So Baron Munchausen lied after all: The Turks didn’t have heavy artillery at Vienna. Just so, Stoye (History/Magdalen College, Oxford) carefully amends much of what we know about that famed siege.
The Ottoman Empire did not advance on Vienna by whim in 1683. One of its interests was to keep Hungary, “a cluster of fortresses in water-logged country,” in the Turkish camp by, among other things, suppressing non-Islamic religions more or less equally, giving Protestantism equal footing with Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The Ottoman’s understanding of European divisions was essentially correct, since Eastern Europe feared Rome more than Istanbul. The Habsburgs, meanwhile, reckoned the Ottomans a negotiable threat, sure that “Louis XIV was more to be feared than Mehmed IV,” since France was emerging as a continental power with expansionist ambitions of its own. But then, so was Poland, and so was Russia, and so were various German states. The Habsburgs amended their view when 100,000 Ottoman soldiers, including fine cavalry and artillery, arrived at the gates of Vienna and laid a siege that, for a time, was a business-as-usual sort of thing—until hunger and disease settled in. Effectively unable to do much, and beset by rebel forces from fallen colonies, the Habsburgs let it slip that they could use help, whereupon those ambitious powers competed to relieve Vienna. Yet they also worked in alliance, given powerful stimulus in the “military implications if Kara Mustafa permanently lodged an Ottoman garrison in the heart of Europe.” Finally, the siege was lifted when the famed Polish warrior king Jan Sobieski arrived with 30,000 well-trained soldiers, closely followed by 40,000 troops led by French Duke Charles V. Better armed and led, the allied forces secured the region from the Turks, setting the Ottomans on a slow course of decline.
A solid, if staid, narrative of events once well-known throughout Europe, and now the province of a few specialists.