13 18th Century Battles Term Paper

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Muslim battles with European countries in the 13th to 18th centuries. Specifically, it will discuss the conflict between Islam and the West, including the Battle of Lepanto against Spain, the Siege of Vienna against Austria and Poland, and the Battle of Constantinople in 1483. These three battles were significant in world history for a number of reasons, and had their outcomes been different, the face of the world could have been very different today.

Battles Between Muslims and European Countries

The Muslim nation has always been made up of warriors, unafraid to do battle with those outside their faith. Writer John L. Esposito says their culture combines "a warrior culture with an Islamic tradition that believed in Islam's universal mission and sacred struggle (jihad), to establish themselves as worldwide propagators and defenders of Islam" (Espisito 61). Because of this long tradition, Muslims have fought in numerous battles throughout their extensive history, including such decisive battles as the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the Siege of Vienna in 1683, and the Battle of Constantinople in 1483. These battles were all significant for a number of reasons, and they are still important today in the interpretation of Muslim influence and history around the world.

The Battle of Lepanto, which took place off the Greek shoreline in 1571, near the Gulf of Patras. The battle pitted fleets of galleys against each other, and was the last major battle fought by these great ships. Don John of Austria, the half-brother of Philip II of Spain, led the Christian fleets and Ali Pasha led the Turkish fleet. One historian noted, "The Christian fleet consisted of some three hundred ships and eighty thousand men, of whom fifty thousand were sailors and oarsmen, and the Turkish fleet was about the same size; they were the largest opposing fleets of galleys that had ever met in battle" (Cowie 136). One of the most amazing things about this battle was the immense size of the battleground. Don John's fleet extended in a line five miles long, while the Turkish fleet broke off into two wings in an attempt to outflank Don John's ships. The outflanking maneuver was successful at first, but in the end, most of the battle took place in the center of the line, and the Turks were eventually defeated. Historian Cowie continued, "The gunfire of the Christian ships proved to be more effective than that of the Turks, and Don John was able to fasten his galleys with grappling-irons to the Turkish ships and get his soldiers on board" (Cowie 136). The Christians killed nearly thirty thousand of the Turks, including their commander, Ali Pasha. The Turks also lost 117 ships to the Christians, while another 113 were sunk, while the Christians only lost about 15 ships and eight thousand or so men. Ali Pasha's head was mounted on a pike, and displayed on the "prow of his captured flagship" (Cowie 136). The battle was fought quite ferociously on both sides, and was clearly quite important to both the Turks and the Christians, and the Turkish navy never fully recovered from the battle (Woodward 41).

The battle is quite significant in Muslim history for a number of reasons. First, the battle marked the end of Turkish aggression and expansion into Europe and the west. As Esposito notes, their loss "confirmed the frontier between Christian and Muslim civilizations that has lasted to the present day'" (Esposito 61). In addition, the battle clearly illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of the large galleys. In the end, although the ships were formidable weapons in the confines of a smaller area, such as the Mediterranean, they proved to be ungainly for larger ocean going, and they were eventually replaced by the "round ship," which was more maneuverable and up to ocean going travel (Cowie 136). Thus, the battle not only turned the tide of Turkish (i.e. Muslim) advancement in the west, it also ultimately helped lead to the creation of new types of fighting vessels for Christendom.

The Siege of Vienna, fought in 1683 between the Turks and a mesh of European forces, including Austrians and Poles in Vienna was the last battle the Muslims (Turks) fought on European ground. Polish king John Sobieski ultimately led the Christian forces, while Kara Mustafa led the Turks. The Christian forces numbered about 70,000, while the Turks numbered at least 250,000. The Siege of Vienna began in July 1683, and did not end until September. Amazingly enough, Austria knew the Turks were on the way, because "The West received a generous advance notice about the intentions of the Ottoman Empire because Islamic tradition required that a 'holy war' had to be ceremoniously proclaimed in Istanbul" (Johnson 96). Initially, Vienna was defended by a small force of about 30,000 of the Hapsburg Imperial army, led by Charles of Lorraine, and Eugene of Savoy. The forces held on to the outlying parts of the city, but if Kara Mustafa had advanced to Vienna more quickly, his forces could have easily taken the city. As it was, he did not arrive until July 17, and by that time, there were several armies forming in Poland, and made up of a variety of nationalities, to come to the aid of Vienna. Historian Lonnie Johnson continues, "The massive walls and bastions of Vienna, state-of-the-art seventeenth century fortifications, and an international contingent of 12,000 troops were responsible for holding the Turks at bay until relief could be organized, but the city took a terrible beating in the process" (Johnson 97).

The Turks clearly had the advantage, and had several opportunities to overtake the Christian forces, but for some reason, Kara Mustafa ignored the advice of others, and did not take and hold the slopes around the city, or anticipate the arriving Poles, who both shored up the city's defenses and gave the Austrians and other forces new hope for success. One group of historians noted, "Each of the intervening slopes might have been held by the Turks, and days must then have been spent in forcing an arduous path to the city walls. But all precautions had been neglected" (Ward, Prothero, and Leathes 362). In fact, the allied forces swept through two advance guard forces and moved straight into the Turkish camp, and the Turks, surprised and frightened, simply abandoned the area and retreated. At first, the allies believed the Turkish retreat was another battle plan, but by 10am the morning following the only major battle, the forces discovered the entire Turkish camp was deserted, and Vienna was safe (Ward, Prothero, and Leathes 362). The Turks would never fight another battle on European soil.

The Siege of Vienna is quite significant in Muslim history for a wide variety of reasons. First, it was the end of their aggression in Europe. Europe would never fear the Turks again, and the Muslim worlds' boundaries were set, with their lands in the Middle East and Turkey making up their territory, while the Christians dominated Europe. In addition, the Siege illustrated just how strong the Turks were, but that they did not have good leadership, or they could have easily taken over Vienna, and then marched on toward Paris and Germany. The battle was a key turning point in Christianity, because if it had gone differently, the entire European continent could have been predominately Muslim today.

Finally, the Battle of Constantinople, fought in 1483 between the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople was a compelling victory for the Ottomans, and created the foundation for their move into Europe via Spain. Historian Johnson continues, "After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire entered a new phase of continental European expansion, and the southern border of Central Europe became a fluctuating military frontier for the next 400 years" (Johnson 25). The leader of the Ottoman forces was Sultan Mohammed II, and Constantine XI led the city's forces. The Turks surrounded the city, and effectively barricaded the harbor, so the Byzantines inside the city were cut off from supplies and help. The Turks had a massive cannon that helped them breach the walls of the city and enter it on May 29, 1483. The Turkish navy was also involved, and so there was fighting on both land and sea around the city. The Byzantine forces were highly outnumbered, but they did manage to hold off the invaders for 46 days. When the Turks entered the city, they made a tremendous clamor with tambourines, cymbals, and "terrifying war cries" (Herrin 12). In return, Constantine XI ordered all the church bells rung, so during the final battle, the noise was horrendous. Women and children joined in the fight, but in the end, Constantinople fell (Herrin 12). The Turks renamed the city Istanbul, and made it the center of their empire in the Middle East.

In the end, the Byzantine empire was effectively erased, and the Ottoman Empire took over as the ruling power in the area. Constantinople was a perfect location to send out their forces into…

Sources Used in Document:


Cowie, Leonard W. Sixteenth-Century Europe. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1977.

Esposito, John L. Islam, The Straight Path, 3rd edition.

Herrin, Judith. "The fall of Constantinople." History Today June 2003: 12+.

Johnson, Lonnie. Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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