Ottoman-Austrian War

The Habsburg Dynasty in Austria failed to keep the advancing Ottoman Empire from Transylvania and Hungary. The Ottoman Turks remained a threat to the Austrian capital and regained dominance of the Balkan region.

Summary of Event

The late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw the Habsburg and the Ottoman empires fighting for control of the Danube River Valley and the Balkan region. Under Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, the Ottomans laid siege to the Habsburg capital, Vienna (1463-1479), but they were forced to retreat. The Turkish army had remained in the Danube River Valley, however, threatening the Austrian capital. The proximity of the Ottomans to Vienna provoked another war between the two countries, which began in 1593. Ottoman-Austrian War (1593-1606)[Ottoman Austrian War (1593-1606)]
Bethlen, Gabriel
Mehmed III
Süleyman the Magnificent
Michael the Brave
Mehmed III
Ahmed I
Lala Mehmed Paşa
Bethlen, Gabriel
Bocskay, István

Initially, the Austrians utilized irregular forces to harass the Ottoman positions along their border. The Ottomans responded with attacks of their own against the Austrians. In 1593, these skirmishes broke out into full-scale war, which continued for some thirteen years.

The war started badly for the Ottomans. In June of 1593, the Austrians defeated the Ottoman army, pushing the Turks back from the territory now known as Croatia. Smaller battles had the Austrians driving the Ottomans farther away from Vienna.

In addition to the Austrian army, the Ottomans also faced attacks from their Christian citizens in other parts of the Balkans. In the eastern portion of the Ottoman Empire sat the newly conquered territories of Walachia and Moldavia. Both were important buffers because of their proximity to the expanding Russian Empire. The Walachians rebelled under their king, Michael the Brave. The Austrians provided military and political support for the revolt, and Walachia Walachia soon wrenched control of its territory from the Turks. Battling in their front and the rear, the Ottomans were soon overwhelmed. In October of 1595, the Turks were nearly wiped out by the Walachians. Thousands of Ottoman soldiers drowned while attempting to cross the Danube during their retreat. The Turks were saved through Polish intervention.

With the army reeling and threatening to be pushed back from the Danube region, the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed III, took personal control of the army. Mehmed was a weak leader who was under the influence of his mother, Safiye Sultan. His weakness and uncertainty were magnified by his first act as sultan: He ordered the murder of his nineteen brothers so they would not challenge his authority.

With the sultan present, the army led a counterattack against the Austrians in 1596. In October, Mehmed pushed the Turks to the fortress of Erlau Erlau, Battle of (1596) near Transylvania. The brief siege and battle saw the Austrians defeated and the Ottomans sweep north to regain the initiative in the war. Erlau was an important capture because it stood over the Austrian supply lines into Transylvania and Walachia. It also placed the Austrian army on the defensive just as winter was starting.

The Ottomans did not allow bad weather to stop their advance, however, and two weeks after Erlau they were able to smash the Austrian army in another battle. Fought on the Hungarian plain, the battle stretched for three days. The Austrians had the initial advantage, pushing the Ottoman forces back and causing Mehmed III to panic and order a retreat. On the third day of battle the Ottomans were rescued in a dramatic cavalry charge by an Italian Muslim general. This sudden attack on the Austrian flank spread confusion through the ranks, and the army collapsed. Thirty thousand Austrian troops perished during a wild rush across a nearby river, and the Ottomans controlled the battlefield. Only the start of winter weather, which blocked the mountain passes in the area, prevented a total Austrian collapse.

The victories of the fall of 1596 did not continue into the following year. Mehmed returned to Constantinople to handle the empire’s political problems, including a growing revolt. Without his leadership the Ottoman army facing the Austrians began to drift. Control ebbed and flowed across the region as Turks would capture forts, then surrender them when the Austrians counterattacked.

Between 1597 and 1601, the Ottomans were on the defensive, having been attacked at their front and rear. In 1598, the Austrian army split the Ottomans and drove them back from their border. An even worse defeat came with a renewed revolt in Walachia. The Walachian army stormed into nearby Transylvania, seized control of it from the Turks, and appeared on the verge of declaring independence and an alliance with the Austrians. Walachia also moved east and south, taking control of its sister province Moldavia.

The Ottoman army was unable to counter these attacks because the political leadership was paralyzed with internal problems, revolts in the countryside, and threats to the empire’s other border areas. Political instability became worse with the death of Mehmed III and the assumption of the throne by his son. Ahmed I was only thirteen when he became sultan, and he depended on his advisers to run the country.

Ahmed delegated control over the war to his tutor, Lala Mehmed Paşa, who was a Bosnian familiar with the territory where the Ottomans and Austrians were battling. Starting in the summer of 1604, Paṣa launched an offensive against the Austrians in Hungary. In September, he recaptured Pest, the capital of Hungary Hungary , and placed the Ottoman army within one hundred miles of Vienna.

The Austrians also faced problems with revolts in their newly captured territories. The Catholic Habsburgs initiated a series of purges, attempting to drive Protestant believers from the empire. By 1605, the Austrians faced a full-scale religious revolt in territories such as Transylvania Transylvania and Walachia. Both territories had been taken recently from the Ottomans. The rebel leader Gabriel Bethlen raised an army and battled the Austrians in Transylvania. He received considerable military support from the Ottomans, who took advantage of the revolt to attack the Austrians in Hungary also.

Paṣa attacked in Hungary and Bosnia, sweeping into key cities and threatening the Austrian hold in both regions. Paṣa also used raids within Austria to bring the war to the Habsburgs and hasten their desire for peace.

The Austrians mishandled the region to such an extent that their former ally in the east, Transylvanian prince István Bocskay (r. 1605-1606), signed an agreement with the Ottomans to fight the Austrians in return for a degree of independence. Facing two military forces, the Austrians were forced to retreat from Transylvania and seek the quickest way out of the war. The treaty was signed in 1606, in the town of Sitva-Torok. Both sides gained from the treaty: The Austrians would stop paying tribute to the Ottomans, and the sultan would recognize the Habsburg leader as equal to him. At the same time, Austria would recognize Ottoman control of the areas of Transylvania and Walachia and that the Habsburg armies would have little success at seizing those territories by force. The Ottomans secured their control by signing an agreement with Gabriel Bethlen, who ruled the eastern portion of the European empire while recognizing that the Ottomans were the dominant power.


The Ottoman-Austrian War of the late sixteenth-early seventeenth century was a seesaw battle that established Ottoman dominance of the Balkan region. The Austrians attempted to capture the province of Transylvania while aiding the province of Walachia in its attempts to break away from Turkish rule. The Austrians were initially successful, but the Ottomans were able to regain control of the eastern European regions and seat their own rulers. This solidified the Ottomans’ eastern border in Europe and allowed the empire to remain a threat to western Europe and Austria.

Further Reading

  • Barber, Noel. The Sultans. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. This work focuses on the Ottoman sultans and the rise and fall of the empire. It examines the major trends and leaders in Ottoman politics and explains how the declining quality of the empire’s leadership led to its collapse.
  • Coles, Paul. The Ottoman Impact on Europe. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968. This work examines how Ottoman control of the Balkan area and conflicts with Austria, Russia, and Britain shaped Europe, its culture, and its politics.
  • Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. This work examines the relationship between the Muslim Ottomans and the Christians in eastern and western Europe. Also describes the conflicts, both political and military, and how they affected both regions.
  • Imber, Colin. The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. This brief work examines the Ottoman Turks as they battled the Byzantine Empire, conquered Constantinople, and then built their own empire by sweeping into eastern Europe. The book focuses mainly on the rise of the Ottomans, leaving out the empire’s decline and fall.
  • Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries. New York: Quill, 1992. A sweeping story of the Ottoman Empire, this book describes the various sultans, their contributions to the Ottoman system, and their roles in the rise or fall of the empire. It also describes the social system and how it evolved during the empire.

1454-1481: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

1463-1479: Ottoman-Venetian War

Aug. 17, 1477: Foundation of the Habsburg Dynasty

1478-1482: Albanian-Turkish Wars End

1514: Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt

1534-1535: Ottomans Claim Sovereignty over Mesopotamia

1574-1595: Reign of Murad III

1576-1612: Reign of Rudolf II

1578-1590: The Battle for Tabrīz

1594-1600: King Michael’s Uprising