The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft
|The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: An account of the siege of Vienna in 1683, the culmination of a struggle between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, and an analysis of their subsequent history up to the end of the First World War.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: August 2009|
The battle for Europe which Andrew Wheatcroft describes in such vivid detail is the culmination of a power struggle between the Ottoman empire, based in Constantinople, and the Habsburg domain in Vienna, which had lasted for around 250 years prior to the final solution. These two centuries and more of struggle between them led to the decision by the sultan of Turkey, hungry for more territory, and his ministers in 1682 to lead their army against the Habsburgs at Vienna with the ultimate objective of capturing the city, and the ensuing siege a year later. Some historians have seen this as a crucial moment in the history of conflicts between the east and the west, although others consider its status as one of the defining events somewhat over-estimated. Whatever the truth of the matter, the book that tells the story is a vivid chronicle of war in the 17th century.
It was a conflict the Ottomans came close to winning, particularly with their highly skilled army. However, at the theatre of war itself the Europeans' superiority in technical matters, and a few tactical errors by the Ottoman commander, proved decisive. Disciplined siege warfare, skilled engineers, and careful planning in the form of good stocks of or access to ammunition, food and water, all played their part in the campaign just as much as the pitched battles.
The author's detailed account of the siege and fighting is masterly, and his analysis of the historical background shows why and how the Turks, who took no prisoners but instead vowed to enslave or kill every last survivor from their enemy that they possibly could, became an awful warning from history, and Europe's metaphor for terror, tyranny and oppression. Not so long ago, a former European Commissioner declared that Turkey should not join the EU as, if it did, the liberation of Vienna in 1683 would have been in vain. As it was, the siege marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe, and the start of its slow but steady decline.
The narrative does not stop there. An additional chapter serves as a postscript by looking briefly at the aftermath for both empires, from Habsburg domination of southern Hungary and Transylvania during the next sixteen years or so, up to the early 20th century and the end of the old order after the First World War.
While an excellent and magnificently researched piece of work, it does require some basic background knowledge of the countries involved, and is best suited for those already familiar with the history, if not the politics, of the time.
Our thanks to Pimlico for sending us a copy for review.
If you enjoyed this, why not also try A History of Warfare by John Keegan.
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