A Few of Our Biographies:
Fifty Important Battles
This is Part One of a five-part article. Each section covers 10 battles; the article is organized chronologically from the 1500s forward.
Did war, to borrow a phrase from historians Will and Ariel Durant, generate the love of Heloise and Abelard, the gospel of Buddha, or the poems of Keats? No, except in some wildly roundabout way.
That said, author Robert Heinlein is probably pretty close to the truth when he writes, "Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst." Another relevant quote: "War," said peace-loving Thomas Hardy, "makes rattling good history."
Here are summaries of 50 exercises in naked force from the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 20th. The focus here is on the background and implications of the battles rather than the nitty-gritty of tactics and troop movements. We note that more - many more - than 50 great battles occurred during these centuries (Malta, Lutzen, Hohenfriedberg, Quebec, Trenton, Peregonovka, El Alamein, etc.). Our primary goal here is to present a relatively concise sampling in order to generate interest in further reading.
Each item includes reading suggestions. Several books offer overviews of many of these encounters, including "100 Decisive Battles From Ancient Times to the Present" by Paul K. Davis (1999; the book focuses on tactics), "Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,200 Battles From Antiquity Through the Twenty-First Century" edited by Anthony Patrick Pierce Jaques (2006, three volumes), "An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1,560 Battles From 1479 B.C. to the Present" by David Eggenberger (1985, revised edition), "The Reader's Companion to Military History" edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker (2001), and "Battles: A Concise Dictionary" by Ian V. Hogg (1995). See also "The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815" by Tim Blanning (2007), Part Four.
See here for a Q-and-A interview with an editor of military history books.
Osprey Publishing puts out concise, illustrated works about many battles and wars. See also the "Warfare and History" series published by Routledge. Also see the Websites britishbattles.com, firstworldwar.com, world-war-2.info, and onwar.com.
From his base of Tabriz, Ismail conquered the Iranian plateau within a few years. His group, the Safavids, were Shi’a Muslims (also rendered as "Shi’ite" and "Shiite"); their enemies were Sunnis. The Shi’a were a small minority among Muslims globally in the 16th century (and remain so to this day), while the Sunnis were, and are, the orthodoxy. Ismail's Safavids violently persecuted the Sunnis. Meanwhile, Shi’a Muslims in other regions took inspiration from Ismail and rebelled against Sunnis; Sunnis fought back. Sunni leader Selim the Grim eventually defeated Ismail.
"Through the sixteenth century," writes historian William McNeill, "the Safavi empire (launched by Ismail) remained a profoundly disturbing force in the Moslem world, dedicated to the defense and propagation of Shi’a doctrines at home and abroad." The disturbance contributed to a decline of Islamic free inquiry, which, in turn, led to the inability of Muslim lands to keep up with an emerging Western Europe. McNeill writes,
The harsh collision between Shi’a and Sunni in the sixteenth century may have fastened Moslem minds more strongly to ancient formulae of truth and encouraged the neglect of those elements in the Islamic intellectual heritage which might have permitted them more nearly to keep pace with Europe’s extraordinary series of cultural and economic revolutions. Something like the spirt of the Italian Renaissance had been (present in the Moslem world before the sixteenth century), but Selim the Grim and Suleiman the Lawgiver (Sunnis of the sixteenth century) undertook to suppress dangerous thoughts in the Ottoman empire....Suleiman was so far successful that no revival of the inquiring, innovating spirit which in seventeenth-century Europe gave birth to modern literature and science ever occurred in the Ottoman empire (or in any other Moslem state). Herein, far more than in the loss of middlemen’s profits from the spice trade, lay the central failure of Islam in modern times.
The intellectual history of Islam has become, since 9/11, a topic of compelling interest to many scholars, much discussed and debated.
See "The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community" by William McNeill (1963), "Iran Under the Safavids" by Roger Savory (1980), "Safavid Persia: The History and Politics of an Islamic Society" edited by C.P. Melville (1996), "Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566" by Roger Bigelow Merriman (1966 reprint), and "Dictionary of Battles and Sieges" edited by Anthony Patrick Pierce Jaques (2006). See also "Science: A History" by John Gribbin (2001) and "Science and Islam" by Muzaffar Iqbal (2008). Also see "Without God" by Steven Weinberg, The New York Review of Books, Sept. 28, 2008; Weinberg places the first failures of Islamic science around 1200 CE.
The seizure of Tenochtitlan was the "real" discovery of America, argues historian Hugh Thomas - it fully opened the New World to the Spanish Empire. Historian Francis J. Brooks takes a similar tack: "If that mythical moment – the birth of modern history – can be said to exist, it occurred on November 8, 1519, when Motecuzoma Xocoyotl (Montezuma II) and Hernan Cortes came face to face." (The battle for the capital came later, as noted.) See here for a pointed comment by historian Lloyd Kramer on the discovery of the New World.
Historians debate how Cortes and a group of largely untrained soldiers managed to easily defeat the Aztecs, an aggressive, war-loving people. One factor was, the Spaniards used manpower from Native American tribes that hated the Aztecs. Also the Aztecs were awed by the gunpowder, horses, and steel swords of the Spaniards. Another element in the story was Cortes’ ingenious use of seige tactics. In addition, many natives fell victim to European-borne smallpox. And Emperor Motecuzoma may have believed the Spaniards were gods. The critic Adam Kirsch, in his review of "After Tamerlane" by historian John Darwin (2008), offers Darwin’s summary of this period:
If the Spanish had not advanced so quickly from the Caribbean to mainland South America; if they had not found the local empires at odds with their own subject populations; above all, if European diseases had not proved so devastating to native immune systems, what Mr. Darwin calls ‘the Spanish blitzkrieg’ could not have succeeded.
And there's the possibility, presented in the TV documentary "Secrets of the Dead: Aztec Massacre" (2008), that the Spaniards didn't win as easily as historians have long thought, that the Aztecs fought back hard.
See "Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico" by Hugh Thomas (1994) and "Aztecs & Conquistadores: The Spanish Invasion and the Collapse of the Aztec Empire" by John Pohl and Charles M. Robinson III (2005). See also the classic "History of the Conquest of Mexico" by William H. Prescott (1843). Also see "The Real Discovery of America: Mexico, November 8, 1519" by Hugh Thomas (1992), "Moctezuma’s Mexico: Visions of the Aztec World" by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and David Carrasco (1992), "Conquistadors" by Michael Wood (2001, a companion volume to Wood’s TV documentary), and the historical novel "Aztec" by Gary Jennings (1997 reprint).
Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan (Chingiz Khan) and Tamerlane (Timur), called himself a Turk, though he was "in fact more a Mongol than a Turk," writes historian Abraham Eraly. He saw himself as a holy warrior for Islam. Before his foray into India he was a chieftain in Afghanistan pining for land. He invaded through the Khyber Pass, encountered a much larger Hindu force, used possibly the first cannons seen in the region, and won decisively. His grandson Akbar built on his victories and is regarded as the greatest Moghul ruler.
During the first century of their rule the Moghuls were "open-minded, tolerant...." writes Dalrymple - they regarded Hindus as partners. The flowering of Moghul culture came with construction of the Taj Mahal from 1623 to 1653.
Moghuls became less broad-minded in the late 1600s and Hindus rose in rebellion. Tension between the two religions continued over the centuries, unto to the present day - the Hindu-Muslim massacres in 1947 were horrific, and in the 21st century, Hindus and Muslims point nuclear weapons at each other from India and Pakistan, with hundreds of millions of lives hanging in the balance.
See "The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India's Great Emperors" by Abraham Eraly (2003) and "India: A History" by John Keay (1999). See also "Peacock Throne: The Drama of Mogul India" by Waldemar Hansen (1986), "The Mughal Empire" by John F. Richards (1996), "Babur the Tiger: First of the Great Moguls" by Harold Lamb (1961), and "The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857" by William Dalrymple. Also see "The Complete Taj Mahal" by Ebba Koch (2006).
Babur himself is author of a striking work titled "The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor" (2002 edition; translation by Wheeler M. Thackston with an introduction by Salman Rushdie).
Pizarro used treachery – or smart tactics, depending on how you look at it – to capture Atawallpa (also spelled Atahualpa) at Cajamarca. The Spaniard professed friendship to the Inca leader, lured him to the ambush, and seized him. Meanwhile he fired cannon barrages and launching a cavalry charge at thousands of lightly armed native warriors, who were not familiar with what guns and warhorses could do in battle. With their leader captured, the Incas panicked, stampeded, and were massacred.
In exchange for a promise to release Atawallpa, Pizarro accepted one of the most famous ransoms of history – a room loaded with gold (17 feet wide by 22 feet long, filled halfway to the ceiling) and a hut full of silver. Each Spanish horseman got 90 pounds of gold and 180 pounds of silver, borne to Cajamarca by trains of llamas. Nonetheless, Pizarro ordered Atawallpa’s execution; the deed was carried out on July 26, 1533.
Spain was Europe’s dominant nation in the 1500s and early 1600s, the first global empire. But, contrary to widespread belief, America's gold and silver, writes historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, played "only a small role" in this ascension. The "secret ingredient" in Spain's greatness, writes the scholar, was "the aristocracy’s extraordinary ethos of service to the crown....Kings enjoyed a unique 150 years free of aristocratic rebellion, while noblemen, gentlemen and would-be gentlemen gave their time, life and blood for deferred rewards and, sometimes, no reward at all." A significant part of that service was rendered in the New World.
Spain's Philip II (1527-1598) took full advantage of this ethos. Meanwhile, as a good Catholic, he labored to encourage Protestants to see the light; barring that, he wished to kill them and consign them to hell. (Protestants felt likewise about him.) Philip's primary home was the Escorial Palace near Madrid. The scene there is described by historians R. R. Palmer, Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer:
The Escorial was designed not only as a palace but as a monastery and a mausoleum. The monks moved in before the king, who, when he installed himself, brought with him eight coffins, those of his father, his dead wives, and his children, to remind him of his own. Here, in an atmosphere that could be painted only by El Greco, the king of Spain worked and lived, a slim figure dressed almost like a monk himself, always industrious, avid for detail, dispatching his couriers to Mexico, to Manila, to Vienna, to Milan, his troops and his bars of bullion to Italy and the Netherlands, his diplomats to all courts, and his spies to all countries, wholly and utterly absorbed in his one consuming project.
See "The Conquest of the Incas" by John Hemming (1970) and "Aztecs & Conquistadores: The Spanish Invasion and the Collapse of the Aztec Empire" by John Pohl and Charles M. Robinson III (2005). For an anthropological view of the natives see "The Incas" by Terence N. D’Altroy (2002). See also two books by Geoffrey Parker: "Philip II" (1995, third edition) and "The Grand Strategy of Philip II" (1998). Also see "History of the Conquest of Peru" by William H. Prescott (2000 reprint of a classic 19th century work), "The Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerers of Peru" by James Lockhart (1972), "Transatlantic Encounters: Europeans and Andeans in the Sixteenth Century" edited by Kenneth J. Andrien and Rolena Adorno (1991), and "Spain’s Men of the Sea: Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century" by Pablo E. Perez-Mallaina (1998). DVD: "Great Inca Rebellion" produced by National Geographic (2007).
The Ottoman Turkish Empire, a huge Islamic domain (though not the biggest of history - see "Panipat" above) lasted from the early 1300s to the early 1900s. (Lawrence of Arabia fought the Ottoman Turks in World War I.) The Turks expanded vigorously in the 1400s and 1500s in the Mediterranean and beyond, capturing Constantinople and Cairo and blazing a path through Hungary. The empire reached its apogee under Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566). Much of Europe trembled.
The outcome at Lepanto, if taken with the defeat of the Ottomans at Malta in 1565, caused the Turks to abandon "any idea of using their navy for an invasion of Europe," writes journalist and historian Ernle Bradford. Historian David Eggenberger regards Lepanto as "the greatest naval engagement since the battle of Actium in 31 B.C." Historian Serpil Atamaz-Hazar wrote in 2008 that the battle was a "crucial turning point in the ongoing conflict between the Middle East and Europe, which has not yet completely been resolved."
Here's a major shock - historians aren't unanimous in their assessment of the importance of Lepanto. Andrew C. Hess, writing in 1972 [Past and Present, November], doesn't see the battle as "the climactic event it appeared to be" to previous generations of scholars, calling it instead a "major frontier clash in the brutal struggle between two different and relatively powerful civilizations."
A side note having to do with Galileo (1564-1642). The Turks ravaged the Italian coast in the 16th century. These depredations ended only with Western European victories in the second half of the 1500s including Lepanto. A new sense of relative calm descended on Italy. (Another factor in this peace was the conclusion of the frightful Italian Wars of 1494-1559.) A useful result of tranquility, writes historian John U. Nef, was the flowering of the genius of Galileo. Peace "provided better conditions for speculative thought" than war, writes Nef, whose 1963 book "War and Human Progress: An Essay on the Rise of Industrial Civilization" was written to dispute the idea that war is the father of all things. And what, exactly, did Galileo do with all that nice peace? He laid the foundation stones for modern science and hence the modern world. A good introduction to Galileo is "The Hinge of the World" by Richard Goodwin (1998).
See "Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580" by Roger Crowley (2008) and "Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire" by Caroline Finkel (2005). See also "The Galleys at Lepanto" by Jack Beeching (1983; excellent popular history; not totally up-to-date in terms of scholarship, but this shouldn't bother non-experts). In addition, see "Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700" by Rhoads Murphey (1999), "Venice: A Maritime Republic" by Frederic C. Lane (1973), "The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600" by Halil Inalcik (1973 translation by Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber), "The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923" by Justin McCarthy (1997), and "Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World" by Stephen O'Shea (2007). Also see "Mediterranean: Portrait of a Sea" by Ernle Bradford (1971) and Bradford's "The Great Siege: Malta 1565" (1999 reissue), and "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion" by Stuart A. Kauffman (2008).
An epic poem about this battle is "Lepanto" by G.K. Chesterton, published in 1911, available here, also available with background essays in a book titled "Lepanto" edited by Dale Ahlquist published in 2004 by Ignatius Press. This a wonderful battle poem and read-out-loud poem.
In May of 1588, Philip II of Spain dispatched from Lisbon a 130-ship armada – "a wall of ships several miles across," writes historian Lucy Hughes-Hallett - in a crusade to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was Protestant and thus in his view a heretic, and whose little country was terribly irritating in many ways. The fleet, write historians R.R. Palmer and Joel Colton, "went forth as to a new Lepanto against the Turks of the north." (See "Lepanto" above.)
Spain, writes historian David Eggenberger, was "the mightiest empire since Roman times." Her invasion force, claimed one contemporary observer, was "the greatest navy that ever swam upon the sea" - actually, though, the English navy was the equal or superior of the Spanish, consisting of about 110 significant ships (plus another 90 or so smaller vessels), with many of the major vessels being faster, more maneuverable, and better-gunned than their opponents. The English commanders, including Francis Drake and John Hawkins, were probably the best sailors of the day.
The battle involved several skirmishes. A key moment came in the early morning hours of July 29 when the English sent fireboats – small flaming ships soaked in tar, borne along by the tide and winds – into the Armada as it lay anchored at the French town of Calais. The Spaniards, alarmed and confused, dispersed their ships in every direction. Later on the 29th the two fleets fought for eight hours at Gravelines, with Spain losing several ships.
The Armada was now battered, but not destroyed; many Spanish ships escaped and headed north with the wind. Would the Armada make repairs and return to the Channel? Storms off Scotland and Ireland in the second half of August doomed the Armada’s war-making potential. "God blew and they were scattered," says an English commemorative medal of the era, which shows God, in the form of a cloud, emitting a great wind.
About 60 of Philip’s 130 ships returned to Spain. War continued between the two nations for years, with Philip spending lavishly on new anti-English efforts, but to no avail. The Spanish Empire began to decline, and by the mid-1600s, in the wake of the Thirty Years' War, France began supplanting Spain as Europe’s greatest power. Meanwhile, England after the Armada found new energy and purpose – "in whatever direction men looked they saw exciting possibilities," writes historian H.D.F. Kitto. Among the lookers was William Shakespeare.
See "The Armada" by Garrett Mattingly (2005 new edition), "The Spanish Armada" by Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker (2002 revised edition), "Armada: The Official Catalogue of the National Maritime Museum Exhibition" edited by Mia Rodriguez-Salgado (1988), and "The Confident Hope of a Miracle: The True History of the Spanish Armada" by Neil Hanson (2003). See also "The Seafarers: The Armada" by Bryce Walker and the Editors of Time-Life Books (1981). DVD: "Elizabeth I" starring Helen Mirren (2005).
Before the Battle of Sekigahara, from the 1300s through the 1500s, Japan endured civil wars involving feudal lords, Buddhist monks, and peasant militias. The Tokugawa shogunate brought a measure of peace for 250 years, during which Japan grew and changed enormously. (While the primary goal of the Tokugawa regime was peace and stability, it was capable of wanton violence. In the 1630s a Tokugawa shogun decided Christianity was a threat to his authority and slaughtered thousands of Christian converts and missionaries.)
See "Sekigahara 1600" by Anthony Bryant (1995), "A History of Japan: 1334-1615" by George Sansom (1991 reprint), "Tokugawa Ieyasu: Shogun" by Conrad Totman (1988), and "The Samurai Sourcebook" by Stephen Turnbull (2000). "The Seven Samurai" (1954), a strange, stylized, remarkable movie, is based on 16th century Japanese history and legend.
"Shogun" by James Clavell (1975), one of the most successful and interesting historical novels ever written, is set in the period leading up to the Battle of Sekigahara; Clavell’s character Lord Toranaga is based on Tokugawa Ieyasu. "It was the first time," said one observer, referring to the book, "that one began to understand the Japanese." Background about Clavell can be found here in a Google Books excerpt; see Chapter Five of the excerpt for material on "Shogun."
The victorious Manchus were an ethnic minority, originally hunters from Manchurian, regarded as barbarians by Ming mandarins. The Ming relied for safety upon the Great Wall of China and the army.
The reign of the Ming house (1368 CE to 1644) saw a flowering of Chinese culture – the compiling of a great encyclopedia, writing of memorable novels, and creation of shimmering porcelain. Early Ming rulers had a bent for overseas exploration - they dispatched naval expeditions in the 1400s under the command of Zheng He (also spelled Cheng Ho). However, the Ming were leery of commerce; economic initiative was not encouraged, nor was the spread of ideas. Historian Paul Kennedy writes in "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" (1987) that the art of printing was "restricted to scholarly works and not employed for the widespread dissemination of practical knowledge, much less for social criticism" – a sharp contrast to how printing evolved in Europe. As economic and political troubles beset the Ming regime in the 17th century, the social fabric began to unravel, and the Manchus moved in.
See "The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China" by Frederic Wakeman Jr. (1985 two volumes). See also "The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China" by Mark C. Elliott (2002) available as a Google Books preview here. Also see "China: A New History" by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman (2006 revised edition) and "The Rise of Modern China" by Immanuel C.Y. Hsu (2000 sixth edition).
Website: china-defense.com/history/1644/1644-1.html. DVD: The 1987 film "The Last Emperor" is based on the life of Henry P’u Yi (1906-1967), a member of the Qing dynasty; see also the book "The Last Emperor" by Edward Behr (1987).
Historian Ronald Hutton says that civil war and revolutionary tumult in the 17th century was "probably the most traumatic single experience that the English people have ever undergone," including the First and Second World Wars and the Black Death.
In a long and complicated process during the 1600s, of which Naseby was a part, England’s Parliament seized control of the kingdom’s government from the monarchy. These events, culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, constitute the first of three revolutions spanning 150 years that transformed the world, followed by the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789. England in the 1600s, writes historian Lawrence Stone, was the site of the "first great upheaval in Western Europe....the first emergence of ideas about the political equality of free men (and even women), liberty of thought and conscience, economic liberalism, strict legal and moral restraints on the executive power, mass education, equality of opportunity, and scientific research for material progress – ideas which have rumbled around the world ever since, and for which men are still fighting today." See here for a HistoryAccess.com article about one of the pivotal events of these years and here for historian Thomas Babington Macaulay on William of Orange, a key figure of 1688-89.
Philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) wrote about the events of the 1600s. His work, note historians R.R. Palmer, Joel Colton, and Lloyd Kramer, converted an "episode of English history into an event of universal meaning....Locke, in arguing that Parliament had done right to eject James II (in 1688), put the whole affair on a level of reason, natural right, and human nature. It thus came to have meaning for everyone" including the founders of the United States of America. "By 1700," write Palmer et al., "at the close of the 'century of genius,' some beliefs that were to be characteristic of modern times had clearly taken form, notably a faith in science, in human reason, in natural human rights, and in progress. The following period, generally known as the Age of Enlightenment, was to be a time of clarifying and popularizing ideas which the more creative seventeenth century had produced." See here for background on the 200-year belief in uninterrupted progress launched circa 1700.
At the Battle of Naseby, Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell defeated King Charles I and Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Charles surrendered in 1646. In 1647-48 he helped foment a Second Civil War, but the Parliamentarians won again. In January, 1649, the so-called Rump Parliament, controlled by Oliver Cromwell, charged the king with treason, and, on January 30, 1649, the Parliamentarians cut off his head. Even this large event – this regicide – did not end the English jousting for power. Only with the Glorious Revolution in 1688 would Parliament’s predominance over the monarchy be confirmed.
See "Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers" by Michael Barone (2008). This work, by an American, will be of special interest to readers in the U.S. new to the subject.
See also "The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660" by Blair Worden (2009) - brief and excellent.
For details on the battle see "Naseby 1645: The Triumph of the New Model Army" by Martin Marix Evans (2007). For a good overview of the period, aimed at the general reader, see "Rebellion or Revolution? England 1640-1660" by G. E. Aylmer (1987).
Also see "The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714" by Christopher Hill (1980, second edition), "The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642" by Lawrence Stone (2002 edition with a new introduction), "Authority and Conflict: England, 1603-1658" by Derek Hirst (1988), "The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I" by John Adamson (2007), and "God’s Fury, England’s Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars" by Michael Braddick (2008). Also see "King Charles I" by Pauline Gregg (2000), "Oliver Cromwell" by C.V. Wedgwood (1973 revised edition), "The Trial of Charles I" by C.V. Wedgwood (2001), "The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution" by Christopher Hill (1991 reprint), and "Commonwealth and Protectorate: The English Civil War and its Aftermath" by Ivan Roots (1966). In addition, see the essay "England Without Cromwell: What If Charles I Had Avoided the Civil War?" by John Adamson, included in "Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals" edited by Niall Ferguson (1999).
See also the historical novel "By the Sword Divided" by Mollie Hardwick (1983) and the subsequent "Masterpiece Theatre" production. Also see the classic work "The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England Begun in the Year 1641" by Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), first published in the early 18th century, re-issued in 1992 by Oxford University Press, available here at Google Books.
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59) is author of a poem titled "The Battle of Naseby."
The events of these years have been subject to intense debate among historians. See the essay "The Revolution Over the Revolution" by Lawrence Stone, The New York Review of Books, June 11, 1992.
Zenta (also spelled Senta and Szenta)
A questioner at a Web blog inquires, "Could Sept. 11 have been selected as a sneak attack date by the terrorists as a payback for the surprise defeat Islamic Turkish forces suffered at the Battle of Zenta (some 300 years ago)?"
Maybe. As journalist Woody West notes, "The historical memory of militant Islam is long and intense." But a definite "yes" or "no" on whether 9/11/2001 connects to 9/11/1697 awaits historical investigation, perhaps many years from now.
The Battle of Zenta involved the Ottoman Empire. This great imperial domain began circa 1300 CE; at its peak it included Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Palestine, Syria, Macedonia, and other territories. It "expanded at Christian expense until nearly 1700," writes historian William McNeill: "All good Moslems could feel confident, at least until the Austrian victory at Zenta in 1697, that the thousand-year ebb and flow of frontier fighting against Christendom was tending still, as in the past, to favor the Moslem cause."
Ottoman aggressiveness waxed and waned over the years, depending on various factors, including the mindset of sultans and their chief executive officers, known as grand viziers. In 1656 a grand vizier named Muhammad Koprulu initiated a new phase of Turkish expansion into Europe. In 1683 a huge Ottoman army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa (which included some Christians) beseiged Vienna. The city was defended by Ernst von Starhemberg and by King Jan III of Poland (Jan Sobieski); the latter was called the "Lion of Lechistan" by the Turks.
In the wake of the Seige of Vienna, an anti-Turk counteroffensive developed that included troops and money from the Hapsburg dynasty (based in Vienna), Poland, Russia, the Vatican, and Venice. Their goal was to drive the Ottomans out of central Europe for good. This latter-day crusade climaxed in 1697 at the Battle of Zenta.
The Hapsburgs enlisted Prince Eugene of Savoy. Born in Paris to Italian parents, Eugene spent time as a boy in the opulent court of Louis XIV (the Sun King), but, deemed by Louis to be unfit for service in the French army, he transferred his allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire. He was hired by Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, to deal with the army of Sultan Mustafa II. Leopold recommended a cautious, defensive campaign; Eugene decided otherwise.
In early September, 1697, the prince found the sultan at the Tisza River at Zenta. The Turks were trying to get across the stream, bound for Transylvania, where, writes historian Derek McKay, they hoped to "levy contributions and carry off slaves." Most of the sultan’s artillery had been carted across the river by September 11 while the infantry waited its turn. Eugene attacked the divided force in the afternoon of that day.
A massacre ensued. Eugene’s troops "got worked up to such a pitch," writes the prince, "that they spared no one and butchered all who fell into their hands despite the large sums of money which the Pashas and Turkish leaders offered them to spare their lives." As many as 30,000 Turks died (many drowned) while 300 of Eugene’s men were killed.
See "Prince Eugene of Savoy" by Derek McKay (1977), "Europe’s Steppe Frontier 1500-1800" by William McNeill (1964), "Ottoman Warfare 1500-1700" by Rhoads Murphey (1999), "Armies of the Ottoman Turks, 1300-1774" by David Nicolle and Angus McBride (1983), and "The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History: To 1923" by Justin McCarthy (1997).
This is Part One of a five-part article. Each section covers 10 battles; the article is organized chronologically from the 1500s forward.