The Relief of Vienna, 1683

I was listening to Sabaton’s “The Winged Hussars.” Someone set it to clips from a Polish/Italian film about the Second Siege of Vienna and did a pretty good job. It got me to thinking about history, and time travel, and that one of the few things I’d like to go back in time and see is that morning, just after sunrise, when the counterattack began and the Imperial forces – including Poland’s Winged Hussars – surged down the face of the Vienna Woods to slam into the Ottoman Army.

Not from Stephansdom, thank you, because the tower was a cannonball magnet, but from the wall closest to that part of the Vienna Woods, the edge of the Alps that slopes down toward the Danube and the city.

One of the projectiles left by the Ottomans. It was removed from the house during some renovations. That’s about 70 pounds of rock. Author photo.

However, I also know that the stenches, screams (human and animal), and danger would probably not be something I want to endure.

The Second Siege of Vienna was one of several moments when the people of the city, and the Habsburg family’s allies and employees, pulled the imperial chestnuts out of the fire through sheer determination and grit. Leopold I was, ah, not a battlefield emperor. It’s probably a good thing that he had Rüdiger Starhemberg on the inside of the walls and Charles of Lorraine on the outside, with Jan III Sobieski as the heavy cavalry commander coordinating the final attack. Granted, something similar happened at the First Siege of Vienna in 1529, when the defenders managed to put the hurt on the Ottomans, enough so that between that and the lateness of the season, the Ottomans packed up and left. One of the subordinate commanders at Vienna II, Prinz Eugen von Savoy, should probably get as much credit for defeating the Ottomans and Louis XIV on a Habsburg budget as he does for his battlefield skills! There are a few exceptions, notably Maximilian and his grandson Charles V, and the occasional brother or nephew with military skill, but most Habsburg emperors, well, they had brilliant subordinates who worked very hard.

But still, even knowing what I know about what the battlefield must have been like on the night of September 10-11, 1683, to stand on the wall of the city and watch the charge unfolding as the Winged Hussars and other troops came down the mountains, crashing (literally!) into the Ottoman army, one of those moments when everyone knew exactly what was at stake and what victory or defeat meant . . . Yeah. Intellectually, I know it can’t look like what I think it did. No movie can capture the dirt, mud, blood and body parts, stenches, and sounds of an early-modern battlefield, especially one like that when the army’s been there for two months in a hot, dry late summer, now muddy from recent rain and still hot. Unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it.*

Still, the romantic part of me, the historian part of me who knows what a Christian loss would have meant, really wants to take a peek.

At the time I wrote this, it was the 2000th post on this blog. I didn’t realize that until a few days later. The topic fits, I think, for a number of reasons.

*Although compared to the siege and sack of Magdeburg, it would almost be a garden party.



6 thoughts on “The Relief of Vienna, 1683

  1. Interesting, what thoughts a random comment can stir:

    “… enough so that between that and the lateness of the season, the Ottomans packed up and left.”

    We all know the stories of how “General Winter” defeated the armies of Napoleon and Hitler. But how would even a central-European winter affect an army from the far south, an army made of men and animals who had likely never seen snow or felt below-freezing temperatures before?

    • It would affect them badly, not only because Hungary turns into one giant swamp in winter (or did until drainage and channalization of the rivers started in the late 1800s.) The Ottomans brought tens of thousands of sheep with them, one per five men per day, and those would also get in a lot of trouble in the wet cold.

  2. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that Christendom might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

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