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War Against the Turk:
Early Empire 15th to 18th centuries


Although the military campaigns of the Crusades against the Levant had ended in the 13th century, the mindset behind them never completely dissipated. The Islamic world had been set up in European eyes as the permanent other to which they defined themselves. Their lands were exotic, their inhabitants a perpetual threat. These perceived differences would hold up through both war and peace, and color all interactions. Post-crusader conflicts arose from nationalistic urges of self determination along with the imperialist desire for empire, but older beliefs revolving around religion and intolerance could not be completely erased. Public opinion could still be shaped by exposing the otherworldly characteristics of this foe. Jews and Muslims had become permanent enemies of the Occident, even if sometimes allied on a political level.

(See the chapter on Early Warfare in this Guide for more information on the Crusades)

These long standing attitudes were reinforced in 19th century through Orientalism. As art and literature came to represent the Muslim world in terms of the exotic and the other, they created a uniform perception in popular Western culture that did little to distinguish between the cultures of Morocco and India. Orientalism was not designed to provide a true understanding of other societies but to codify them into something that could be easily grasped regardless of whether it was true or not. It is an expression of Western perception rather than reality. As such it came to color our perceptions of the Orient and still does so to this day, creating a world where curiosities can be sought without giving up notions of superiority. This perspective greatly affected the imagery placed on postcards, which needed to match public expectations if sales were to be made.

The Ottoman Empire began in the 14th century under the leadership of Oman I, who began the consolidation of Turkish tribes that had moved into Anatolia from Central Asia. They absorbed the last remnants of Byzantium with the capture of Constantinople in 1453, and turned the great city into their own capital (Istanbul). The Ottomans continued to expand into Muslim lands until the Mamluk Empire of North Africa and Persian Mesopotamia were under their control. By now nearly any Muslin regardless of ethnicity was referred to as the Turk by Europeans. The Ottomans then began expanding their empire into Europe through the 16th century, conquering the Balkans and pressing into Hungary. Attempts to capture Vienna were first made in 1529, but were not successful. While many of the conflicts discussed in this section are primarily focused on various ethnicities struggling for autonomy, the prospect of territorial gain also played a significant role.

Some peripheral struggles in the region are also covered here, for while they may have not been directed against the Ottomans they are crucial to the understanding of this general arena.

The Crusade of Varna   1443-1444

When Pope Eugene IV called for a crusade against the Ottoman Turks who were advancing into Europe, King Wladyslaw III answered the call. His army initially inflicted some major blows before a truce was agreed to, but this peace proved temporary as it was used to organize a larger campaign launched in 1444. A Venetian fleet was supposed to cut off Ottoman reinforcements from Anatolia but it never arrived. When the Crusader army of mainly Hungarians, Polish, and Czechs confronted the Ottomans at Varna, they found themselves outnumbered and suffered a major defeat. Free of threat from the West, the Ottomans were then able to turn their attention toward capturing Constantinople.


The highlight of the Battle of Varna as captured by artists was when King Wladyslaw III made a rash attempt to capture Sultan Murad II, only to have his own head taken after this attack failed. While this defeat hardly seems like an event that Polish publishers would want to place on postcards, it must be remembered that this is history long past. While a contemporary war would require careful editing to make sure the image did not conflict with current propaganda concerns, this battle is but one episode in the long war against the Turk. It does not glorify a defeat but the long struggle that helped to form Polish identity and their national myth. We can still feel its presence throughout Eastern Europe today in debates over taking immigrants from the Middle East. Such a long history is hard to erase, and through understanding this past we can better understand the present.

Crimean Tartars

The Crimean Khanate founded in the 13th century on the north shore of the Black Sea was one of the many remnants of the Golden Horde. It once served as a separate administrative entity, but as the Golden Horde began to disintegrate, Hajji Giray proclaimed himself an independent ruler in 1449. The Ottoman Turks began invading Crimea in 1475, and before the century ended it had become a vassal state. Though the term Tatar derives from a single Mongolian tribe, it eventually came to be used by Europeans to describe anyone from the Mongol Empire. As this empire shrank eastward, it was increasingly applied to those who gave up the nomadic life and settled in Crimea.


As the Kingdom of Muscovy under Ivan III grew in strength, they refused the role of a vassal state and stopped paying tribute to Khanate of Crimea. Despite their growing differences they eventually joined in an alliance to fight the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that was expanding eastward through the Ukraine. In 1487 a Polish army won a battle against them near Kopstrzyn, but they then suffered a defeat near Wisniowiec in 1494. Fighting would go back and fourth continually until 1506 with no decisive winners. These violent rivalries came to represent the essence of the region.

The Long War   1593-1606


Magnates (Noblemen) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been engaged in the affairs of the Ottoman vassal Moldavia for some time. The Ottomans had generally turned a blind eye to this meddling because of the animosity between the Austrians and the Poles. The Long War had changed things as the Poles now came to support their Christian neighbors, even if they were ruled by Hapsbergs. In 1595 a Polish army moved into Moldavia to secure it as a vassal. While this was met by Ottoman resistance, it was ineffectual and they eventually agreed to jointly rule Moldavia as a condominium.


In 1599 Mihai Viteazul seized power in Transylvania in an effort to unite it with Moldavia and Walachia. While he managed to take most of Moldavia, a Commonwealth army returned in 1600 and seized the entire region after the Battle of the Tleajan River. Eventually this army had to be withdrawn to help handle the Swedish invasion of Livonia, and Hapsburg forces then moved in to fill the vacuum. The Poles made a feeble attempt to retake Moldavia in 1606 and this failed.

Looking for allies in their fight against the Swedes, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth entered a formal alliance with the Hapsburgs in 1613, which only strained their relations with the Ottomans. When a private Magnate army invaded Moldavia in 1615 and took power, the Ottomans countered the following year and regained control. A large Ottoman army then entered the Commonwealth where they were met by a Polish army under Stanislaw Zolkiewski. Already respectively strained by wars against the Persians and the Swedes, they decided not to engage in battle and began negotiations. In the 1617 Treaty of Busza, the Commonwealth agreed to end their interference in Moldavia as well as in Transylvania and Walachia, and both sides agreed to end Cossack and Tartar raids into each other’s respective territory.

The Polish Ottoman War   1620-1621


As the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth drove the Tartars and Russians from the Ukraine, their conquests grew until they came up to the borders of the Ottoman Empire. The latter 16th century can be characterized by Tartars continually raiding the Ukraine from the Crimea, and the Ukrainian Cossacks continually raiding Ottoman towns along the Black Sea. While no outright war ensued, tensions were ever increasing. While both sides in the 1617 Treaty of Busza promised they would end these raids, most Polish and Ottoman forces were too busy fighting elsewhere to enforce it and the raids only grew more frequent.


In 1620 the Moldavians rose up against Ottoman control and asked the Commonwealth for assistance. A small Polish force under Stanislas Zolkiewski moved in to join with up with the Moldavians only to find they had barely raised an army as promised. The new young Ottoman Sultan, Osman II sent in his army to crush the rebellion, and after a long running battle they destroyed the Polish forces at Cecora where they took ZolkiewskiÕs head. A larger Commonwealth army then descended on Moldavia, defeating the Ottomans at the Battle of Chocim. Peace was quickly negotiated in this largely unwanted war, and both sides agreed once again to stop Cossack and Tartar raids.

Although many of these early wars with the Ottomans come down to us today as obscure conflicts, representations of them still find their way onto postcards. Most of these seem to be printed in Poland after the First World War. Like many new or reborn nations, all early elements of their history are drawn upon to create a sense of legitimacy. These cards say, yes we deserve to exist, just look at our past. It is the more heroic acts of struggle that are revived on cards along with their heroes. Taken together they work to create a myth of a people and raise patriotic feelings that keep a nation united. If the situation allowed, some of these cards may have been published before independence to drum up the same patriotic feelings. Most governments however knew these types of cards were used to aid independence movements, and did not look kindly upon the publishers who produced them. Sometimes this was gotten around by creating oversees offices in exile for just such purposes.

The Great Turkish War   1648-1699

The Great Turkish War is actually made up of a series of conflicts that mark the start of the Ottoman Empire’s decline. Christians were no longer pitted against Muslims in a religious struggle as much as these were contests for Empire. Tensions had long been strained between the Poles and the Ottomans. Cossack raids on Black Sea ports and Turk and Tartar raids into the Ukraine led to all out war by 1614. While the Polish victory at Chocim in 1621 brought forth a truce, there was still no end to the raiding.

The Cossack Rebellion   1648-1654

After the Treaty of Lublin transferred control over most of the Ukraine from Lithuania to Poland, the harsher feudal system imposed by the Poles led to unrest. Open rebellion by the Cossacks under the leadership of Bohdan Khmelnytsky broke out in 1648. What made this conflict possible was the Cossack alliance with the Tartars from the Khanate of Crimea, an Ottoman Vassal. Alliance for political gain had trumped religious differences. The Polish victory at the Battle of Berestechko in 1651 ended the Cossack-Tartar threat but not all the hostilities, which would drag on for years weakening both sides.

Russo-Polish War   1654-1667


While Russia supported the Cossack Rebellion of 1648 they only became involved militarily in 1654 when they sent an army into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to capture Smolensk. This was followed by a string of Russian victories that might have crushed the Commonwealth had they not been reinforced the following year by their new ally, the Khanate of Crimea. Charles X seized upon this point of weakness and sent the Swedish army into the Commonwealth in 1655, setting of The Great Northern War. This period lasting to 1660 is often referred to as the Deluge. While not technically part of the Great Turkish War, this conflict devastated the Commonwealth, preventing it from strongly replying to Russian and Ottoman threats. Russia now fearing that the collapse of the Commonwealth would strengthen its other enemies signed an armistice and together they formed a shaky alliance against Sweden. The Russians were then able to divert all their forces into attacking Swedish held Livonia.

The Cossacks fearing the new Polish-Russian alliance against Sweden might eventually be used against them began negotiations of their own. In 1658 they united into the Grand Duchy of Ruthenia, which formed an alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Treaty of Hadiach. Fearing a loss of influence over the Ukraine, the Russians quickly negotiated a treaty with Sweden and then renewed their invasion of the Commonwealth. After the Commonwealth negotiated its own treaty with Sweden in 1660 its consolidated forces began to push the Russians back. Despite the Polish victories at Polonka and Vitebsk, the new Polish-Cossack alliance proved unpopular and fell apart due to internal bickering. Ukrainian territory east of the Dnieper including Smolensk and Kiev were ceded to Russia. Even after the war officially ended, sporadic fighting still continued between the Russians and the Cossacks until 1681.

Polish-Ottoman War   1672-1676

As Cossack fractions fought for control over the Ukraine, the hetman Petro Doroshenko made use of the regionÕs unrest to form an alliance with the Khanate of Crimea. He accepted the position of Vassal in exchange for military support, and then took advantage of the weakness of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth caused by years of fighting to launch his attack. He was aided by Tartars who sent troops across the border but they were defeated by Jan Sobieski at the Battle of Podhajce. By 1672 regular units of the Ottoman Empire launched a full scale invasion of the Commonwealth. With the backing of Christian Cossacks unhappy with the new Muslim alliance, Sobieski won some tactical victories, but the lack of full support by his own parliament who feared his ambitions allowed his much larger foe to push him back. The Peace of Buchach was then signed in which some Ukrainian territory and tribute were ceded to the Turks.

The Commonwealth outraged by the terms of the treaty refused to ratify it and raised a new army under Sobieski instead. Despite defeating the Turks at Khotyn and Chocim the Commonwealth still found itself too week to press its advantage further. While they regained some lost territory they eventually ceded other parcels to the Turks without any conditions of tribute. SobieskiÕs victories greatly raised his popularity and he was elected King of Poland in 1674.

The Holy League   1683-1699


While the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold of Austria was preoccupied with threats from France, he bargain away Hungarian territory in exchange for peace with the Ottoman Empire. Sensing they could gain more if greater pressure were applied, the Ottoman Turks invaded in 1683 on the pretense of aiding the ongoing rebellion in Hungary. They quickly laid siege to Vienna, but this caused unprecedented cooperation between Austria and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth who united to form the Holy League. The Polish King Sobieski then marched on Vienna and broke the siege. This allowed the Austrians to make a new advanced against the Turks, which resulted in the reconquest of Hungary and Transylvania. The war continued on in the Balkans until Austrian won a major victory at Zenta in 1697. The Treaty of Karlowitz signed in 1699 would cede Ottoman territory to both Austria and Poland.


The Great Turkish War combined with the Deluge devastated Eastern Europe, and the dominating power of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was now broken. There were so few winners to be found that it is not surprising that the events surrounding these conflicts have not spawned many commemorative postcards. The only incident marked in number is the Holy LeagueÕs victory over the Turks at Vienna in 1683. It is often referenced as the turning point of Ottoman expansion or where Christianity was saved; though the idea of any high water mark in this long complicated conflict has to be seriously questioned. While this campaign marked the furthest reach of the Ottomans into Europe, years of fighting had already put them into serious decline. If victorious they would have probably only looked for further territorial gains in Poland, which is one of the reasons that Poland entered into the Holy League.


The Great Turkish War was a conflict of territorial conquest, not religious jihad; yet it is the false perception that the battle for Vienna saved western Christianity that makes it stand out amidst decades of fighting. It has come down to us as myth rather than history and as such it has retained the staying power to be represented on postcards. The meaning of this event is so well ingrained into European society that it need not be represented by anything more than battle scenes.


The defense of Vienna from the Turks became the primary symbol for the defense of Christianity as a whole. This idea was so widely accepted that even 20th century artists had no problem making these references. The Austrian artist Josefine Allmayer did not ordinarily tackle historical motifs in her dutone silhouettes, but her inclination toward religious themes caused her to tackle this conflict. She illustrated a set of religious cards, Die Turken vor Wien 1714, for Helmat & Volk that only subtlety referenced combat.

Venetian-Ottoman & Austro-Ottoman Wars   1714-1718

Wishing to reclaim the territory lost in the Great Turkish War, the Ottomans Declared war on Venice at the end of 1714 while Austria was preoccupied with the War of the Spanish Succession. In the year that followed the Turks captured the islands of Tinos and Aigina, the last Venetian possessions in the Aegean Sea. They would descend upon the Peloponnese (Morea) from Macedonia in June by capturing Corinth. The siege of the city had been short, but the massacre of its inhabitants was immortalized in legend.

Having been unhappy with Venetian occupation, few Greeks rallied to their support when the Ottomans attacked. This forced the Venetians to rely totally on mercenary troops, which soon became bottled up in their forts. When the main Venetian stronghold at Nafplion fell after a brief siege, the other forts surrendered soon afterwards leaving all of the Peloponnese in Ottoman hands. They followed this victory with an invasion of the Ionian Islands in July, but several assaults against the strong fortifications of Corfu ended in failure and the siege was lifted by the end of August. Another Ottoman army marched out of Bosnia in July with hopes of seizing Dalmatia but they were defeated at the Battle of Sinj.

The Ottoman incursion toward the Dalmatian coast threatened Austria’s interests in the area, and Emperor Charles VI renewed his alliance with Venice. This in turn caused the Ottomans to declare war on Austria. By the summer of 1716 a large Ottoman army had bee concentrated at Belgrade under the Grand Vizier Damat Ali that began moving along the Danube into Hapsburg territory. There he met the Austrian army led by Prince Eugene of Savoy who decisively defeated the Turks at the Battle of Petrovaradin. The battlefield remains a site of religious pilgrimage.


In 1717 Prince Eugene moved against the large Ottoman garrison holding the fortress at Belgrade. While he managed to cross the Danube and lay siege to it from its weaker south side, he soon had to contend with additional Turkish forces sent to relieve the city. Things were looking doubtful for the Austrians, but when a mortar round unexpectedly blew up the fortressesÕ magazine killing thousands, Prince Eugene launched an attack amidst the chaos and took the city.

The Austrian victory at Belgrade forced the Ottomans to cede territory over to them in the Treaty of Passarowitz. The Turks would eventually return and recapture these lands, and this back and forth fighting would come to represent the Balkans. While the purpose behind most of these conflicts were to expand empire, the religious hatred it engendered and strengthened through the centuries caused fierce loyalties and hatreds to become ingrained to the region. These feelings lingered well beyond this immediate power struggle. While it must be acknowledged that military enthusiasts have an interest in all wars, we cannot fail to consider the role religious divides played when publishers were choosing subjects to be represented on postcards.

War of the Coalition of the Bar   1768

After the Seven Years War ended, Russia gained ever more influence over Polish affairs, and in 1767 Empress Catherine the Great forced Poland to accept a new constitution to her liking. This stirred much unrest and in 1768 the Confederation of the Bar was organized to form an armed resistance against Russian influence. The Russians easily defeated the forces led by Casmir Pulaski at the Battle of Podolia and then went on to seize the fortress of Bar.

Russo-Turkish War   1769-1774

The surviving Polish rebels from War of the Coalition of the Bar fled to the Ottoman Empire but they were pursued over the border by Russian forces. At Balta Cossacks massacred Poles and Turks alike and this incident led the Ottoman Sultan to declare war on Russia. The Russians made the opening move in 1769 by sending its armies across the Dniester into Bessarabia. Despite some strong resistance they were able to continue their advanced into Wallachia capturing Bucharest. In 1770 the Ottomans tried to halt further Russian advances but were defeated at the Battle of Kagul.


With the aid of fire ships the Russians unexpectedly destroyed the Turkish navy at Chesma the following year and assumed dominance over the Black Sea. Although the Russians were now poised to march on Constantinople, the competing European powers that feared Russia’s influence in the Mediterranean encouraged negotiations instead. With the Austrian army sitting on the Russian flank threatening to aid The Ottomans, the Russians halted their advance and began to negotiate. With talks going nowhere, the Russians renewed their attack on the Ottomans in 1774. After their defeat at Kozludzha, the Turks finally agreed to sign a peace treaty.


The Treaty of Ku¨uk Kaynarca gave the Ottomans back most of the territory it lost to Russia during the war but Russia gained access to two Black Sea ports. The vassal state of Crimea also gained its independence, which was a major blow to the Ottoman Empire. Afterwards Crimea’s affairs were largely controlled by Russia under Catherine the Great who formally annexed the territory in 1783. With most of Byzantium now under control of the Muslim Ottomans, Catherine saw this annexation as a bid to restore the glory of the Eastern Orthodox Empire. This action however almost led to another war with the Ottoman Empire. After the Turks initial defeat, Russia was also able to annexed much of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth into its own Empire after making an agreement with Austria and Prussia in 1772 (The First Partition of Poland).

Second Russo-Turkish War   1787-1792

Spurred on by British and French fears of Russian expansionism, the Ottomans declared war on Russia in 1787 with hopes of recapturing their lost territory of Crimea. They were ill prepared for this war, and while they held their own against the armies of RussiaÕs new ally Austria, the Russians captured Ottoman strongholds in Bessarabia in 1788. Meanwhile the Ottoman invasion of Crimea was repulsed at the Battle of Kinburn. The Ottoman navy was also defeated at the mouth of the Dnieper by John Paul Jones of American Revolutionary fame, now commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. After repulsing an Ottoman invasion of Bosnia, the Austrians took the offensive to Serbia where they captured Belgrade. The Russians would win one final victory in 1790 at Ismail. Plagued by defeats and serious uprisings in Greece, The Ottomans agreed to sign a treaty in 1792 in which both sides made territorial concessions.

Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt   1798-1801

(See the Napoleonic Wars section of this Guide for information on this campaign)

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