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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe

The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe - Andrew Wheatcroft This book recounts the collision of empires by describing the many pitched battles that raged for centuries between the Habsburgs and Ottomans and their numerous vassal states on both sides. It was touted on both sides as being a clash of the Godly versus the infidel.

Territory was the aim. But there was another less tangible motivation, the claim of heir to the legacy of the Roman Empire. I didn’t realize before I read this book that the Ottoman Sultans considered themselves to be the true successors to the title of Roman Emperor because they had conquered the Byzantines and seized Constantinople. Thus, two hundred years later in 1683, when Sultan Mehmed IV sent his armies to conquer Vienna he was setting out to take away the capitol city of the Habsburgs who claimed the title of Holy Roman Empire (a title often regarded as a triple oxymoron).

The author reviews the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. A major part of the book is spent telling the story of the second siege of Vienna in 1683 (the first siege was in 1529). The Ottomans had conquered much of southeastern Europe up to and including Hungary, and since it bordered Austria, it was next in line. The siege lasted a couple months and the Ottomans had managed to breach the defenses and were probably one day away from storming into the central city when relief armies of allied Christian forces arrived. What followed was the Battle of Vienna.

The book then follows relations between Austria and Turkey in subsequent years. Ironically, after being mortal enemies for hundreds of years Turkey and Austria were allies during World War I. And today there are those warning that if Turkey is allowed to join the European Economic Union that the Battle of Vienna would have been fought in vain. It’s interesting how selective memories can be in order to suit particular political leanings.