Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin

Following the failed Ottoman Siege of Vienna in 1683, a Christian counterattack ended Ottoman rule in much of the Danubian basin, leading ultimately to the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Summary of Event

The failure of the Ottoman grand vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa Kara Mustafa Paşa, Merzifonlu to take Vienna in September, 1683, provoked a formidable Christian counterattack. During that year of crisis, Pope Innocent XI Innocent XI (1676-1689) brought Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I Leopold I (Holy Roman Emperor) and Polish king John III Sobieski John III Sobieski into a military alliance to which the pope transferred massive funds to subsidize Sobieski’s forces. [kw]Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin (1684-1699)
[kw]Danubian Basin, Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the (1684-1699)
[kw]Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin, Holy League Ends (1684-1699)
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1684-1699: Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin[2790]
Religion and theology;1684-1699: Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin[2790]
Organizations and institutions;1684-1699: Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin[2790]
Balkans;1684-1699: Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin[2790]
Ottoman Empire;1684-1699: Holy League Ends Ottoman Rule of the Danubian Basin[2790]
Ottoman Empire;loss of Danubian basin

The Polish king led an allied force of 64,000 men, including imperial units under Duke Charles V Leopold Charles V Leopold of Lorraine and the electors of Bavaria, Saxony, and Brandenburg, to the Danube. On September 12, 1683, the Ottoman army was decisively routed. The allies, thereafter, pursued the defeated Ottoman army, part of which was destroyed by Sobieski and Charles V at Parkany, near Esztergom (October 9, 1683). Sobieski had made his last appearance in the campaign. The majority of Poles were preoccupied with the affairs of Sweden and Brandenburg, the Baltic and Muscovy. Sobieski had been acclaimed as “the last crusader,” but it was doubtful that he could continue to maintain a Polish army so far from home. In any case, the emperor strongly disapproved of Sobieski’s meddling in Transylvania and Moldavia.

Meanwhile, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa, in Buda, sought to rally what was left of the defeated Ottoman forces. He was already planning a second attempt on Vienna once the winter was over, but his numerous enemies had the ear of the sultan. Only on reaching Belgrade did he learn of the order for his execution (December 25, 1683).

The quick Ottoman collapse presented the allies with unanticipated opportunities. In March of 1684, Pope Innocent founded a new Holy League Holy League , consisting of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Polish king, and the Venetian Republic (eager to avenge the loss of Crete in 1669). Later, in 1686, Muscovy Muscovy , under its regent Sophia Sophia , half sister of the future czar Peter the Great, joined the alliance. The league’s aim was to liberate Ottoman-controlled Christian territory, and it proved to be one of the most effective coalitions in early modern Europe.

In 1684 and 1685, the commander of the imperial forces, Charles V Leopold, recaptured upper Hungary. The main imperial army then proceeded down the Danube River to Buda, where, after a bloody two-and-a-half month siege and after 145 years of Turkish occupation, the city fell (1686). A decisive battle, close to the historic field of Mohacs (scene of the Hungarian disaster of 1526), ensued in 1687, which opened Sclavonia to imperial forces. In April of 1688, Elector Maximilian II Emmanuel Maximilian II Emmanuel (1679-1726) of Bavaria captured Belgrade. By the close of the year, imperial armies were operating along the line of the Drava and the Danube from Sclavonia to Walachia, but the French king, Louis XIV, could not allow his Ottoman allies to collapse if he were to achieve his own ambitions in the West. In August, therefore, the French crossed the Rhine River, and Leopold was forced to move his best troops and his best commanders, including Charles V, to the west. The Ottomans had breathing space.

In Constantinople, news of the defeat at Mohacs and the loss of Belgrade brought mutiny and mayhem. Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Paşa Köprülü Fazıl Mustafa Paşa , son of the great Köprülü Mehmed Paşa, engineered the deposition of the long-reigning Sultan Mehmed IV Avci Mehmed IV Avci and replaced him with his brother, SüleymanIbrahim II SüleymanIbrahim II (r. 1687-1691), whose premature death led to the accession of his half brother, the dropsical and no-less-inert Ahmed II Ahmed II (r. 1691-1695). Mustafa Paşa became grand vizier in 1689 and began his reform of the army. He planned a major riposte to the advancing imperialists, and mustered a formidable force with which he recaptured Nish and Belgrade in 1690. Vienna, however, was alerted to the threat, and the second of Leopold’s great generals, Louis William I Louis William I , was sent to meet the challenge. Louis William I confronted the Ottomans at Slankaman, just north of Belgrade, in one of the bloodiest engagements of the entire war. By the end of the day, Mustafa Paşa and most of his commanders were dead on the field, but the victorious imperialists had thirty thousand casualties, mortal and wounded (August 20, 1691), and Belgrade remained in Ottoman hands. This marked the end of the Ottoman counteroffensive, but Leopold was now preoccupied with war with France (1689-1697). Louis William (called Türkenlouis) was needed in the West, and thereafter, the imperial armies made blunder after blunder under the incompetent elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus I Augustus II (1694-1733), who was later king of Poland as Augustus II (r. 1697-1704).

Meanwhile, the Venetian Republic, which had joined the Holy League in 1684, the league’s first year, enjoyed considerable success. In Bosnia and Dalmatia, it is true that little was achieved, but farther south, under the former defender of Crete, Venetian captain general Francesco Morosini Morosini, Francesco (1618-1694), the Venetians Venice captured Morea (Peloponnese) and pressed on to Athens (September, 1687), where they accidently blew up the Parthenon before moving on to Lepanto. In 1692, however, they failed to retake Crete, and in 1694, they captured Chios but lost it almost immediately, because their rule proved so heavy-handed that they were ejected by a popular uprising. The long decline in Sobieski’s health left Poland a half-hearted member of the league, although in 1692 and 1694, Polish raiders reached the upper Dniester River. Sophia launched two unsuccessful expeditions against the Ottomans’ vassal, the khan of the Crimea, in 1687 and 1689. Subsequently, her half brother, Peter the Great Peter the Great , captured Ottoman Azov in 1696.

Sultan Ahmed II died in 1695 and was succeeded by Mustafa II Mustafa II (r. 1695-1703), a son of Mehmed IV. Twenty-one years old and brought up in a freer environment than his immediate predecessors, he yearned to emulate the warrior sultans of the past. In August, he led his army to Belgrade, crossed the Danube, and took Lippa by storm (September 7, 1695). In the following year, he crossed the Danube at Semlin and the two armies met in a bloody although inconclusive engagement. Thereafter, Leopold was able to recall the elector with the bait of the Polish throne, and he appointed his best general, Prince Eugene of Savoy Eugene of Savoy , to command the badly demoralized imperial forces in Hungary.

So far, Mustafa had been fortunate that, for two campaigning seasons (1695-1696), he had been pitted against an inferior commander. This time, although he did not know it, he was facing a military genius. The Ottomans reached Belgrade on August 10, 1697, and the main army crossed the Danube, heading for Transylvania. Eugene barred their way at the Tisza River and the sultan turned back toward the Banat region of Temesvár (now in Romania). Eugene’s skillful countermarching forced an engagement at Zenta Zenta, Battle of (1697) (Senta) in September. It was brilliantly orchestrated, but it also was more of a massacre than a battle. Out of an army of around fifty thousand, Eugene’s losses were a mere two thousand. On the other side, the grand vizier and many of his commanders perished; much of the army, and the sultan (minus his baggage and treasure), fled to Temesvár. This was the crowning victory in thirteen years of war.

In January, 1698, the sultan accepted the good offices of the British ambassador to Turkey, Lord William Paget, to negotiate a general peace. The result was the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) Karlowitz, Treaty of (1699) , perhaps the most disastrous treaty in Ottoman history, in which sultan and people acquiesced only through the insistence of the new grand vizier, Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa Amcazade Hüseyin Paşa , another Köprülü and a nephew of Fazıl Mustafa Paşa


The Holy League of 1684-1699 could be described as the last of the crusades, a grand alliance willed into being by the Papacy to meet the challenge of Islam. For Ottoman history, for the history of the Muslim world as a whole, the Treaty of Karlowitz was overwhelmingly negative, for it initiated the political and military decline of Islam and the Ottomans and the beginning of an epoch of European military superiority, which would lead to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the colonial subservience of most of the Islamic world

The Treaty of Karlowitz enlarged the Habsburg monarchy greatly and gave it a Danubian as much as a German identity, with Hungary and Transylvania, except for the Banat of Temesvár, passing under Habsburg rule. Venice gained parts of the Dalmatian coast and, briefly, the Morea. Poland recovered Podolia, and Muscovy acquired Azov by a separate treaty of 1700. No less important, the drawn-out war, despite incalculable devastation, gave Emperor Leopold the opportunity, even before the peace was concluded, to establish the future patterns of Habsburg rule in the newly acquired lands. The map of much of the Danubian basin had been completely redrawn

Further Reading

  • Davies, Norman. God’s Playground: A History of Poland. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. An excellent set on Sobieski’s role.
  • Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. A well-written narrative of the period from the perspective of the Holy League.
  • McKay, Derek. Prince Eugene of Savoy. London: Thames & Hudson, 1977. McKay provides a detailed account of Eugene’s military career.
  • Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976. An excellent narrative of the period from the Ottoman standpoint.
  • Spielman, John P. Leopold I of Austria. London: Thames & Hudson, 1977. Detailed account of imperial policies.
  • Stoye, John. Marsigni’s Europe, 1680-1730. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. A fascinating history of an Italian officer in the imperial service, surveying the reconquered Danubian basin.

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