The Long Turkish War – Ottoman

The inconclusive, unpredictable, and expensive nature of large campaigns, low-level border conflicts and raids (kleinkrieg) gained importance and became the essential part of the battle environment and lifestyle of the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier after the long reign of Süleyman. This situation was exaggerated by frontier populations, which consisted of thousands of mercenaries who sought employment through war. Within certain limits both sides tolerated these raids and conflicts within. Occasionally, events spiraled out of control, however, provoking large campaigns. The Long War (Langekrieg) of 1593 to 1606 was a good example of this type of escalation. In 1592, the governor of Bosnia, Telli Hasan Pasha, increased the level of raids and began to conduct medium-sized attacks against specific targets by using his provincial units only, although he probably had the tacit support of some high-ranking government officials. Initially, he achieved a series of successes but suffered a decisive defeat near Sisak in which nearly all his army was wiped out and he himself was killed. The new Grand Vizier, Koca Sinan Pasha, used this incident as well as a popular mood inclined toward war to break the long peace.

The ambitious Sinan Pasha began the war eagerly but did not show the same enthusiasm during the actual start of the military campaign. The army mobilization was very slow and haphazard after long decades of inaction on the western frontier and from the repercussions of the draining and tiring Iranian campaign. Consequently, the campaign season of 1593 was wasted, and real combat activity only began in 1594 when the Ottomans easily captured Raab (Yanik) and Papa. However, a joint revolt and defection of the Danubean principalities of Wallachia, Moldovia, and Transylvania negated these gains and put the army in the very difficult position of facing two fronts at the same time. Moreover, the revolt threatened the security of the Danube River communications, which was essential for the supply of the army. The Wallachian campaign of 1595 to suppress the revolt ended with a humiliating defeat and huge loss of life. In the meantime, Habsburg forces captured the strategic fortress of Gran (Estergon).

The ever-resourceful Ottoman government immediately reacted to the consequences of these disasters, which had damaged especially the morale and motivation of the standing army corps. A new campaign was organized, and the reluctant sultan, Mehmed III, was persuaded to lead the expeditionary force in person. The presence of the sultan gave a big boost to army morale, and it advanced to the main objective, the modern fortress of Eger (Eğri), in good order. The Ottomans demonstrated their pragmatism and receptivity once again by applying the same effective siege artillery tactics that their Habsburg enemies had used against Estergon, and Egğri capitulated on October 12, 1596.

After the successful resolution of the siege, the Ottoman army had to face the relief force. Initially the Ottoman high command underestimated the danger and sent only the vanguard to deal with them. After the defeat and retreat of the vanguard, however, it decided to advance and attack the enemy with the entire army. The Habsburg army was deployed mainly in well-fortified defensive wagenburgen formations and it controlled all the passes in the swampy region of Mezökeresztes (Haçova). Even though captured prisoners had revealed the enemy strength and intentions two days before, the Ottoman high command insisted on an offensive strategy after spending only a single day passing through the swamps and thereafter deploying immediately into combat formation. The entire Ottoman first line joined the assault on October 26. The daring Ottoman plan failed, the assaulting units were stopped by massive firepower, and were then routed by Habsburg counterattacks. Fortunately, the Habsburg units gave up pursuit to loot the Ottoman camp. The day was saved at the very last moment with the daring counterattack of auxiliary units and cavalry against the Habsburg flanks and rear. As the disorganized and looting Habsburg soldiers panicked, the retreating Ottoman units immediately turned around and joined the auxiliary units. The Habsburg army suffered huge casualties in the following mayhem, and the Tatars decimated the remainder during the pursuit.

The Ottoman high command ended the campaign and returned to winter quarters instead of exploiting the advantage gained by these two victories. The reason was understandable considering the command elements of the army in this campaign. Except for a few operational level commanders, none of the military or civilian members of the high command (including the sultan) had the knowledge, experience, or courage to lead the army forward. This failure is contrasted by the strong performance of the standing army corps and provincial units, which executed their combat tasks properly and in some cases better than in previous campaigns. The Habsburg side also had the same leadership problems as well as other structural problems, such as mercenaries and the conflicting interests of regional magnates. The outcome of this mutually inarticulate strategic vision was to drag the war out into a series of seasonal campaigns launched against each others’ fortresses.

The Long War continued on for 10 more years, during which both armies, the Habsburgs especially, avoided large-scale battles. Because of the unpredictability of the outcome of pitched battles, both sides focused more on smaller battles revolving around key fortresses. After the disastrous year of 1598 in which Yanik was lost and the Ottoman army suffered numerous difficulties caused by harsh weather, the balance began to tip to the advantage of the Ottomans. Repeated attempts by the Habsburgs to capture Buda (Budin), the capital of Ottoman Hungary, failed whereas the Ottomans captured the mighty fortress of Kanisza (Kanije) and managed to keep it against all odds. The rebellious Danubean principalities, likewise, could not withstand the sheer weight of the war and one by one gave up. An unexpected revolt of the Transylvanians against the Habsburgs effectively wiped out the remaining chances of Habsburg success, while the Ottomans reconquered strategic Estergon. Once again, however, the Ottomans were unable to exploit their success effectively. This time it had nothing to do with the government or the strategic direction of the war but, rather, because of the collapse of the eastern frontier defensive system against a new Safavid offensive and the immediate security threat of renewed popular revolts (Celali). The Long War concluded with the Zsitvatorok peace agreement of 1606, which itself was the outcome of mutual exhaustion and other urgent issues.

Even though the Ottoman government failed to achieve a complete victory in the Long War it still gained considerable advantage by retaining such critical territorial conquests as Kanije and Eğri. This forced the Habsburgs to spend large amounts of money and time to build up a new defensive line against the Ottomans. Another advantage occurred with the influx of large numbers of western mercenaries, who introduced new weapon systems, tactics, and techniques into the Ottoman military. The Ottoman military benefited greatly from these new innovations, thanks to its receptivity and pragmatism. For the first time in Ottoman history, the government enlisted groups of mercenaries who had deserted from the Habsburg camp. The most well-known example involved the desertion of a French mercenary unit in the Papa fortress to the Ottoman side on August 1600. Afterwards, they served on various campaigns during the Long War, and some of them continued to serve well after the end of war. Even though this was extraordinary and not representative of a generalized trend, it demonstrates that the Ottoman government of the seventeenth century was far from being the reactionary and conservative organ that is still a commonly held conviction about its identity today.

Moreover, the length and difficulty of the war forced the Ottoman military to the limits of its capabilities and drastically transformed it. In order to meet the requirements of war, the Ottoman government had to reorganize the empire’s financial system and to recruit or mobilize all available manpower. The obvious outcome of the financial reorganization and enlargement of eligible population groups to the privileged Askeri class not only changed the face of the military but also had a huge impact on Ottoman society as a whole. Moreover, the increased need for musketeers further weakened the traditional military classes, especially the Sipahis and other cavalry corps.

From every aspect, the Ottoman military ended the war with a completely different army. Instead of mounted archers in loose formations, the army employed infantry with firearms in deep formations of several rows of men. Instead of a regionally based provincial army, a salary-based standing army supported by provincial mercenaries became the dominant military organization. Moreover, that army was becoming highly evolved as an institution that had formalized ranks, corps of specialists, training, and battlefield flexibility. Therefore, it can be safely said that the classical period of the Ottoman military effectively ended with the signing of the Zsitvatorok agreement on November 11, 1606.

JOSEPH I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (1678–1711; ruled 1705–1711)


Habsburg emperor.

Joseph I’s reign was dominated by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), which pitted Bourbon France and Spain against the ‘‘Grand Alliance’’ led by Austria and the Maritime Powers. Born to Emperor Leopold I and Eleonore of the Palatinate-Neuburg, Joseph’s upbringing was notable for the absence of Jesuit influence and the resurgence of German patriotism during lengthy struggles against France and the Ottoman Empire. In 1699 he married Wilhemine Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who his parents hoped would tame his youthful excesses, which included wild parties and a string of indiscriminate sexual escapades. He was soon admitted to the privy council, where he became the center of a ‘‘young court’’ of reform minded ministers eager to resolve the daunting financial and military crises that confronted the monarchy during the opening years of the war, which Leopold had entered to secure the far-flung Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles (the future Holy Roman emperor Charles VI). Their first victory came in 1703, with the appointments of Prince Eugene of Savoy and Gundaker Starhemberg to head the war council (Hofkriegsrat) and treasury (Hofkammer). Shortly afterward, John Churchill, the duke of Marlborough, was induced to march a British army into southern Germany, where it combined with imperial troops in destroying a Franco-Bavarian force at Blenheim (August 1704).

Although the great victory saved the monarchy from imminent defeat, Joseph had to overcome a succession of new challenges after succeeding his father (5 May 1705), which included the need to wage war on multiple fronts in Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, the Low Countries, and Spain, while simultaneously suppressing a massive rebellion in Hungary led by Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi. Joseph’s strong German identity informed vigorous initiatives within the empire, including reform of the Imperial Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) and the banning of several renegade German and Italian princes who had sided with the Bourbons. Yet he gave little assistance to the imperial army fighting along the Rhine frontier or to the Maritime Powers campaigning in the Low Countries. Instead, he focused his resources (together with considerable Anglo-Dutch loans) on Italy, which Prince Eugene delivered in a single stroke at the battle of Turin (1706), after which the French evacuated northern Italy, much as they had abandoned Germany after Blenheim. A small force expelled Spanish forces from Naples the following spring. Joseph’s other principal concern was Hungary, where Rákóczi had aroused widespread support against Leopold’s regime of heavy taxation and religious persecution. Although Joseph dissociated himself from his father’s policies and promised to respect Hungary’s liberties, he refused Rákóczi’s demand that he cede Transylvania as a guarantee against future Habsburg tyranny. As a result, the war dragged on for eight years, as Joseph committed roughly half of all Austrian forces to the difficult process of reconquering the country. Once victory was assured, relatively generous terms were granted the rebels at the peace of Szatmár (April 1711), signed just ten days after Joseph’s death.

With Italy secured and the Hungarian rebellion under control, Joseph shifted his attention to the last and least pressing of his war aims—his brother’s acquisition of the rest of Spain’s European and American empire. Prince Eugene and a small force were sent to join Marlborough’s Anglo-Dutch army in the Spanish Netherlands, most of which fell after their victory at Oudenarde (1708). Joseph also instigated a short war with Pope Clement XI at the end of 1709, forcing him to recognize Charles as king of Spain. By 1710, the first Austrian troops were fighting alongside their British, Dutch, and Portuguese allies in Spain itself. Nonetheless, a combination of logistical difficulties, timely French reinforcements, and the Spanish people’s dogged support for the Bourbon claimant, Philip V, doomed the allied effort. Unsuccessful peace negotiations at The Hague (1709) and Gertruydenberg (1710) failed to deliver what the allies could not win for themselves. Finally, a new British cabinet initiated secret peace talks with Louis XIV at the beginning of 1711, foreshadowing the Peace of Utrecht two years later.

Despite his untimely death from smallpox (17 April 1711), Joseph attained his two main objectives: securing an Italian glacis to the southwest and reconciling Hungary to Austrian domination, albeit with constitutional safeguards. Indeed, both achievements endured until 1866. Much of his success rested with a talent for choosing and managing able ministers to whom he could delegate much of the responsibility for realizing policy objectives. At the same time, Joseph jeopardized these gains through extramarital liaisons, which prevented his wife from bearing children after he gave her a venereal infection in 1704. Although he was survived by two daughters, the absence of a male heir foreshadowed the dynasty’s extinction in 1740.

Fall Of Constantinople – Ottoman Superguns






Ottoman superguns

It is not without some irony that bombards, all but abandoned as obsolete by most European powers by 1453, played a critical role that year in the fall of Constantinople, the last Christian stronghold in the East. For centuries the Byzantine capital’s great walls and defenders had repulsed invaders, including an earlier 1422 attempt by Sultan Murad II (r. 1421–1451). Although Murad had employed bombards against the city, they were rather ineffective, and he subsequently withdrew. His successor, however, Mohammad II, sometimes known as Mehmed II (b. 1432; r. 1444–1446, 1451– 1481), and also known as Muhammad the Conqueror, possessed an innate appreciation for artillery and its use in siege craft.

Muhammad, lacking technical experts among his own subjects, subsequently obtained the services of Christian gun founders to design and build cannons especially suited for the siege. Among these was reportedly a famed Hungarian cannon maker known as Urban. Urban (or Orban) had previously been hired by the Byzantines but had deserted their cause after they failed to meet his fees. Muhammad, unlike the Byzantines, appreciated Urban’s considerable, although mercenary, talents and “welcomed him with open arms, treated him honorably and provided him with food and clothing; and then he gave him an allowance so generous, that a quarter of the sum would have sufficed to keep him in Constantinople” (De Vries, X 356).

Urban quickly established a gun foundry at Adrianople where he oversaw the casting of both a number of large iron and bronze guns. These included at least one huge bombard of cast iron reinforced with iron hoops and with a removable, screw-on breech. Typical of such large breechloading cannons, the gun was fitted with slots around the breech’s circumference to accept stout wooden beams. For loading and unloading, these beams were inserted in the slots to act as a capstan and provide the leverage to unscrew the heavy powder chamber. Weighing more than 19 tons, the gun was capable of firing stone balls weighing from approximately 800 to 875 pounds. The sheer size of the bombard, known as Basilica, required forty-two days and a team of sixty oxen and a thousand men to traverse the 120 miles to its firing site at Constantinople.

Muhammad began preparations for the siege in February and ordered the positioning of fourteen artillery batteries around the city. As a further preparation, he ordered his navy, also equipped with artillery, to cut Constantinople off from the sea. For his part, the Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI (b. 1409; r. 1449–1453), did possess some artillery, but it was for the most part obsolete and numerically insufficient to reply to Muhammad’s forces. The Byzantines had long lost the technological superiority they had held in previous centuries, and they soon found themselves reckoning with their shortsightedness in snubbing Urban the Hungarian.

Muhammad began the bombardment of the city on 6 April 1453. With a keen eye for the city’s weaknesses, he concentrated his guns against its most vulnerable points, including the Gate of St. Romanus, where they affected a breach on 11 April. His success was short lived, however, as the defenders counterattacked and repaired the damage. Muhammad also faced other setbacks when Urban was killed when a cannon he was supervising exploded, and when his giant bombard cracked after a few days of firing, necessitating repairs. The sultan, however, proved his own resourcefulness in the use of artillery and made much better use of his smaller guns—weapons that were capable of a much higher rate of fire than Basilica’s three rounds a day and were also more maneuverable. These included eleven bombards capable of firing 500-pound shot and fifty guns firing 200-pound balls.

The Ottoman barrage continued day and night, wearing down both the city’s walls and its defenders. A witness described its effect:

And the stone, borne with tremendous force and velocity, hit the wall, which it immediately shook and knocked down, and was itself broken into many fragments and scattered, hurling the pieces everywhere and killing those who happened to be nearby. Sometimes it demolished a whole section, and sometimes a half-section, and sometimes a larger or smaller section of tower or turret or battlement. And there was no part of the wall strong enough or resistant enough or thick enough to be able to withstand it, or to wholly resist such force and such a blow of the stone cannon-ball. (ibid., X 357–358)

Finally, on 29 May 1453, the walls on either side of the St. Romanus Gate collapsed, and the Turks stormed the city. The Emperor Constantine fought valiantly in the defense of his city, but he was killed as overwhelming numbers of Turkish troops rampaged through the city for three days, killing, looting, and raping. With the fall of its capital, the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and with it the last vestiges of the Roman Empire.


Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as his capital in 323. He occupied the former city of Byzantium, which for centuries controlled the straits separating Asia and Europe. It lies on the Sea of Marmara, flanked to northeast by the Bosphorus and to the southwest by the Dardanelles, two narrow passages linking the Mediterranean and the Black seas. The only direct route from Europe into Asia Minor is at Constantinople, so it has been an extremely strategic possession for land and naval warfare and trade.

Constantinople became the seat of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. It not only was the political capital of much of the Mediterranean and Middle East, but also the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church, rival to the power of the pope in Rome for the souls of Christians everywhere. In the end it was that religious rivalry that spelled Constantinople’s doom.

In the seventh century Muhammad the Prophet founded Islam. By coincidence (or divine intervention) he appeared in Arabia just as the two major Middle Eastern powers, Persia and the Byzantine Empire, had fought each other to an exhausted standstill. He therefore conquered a massive amount of land hand in hand with the spread of his faith. Both Persia and the Byzantines suffered major territorial losses as well as major losses of converts to Islam, who found it less oppressive than the ultraconservative Orthodox Church.

For seven hundred years the forces of Islam and Orthodoxy struggled, with both sides trading ascendancy. By the fifteenth century, however, the Byzantine Empire had shrunk to almost nothing: Constantinople and a handful of Aegean islands. An earlier Islamic threat to the city resulted in the Crusades in the twelfth century, but that too ended in further alienating the Catholic and Orthodox churches. When in 1452 Sultan Mohammed II, son of Murad II, decided to attack Constantinople, European responses to pleas for help were almost nonexistent. England and France were just winding down the very costly Hundred Years War; Germanic and Spanish princes and kings offered aid but sent none. Genoa and Venice, however, did not want to see Constantinople fall into the hands of Arab merchants, and Rome promised aid if the Orthodox Church would submit to papal will. The emperor did all that he could to prepare for the siege. Envoys were sent to Venice, Genoa, the Pope, the Western emperor, the kings of Hungary and Aragon , with the message that, unless immediate military help was provided, the days of Constantinople were numbered. The response was unimpressive. Some Italians, embarrassed at their government’s impotence, came as volunteers. Reluctantly Emperor Constantine XI Paleologus agreed to Rome’s demand, but it netted him a mere 200 archers for his meager defenses as well as the hostility of his people; many claimed they preferred Turkish domination to Roman.

In the spring of 1452 Mohammed II sent 1,000 masons to the Bosphorus to build a fort to protect his army while crossing the straits. Constantine could do little more than lodge a protest. Among his populace were a mere 5,000 native and 2,000 foreign soldiers. The Venetian colony in Constantinople and many citizens in Pera, opposite Constantinople, also stayed, as did Orhan, the Ottoman pretender with his Turks. Some 30,000 to 40,000 civilians who rendered valuable service by repairing the 18-mile-long walls of the city before and during the siege. He had tradition on his side, however, for the triple walls that blocked the city from the landward side had survived twenty sieges, even though at this point they were not in good repair. As of January 1453, he also had the services of Italian soldier of fortune Giovanni Giustiniani, who brought 700 knights and archers. Giustiniani was well known in Europe for his talents in defending walled cities. Mohammed also had some European assistance in the form of a cannon maker named Urban from Hungary, who provided the Muslim army with seventy cannon, including the “Basilica,” a 27-feet-long canon that fired stone balls weighing upwards of 600 pounds. It could only fire seven times a day, but did significant damage to anything it struck.

As part of the Ottoman military preparations, some 16 large and 60 light galleys, 20 horse-ships and several smaller vessels were constructed in the Ottoman arsenal of Gallipoli. The sultan’s army of 80,000 to 100,000 men was assembled in Edirne, the Ottoman capita l, In the Edirne foundry some 60 new guns of various calibres were cast. Some of them threw shots of 240, 300 and 360 kg (530-793 lb), The largest bombard that the Hungarian master Urban made for the sultan fired, according to the somewhat contradictory testimonies of contemporaries, stone balls of 400 to 600 kg (800-1,322 lb), It was transported to Constantinople by 60 oxen.

A single wall that ran the circumference of the city’s seaward sides defended the rest of Constantinople. Mohammed sent his men across the Bosphorus north of the city, so the southern approach to the Mediterranean was open. A chain boom protected the primary harbor, the Golden Horn, across its mouth supported by twenty-six galleys. Thus, if anyone sent relief, the route was open.

Mohammed II arrived on 6 April 1453. He led 70,000 regular troops and 20,000 irregulars called Bashi-Bazouks, whose sole pay was the loot they might gain if and when the city fell. The premier troops were the Janissaries, slave soldiers taken captive in their youth from Christian families and raised in a military atmosphere to serve the sultans. They were heavily armored and highly skilled, and at this time they were beginning to use personal firearms. Mohammed first seized the town of Pera, across the Golden Horn from Constantinople. At first this action was little more than symbolic, but it had serious ramifications later. He then deployed his forces on the city’s western face and began the siege. A single wall near the imperial palace protected the northern end of the city. It was there, the Blachernae, that Constantine placed most of his men.

For twelve days the Muslim cannon pounded the city walls, and on 18 April Mohammed decided that had softened up the defenses sufficiently. The Byzantines easily defended a narrow breach in the walls, killing 200 attackers and driving off the rest without loss to themselves. On the 20th, four ships approached from the south: three Genoese transports with men and supplies from Rome and a Byzantine ship hauling corn from Sicily. After a hard fight with the Muslim fleet they broke through, cleared the boom, and entered the Golden Horn. Mohammed decided he had to control the harbor. He could not pass the chain boom, so he ordered ships dragged overland, through the town of Pera, to the harbor. It was a monumental engineering feat and on 22 April thirty Turkish ships were in the Golden Horn. An agent of the sultan betrayed the Byzantine counterattack, which managed to destroy only a single Turkish ship. In spite of this Turkish accomplishment, it had little effect on the siege.

Mohammed continued his cannonade against the walls. By 6 May it had opened a breach at the Gate of St. Romanus, where the Lycus River enters the city. Giustaniani built a new wall just behind the breach, rather than trying to repair the wall while under fire. The Turks attacked on 7 May but their 25,000 men were thrown back after three hours of fighting. On the 12th another force assaulted a breach in the wall at Blachernae; only quick reinforcement by Constantine and the Imperial Guard stemmed the tide. Mohammed then tried mining the walls. Constantine’s engineer Johannes Grant managed to locate each of the mining attempts and either undermine the mines or destroy the attackers inside with explosives, flooding, or the incendiary Greek fire. None of the fourteen mines succeeded.

Mohammed then determined to scale the walls. His men built a siege tower and rolled it into place before the Charisius Gate, the northernmost opening in the city walls. Muslim artillery fire had destroyed one of the defending towers, and the siege tower was able to provide covering fire for Turks filling in the moat. Constantine’s call for volunteers to attack the siege tower produced spectacular results. The sally surprised the Turkish guards and the Byzantines broke pots of Greek fire on the wooden siege tower. Meanwhile, their compatriots spent the night rebuilding the city wall and its destroyed tower. The next morning Mohammed saw the charred remains of his assault machine smoldering before the newly rebuilt tower in the city wall.

In both camps officers debated the progress of the siege. The defenders were exhausted and running out of supplies. In Mohammed’s camp, some factions wanted to end the siege before a rumored rescue fleet could arrive. The sultan favored those who counseled continuation and decided to launch one more attempt before withdrawing. As the most serious damage to the walls had been inflicted along the Lycus River entrance to the city, it was there he proposed to launch his final assault. Constantine learned of the plan from a spy, but could his dwindling force survive another battle? The Bashi-Bazouks began hurling themselves against the Byzantine defenses at 0200 on 29 May. For two hours the Byzantines slew them with arrows and firearms, but grew increasingly tired in the process. With the first attack repulsed, Mohammed threw in a second wave before the defenders could recover. Even though these were regular troops with better discipline and equipment, the narrow breach provided the defenders with less area to cover and they threw back that assault as well.

After another two hours of fighting the Byzantine troops could barely stand. Mohammed sent in the third wave, made up of Janissaries. Constantine’s exhausted troops managed to repulse them as well. During this fighting, a small band of Turks discovered a small open gate and rushed a handful of men through before it could be closed. They occupied a tower near the Blachinae and raised the sultan’s banner, and the rumor quickly spread that the northern flank had been broken. At the same moment, Giovanni Giustiniani was severely wounded. Hearing of his evacuation, coupled with the report from the north quarter, the defenders began to fall back. Mohammed quickly exploited his advantage. Another assault by fresh Janissaries cleared the space between the walls and seized the Adrianople Gate. Attackers began to pour through.

Constantine XI led his remaining troops into the Turkish onslaught, dying for his city and his empire. Almost all his co-defenders as well as a huge portion of the civilian population joined him, for the Turks went berserk. Mohammed II limited very little of the pillage, reserving the best buildings for himself and banning their destruction. He claimed and protected the Church of St. Sophia, and within a week the Hagia Sophia was hosting Muslim services. Thirty ships of a Venetian fleet sailing to Constantine’s relief saw the Turkish flags flying over the city, turned around, and sailed home.

The looting finally subsided and the bulk of the population that was not killed, possibly 50,000 people, were enslaved. The bastion of Eastern Christianity fell after more than 1,100 years as Constantine the Great’s city. Mohammed II proceeded to conquer Greece and most of the Balkans during the remaining twenty-eight years of his reign.

Western Europe, which had done so little to assist Constantinople, was shocked that it fell after so many centuries of standing against everyone. In Rome, the Catholic Church was dismayed that they would now have no Eastern Christians to convert, for they were all rapidly becoming Muslim. The Eastern Orthodox Church survived, however, for Mohammed allowed a patriarch to preside over the Church. It remained a viable religion, now far from the reach of the Catholic Church’s influence. As such, its survival encouraged others who resented the Catholic Church. Within sixty years Martin Luther led a major protest against the Church, starting the Reformation.

The trading centers of Genoa and Venice feared having to deal with hard-bargaining Arab merchants who now controlled all products coming from the Far East. The major cities of eastern Europe began to fear the Turkish hordes approaching their gates, and for the next 450 years Austria and the Holy Roman Empire carried on the European/Christian struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks established themselves as the premier Middle Eastern Muslim power, controlling at their height almost as much as had the Byzantine Empire: the Balkans, the Middle East, much of North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.

The flood of refugees from southeastern Europe, especially Greece, brought thousands of scholars to Italy, further enhancing the peninsula’s Renaissance. Italian merchants, shocked at the prices the Muslims charged for spices and silks from the East, began to search for other ways to get those goods. Certainly the age of European exploration came much sooner because of Constantinople’s fall.



The Medieval Galley

Russian Galley 1720

The history of medieval naval warfare is the history of the galley. Since ancient times, battles at sea have taken place largely on the decks of ships and were fought much like land battles, with hand-to-hand combat. Medieval naval battles usually followed a similar pattern. First, smaller, more maneuverable ships would pin down the enemy fleet. Then the larger, more heavily armed galleys would attack, initially firing missiles and then ramming or grappling the enemy vessel in order to board it. Blasts of lime were often fired to blind the enemy and were then followed by volleys of stones. One of the most dreaded tactics was to fling onto the enemy ship what was known as Greek fire, a substance that, once ignited, was inextinguishable in water. Crossbows, lances, bows and arrows, and, by the late Middle Ages, guns and cannons served as well at sea as on land. However, the ship itself was the most powerful weapon, often determining the outcome of a naval battle. The warship at sea was likened to the warhorse on land and, like the warhorse, the warship was bred for fighting.

Equipped with sails for distance and oars for maneuverability, the medieval galley was ideally suited for the purpose of war. Medieval variations on the classical galley were many. The dromon, developed by the Byzantines, was a large galley that utilized one or two tiers of oars, a square sail set on a single mast, and a stern-hung rudder. In times of war, the dromon could carry troops, weapons, supplies, and cavalry horses, as well as engage in sea battles when necessary. The beam of the dromon permitted mounted cannons in the bow of the ship, which could be fired directly ahead of the vessel. A variation on the dromon was the Italian galley, which had one level of oars with two or three oarsmen to each rowing bench, a total of approximately 120 oarsmen. The Italian galley was manned by about fifty soldiers and typically had a large catapult mounted on a platform on the front deck.

The galleas was another variation on the galley. Developed by the Venetians, the galleas had a gun deck, oars, and two to three masts. The triangular lateen sails, adopted from those of the Arab dhows, permitted the galleas to sail nearly straight into the wind, impossible with square sails. Sailors armed with crossbows and lances could fight on the ships’ decks.

The last major naval battle in which galleys were employed was the Battle of Lepanto II, fought off the coast of southwestern Greece on October 7, 1571, between the Ottoman Turks, under the command of Ali Pala (died 1616), and the Christian forces, under the command of Don Juan de Austria (1547-1578), half-brother of King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598). The Turks’ 273 ships (210 were galleys) and the Christians’ 276 ships (208 were galleys) faced off in long lines across from one another, with the Christian forces hemming in the Muslim forces. Don Juan skillfully placed his most heavily armed galleys in the center of the line and his smaller, more maneuverable galleys on the outside, where they could dominate the flanks. The massive and heavily armed Christian galleys eventually triumphed over the lighter and less armed Arab ships, giving naval supremacy to the Christian forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Battle of Lepanto was the last major naval battle in which galleys were employed, and it was the first major naval battle in which guns and gunpowder played the decisive role. From this point on, guns and cannons would be increasingly important in naval warfare.

Although the galley was the vessel of choice in the Mediterranean Sea for more than four millennia, it was a typically unstable ship, particularly in rough waters. Maneuverability during battle was provided by oars, rather than by the sails, which had to be lowered during battles to prevent the enemy from tearing or setting fire to them. Despite their shortcomings, however, various forms of galleys continued to be employed in the Mediterranean until 1717 and in the Baltic Sea until 1809. In an effort to produce a more seaworthy craft, medieval shipbuilders turned to other designs for seagoing vessels.

Polish Winged Hussars



The Winged Hussars were prominent in Jan Sobieski’s 30,000-man force that defeated the Turks at Vienna in September 1683. There, on the right wing of the Polish-German force, they pierced the Turkish lines, found themselves surrounded, and hacked their way out. They then re-formed and charged again, breaking the Turkish line.

An elite cavalry unit in Poland in the seventeenth century.

Traditionally, the term hussar is used to describe light cavalry. However, in Poland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, special units of heavy cavalry dominated by Poland’s nobility took the name hussar for their heavy cavalry units. The origin of the word probably derives from the Slavic word gussar, meaning “bandit,” a term that described the harassing form of combat in which they engaged. In a time of heavily armored knights, lightly armored hussars were used mainly for scouting and pursuit. Large numbers of foreign volunteers swelled the ranks of Poland’s army in what was that country’s heyday as a European power.

The hussars who were accepted from other countries brought with them their traditional uniforms, which were among the most aggressively fashionable cavalry attire ever worn. The Polish nobility saw a chance to flaunt their wealth and position while serving their king and country, so the flashy hussar uniform drew them in large numbers. The nobility, however, had been the armored knights and preferred the role of attacking to scouting, so they blended their traditional role with the more fashionable name and uniforms.

The uniform that they adopted started with the traditional tight-fitting pants, fur-lined jackets with braiding, and round fur hats with flat tops. For protection, the hussar wore a metal breastplate and a skirt of chain mail or heavy cloth. In battle the fur hat was replaced by a metal bowl-shaped helmet. In keeping with his need for expression, the hussar often wore a cape made of leopard skin and lined with silk. The horses were decorated as well, the rider painting them with dye, fitting the harness and livery with brass, and festooning the horse with feathered plumes. For dress parade, the traditional wing-shaped shield would sometimes be topped with stuffed animals, such as eagles.

The most distinctive accoutrement, however, was the addition of tall feathered wings attached to the saddle or the hussar’s back. There is some debate as to the function of these wings: Some authorities say they were purely decorative, some say they were to foul lassoes used by steppe horsemen, while still others say that the feathers emitted a loud whistle when the horseman was at a gallop that enhanced the already fearsome visage of the onrushing cavalryman.

For weaponry, the Polish hussar had both a collection of personal arms and his steed itself. The type of horse necessary to bear an armored rider had long been bred in Europe, and the Poles mixed these with Arabian horses stolen or received as tribute from the Ottoman Empire. The strength, size, and endurance of the mixed breed made these horses among Europe’s finest, and only the wealthiest could afford them. Each hussar charged the enemy with a lance that measured as long as 24 feet, easily outreaching the pikes held by the defending infantry. Not surprisingly, the lance was also brightly decorated and strung with a pennant designating the rider’s unit. The hussar operated in a time when firearms were making their first major appearance in Europe, and he often carried wheel-lock pistols himself. His primary weapon, however, was a sword, either a straight-bladed sword for stabbing or the standard curved sabre for slashing. Some also carried a six-pound sledgehammer for throwing; it was tied to a lanyard fastened to the saddle for easier retrieval.

The hussars rode into battle organized in a unit called a poczet (“post”), consisting of a nobleman and two to five retainers, depending on how many the nobleman could afford to equip. Multiple poczets were organized into a choragiew (“banner”) numbering up to 200 men. This was the basic operational formation, and could be joined to as many as 40 more into a pulk, which operated as an independent division. Their main tactic was relatively simple: Mass into a wedge formation and break the enemy line. The hole would then be exploited by following infantry or light cavalry units while the hussars wrought havoc in the enemy rear.

The first major victory in which the hussars fought was in September 1605 at Kircholm near the Lithuanian border. Seven hundred of the winged hussars attacked a formation of 8,300 of Charles IX’s Swedish infantry and broke them. They also distinguished themselves against the Russians at the battle of Klushino in 1610 where 3,800 horsemen and 200 infantry defeated a force of 30,000, killing 15,000. Against the Swedes at the battle of Sztum in 1629, the hussars stood out in what was an inconclusive battle except for the serious wounding of the great Swedish king and general Gustavus Adolphus. Perhaps the hussars’ greatest glory was achieved among the later victories. Serving in the army of the great Polish leader Jan Sobieski, they fought against the Turks and proved decisive in the battle of Chocim, where 30,000 Turkish soldiers were defeated and Poland was cleared of Turkish forces. The hussars were also prominent in Sobieski’s 30,000-man force that defeated the Turks at Vienna in September 1683. There, on the right wing of the Polish-German force, they pierced the Turkish lines, found themselves surrounded, and hacked their way out. They then re-formed and charged again, breaking the Turkish line.

After the victory at Vienna, the hussars’ days were numbered. By this time, armies were becoming increasingly dependent on firearms, and the heavy cavalry was a dying breed. As the Poles turned increasingly to the more traditional light cavalry for scouting and pursuit roles, the winged hussars faded away. They did, however, go out on a winning note, for they were never beaten in battle. Time and technology, not defeat, forced their demise.

Reference: Guttman, John, “Poland’s Warriors,” Military History, vol. 10, no. 5 (December 1993).




‘‘Mamlūk’’ meant ‘‘owned,’’ or ‘‘slave,’’ with the special connotation of ‘‘Caucasian military slave.’’ This was because most early Mamlūks were Central Asian-Turkic or Caucasus slaves who were imported to Syria and Egypt by the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad to reinforce Arab tribal levies which were losing their military edge, and reputation, within the Arab empire. By convention, ‘‘Mamlūk’’ refers to the dynasty and military elites while ‘‘Mamlūk’’ is used for ordinary slave soldiers. By the 9th century the Abbasids accepted annual shipments of Mamlūks as tribute. A major expansion of Mamlūk service followed as Turks displaced Arabs and Iranians from military service within the caliphate. As the Muslim states became increasingly military rather than civilian-religious empires, Turkic-speakers and soldiers became the predominant political class—a position they retained in the Middle East for a thousand years. In 868 a Mamlūk dynasty was founded in Egypt, the first breakaway state from the unified empire of the caliphs. In Iran, too, Turkic-speaking slave soldiers dominated, culminating in the military slave dynasty of the Ghaznavids (962–1186). The Umayyad Caliphate in al-Andalus, with its capital at Córdoba until the early 11th century, employed northern and western European slaves captured as boys, castrated, and trained as Mamlūks. A Mamlūk dynasty ruled large parts of northern India for a time after 1206, but it was always weaker than its Middle Eastern counterparts as it lacked a ready source of new recruits. Training fell by the wayside and the Indian Mamlūks were compelled to share power with local civilians. A new bevy of Mamlūks were brought to Egypt by Salāh al-Dīn (Saladin, 1137–1193), who pushed aside the last Berber Fatamid caliph to rule in his name, then put his family on the sultan’s throne as the Ayyubid dynasty. He relied heavily on loyal Mamlūk soldiers. After crushing a Crusader army under Louis IX, a rebellion led by the Mamlūk general Baybārs overthrew and murdered the Ayyubid sultan, Turan Shah. The Ayyubids tried to elevate a female sultan— Shajar al-Durr—as a replacement but this garnered wider support for the rebels from Muslims who could not conceive of being ruled by a woman. Mamlūk-governed Egypt is conventionally periodized as the Bahri (River) Mamlūk era, 1250–1382, and the Burji (Citadel)Mamlūk period, 1382–1517.

In 1260 the Mamlūks defeated the Mongols in Galilee at Ayn Jālut. The next year the remnant of the Abbasid caliphate moved to Cairo (from Baghdad, which succumbed to the Mongols in 1258). This did not alter the fact of rule by Mamlūk sultans over Egypt and Syria. The Mamlūks actually benefitted from Mongol disruption of northern trade routes, which diverted goods into Mamlūk ships plying the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. The Mamlūks crushed the last Crusader state, besieging and storming Acre (including with suicide squads) in 1291. After that defeat, the Latins surrendered Tyre and all other strongholds without further fighting. To the south, the Mamlūks expanded into Alwa in southern Nubia, pushing that Christian state to relocate deeper south after 1316. Having tamed the last of the Crusaders, the Mamlūks governed Palestine and Syria until 1400, when they were beaten at Aleppo by Timur and Syria was lost to them. It was not recovered until Timur’s unstable empire fell apart after his death.

Timur’s unstable empire fell apart after his death. Since the children of Mamlūks were originally forbidden to become knights, the Mamlūk dynasty continually drew fresh supplies of Turkish-Russian slaves to renew military formations. This meant that the language of the Mamlūk ruling class was Turkic, with many slave soldiers also unable to speak Arabic. The later Mamlūk system was semi-feudal: an officer was granted land from which he drew revenue (he still lived in barracks in Cairo) to sustain himself and perhaps some soldiers, too. By this time recruitment had changed, so that Mongols, Circassians, Greeks, Turks, and Kurds were also to be found in Mamlūk barracks. After 1383 the Mamlūk sultans were usually also the main commanders. Although they sometimes trained as lancers and could fight as medium-to-heavy cavalry, the Mamlūk military specialty was mounted archery. They were trained to hit a small circular target at 75 yards’ range, five shots out of five, and to loose arrows at a pace of 6 to 8 per minute. They were originally formed to fight nomadic light cavalry and trained to equal or best the Bedouin in the skills of mounted archery. When fighting was hand-to-hand, heavier Mamlūk armor and weapons and superior discipline and training meant they usually prevailed. This militarily conservative system was superb and effective against the normal threats faced by Egypt: Bedouin from the desert, North African nomadic warriors, and distant Nubians. It remained to be tested against more modern forces gathering to the north in the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman and German strategy WWI

Ottoman 3rd Army winter gear

The Battle of Sarikamish, December 29th, 1914.

With the Ottoman assault on Sarikamish having stalled, General Yudenich, Chief of Staff of the Russian Caucasus Army, senses an opportunity to deliver a devastating counterattack. The Ottoman IX and X Corps at Sarikamish are dependent on a single line of communication back to Ottoman territory running through Bardiz, and Yudenich concludes that if the bulk of I Caucasian and II Turkestan Corps can hold the line against the Ottoman XI Corps, IX and X Corps can be encircled and annihilated. To this end, he has ordered two regiments from II Turkestan Corps at Yeniköy to move north towards Bardiz, and today they are able to bring the town under artillery fire.

The Battle of Sarikamish, December 27th, 1914.

For the past several days, the Ottoman X Corps has been moving south towards Sarikamish, but marching across mountain peaks and through waist-deep snow has seen it lose a third of its strength to the elements. When it arrives at Sarikamish today alongside IX Corps, the two units can muster only 18 000 soldiers to attack a Russian garrison that now numbers 14 000. Though the Ottomans manage to sever the rail connection between Sarikamish and Kars, and though elements of 17th Division break into the town after dark, the Russians are able to rally and repulse the enemy assault.

The Battle of Sarikamish, December 26th, 1914.

With the arrival of 17th Division today, Enver Pasha orders IX Corps to attack Sarikamish, even though X Corps has not yet arrived, and despite IX Corps having lost 15 000 of its starting 25 000 men over the past five days to the weather. Moreover, since December 25th the Russian garrison of Sarikamish has grown from two battalions of infantry to ten, and though the Ottomans press their attacks with great courage and tenacity, they are unable to break through the Russian lines and occupy the town.

The Battle of Sarikamish, December 24th, 1914.

In the Caucasus the occupation of Bardiz today by the Ottoman 29th Division of IX Corps masks growing problems with Enver’s offensive. Moving through heavy snow and in frigid conditions, thousands are already being lost to the elements; 17th Division of IX Corps reports that as much as 40% of its soldiers have fallen behind, some undoubtedly disappearing into the drifts of snow. X Corps to the north, meanwhile is exhausted, but two of its divisions are pushed northwards towards Ardahan before Enver orders it to redirect itself westwards to cover IX Corps left flank. 29th Division, meanwhile, is given no rest – Enver instructs it to march immediately on Sarikamish, not only to complete the envelopment of the Russian forces facing XI Corps but because the Ottoman units need to seize Russian supplies if they are not to run out of food and starve.

On the Russian side, I Caucasian and II Turkestan Corps are in the line facing XI Corps when Enver begins his offensive, the former to the south of the latter. The first response of General Bergmann, commander of I Caucasian Corps, had been to order his force to advance westward in an attempt to threaten the rear of the Ottoman IX and X Corps. General Nikolai Yudenich, Chief of Staff of the Russian Caucasus Army, is better able to understand the threat the Ottoman advance poses to Sarikamish, and orders I Caucasian Corps to instead withdraw today while moving reinforcements to concentrate at the threatened town.

The planned advance of the Ottoman 3rd Army against Sarikamish. December 22nd, 1914

What will become the Battle of Sarikamish begins today when Enver Pasha orders the Ottoman XI and X Corps of his 3rd Army to begin their advance into the Russian Caucasus.  Enver’s objective is the town of Sarikamish, which sits at the head of the main railway supplying Russian forces in the Caucasus, but his plan bears the strong imprint of German thinking and the influence of 3rd Army’s Chief of Staff Baron Bronsart von Schellendorff.  Of 3rd Army’s three corps, XI Corps, reinforced by two divisions that had been originally bound for Syria and Iraq, was to frontally attack the two Russian corps southwest of Sarikamish in order to fix them in place.  This was no small task for XI Corps, given the two Russian corps number 54 000 men and the Ottoman unit would have been outnumbered by just one of the enemy corps.  The key maneouvre, however, is to be undertaken by IX and X Corps.  The former, sitting on XI Corps’ left, is to advance along a mountain path known as the top yol towards Çatak, from which it can descend on Sarikamish from the northwest, outflanking the two Russian corps pinned by XI Corps.  Though the top yol is known to the Russians, they believe it was impractical to move large bodies of troops along it.  Enver, for his part, believes that not only is the path useable but its high altitude and exposed position would ensure that high winds kept it swept of snow, as compared to the valleys below.  Finally, X Corps, on the left of IX Corps, is to advance and occupy the town of Oltu, from which one portion of the corps can move to support IX Corps’ move on Sarikamish, while another portion can continue northeastwards towards the town of Ardahan.  If successful, the plan promises the envelopment and annihilation of the two Russian corps southwest of Sarikamish and the opening of the way to Kars.
With its emphasis on outflanking the enemy position, it has the obvious imprint of the thinking of Schliffen and the German General Staff.  Further, Enver’s plan involves precise timetabling of the advance of IX and X Corps (necessary given the lack of communications between the three corps of 3rd Army) which removes all possibility of improvisation and does not allow for any unit to fall behind schedule.  Finally, there is the emphasis on speed – the soldiers of IX Corps, for instance, are told to leave their coats and packs behind to quicken their advance.  This ignores the obvious reality of conducting operations in the Caucasus in December and January – temperatures are consistently below -30 degrees centigrade and the snow on the ground is measured in feet, not inches.  This ignorance of the human element, also a conspicuous reflection of pre-war German planning, is to be of decisive import in the days ahead.

By choosing to enter the war on Germany’s side, the Ottomans were tying the fate of their empire to Germany’s. It was a calculated risk. Germany stood an excellent chance of winning the war, and it had no immediate designs on Ottoman territory. Its victory would provide the outcome most conducive to affording the breather they needed to implement the reforms to rejuvenate their empire. From the German perspective, the Ottoman empire could fulfill three functions. It could cut Russia’s communications through the Black Sea to the rest of the world, tie down Russian forces in the Caucasus, and “awaken the fanaticism of Islam” to spark rebellions against British and Russian rule in India, Egypt, and the Caucasus.

Around the time of the signing of the secret alliance, Enver and the Germans had discussed a number of speculative war plans, most involving offensives in the Balkans. In the middle of August Enver ordered his German chief of staff to draw up a formal plan for the opening of the war. The plan identified the main axis of effort to be an attack on the Suez to cut British communications to India and left open the option of an amphibious landing in the vicinity of Odessa. Another possibility the plan offered was a joint offensive against Serbia and Russia in the Balkans. Throughout the opening months of the war Ottoman and German planners remained committed to a passive stance in the Caucasus. Indeed, the August mobilization deployed the bulk of the Ottoman army in the west in Thrace, not in the east. The Ottoman force facing the Caucasus, the Third Army, was to brace for an attack and mount a defense around Erzurum. Only in the event of a decisive defeat of the Russians was the Ottoman army to go on the offensive.

When Russian forces began to close in on the Austro-Hungarian city of Lemberg (Lviv), Vienna urged the Ottomans to launch an amphibious invasion near Odessa to relieve the pressure. The initial enthusiasm for the idea of Enver and Austrian and German planners, who entertained ideas of inciting not just Muslims but Georgians, Jews, and even Cossacks to rebel against the Russians, faded once the enormous logistical difficulties involved became clear. They did not give up the idea of an amphibious operation altogether. Major Süleyman Askerî Bey, the chief of the Tekilât-ι Mahsusa, envisioned smaller clandestine landings of Ukrainian and other partisans along the Black Sea coast to spark rebellions.

The Tekilât-ι Mahsusa and the Program of Revolution

Enver Pasha had founded the Tekilât-ι Mahsusa in November 1913.59 The experience of fighting against insurgents in the Balkans and as an insurgent against the Italians had impressed upon Enver and other officers the utility of an organization for irregular warfare. Moreover, an organization that could act in secrecy and lend the Ottoman state “plausible deniability” had obvious utility in the cutthroat yet diplomatically bounded international environment in which the Ottomans were forced to maneuver. Enver and his German advisors hoped to use the Tekilât-ι Mahsusa to spark uprisings behind the lines of their foes. In August Tekilât-ι Mahsusa operatives formed units in Trabzon, Van, and Erzurum to carry out clandestine and guerrilla operations inside Russia and Iran. Bahaeddin akir took command of the unit in Erzurum, the Caucasus Revolutionary Committee. The committee recruited heavily among Circassians. For purposes of internal security and secrecy, it required two current members to attest to a candidate’s trustworthiness. By mid September they had formed several bands of Circassians and Iranians armed with pamphlets as well as small arms and grenades. Addressed to “our brothers in faith,” the appeals of the Caucasus Revolutionary Committee called upon the Muslims of the Caucasus to rise up against the “Moskof” oppressor and to drive the “unbeliever” from the Caucasus entirely. Several operatives left for the North Caucasus and Azerbaijan, where they made contact with locals, including Mehmed Emin Resulzade of the Musavat Party.

The Kaiser was not the sole German holding high hopes for the revolutionary possibilities of pan-Islam. Extrapolating from the conviction that Islam was a martial religion that could not countenance the rule of unbelievers over Muslims, German policymakers presumed that Muslims under Entente rule were essentially obliged by both belief and psychological constitution to revolt. With much encouragement from them, Ali Haydar Efendi, the Ottoman sheikh ul-Islam – the most senior religious authority in the Ottoman state – proclaimed a jihad on 14 November, three days after the Porte’s declaration of war. The proclamation summoned all Muslims, Shii as well as Sunni, to war against Russia, Britain, and France. The call to jihad had little to no effect, except perhaps among the Kurds of Iran, among whom more immediate factors were at work. The idea of waging a holy war in alliance with the infidel powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary was dubious at best. Rumors that Germany had paid for the proclamation circulated inside even the Ottoman empire. Most Muslims did not find that their own circumstances merited war, regardless of what a religious scholar in Istanbul might declare.

The Germans’ ardor for pan-Islam loomed greater than their competence or common sense, and they often worked at cross-purposes with their Muslim Ottoman allies, who viewed German efforts in the Middle East with suspicion. The presence in the German effort of unqualified specialists and outright charlatans did not improve matters. The German Foreign Ministry hired a journalist, Max Froloff, to go to the Red Sea region to recruit Muslim holy warriors. Froloff opted to make a shorter trip to Holland where he wrote an account of his imagined experiences. The publication of his book nonetheless had an impact. Its descriptions of Froloff’s visits to Mecca and Medina, holy cities strictly barred to non-Muslims, sullied the Ottomans’ reputation as guardians of the sacred sites and consequently incensed them. Another German project bordering on the surreal was the dispatching, over the objections of Enver and the Ottoman Interior Ministry, of an Austrian orientalist and Catholic priest, Alois Musil, to inspire Muslim Arabs to embark on jihad. Notably, after returning from Arabia, Musil testified to the “complete indifference of the tribes toward holy war and Pan-Islamic ideas.” The belief that the Germans were using such missions to prepare the ground for the postwar expansion of German influence haunted the Ottomans, who obstructed German efforts at holy war at several junctures. Frustrated, the Germans moved the center of pan-Islamic operations in 1916 from Istanbul to Berlin.

Perhaps precisely because they themselves were Muslims, many Ottoman officials had been skeptical about the possibilities of pan-Islamic revolution from the beginning. Consular officers in Taganrog, Odessa, Novorossiisk, Batumi, and Tiflis all reported that Russia’s mobilization had only caused people, including Muslims, to rally around the tsar. In Tiflis Muslims were praying for Russia’s victory. The chargé d’affaires in St. Petersburg Fahreddin Bey predicted that in the event of war the vast majority of Russia’s Muslims would not only fail to take active measures on the Ottomans’ behalf but would probably fight alongside the Russians as in the War of 1877–78. Most were living in poverty and uneducated, he explained, and those with some education tended to be even more pro-Russian. Indeed, Enver himself advised his subordinates that most of Russia’s Muslim Circassians would fight on Russia’s side and that the “Türkmen” (by which he probably meant Azeri Turks) and Muslim and Christian Georgians would merely refrain from actively supporting Russia.

The war opens

Before their respective governments had declared war, Russian and British armed forces initiated combat operations against the Ottomans along the Iranian border, in the Persian Gulf, and in the Levant. Russia’s initial war plan for the Caucasus provided for an active defense with limited local offensives. Encountering only light resistance, however, Russian forces from Iran pushed further into Ottoman territory to occupy Köprüköy and threaten Erzurum. The Ottoman army then struck, however, and within two weeks had driven their foes back. To the north, where the Tekilât-ι Mahsusa raised a force of some 5,000 Laz and Ajar irregulars, Ottoman forces managed to take the towns of Artvin and Ardanuch. They announced their entrance into the formerly Ottoman town of Ardahan toward the end of December by firing off a telegram to Istanbul boasting simply, “Greetings from Ardahan!” These victories had not been easy, and rifts between the Tekilât-ι Mahsusa and regular army led Enver to dismiss Bahaeddin akir from command, but in the initial confrontations the Ottomans had bested the Russian Caucasus Army.

Sarikamish: gamble and disaster

These early successes emboldened Enver to plan a major offensive to envelop and crush Russian units in the vicinity of Sarikamish (Sarιkamι). In view of the rugged terrain, the winter weather, and the balance of forces, the plan involved tremendous risks, which Enver’s subordinates brought to his attention. Enver, however, was not one to fear risk. His meteoric rise had taught him to embrace it. The hero of 1908 had gone from junior officer to minister of war in a mere five years. Moreover, his German chief of staff, Bronsart von Schellendorf, was encouraging him to undertake a major offensive. With Germany’s armies bogged down on two fronts and Austria-Hungary on the defensive, the short victorious war the Central Powers had wagered on was growing into a stalemate. If the Ottomans could envelop the Russians on the Caucasian front and inflict a stunning defeat on them as the Germans had done at Tannenberg, the war effort would regain momentum. Enver had no experience commanding large units but, ever self-confident, he arrived in Erzurum to take personal command of the operation.

The offensive commenced on 22 December. Unseasonably warm weather boded well. In the initial days the 95,000-strong Third Army made good progress. By coincidence, the tsar had appeared in Sarikamish on a morale-building mission, and some Russians now feared the advancing Ottomans might capture him. The population in Sarikamish and even some Russian generals panicked. But in the meantime the weather shifted dramatically. Temperatures plunged to −36°C and blizzard conditions set in, trapping tens of thousands of poorly clothed Ottoman soldiers in the mountain passes. Most of these were without winter gear and some were without even footwear. Meanwhile, newly arrived reserves enabled the Russians to counterattack. The result was a calamitous rout from which the Ottoman army would never fully recover. Not until 1918 and the disintegration of the Russian army would the Ottomans again be able to go on the strategic offensive on the Caucasian front.

As bad as it was, the disaster of Sarikamish later acquired mythical proportions as part of an effort to discredit the Unionists and Enver in particular. Thus Enver’s decision to launch a wintertime offensive with ill-clothed troops in the mountains is often presented as the epitome of stupidity and fanaticism. Total Ottoman losses were crippling, but closer to 60,000 than the 130,000–140,000 of popular legend. One explanation advanced for Enver’s otherwise seemingly ineffable heedlessness for entering both the war and the offensive at Sarikamish is a deep-seated pan-Turanism, a grand desire to unite the Turkic and Muslim peoples of the Caucasus, Russia, and Central Asia with those of the Ottoman empire. Such an explanation is not convincing. As noted earlier, Ottoman mobilization plans deployed the army in the west, not on the Caucasian front. Despite the fact that an invasion of the Caucasus was the most obvious and straightforward way to bring the war to Russia, Enver settled on a Caucasian offensive only after discarding for geographic and logistical reasons other options of attack through the Balkans or across the Black Sea. The military stalemate in Europe led Germany and Austria-Hungary to press the Ottomans to launch an offensive against Russia sooner. Enver’s concept of encircling Russian units at Sarikamish and cutting them off from their rear was daring but not hare-brained, and in accord with standard military doctrine. Finally, the Ottomans made no effort even to present the operation as pan-Turanist. Liman von Sanders does recollect that Enver commented that he “contemplated marching through Afghanistan to India.” A conversational aside is hardly conclusive evidence, and it is notable that Enver stated the objective was India. India was not an objective of pan-Turanism, but British India had long been an objective of Britain’s rivals, including Germany and Russia.

Given that the advice of Enver’s Ottoman and German staff officers alike was split regarding the proposed operation, Enver’s personality became critical to the decision to attack. Personal experience had taught the youthful war minister that boldness pays. The Third Army executed the first half of the operation well, but the drastic shift in the weather and the uncommonly swift Russian counterattack sealed its fate; its fate was not sealed from the beginning. The tactical blunder committed by Enver at Sarikamish – emphasized so often to underscore the alleged irrational pull of pan-Turanism upon Enver and the Ottomans in general – is less remarkable when compared with the record of British, French, and German generals fighting on the western front in France, who sacrificed far greater numbers of lives over a longer period of time for no strategic advantage.

Shortly after it had commenced its offensive on Sarikamish, the Ottoman army launched a probe into northern Iran. The idea was that a relatively small force led by the Unionist and Tekilât-ι Mahsusa commander Ömer Naci Bey, who had fought alongside Iranian constitutionalists in 1907 and knew the region, would rally the Muslims of Iran to rebel against the Russians, stir problems in the Russian rear, and perhaps even facilitate a drive toward Baku, the center of Russia’s oil industry. The probe initially made rapid headway when General Aleksandr Myshlaevskii, panicked by the advance at Sarikamish, ordered the abandonment of Urmia and Tabriz. The Russians’ sudden withdrawal inspired the Kurds of Iran, including the Russians’ erstwhile ally Simko, to swell the ranks of the Ottoman force. The Ottomans and their local allies entered Tabriz on 14 January, looting and wreaking terror upon Assyrian and Armenian villagers along the way. After Russian defenses at Sarikamish had stabilized, however, the chief of staff of the Caucasus Army General Nikolai Yudenich ordered General Fedor Chernozubov immediately to retake Tabriz and secure the northern Iranian plateau. The return of the Russians in force caused the Ottoman offensive in Iran promptly to collapse.

Attack on the Suez

At the same time that Enver was presiding over the disaster at Sarikamish, Cemal Pasha was readying forces for an offensive on the Suez. The offensive aimed at cutting Britain’s lines of communication to India and inciting the Muslims of Egypt and North Africa to rebel against their British and French overlords. Berlin assigned tremendous importance to attacking the British in Egypt and from the beginning of the war had been eager for an attack across the Suez Canal. The Ottomans had not foreseen a multifront war in which Britain was an adversary and so formed a new army, the Fourth, with its headquarters in Damascus. Cemal arrived on 18 November to take command of the offensive. Due to the long distances involved and the poor state of the roads and communications his army was ready only in the middle of January. The Ottoman and German planners hoped to exploit religious sentiment against the British and included in the 4th Army a number of imams for this purpose. A German advisor made the fantastic prediction that 70,000 “Arab nomads” would join their invading Ottoman co-religionists when they reached the canal. The inclusion of a company of Druze, a sect whose beliefs are anathema to mainstream Sunni Islam, however, belies the notion that Sunni fanaticism inspired the offensive.

After skillfully executing a difficult advance across the Sinai to the Suez, the 4th Army launched their attack across the canal on the night of 2 February. Although they achieved tactical surprise, they ran into difficulties at the canal due to improper equipment and a lack of training in water crossings. The British on the opposite bank rushed in reinforcements and repelled those who had made it across. After two days of fighting, Cemal pulled back, having suffered roughly 1,300 casualties.

The offensive had failed in part because Berlin pressured the Ottomans to attack prematurely. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that the offensive would have achieved major results even if the initial assault force had established a bridgehead on the western bank. Ottoman supply lines were long, Ottoman forces limited, and British military and naval power in and around Egypt was substantial. The outbreak of a rebellion in the British rear perhaps could have assisted the assault, but precisely to preclude such a possibility the British had withdrawn their native Egyptian troops to Sudan and deployed British and Indian troops to the canal. Because the Suez offensive resembled the Sarikamish operation in its timing, ambition, and mismatch between objectives and available resources, historians have tended to locate its origins, too, in an emerging ideology of pan-Islam. They overlook the Central Powers’ common interest in cutting British lines of communication and the Ottomans’ particular interest in expelling the British from Egypt, a land to which they had strong historical and cultural ties, and which had formally remained part of their empire until the outbreak of the war. The scale of defeat at the Suez was nothing like that at Sarikamish. The Germans, in fact, were satisfied with the operation despite its collapse because it had compelled the British to retain in Egypt troops they could have deployed to Europe.

The crushing defeat of Sarikamish and the failure at Suez deprived the Ottoman army of any offensive capability at the strategic level. The spring 1915 Anglo-French amphibious assault at Gallipoli, British thrusts into Mesopotamia and Palestine, and the steady advance of the Russian army across Anatolia would keep the Ottomans hard-pressed throughout the next two years. They would manage only limited counteroffensives in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, while also contributing substantial forces to joint operations in the Balkans. Deprived of an army and resources, pan-Islam, too, lost whatever strategic significance it may have possessed. In Iran, the Ottomans, backed by the Germans, made appeals to Muslims to join them in the struggle against the infidel Russians and British, but the larger legions and greater resources of the Entente proved to be more persuasive stimuli for the Muslims of Iran. Following their defeats there was little the Ottomans could do beyond backing the activities of a few individuals, such as Enver’s younger brother Nuri Pasha, who assisted the Sanussi tribesmen’s resistance to the Italians in Tripoli.91 The fact that pan-Islam exerted little pull on Muslims outside the reach of Ottoman or German material support is not insignificant, as it highlights yet again the ideology’s slight power.

Battle of Sisak 1593

Croatia 1593

Hasan Pasha, the Ottoman military Governor of Bosnia, raiding into Croatia found himself facing a large Imperial force led by Michael of Wallachia and Sigismund Bathory of Transylvania outside Sisak, on the Kupa and Save Rivers. Hasan was killed in a terrible defeat. Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha was later sent to avenge the loss and in October he laid siege to Veszprem (20 June 1593).

The inconclusive, unpredictable, and expensive nature of large campaigns, low-level border conflicts and raids (kleinkrieg) gained importance and became the essential part of the battle environment and lifestyle of the Ottoman- Habsburg frontier after the long reign of Süleyman. This situation was exaggerated by frontier populations, which consisted of thousands of mercenaries who sought employment through war. Within certain limits both sides tolerated these raids and conflicts within. Occasionally, events spiraled out of control, however, provoking large campaigns. The Long War (Langekrieg) of 1593 to 1606 was a good example of this type of escalation. In 1592, the governor of Bosnia, Telli Hasan Pasha, increased the level of raids and began to conduct medium-sized attacks against specific targets by using his provincial units only, although he probably had the tacit support of some high-ranking government officials. Initially, he achieved a series of successes but suffered a decisive defeat near Sisak in which nearly all his army was wiped out and he himself was killed. The new Grand Vizier, Koca Sinan Pasha, used this incident as well as a popular mood inclined toward war to break the long peace.

In spring 1593, without a declaration of war, the Governor-General of Bosnia, Hasan Pasha, with his provincial army crossed the Kupa River, then the border between Ottomans and Austria as agreed upon in a treaty concluded between Habsburg and the High Porte at Adrianople (present day: Edirne) only a year earlier.

The ceasefire in the Austro-Turkish wars, concluded in 1568, and extended until 1593, did not bring peace to the Croatian border. The Turks still raided Croatia and Kranjska and Stajerska from Bosnia. The defence of Croatia was removed to the rivers Kupa and Korana. For some time Croatia still held the exposed, but strongly fortified Bihac. From Sisak to the fortified Karlovac the kraina of Kupa (Confinia Colapiana) was defended by castles with permanent garrisons of haramias, who received their permanent captain 1589.

Ban Toma Erdedi actively sought to secure the reliquiae reliquiarum of the kingdom of Croatia. In the first year of his reign he defeated Turkish raiders returning from Kranjska at Slunj. Two years later he defeated the sanjak beg of Cernica-Pakrac at Ivanic. But the victories did not ease the pressure on Croatia.

In 1591 Hasan pasha Predojevic became the Bosian beglerbeg. He has strengthened the Turkish forces, equipped them with better horses and erected a bridge at Gradiska so that he could maneuver between Bosnia and Slavonia with greater ease. In the beginning of August he attacked Sisak, but retreated after a four day bombardment before the forces led by ban Erdedi and the supreme captain of the Slavonian kraina, Stefan Grasswein.

After receiving permission from the sultan Murat III for more serious actions against Croatia, in the spring of 1592 he built a fort Jeni Hisar (later named Petrinja) at the confluence of Petrisnjica into Kupa. It was to be a base for attacks on Sisak. The cehaja (deputy) of Hasan pasha, Rustem beg, erected a bridge across Kupa at Brest, while Hasan pasha assaulted Bihac and captured it on the 19th of June. Upon his return to Slavonia he defeated the troops from Stajerska and the Croatian ban on the 19th of July at Brest, and again bombarded Sisak on 24th July. He lifted the siege on the 29th.

By the beginning of June 1593, Hasan pasha moved on Sisak for the third time. The large guns and the train was carried by 29 shajkas by the Sava to Gradiska. In just several hours he captured Drencina on the 14th June. On the next day he made camp on the right bank of the Kupa.

The sources disagree considerably on the size of his army. He most probably did not have more than 12000 combatants – janissaries, azaps, spahis, akindjis. Only a small number could have been armed with firearms.

In this campaign participated the sanjak begs of Zvornik, Klis-Livno, Lika, Hercegovina, Cernica-Pakrac, Pozega, Orahovac, Bihac and Vucitrn, and the captains of Petrinja and Gradiska.

The army probably also contained some troops from the sanjaks of Osijek and krka.

After receiving the news of Hasan pasha’s move on Sisak troops began to gather at Sveta Klara, near Zagreb. About 5000 feudal troops of Croatia and Kranjska, Kraisniks, Imperial troops, and uskoks. Ban Toma Erdedi came with his company and feudal troops, in all 1240 troops. Colonel Ruprecht Eggenberg with Reitenau imperial regiment of 3 companies – about 1500 men. Colonel Andria Auersperg Turjacki, the supreme captain of Croatia, with 300 arquebusiers (armoured horsemen) of Karlovac, 100 arquebusiers of Koruska under captain Kristof Obrucan, 200 feudal horsemen of Kranjska under captain Adam Rauben and 160 musketeers from Karlovac and Koruska under captains Georg and Sigismund Paradeiser. Colonel Melhior Redern with 500 Silesian horsemen (archers? armed with firearms?). Lieutenant Colonel Grasvajn, captain of the Slavonian kraina with 400 soldiers. Petar Erdedi, captain of Uskoks, with 500 uskoks. Martin Picnik with about 100 horsemen of the Montecuccoli regiment.

To this number several hundred more light horsemen can be added(hussars) and irregular infantry.

The Croatian-German forces had 1760 arquebusiers or musketeers, not counting musketeers that must have been present in other units.

The army of Hasan pasha was numerically superior, but the Christians had the edge in firepower, efficiency and strength.

Only the unified command gave some advantage to the Turks.

The Christian army moved on Sisak. After defeating a Turkish detachment of 300 men it reached the castle Zelina on the 19th June. It remained there on the next day, awaiting Juraj Zrinski from Medjumurje. Since he did not arrive, the army proceeded on the 21 to Novigrad on the Sava. After a dispute in a council it was decided to fight the battle immediately, without reconnaissance.

Sisak was defended by Blaz Djurak and Matijas Fintic with 300 soldiers, and some recruited men and volunteers from the vicinity, and about 100 men Egenberger from Slovenia. In all, 800 men.

After erecting a bridge over the Kupa, Hasan has positioned his guns on the left bank of the river, and targeted the gate and the tower by the Kupa. He soon breached a segment of the wall. Scaling assault was repulsed, but the garrison was demoralized.

On the move from Novigrad to Sisak Auersperg positioned the Christian force in two battle lines, as was usual in the imperial army. In the first line went Croatian soldiers, light horsemen (hussars), infantry and Auerspergs troops, and in the second line Redern’s and Montecuccoli’s horsemen and rajtenau’s infantry. In such order the army moved on.

After crossing to the right bank of the Sava Hasan moved on the Christian army with about 10 000 men. On the left wing, by the Odra, were foot archers, in the center and on the right cavalry. The battle began around noon. The Croats (horsemen) under Erdodi were the first to attack. After they have been repelled, the arcquebusiers went into action, and then other troops with firearms. For a time it seemed that Turkish cavalry could outflank and envelop the Christians, but their second line stopped them. The Turks were under pressure and retired from fire. Then the garrison attacked their rear and captured the bridge. The Turks could not retreat. Only several hundred saved themselves. The remainder was killed, captured or drowned in Kupa or Odra.

The whole battle lasted less than an hour. The Christian losses were insignificant, 40 to 50 dead according to their own records.

The Turkish sources admit losing 8000 killed, among those Husein pasha and 4 sanjak begs.

The Turks on the opposite bank of the Kupa burnt their camp and retreated. The way to Petrinja lay open, but Egenberg could not attack it without imperial permission.Christian Europe, which after relieving Spain of the Arabic Muslims had identified the Ottoman Empire with the Islamic menace, was delighted at the reports of such an allegedly grandiose victory. King Philip II of Spain congratulated and Pope Clement VIII praised the Christian military leaders. The traditional daily ringing of the small bell of Zagreb cathedral at 2 p.m. is in memory of the battle as it was the bishop of Zagreb who had born the major part of the costs of the fortress of Sisak.

When Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552–1612) unilaterally terminated tribute payments to the Ottoman Empire for possession of Austrian Hungary in 1591, threats were issued and skirmishing broke out, but the Ottomans actually lost ground in central Hungary and Romania. War began in earnest in 1594 when Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha (d. 1596) led 100,000 troops into northern Hungary. The following year on October 28, 1595, Sigismund Báthory (1557–1606), prince of Transylvania, led Austro-Hungarian forces against the invaders at Guirgevo. Sinan was defeated.

Order of Battle for Sisak


Commander: Andreas v. Auersperg

1) Count Don Plaggei – 300 mounted, armored arquebusiers (Auersperg’s life guards)

2) Adam Rauber zu Weineck u. Kreutberg (Krainisch-ständischer Rittmeister) – 200 mounted arquebusiers

3) Christoph v. Obrutschan zu Altenburg (Kärnten Rittmeister) – 100 mounted arquebusiers (both the Carinthian and Carniolan companies were in cuirass and `tiger hides’)

4) Ruprecht v. Eggenberg (k.k. Kriegskommissär) – 300 men or 3

banners of German fußknechts

5) Thomas Erdödy (Ban of Croatia) – 350 hussars, 900 infantry

6) Melchior von Rödern auf Friedland – 500 Silesian “Schützen zu Pferd” (mounted arqubusiers)

7) Alban Grosswein – 400 foot and horse (soldier-peasants of the Zagrab cathederal)

8) Peter Erdödy (Captain of the Uskoks) – 500 uskoks and Hussars

9) Stefan Tachy von Stättenberg – 80 Hussars

10) Martin Pietschnik zu Altenhof – 100 men

11) Sigmund Paradeiser v. Neuhaus and George Paradeiser – 160 Carinthian musketeers

12) Ferdinand Weidner – one banner of German knights – 100 men


Commander: Hassan Dervis, Pasha of Bosna

1) Hassan Dervis – 4000 foot and horse

2) Ferhad beg – 1000 men

3) Opardi Beg of Clissa – 3000

4) Mesni Beg – 2500

5) Zeffar Beg of Svornik – 700

6) Mehemed Beg of Hercegovina – 3000

7) Kurd Beg – 1500

8) Rustan Beg of Petrina – 500

9) Ibrahim Beg of Likka – 2000

10) Gradiska Captain – 1000

11) 2000 Siphai, unknown akindjis, 9 large cannon


Alfred H. Loebl, “Das Reitergefecht bei Sissek vom 22. Juni 1593,”

Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung IX (1915): 767-787.

Peter Radics, Die Schlacht bei Sissek, 22. Juni 1593 (Ljubljana: Josef Blasnik, 1861).

In September 1596 the new sultan, Mohammed III (d. 1603), renewed the invasion, again with 100,000 men. They targeted the fortress town of Eger [Eğri]. The massive force succeeded in taking the town, whereupon a force of 40,000, including Austrians, Germans, Transylvanians, and Hungarians, advanced to regain it. Twice the Ottomans sent forces to intercept the advance, and twice, on October 24 and October 26, 1596, they were repulsed. Then the Hapsburg forces counterattacked, penetrating the camp of the sultan and capturing some 50 artillery pieces. However, the Ottomans replied with a devastating surprise cavalry attack on the German-Hungarian flank. This was sufficient to create panic in the entire force, and the Hapsburgs lost some 23,000 men. Ottoman losses were also heavy—probably 20,000 killed or wounded— and the army was in such a state of exhaustion that it did not capitalize on its victory. The result was that warfare within the Ottoman-Hungarian borderlands continued sporadically until 1606, when, on November 11, the Treaty of Zsitva-Torok ended hostilities.