History Friday: Jan Sobieski III and the Battle of Vienna, “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit”

Jan Sobieski

On September 12, 1683 the army of the Ottoman Turks besieging Vienna was driven off and routed by an army under the command of Jan Sobieski III, at Battle of Vienna.

On July 14, the Ottoman army of roughly ninety thousand effectives set up camp in front of Vienna. An Ottoman envoy appeared at the gates with the demand that the Christians “accept Islam and live in peace under the Sultan!”
Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, who had been left in command with about twelve thousand soldiers, cut him short, and a few hours later the bombardment began. Within two days, the Turks had completely surrounded the city and, by one contemporary estimate, were within a mere two thousand paces of the salient angles of the counterscarp. The grand vizier (Mehmet himself had stayed behind in Belgrade) set up a magnificent tent in the center of what was virtually another city outside the walls. There, in the company of an ostrich and a parakeet, he dispensed favors in complete confidence of an eventual victory, and sauntered forth each day to inspect the Turkish trenches.
The situation inside the city grew steadily more desperate as water ran low, garbage piled high in the streets, and little by little the familiar diseases of the besieged—cholera, typhus, dysentery, scurvy—took hold. Yet the defenders managed to hold out for two months.

From here.

Vienna [was besieged] by the mortal foe of Christendom during the reign of Emperor Leopold I. Influenced by Louis XIV of France, the sultan sent directly against Vienna an army of 200,000 men under the command of the Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha; this army appeared before the city before the gathering of the imperial army had been completed. The defenders of Vienna were led by Count Rudiger von Starrhemberg, Bishop Leopold Kollonitz, who laboured unweariedly for the wounded and for the obtaining of provisions, and the burgomaster, Johann Andreas von Liebenberg. The Turks began the attack 13 July, 1683, and made violent assaults almost daily; the number of defenders sank from day to day, hunger and misery appeared, and the hospitals were full of sick and wounded. It was not until early in September that the relieving army, which had collected at Tulln, set out for Vienna; the commander-in-chief was the King of Poland, John Sobieski; among his generals were Charles of Lorraine, Maximilian Emmanuel of Bavaria, Margrave Louis of Bavaria, and others. The memorable battle began on 12 September; the Christian army descended form the Kahlenberg in three charges and won a brilliant victory over the Turks. Thenceforth Austria and Germany were permanently relieved of the danger of invasion by the Turks, and Vienna was released from its difficult position of being the outpost of Christendom.

From this.

On 11 Sept., Sobieski was on the heights of Kahlenberg, near the city, and the next day he gave battle in the plain below, with an army of not more than 76,000 men, the German forming the left wing and the Poles under Hetmans Jahonowski and Sieniawski, with General Katski in command of the artillery, forming the right. The hussars charged with their usual impetuosity, but the dense masses of the foe were impenetrable. Their retreat was taken for flight by the Turks, who rushed forward in pursuit; the hussars turned upon them with reinforcements and charged again, when their shouts made known that the “Northern Lion” was on the field and the Turks fled, panic-stricken, with Sobieski’s horsemen still in pursuit. Still the battle raged for a time along all the line; both sides fought bravely, and the king was everywhere commanding, fighting, encouraging his men and urging them forward. He was the first to storm the camp: Kara Mustapha had escaped with his life, but he received the bow-string in Belgrade some months later. The Turks were routed, Vienna and Christendom saved, and the news sent to the pope and along with the Standard of the Prophet, taken by Sobieski, who himself had heard Mass in the morning.

From this.

The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting, compared to approximately 4,000 for the Habsburg-Polish forces. Though routed and in full retreat, the Turkish troops had found time to slaughter all their Austrian prisoners, with the exception of those few of nobility which they took with them for ransoming.
The loot that fell into the hands of the Holy League troops and the Viennese was as huge as their relief, as King Sobieski vividly described in a letter to his wife a few days after the battle: “Ours are treasures unheard of … tents, sheep, cattle and no small number of camels … it is victory as nobody ever knew of, the enemy now completely ruined, everything lost for them. They must run for their sheer lives … Commander Starhemberg hugged and kissed me and called me his savior.”

From this.

What is striking about Jan III Sobieski is the quality of his leadership. More important than arms, manpower, tactics, supplies, and even courage, leadership is what makes the difference in any war. When Jan Sobieski led his men down that hill into the Ottoman flank, it was his presence at the front of the charge that demonstrated his dauntless nature and absolute determination. Character cannot be faked, and men who recognize this kind of character in their leader will follow him into the gates of Hell.

From this.

Louis XIV, purportedly a Catholic, asked his ally Sobieski not to come to the aid of his rival, the Habsburg Emperor.

Sobieski put Christendom and the fight against the Turk ahead even of his most important alliance.

Pictured above is Sobieski sending his letter to the Pope, in which he said the victory belonged to God alone, and he paraphrased Julius Caesar, who famously wrote, “vein, vidi, vici” — I came, I saw I conquered. Sobieski wrote “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit” — I came, I saw, God conquered.

Sobieski stopped in Czestochowa, en route to Vienna, to pray for the intercession of Our Lady for victory over the Turks. (Pictured below).

His prayer was granted.

Sobieski Czestochowa

Our Lady of Czestochowska

12 thoughts on “History Friday: Jan Sobieski III and the Battle of Vienna, “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit””

  1. Well, if leadership is the key, and I agree it certainly is, then that leaves us out of the fight for the time being.

    Front men don’t lead, they just follow orders.

  2. Obama has weeded all the warriors from the US military except, perhaps, Ray Odierno.

    I was also heartened to see this and the fact that HR McMaster is now a lieutenant general. .

    Maybe there is hope. How McMaster survived and thrived in the bawdy house that is Obama’s military is a mystery.

    Although the Army has dominated the battlefield technologically in the recent past, that’s no guarantee against an increasingly agile, adaptive foe. The enemy is becoming more adept at eluding firepower through dispersion into civilian areas, disrupting communications and adopting new technologies, he explained. And, non-state actors like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are already fielding capabilities once the sole domain of states.

    Odierno has been criticized for his division’s hard core behavior during his first deployment. It was “Big Army” in effect.

    In his second Iraq deployment, Odierno was the commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq from December 2006 to February 2008. In this role, he served as the day-to-day commander of all Coalition Forces in Iraq and was one of the primary architects of the troop “surge” into Baghdad.

    He came under the influence of Petraeus and learned COIN. So far, Obama has left him alone.

  3. The Turk’s defeat at Vienna dealt a heavy blow to the Turk’s main ally, Louis XIV of France. The House of Commons, extra hostile to France after the Dutch Conquest, recorded in its journal for April 15-16 of 1689:

    The Most Christian Turk, the most Christian ravager of Christendom, the most Christian barbarian who had perpetrated on Christians outrages of which his infidel allies would have been ashamed.

    French propping up of the Turk was key to complicating the aftermath of Vienna. With France acting as a supportive second front, the Turk even reversed some of his losses in 1690. Eugene’s victory at Zenta ended the Turk as a second front and allowed Austria, in alliance with England, Scotland, the Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire, to decisively turn on the true menace: France.

    French support was crucial for helping the Turk to later make up the losses to Eugene and keep control of the Balkans until the 1870s. Ongoing French support encouraged the Turk to grant de facto aid and comfort to American independence through its support for the godfather of American independence (a former French ambassador to the Turk) and his policy of encouraging armed neutrality to tie down British forces while an Franco-Spanish-American fleet attempted to conquer the island of Britain. There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Franklin could go to Paris.

    Which is another reminder of an age old truth: the quickest road to Mecca runs through Paris.

  4. September 12 was also made the feast of the Holy Name of Mary in thanksgiving and commemoration.
    In that sense, Holy Name Cathedral is a monument to this victory.

  5. LCR, it appears that there is no good, modern biography of Eugene of Savoy. This is a huge omission. From what I can see, the man fought on multiple fronts, against disparate types of enemies, using an amalgam of various Habsburg forces, yet never lost a battle.

    It’s certainly seems like a tale worth retelling.

  6. “There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Franklin could go to Paris.
    Which is another reminder of an age old truth: the quickest road to Mecca runs through Paris.”

    Don’t forget the first American war overseas was against the western outposts of the Ottoman Empire along the Maghreb Coast. Jefferson was ambassador to France when he negotiated tribute payments to the Berbers through their French middlemen the Mathurins. They were swept away in the French Revolution, and we ended up paying about 15% of our budget in protection money directly to Algerians.
    After that, war was a forgone conclusion. However, in a troubling forerunner of things to come much later, we captured Tripoli, but before total victory and installing a friendly, alternate regime, we negotiated peace terms and kept in place the pirates, whom we would fight again a decade later.

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