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The Battle of Vienna

The Battle of Vienna

Battle of Vienna 1683Vienna, the capital of Austria, is where Mozart spent ten years creating his best works and sharing his craft with Beethoven. It is the birthplace of the then-scandalous Viennese Waltz. It is also home to the Hofburg Imperial Chapel, where the angelic voices of Vienna's famous Boys Choir have awed Sunday Mass goers for more than five hundred years.

In 1683, the Hofburg Chapel withstood the Battle of Vienna. Like many European military confrontations, the Battle of Vienna was both a political maneuver and a clash of opposing religions. By the time the smoke from the Ottomans' cannons had finally cleared, Christianity was secured as the dominant religion of Europe and the European expansion of the Ottoman Empire had been countered.

The Ottoman Empire had been extending its reach as a naval power from the Mediterranean Sea towards Eastern Europe since the mid-fifteenth century. The Turks desired the strategic advantages of Vienna's position on the important Danube River corridor to Western Europe and the overland trade routes that connected Germany with Italy and with the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Battle of Vienna was fought within the historical context of the Catholic-Protestant schism. The Catholics, under the leadership of the Hapsburg Leopold I, had begun their Counter Reformation and were determined to obliterate Protestantism. The Islamic Ottomans were more than willing to provide military support to rebelling Hungarian Protestants and other anti-Habsburg forces.

The Ottomans' initially attempted to seize the city in 1529 during the Siege of Vienna. This attack failed due only to an early winter and widespread illness among its troops, not, however, in any way because of the Viennese' superior military capabilities. Consequently, Vienna launched a massive effort to rebuild and strengthen its damaged medieval fortifications, a project that prepared them well for subsequent military sieges, including the one that occurred on July 14th, 1683.

Concurrently, the ambitious Ottomans also prepared for further military action. They built and repaired roads and bridges leading into Austria as well as establishing operations centers to which they would send ammunition and weapons in anticipation of their eventual conquest of Vienna, then the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

However, the result of Vienna's rebuilding project was a massive stone fortress that allowed ten thousand Viennese troops to repel the 140,000 Ottomans long enough for Poland's King Jan III Sobieski and his army of 30,000 Polish, 8,500 Austrian, and 28,000 other allied soldiers from what is now Germany to ride to their rescue. Sobieski brought with him a surprise for the Ottomans — three thousand "Winged Hussars," the famed elite Polish cavalry . On September 11th 1683, the stage for the final Ottoman offensive was thus set.

The Hussars wore full body armor and carried lances, sabers and pistols. While charging enemy formations, many Hussars wore the "wings" from which they received their name, on their backs: light wooden frames with a fringe of feathers around the edges. As the cavalry gained speed before charging the Ottomans' infantry, the loudly vibrating wings startled the troops. They turned to see unfamiliar winged horsemen rushing at them with twenty foot-high lances. The Turks were terrified, which destabilized their forces. They incurred heavy losses and retreated, enabling an unexpected yet critical victory for Austria. It was the beginning of the end for the Ottomans' brutal drive toward conquest and expansion.

The Battle of Vienna ended the Ottomans' three hundred year long power struggle for Europe, allowed the Habsburg dynasty to flourish uninterrupted into the twentieth century.