The Eastern Roman Empire had been viciously mauled, raped, and robbed of her far-flung provinces by the Arab caliphates, provinces that had long worn the Roman eagle, but for centuries the empire held on, waxed and waned, against the various forces on either side of the Bosporus that menaced its continued existence, whether that be the Empire of the Serbs or the various Mohammedans of the East. Despite their obvious advantages, the Arab influence began to wane with the arrival of Turkic migrants from the far far East, who were initially treated as foreigners, then as servants, then as soldiers, then administrators, and then as their rulers themselves. Laziness is as much an Arabic trait as unquestioning religious fervor.
In any case, in 1453 Constantinople finally fell against the Seljuk Turks, now known under the guise of the Ottoman Empire, and the Roman Empire finally fell in its entirety, and the consequences to the West were dire. The West, through the Balkans, through the Mediterranean, was exposed to a rash of conquests and rapes to rival the caliphate assails of the Eighth Century, and the Ottomans seemed poised to pour into every bastion and vestige of Europe. Like the Persia that preceded them, they were very wealthy, they could muster huge numbers of soldiers, and they seemed literally irresistible. Taken in the context of the much earlier Arab conquests, this was the invasion of Xerxes to the preceding invasion of Darius, and it would require pure force of arms to repel them sufficiently to halt them permanently in their tracks, fixed upon the high water mark to slowly recede.
Europe was poised to enter the modern world. Living Rome had finally been deleted, what had been the lingering stopper preventing the depredations of the East from pouring into the West. It was now up to her numerous successor states to take up the mantle and adopt the responsibility, to carry the torch of Western Civilization, and immediately at hand were matters most dear. The Turks wasted no time in gobbling up the Balkans and dominating the Mediterranean, and like the Arabs that preceded them, they were poised to consume the entirety of Christendom in their fangs. As I mentioned, the Ottomans were much more populous, wealthy, and they were strikingly competent soldiers. But that didn’t stop the locals from resisting as best they could, perhaps most memorably by Vlad Tepes otherwise known as “The Impaler.” But when it came around to it, European infighting made the conquest of the Balkans an easy if relatively slow process exacerbated by the difficulty of the Terrain.
The wondrous city of Vienna was a prime target for reasons both morale and strategic, and the Ottomans had unsuccessfully invested her before, but they came this time better prepared. The whole besieging force has been estimated to be between 120 thousand and 300 thousand. By contrast, there were only sixteen thousand defenders, a third of them volunteers. Luckily, the Viennese possessed about three times as many cannons as their assailing counterparts. It was 1683 and everyone that could have done anything to help seemed to be fleeing into the hills, the fall of Vienna a foregone conclusion. Thankfully, the Viennese proved brilliant at intercepting the mines of their assailants to prevents the walls from being obliterated from below.
Everything seemed to hinge upon the survival of this city, which was already riddled with plague, but the Holy Roman Emperor could do nothing on his own to halt inevitability and made a plea before the pope who made a plea to the King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jan Sobieski III, the hero of our little drama. Apparently, he was moved. The forces composing the relief army were made up of troops from Poland and the HRE, and unlike how it so frequently happened in the medieval period, they quickly settled upon a supreme commander, the Polish king who was already famed for his military prowess.
By the time the Polish king had made for Vienna, out of raw necessity he had robbed his own kingdom of virtually all its soldiery, and she was utterly defenseless, potentially to be abused within the scope of his absence. It was that important. Incidentally, the king of Hungary ravaged portions of Poland which the Lithuanian reinforcements promptly repaid by ravaging northern Hungary.
In several days time, Poles of twenty seven thousand souls and Germans of forty seven thousand arrived upon the field, and it was a very large battlefield. Elements of the armies arrived separately and began divesting the Turks of the outer settlements while the Turks frantically attempted to wrest control of the city and force the relief army into an expensive second siege they could hardly afford. It is thanks particularly to the hard endeavors and sacrifices of the Viennese sappers that the city did not fall that day.
Finally, they were there, before the defensive bulwarks and countless tents of the retiring Turks. A general cheer arose from the relieving forces when the Polish cavalry, predominantly the winged hussars, emerged from the forest at approximately Four PM; such was the fame of their quality. The sum of the Polish and German cavalry were constituted in three groups–three Polish and one Germans–and the Polish king personally led the hussars on one of the largest cavalry charges in human history. In short order, they obliterated the Turkish lines, surrounded the fugitives, and ran them all down like squealing pigs. The Turkish Pasha was barely able to flee from his command tent before the advance forces of the allied cavalry entered it, and he was executed by his own men shortly afterwards.
The aftermath was pretty rough for the Turks, who would never be able to attempt an incursion of this magnitude ever again, but for the forces of the Holy League, there was spoil galore from the Turkish baggage, all sorts of fine fabrics and exotic animals only dreamed up in the ever-gray of northern Europe.
As I mentioned, this marked the high water mark for the Ottoman Empire, the last time an eastern power would seriously menace the sovereignty of western nations, at least by force of arms. The similarities to the Greek model are again striking. The East is just as much a part of the cycle as is the West, though the West seems nevertheless the protagonist of the drama. This is important and yet virtually unheard of. I didn’t have much to say about the drama that unfolded at Vienna, and my candor is largely summation rather than commentary. I will however say that the modern world was nevertheless founded on the creation of a western identity that seemed to require the complete dissolution of the moribund Roman Empire to fully achieve. Once the Byzantines were a thing of the past, Europeans in the North and West had to fight all their own battles against the encroaching East, and it was this newfound and brutal responsibility that created all different sorts of demands for invention and innovation beyond counting.
This also marked one of the few times that Europeans from even competing backgrounds would stand together for a common cause. Truthfully, by aiding the Germans in the relief of the HRE, though it was a shortlived magnificence, the Polish sovereign nevertheless provided the Austrians and Hungarians enough breathing room to seriously worry the sovereignty of his own nation in the century to come, especially in the aftermath of the Deluge that virtually wiped Poland out only a few decades previous. Thereafter the Poles would lose their sovereignty altogether until the Twentieth Century.