11th, from Gates of Vienna
13.      Article : Janissary, from Wikipedia,
14.      P.M. Holt, The Cambridge History of Islam, Cambridge University Press, 1977

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