1683: Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha, for the Battle of Vienna

4 comments December 25th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1683, the commander who just months before had brought the Turkish army to the gates of Vienna was executed in Belgrade for losing one of the pivotal battles in European history.

The Battle of Vienna saw the Ottoman Empire’s high tide and its last great bid to capture control of the strategic Danube city.

Despite an army of well over 100,000 that had besieged a frightened garrison numbering fewer than 20,000 soldiers and civilians, Kara Mustafa Pasha had been unable to reduce the city, and then decisively beaten after the timely arrival of a 70,000-strong relief force under the command of the Polish monarch Jan Sobieski. Here’s a great Italian map of the battle, with Mustafa himself hanging out in the lower corner; apparently, you can buy the original.

For both contemporaries and posterity, the “miraculous” defeat of an overwhelming Turkish threat by a coalition of Christian forces — a sort of earthbound equivalent to the previous century’s Battle of Lepanto — has appeared as a signal clash-of-civilizations event. In the right audience, a knowing 1683 reference is a sort of dominionist gang handshake.

So, anyway: big win.

If the blame for the defeat — Sobieski’s intervention apart — lay at Kara Mustafa’s door, it was due less to his decision to march straight for Vienna than to a number of technical miscalculations on his part, such as failing to bring heavy artillery to the siege but relying instead on light guns … inadequate to breach Vienna’s strongly fortified walls …

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha had long been a close adviser of the Sultan, but any doubts Mehmed IV might have harboured about him were given substance during his absence on campaign as plotters fabricated reports of disorder in the empire. On hearing of the defeat at Vienna, one of the plotters … announced, in the words of Silahdar Findiklih Mehmed Agha, that ‘our enemy is finished with; the time is ripe for revenge’ …

Mehmed succumbed to the pressure from Kara Mustafa’s detractors, and the Grand Vezir was executed in Belgrade on Christmas Day 1683 while engaged in planning a new advance for the following spring … a skull in Vienna’s city museum is commonly believed to be his.

The Austrian victory at Vienna cost the Turks more than Mustafa’s service, which was quite a lot in itself. (Twelve different viziers held the post in the two decades after Kara Mustafa Pasha was strangled.)

The empire’s longstanding (and to Christendom, terrifying) expansionist posture towards Europe was at an end; in the future, the Musulman would have to ward off the Christian.

Ensuing Holy League victories wrested central Europe away from Constantinople, inaugurating a long Ottoman stagnation that would culminate in the empire’s destruction after World War I.

The Hapsburgs — though likewise marked for calamity in the War to End All Wars — for their part won hegemony in central Europe … and, it is said, the literal coffee beans captured as war booty with which to brew the famous Viennese cafe scene.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,No Formal Charge,Ottoman Empire,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Serbia,Strangled,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1798: Rigas Feraios, Greek poet

Add comment June 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1798, the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios and five co-conspirators were strangled by their Ottoman captors on the Danube River en route to Constantinople to prevent their rescue.

A Vlach by blood, Feraios was a hero — and ultimately a martyr — of Greek independence years before the revolution against Ottoman rule that would deliver it.

A Renaissance man for the Greek Enlightenment, Feraios had a variegated youthful career knocking about the Ottomans’ Balkan possessions and absorbing the revolutionary Zeitgeist abroad in Europe.

Settling in Vienna in his mid-thirties, he brandished his pen in the service of an imagined pan-Balkan, pan-Hellenic uprising to shake off the Turkish yoke. He edited the first Greek newspaper, published a map* and constitution for the imagined realm of the “Inhabitants of Rumeli, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Aegean, and the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia”, and churned out blood-stirring poetry in Demotic, the vernacular tongue — most memorably, the Thourio, i.e., “War Hymn”.

… and a little taste of the gist, in English:

How long, my heroes, shall we live in bondage,
alone,like lions on ridges, on peaks?
Living in caves, seeing our children turned
from the land to bitter enslavement?
Losing our land, brothers, and parents,
our friends, our children, and all our relations?
Better an hour of life that is free
than forty years in slavery.

This sort of fire-breather is not the sort of man the Ottomans were keen on seeing involve himself with Bonaparte, most especially now that the French kingpin had started outfitting Oriental adventures. The Turks’ Austrian allies nabbed Feraios in Trieste en route to confer with Napoleon’s Italian subalterns about interfering in the Balkans.

Shipped to the governor of Belgrade, Feraios was to be sent to Constantinople for adjudication by Sultan Selim III. A Turkish buddy of the poet’s, however, happened to be blocking the way with a sizable force of his own who’d been administering a rebel statelet carved out of Ottoman territory. Tipped that this gentleman was keen to liberate the Turks’ unwelcome prisoners if they tried to pass, the local authorities had them summarily strangled and their bodies dumped in the Danube.


A Rigas Feraois monument in Belgrade. (Author’s photograph, in terrible light.)

* Including Constantinople. The dream of “Greater Greece” would persist long, and die hard.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Strangled,Summary Executions,Torture,Treason

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