Today in European history: the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699)

You know that old joke about how the “Holy Roman Empire” was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire? Well, speaking as a history pedant, that joke would be better if it were told about the 1683-1699 Great Turkish War. I mean, the Holy Roman Empire may not have been especially holy (although that’s subjective), and it wasn’t Roman, but it was an empire. The Great Turkish War, on the other hand, wasn’t great (also subjective, but it definitely wasn’t so great if you were in the Ottoman army), wasn’t “Turkish” (Turkish nationalism was still more than a century away), and it wasn’t a war, it was actually a series of them.

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One thought on “Today in European history: the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699)

  1. Man, these pingbacks get confusing. Should I comment on this post, or on the 2018 post referencing it?

    Anyway. I somewhat disagree with the revisionist “Ottomans weren’t really in decline” school. No, it wasn’t fourth century Rome. But there’s a very obvious difference between Ottoman performance in land campaigns in the 16th and early 17th century, and their performance after 1683. The Ottomans had lost land battles before. But losses tended to be intermittent and flukey; they almost always won the battles that mattered, and they never got *repeatedly* defeated in sequence in such a way as to force them to sign away territory.

    Furthermore, it’s noteworthy that their major losses were against the Hapsburgs, who even in the late 1600s were not exactly the cutting edge of European military competence. During this same period, the Hapsburgs were repeatedly getting their asses kicked all over central Europe and the Low Countries by the armies of Louis XIV. Their one crushing victory against Louis was at Blenheim, where a British general was in charge and where English and Dutch troops did the heavy lifting. We know what Prince Eugene did to the Ottomans; pause for a moment and imagine what the Duke of Marlborough might have accomplished.

    Also, I think it’s possible to overstate the dogpile-on-the-Ottomans aspect. Basically this was another Ottoman-Hapsburg faceoff with some help from the Poles. The Venetians played a very minor role, and the Russians not much more. As you note, once the Treaty was signed, the Ottomans were able to pick off the Russians and reclaim Azov, and then pick off the Venetians and reclaim the Morea. The Russians wouldn’t be a serious threat to the Ottomans until the time of Catherine, three generations later.

    Anyway. The treaty had a huge and lasting effect on the map of Europe. Before 1683, what’s now Budapest was a lovely Turkish provincial capital, with mosques and caravanserais and janissaries sipping sherbet while listening to Persian poetry. That city was literally wiped off the map and the beginnings of the modern town built on its ruins. More importantly from the Ottoman POV, Hungary, Vojvodina, Transylvania and the Morea had been important revenue-producing provinces, and Hungary had been a key source of cavalry horses. So these were serious losses.

    Finally, note that this is the second beginning for Hungarian history. For 170 years, “Hungary” had been a thin strip of land along the Austrian border under the Hapsburgs, then the plains of central Hungary where a Christian peasantry labored under Ottoman overlords, then Transylvania which was a bunch of Ottoman tributaries. Karlowitz put all of this under Hapsburg rule. That it would stay under Hapsburg rule for the next 200+ years was not a foregone conclusion, and the next generation of Hungarian history is a story of desperate rebellion. The attempt to forge a new independent Hungarian kingdom between the Haps and the Ottomans ultimatelyfailed, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

    Doug M.

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