Defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The defeat of the Ottoman Turks by an allied European army at Vienna heralded the beginning of the Ottoman retreat from Central Europe and the rise of Austria as a powerful Danubian state.

Summary of Event

By the mid-seventeenth century, few Europeans perceived Ottoman decline. Originating as a fierce, expansionist warrior state reaching its high point under Süleyman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1520 to 1566, the Ottoman Empire still dominated the Middle East and the Balkans. Various complex internal changes had taken place, however, including a decline in quality of the sultans, or rulers; deterioration in the tāmār system of fiefs; support of the traditional Turkish cavalry, the sipahi; and erosion of obedience and discipline within state service by the admission of other subjects to the positions formerly monopolized by a slave class recruited from the famous “boy tax” on Christian villagers in the Balkans. [kw]Defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna (July 14-Sept. 12, 1683) [kw]Vienna, Defeat of the Ottomans at (July 14-Sept. 12, 1683) [kw]Ottomans at Vienna, Defeat of the (July 14-Sept. 12, 1683) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 14-Sept. 12, 1683: Defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna[2780] Government and politics;July 14-Sept. 12, 1683: Defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna[2780] Austria;July 14-Sept. 12, 1683: Defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna[2780] Ottoman Empire;July 14-Sept. 12, 1683: Defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna[2780] Ottoman Empire;defeat at Vienna Vienna, Siege of (1683) Innocent XI Sobieski, John III Paşa, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Leopold I Charles V Leopold Mehmed IV Avci Starhemberg, Count Ernst Rüdiger von Thököly, Imre

Dramatic population increase and rampant inflation fueled the growth of banditry and civil disorder. An overextended empire posed logistical problems, and years of warfare in Persia and southeastern Europe burdened the state. Reformers, culminating in the Köprülü family of grand viziers, attempted to restore the bases of traditional Ottoman rule while once again embarking upon an aggressive military policy in Europe.

Since the conquest of most of Hungary during Süleyman the Magnificent’s reign, only a portion remained under Habsburg control. Further Ottoman advance into Habsburg Hungary stopped in 1664 after the Battle of Szentgotthárd Szentgotthárd, Battle of (1664) (Saint Gotthard), and an uneasy peace of almost twenty years prevailed until Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Kara Mustafa Paşa, Merzifonlu , a Köprülü protégé, became grand vizier. The ambitious vizier saw opportunity when discontented Hungarian nationalists, resentful over Emperor Leopold’s Leopold I (Holy Roman Emperor)[Leopold 01 (Holy Roman Emperor)] policy of centralization and Counter-Reformation religious conformity, rose in revolt under Imre Thököly Thököly, Imre . Upon Thököly’s acceptance of Turkish suzerainty, the sultan recognized him as king of Hungary.

The French encouraged Ottoman militancy, hoping to keep the Austrians distracted in the east. Long preoccupied with their historic struggle against the French in western Europe, the Habsburgs at first did not perceive the seriousness of the Turkish threat and hoped to negotiate with the Ottomans. Kara Mustafa Paşa, fortified by French assurances not to come to the assistance of the Austrians and by Thököly’s success in northern Hungary, decided to attack the Habsburgs. The sultan attended a grand military review of one hundred thousand troops on May 13, 1683, in Belgrade, where he proclaimed a jihad, or holy war, and handed his vizier the sacred standard of the Prophet Muḥammad (c. 570-632). An even larger Ottoman host led by Kara Mustafa Paşa marched across Hungary toward Vienna.

Emperor Leopold retreated first to Linz and then to Passau, where he sought to build up a Christian alliance against the Turks. With money and encouragement from Pope Innocent XI Innocent XI[Innocent 11] , Leopold was able to secure support from the dukes of Bavaria and Saxony as well as John Sobieski John III Sobieski[John 03 Sobieski] , king of Poland, who had already won fame by fighting the Turks in the Ukraine. It took time, however, for the allied army to gather its forces and relieve the city.

Leopold placed Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg Starhemberg, Ernst Rüdiger von in charge of Vienna’s defenses. Starhemberg, an energetic and experienced commander, concentrated the city’s artillery at the point of Ottoman attack, organized companies of firefighters to combat incendiary bombs, and commanded the troops who made sorties and defended the city walls. His personal courage and his sense of discipline earned him his heroic image as Vienna’s defender.

A panoramic view of Vienna, stronghold of the seventeenth century Austrian Habsburg Dynasty.

(George L. Shuman)

Like many cities of the time, Vienna adopted early modern fortification methods, encircling its bastion-reinforced city walls with ravelins (triangular stone outworks), moats, and counterscarps on the outer rim of the moat projecting toward the enemy. These fortifications had begun in the 1560’s at the time of an earlier siege and had been added to during the seventeenth century. Starhemberg hurried last-minute reinforcements before the siege.

The Turks relied upon two tactics: artillery and mining. Logistics problems prevented them from bringing their largest artillery across the Balkans, so they contented themselves with pieces of smaller caliber, which did not inflict significant damage to the fortifications. The Ottoman forces primarily relied upon the traditional method of taking a besieged town: digging a series of ever closer parallel trenches so that mines could be placed to breach the enemy walls. The Turks perfected such tactics while taking Candia Candia, Siege of (1647-1669) in Crete in 1669. By the end of August, mines had breached several walls but hastily erected barriers and hard fighting temporarily stopped the Ottoman advance. Desperation set in by early September: Vienna had lost half its defenders and was running short of supplies. It was only a matter of time before the Turks entered the city.

The coalition of Austrians, Germans, and Poles spent the summer assembling troops. John III Sobieski arrived with twenty-one thousand experienced Polish warriors, about one-third of the total allied army of perhaps sixty-five thousand (estimates vary). They marched through the hilly upcountry of the Viennese Woods without difficulty, for Kara Mustafa Paşa had failed to secure the approach to the city. Refusing to abandon the siege when victory was so close, the grand vizier split his troops: 10,000 stayed in the trenches, while perhaps 63,500 confronted the allied army. While the two armies were roughly equal in size, the allies had more field cannon. On September 12, the Battle of Kahlenberg Kahlenberg, Battle of (1683) took place west of Vienna. The allies under the command of Sobieski advanced, with Charles V Leopold Charles V Leopold[Charles 05 Leopold] and the Austrians on the left wing, Germans in the center, and the Poles on the right wing. The decisive charge of the Polish cavalry broke the Ottoman ranks, and Kara Mustafa Paşa and the Turkish army fled in confusion. The Turks retreated to Belgrade, where Kara Mustafa Paşa ordered numerous executions to excuse his own failure, but he was removed from office and strangled upon the sultan’s orders.


Numerous German and Polish accounts celebrated the “Christian” triumph over Islam. After 1683, the Ottoman Empire ceased to be a serious threat to Europe. The Turkish defeat at Vienna began a series of military reverses that marked the Turkish retreat from great-power status. Leopold made a pivotal decision. He continued to pursue the Turks down the Danube River instead of confronting Louis XIV in western Europe. Leopold made a truce with the French king, the Peace of Ratisbon Ratisbon, Peace of (1684) (Regensburg), which recognized prior French annexations in Germany for the next twenty years. The Austrians used the time wisely. Pope Innocent XI encouraged a Holy League committing Austria, Poland, and Venice against the Turks. In 1686, the Austrians captured Buda, the capital of Turkish Hungary, and seized Belgrade in 1688. The Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) Karlowitz, Treaty of (1699) formally recognized Austria’s possession of Hungary and Transylvania, although the Turks kept Belgrade. Austria emerged as the major power in central Europe. Its position as a powerful Danubian monarchy enabled it to maintain itself as one of the great powers.

John III Sobieski hoped to use the victory to protect Polish territory, strengthen his own rule, and secure the elective Polish crown for his son. Sobieski was ultimately disappointed. He continued fighting against the Turks but he experienced no great success. Unable to translate his prestige into dominance over the powerful Polish nobility, he never established a dynasty. He was the last strong native Polish monarch.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ackerl, Isabella. Three Hundred Years Ago: The Second Turkish Siege, Vienna, 1683. Vienna: Federal Press Service, 1982. A brief Austrian commemorative monograph that summarizes the siege from an Austrian perspective.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barker, Thomas M. Double Eagle and Crescent: Vienna’s Second Turkish Siege and Its Historical Setting. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1967. This detailed and well-organized account by an American historian is especially strong on the larger international background.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. This study describes Ottoman-Habsburg relations during the seventeenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoskins, J. W. Victory at Vienna: The Ottoman Siege of 1683. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, European Division, 1983. A concise account supported by an extended reading list.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ingrao, Charles W. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Traces the emergence of the Habsburg Empire as a military and cultural power. Chapter 3, “Facing East: Hungary and the Turks, 1648-1699,” describes the empire’s relations with the Ottoman Turks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leitsch, Walter. “1683: The Siege of Vienna.” History Today 33 (July, 1983): 37-40. A brief interpretative overview of the siege’s significance by a leading Austrian scholar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morton, J. B. Sobieski, King of Poland. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1932. An older but serviceable biography of John III Sobieski.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parvev, Ivan. Habsburgs and Ottomans Between Vienna and Belgrade, 1683-1739. Boulder, Colo.: Eastern European Monographs, 1995. This work examines relations between the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires from the Siege of Vienna through the Treaty of Belgrade.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stoye, John. The Siege of Vienna. London: Collins, 1964. A vivid and well-researched narrative of the siege by a British historian.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sturdy, David J. Fractured Europe, 1600-1721. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2002. Chapter 7 of this overview of European history describes the relations of Central and Southern Europe with the Ottoman Empire from 1648 through 1720.

Treaty of Zsitvatorok

Turks Conquer Crete

Ottoman Empire’s Brief Recovery

Ottoman-Polish Wars

Ottoman-Muscovite Wars

Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin

Decline of the Ottoman Empire

Treaty of Karlowitz

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Innocent XI; John III Sobieski; Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa; Leopold I; Louis XIV. Ottoman Empire;defeat at Vienna Vienna, Siege of (1683)

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