Ottoman-Polish Wars Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Ottoman-Polish Wars, which devastated the Ukraine, were sparked by a confluence of Ukrainian/Cossack unrest and Turkish imperialism. Poland gained a Polish king, the Ukraine was freed from Polish control, and Poland benefited culturally as it blended its own artistic styles with those of the Ottomans.

Summary of Event

Hit by a deluge of rebels and invaders since 1648, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, or Rzeczypospolita, engaged yet another foe in the 1670’, fighting a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire. Although pledged to “perpetual friendship and alliance” by a treaty of 1533, Turkish victories in the Balkans and Hungary pushed the sultan’s armies closer to the commonwealth, while regional politics drew both countries to war. [kw]Ottoman-Polish Wars (Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676) [kw]Wars, Ottoman-Polish (Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676) [kw]Polish Wars, Ottoman- (Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676: Ottoman-Polish Wars[2480] Diplomacy and international relations;Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676: Ottoman-Polish Wars[2480] Poland;Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676: Ottoman-Polish Wars[2480] Lithuania;Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676: Ottoman-Polish Wars[2480] Ukraine;Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676: Ottoman-Polish Wars[2480] Ottoman Empire;Summer, 1672-Fall, 1676: Ottoman-Polish Wars[2480] Ottoman-Polish Wars (1672-1676)[Ottoman Polish Wars (1672-1676)]

These wars centered in the Wild Lands, the sparsely settled frontier zone of the southern Ukraine Ukraine and home of the Cossacks Cossacks , a collection of adventurers, bandits, pirates, and mercenaries. Seldom unified under one leader, Cossack military factions maintained fortified outposts, such as the Zaparozhskaia Sich, located on an island in the Dnieper River.

Fearless and contemptuous of authority, Cossacks prized their independence above all else. Although a problem for their neighbors, Cossacks were most often at odds with the Ottomans or Tatars. Both Moscow and Poland-Lithuania used Cossacks as border guards, mainly to protect the Wild Lands, and beyond, against Tatar raiders. Tatars Tatars , Muslim descendants of the Mughals, maintained a predatory state based in the Crimea. Every year, tchambouls (large parties of Tatar horsemen), which could total up to 20,000 men, moved north looking for loot and slaves.

These raids were but one part of a complex series of rebellions and invasions, along with general chaos, that racked the Ukraine between 1648 and 1667. Cossacks aligned for and then against both the commonwealth and Moscow. Finally, the new leader of the Tatars, Khan ՙAdil Giray ՙAdil Giray , forged an alliance with Petro Doroshenko’s Doroshenko, Petro Cossack faction for a grand raid into Polish territories.

The end of the summer of 1667 saw a combined Tatar-Cossack army of nearly 30,000 men crossing the frontier. Noted for their horsemanship and raiding skills, Tatars and Cossacks were excellent light cavalry. Jan Pasek, Pasek, Jan a contemporary chronicler, said the troops were difficult to pin down and hard to kill. He also warned that the horsemen were wily opponents, for “flight is to no avail, and pursuit is irksome.”

Despite their status as first-rate cavalrymen, Tatar-Cossack armies lacked artillery, and they were easily disrupted by massed musket fire. Leaders in Warsaw knew this, and because they refused to believe that Orthodox Christian Cossacks would make common cause with Muslim Tatars, they thus refused funds for building a counterforce. Poland-Lithuania’s local commander, John III Sobieski John III Sobieski , combining his personal retinue with local troops, had just 8,000 soldiers.

Moving into the Polish sector of the Wild Lands placed the invaders in Podolia Podolia (now in western Ukraine), a land of plains, hills, swamps, and sparse forests dominated by the Dniester and Southern Bug Rivers. The Dniester is navigable for its entire length, whereas the Southern Bug is interrupted by swamps and rapids. Podolia also featured Kamieniec Podolski, a powerful fortress and arms depot.

Brilliant tactics allowed Sobieski to defeat the Tatar-Cossack alliance. Using Kamieniec Podolski, strategically placed earthworks, and mobile wagon forts, he divided his army into small mutually supporting units. Each had the task of holding river crossings, smashing enemy raiders, or falling back on fortified positions when faced by superior numbers. Taking 3,000 of his best soldiers, Sobieski constructed a fortified camp at Podhajce, which allowed him to cut the invaders’ main supply line. A large Tatar-Cossack force moved to besiege his position but was routed when the Poles launched a night assault in October, 1667.

Sobieski next secured a truce, but he also asked for reinforcements. Parsimonious magnates who dominated Poland-Lithuania’s parliament, or Sejm, refused to fund this request, arguing that Sobieski was capable of dealing with any contingency. Their focus was not on military affairs but rather on the election of a new monarch, because John II Casimir Vasa (Jan Kazimierz) John II Casimir Vasa , who had reigned since 1648, had abdicated on September 16, 1668.

After considerable politicking, Michael Korybut Wisniowiecki Michael Korybut Wisniowiecki , leader of a Ruthenian magnate family greatly disliked by the Cossacks, became king of Poland in September, 1669. A pious fool who “could speak eight languages but had nothing intelligent to say in any of them,” he would only make enemies and encourage dissension within his semi-anarchic government.

Doroshenko positioned himself to benefit from this by aligning his Cossacks with the Ottomans. Thus encouraged, Sultan Mehmed IV Avci Mehmed IV Avci declared himself“the protector of the Cossacks,” sending an Ottoman army northward while calling up his Tatar vassals. Poland-Lithuania now faced a severe challenge, as the combined enemy forces had a significant advantage in numbers and the Ottomans possessed a first-rate army.

Comprising cavalry, artillery, and elite Janissary infantry, the Ottoman army numbered 80,000 men who moved into Podolia during the hot summer of 1672. On August 29, after a siege of just seven days, Kamieniec Podolski surrendered. This powerful fortress was symbolic of the weakened state of Polish-Lithuanian armies, for despite having more than 200 cannon, it had a garrison of just 250 men, all but four incapable of serving as artillerymen.

Sobieski responded with a 150-mile razzia (plundering raid) into Tatar/Cossack-controlled Ukraine, destroying forts, arms depots, and enemy villages. In early October, he smashed smaller Tatar forces, killing, capturing, or dispersing nearly 22,000 enemy riders. Although a brilliant raid that showed Sobieski could “out-Tatar the Tatars,” this did not stop Polish diplomats from accepting the Treaty of Buczacz, Buczacz, Treaty of (1672) which recognized Podolia as an Ottoman fief administered by Doroshenko and required a yearly tribute of 22,500 gold ducats to the sultan.

Unwilling to ratify this humiliating document, the Sejm instead voted to raise a 40,000-man army for a war of revenge. Sobieski started this campaign with additional defeats of Tatar raiders at Niemirów, Komarno, and Kałusza. Dispersed by Sobieski’s superior tactics, the Tatars were hunted down by enraged peasants, and in the words of Pasek, “died like dogs.”

These setbacks sent Tatars reeling back to the Crimea and also deprived the Ottoman army of valuable scouts. Split into three parts, 30,000 were entrenched at Khotin, on the Dniester River. Sobieski, now reinforced with a similar-sized force, managed to sneak up and launch a surprise attack in November, 1673. Routed, the Ottomans attempted to flee over a single bridge, which quickly collapsed under the weight of the troops. The Ottoman force was annihilated, and the Poles captured 120 guns, hundreds of standards, and plenty of loot. Pasek noted that camels from the Turkish supply train were so common that “you could even get one for a servant’s nag.”

Sobieski followed up his victory with an offensive into Ottoman-dominated Moldavia, forcing the Turkish garrison at Jassam to abandon the town and flee south. In addition, he detached a force to regain Kamieniec Podolski. Neither action was completed before news arrived that King Michael had died on November 10, one day before Sobieski’s triumph at Khotin. In the Rzeczypospolita, kings did not inherit the throne but were instead elected.

Sobieski returned to Warsaw, where his victories over Cossacks, Tatars, and Turks made him a candidate for the throne. After some debate, the hero of Khotin became the king of Poland-Lithuania on May 19, 1674. In addition, the Sejm authorized funding for a new army, which had disintegrated after its victory at Khotin, to fight the Ottomans. It was organized just in time, as a new force of more than 100,000 Turkish soldiers crossed the Dniester and advanced on Lwow.

Sobieski again used his hit-and-run tactics backed by mobile wagon forts and earthworks. On August 24, 1675, at the Battle of Lwow, Lwow, Battle of (1675) he demolished a Tatar army of 20,000. Reconcentrating his forces, Sobieski drove the Ottomans back into Moldavia. The final battle of the war took place at Zurawno Zurawno, Battle of (1676) in the fall of 1676. Again, Sobieski employed earthworks and his wagon forts to protect his 20,000 troops from the 100,000 Turks and Tatars underIbrahim Ibrahim Paşa (Ottoman military leader) Paşa. Spirited assaults only produced heavy Ottoman losses, while Sobieski advanced his redoubts to within musket range of the Turkish main camp. At this point,Ibrahim suggested negotiations, and a conclusion to the Ottoman-Polish Wars came with the Treaty of Zurawno Zurawno, Treaty of (1676) . Poland-Lithuania surrendered part of Podolia but paid no tribute.


Ottoman-Polish conflicts of the 1670’s produced significant consequences. First, Sobieski’s victories allowed him to trump foreign-backed candidates in the already corrupt and complicated process of electing a Polish monarch. In turn, this created an anti-Turkish king quite willing to take his army to relieve Vienna during the famous Ottoman siege of 1683.

The Ukraine, devastated by a decade of warfare that locals dubbed the ruina (the ruin), never effectively returned to Polish control. On a cultural note, the rich spoils from captured Ottoman camps influenced fashion and art in late seventeenth century Poland, creating a unique blend of Polish-Ottoman designs.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kolodziejczk, Dairiusz. Ottoman-Polish Diplomatic Relations, Fifteenth-Eighteenth Century: An Annotated Edition of Ahdnames and Other Documents. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2000. Primary diplomatic documents translated and with useful notes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ostrowski, Jan, ed. Land of the Winged Horsemen: Art in Poland, 1572-1764. Alexandria, Va.: Art Services International, 1999. Superb photographs of Polish armor and weapons, along with commentary on how conflict created a blending of Polish and Turkish artistic styles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pasek, Jan Chryzostom. Memoirs of the Polish Baroque. Edited and translated by Catherine Leach. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Pasek’s diaries form an important primary source on late seventeenth century Poland. He provides interesting details on the fights between Tatars and Turks during the 1670’.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. 3d ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000. An authoritative history of the Ukraine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turk ve Islam Eserleri Muzesi. War and Peace: Ottoman-Polish Relations in the Fifteenth-Nineteenth Centuries. Istanbul, Turkey: 1999. An exhibition catalog with articles and photographs relating mainly to events of the 1500’s and 1600’.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Alexis; John III Sobieski; Bohdan Khmelnytsky; Ivan Stepanovich Mazepa. Ottoman-Polish Wars (1672-1676)[Ottoman Polish Wars (1672-1676)]

Categories: History