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

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

5 out of 5 (1 rating)


In 1683, two empires - the Ottoman, based in Constantinople, and the Habsburg dynasty in Vienna - came face to face in the culmination of a 250-year power struggle: the Great Siege of Vienna.

Within the city walls the choice of resistance over surrender to the largest army ever assembled by the Turks created an all-or-nothing scenario: every last survivor would be enslaved or ruthlessly slaughtered.

The Turks had set their sights on taking Vienna, the city they had long called 'The Golden Apple' since their first siege of the city in 1529.

Both sides remained resolute, sustained by hatred of their age-old enemy, certain that their victory would be won by the grace of God. Eastern invaders had always threatened the West: Huns, Mongols, Goths, Visigoths, Vandals and many others.

The Western fears of the East were vivid and powerful and, in their new eyes, the Turks always appeared the sole aggressors. Andrew Wheatcroft's extraordinary book shows that this belief is a grievous oversimplification: during the 400 year struggle for domination, the West took the offensive just as often as the East.

As modern Turkey seeks to re-orient its relationship with Europe, a new generation of politicians is exploiting the residual fears and tensions between East and West to hamper this change.

The Enemy at the Gate provides a timely and masterful account of this most complex and epic of conflicts.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384 pages, 16 Illustrations, unspecified
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Humamities
  • ISBN: 9781844137411

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Enemy at the Gate is a narrative history of the second siege of Vienna in 1683. The siege marked the high watermark of Ottoman expansion into Europe. The Ottoman surge had rarely been stopped and with vastly superior manpower and readiness to die for their cause, the Ottomans were often victorious. The Holy Roman Empire led by the Emperor of Austria was their main opposition. The first siege of Vienna had foundered because it was the final point of the long expansion into south east Europe by an exhausted military. The second siege was a direct fight for the capital of Catholic Europe and it is the main subject of Andrew Wheatcroft's excellent and excting analysis.Wheatcroft takes the reader through the events leading up to the siege and the battle itself. The approach may be a little populist for some but it is a riveting read that is not far from being a top novel on the subject. The characters are fully fleshed out, especially the competing generals - Kara Mustafa and the Duke of Lorraine. Mustafa as the Grand Vizier is the starting point for the tale and the line of Viziers that he represents is established to give an understanding of why Mustafa made some of the decisions he did. Wheatcroft shows that Mustafa was extremely ambitious and had an eye on posterity in daring to challenge the Habsburgs at the very centre of their existence. Wheatcroft's analysis of the Habsburg commanders is just as objective. The logic of the evacuation by the heirless Emperor Leopold is astutely described as at face value it appears to be cowardice but the risk to the Habsburg grand strategy was enormous. What is a little less clear is why the Duke of Lorraine spent so little of the action actually at Vienna, instead Wheatcroft provides evidence of his presence only occasionally during the most critical days of the siege. The two shock troops of the Ottomans are given especial detail - the Tartars and the Janissaries. Wheatcroft's suggestion that fear of the Turk in western thought is in fact based on fear of the Tartar is backed by ample evidence. The Tartar way of fighting was so far removed from the ceremonial chivalry of Europe as to make these an alien people. In pitched battle there were never enough Tartars but as scouts and raiders Wheatcroft effectively evokes the fear they must have created. The Janissaries are a little less easy to understand from Wheatcroft's narrative but their role as elite troops with a command of technology is clear throughout. The armies of the near east that have threatened Europe for millenia have always been some combination of skills and Wheatcroft's description of what this meant in practice and how the different peoples were tied together is impressive. The cultural implications of the Ottoman style of government are brought to life and they are not just an amorphous mass of enemy.The Habsburgs and the intricacies of the Holy Roman Empire are left a little to the reader's imagination and in such a large work inevitably some features had to be missed out. What is missing is detail on the debate and diplomacy between the Germanic States and also with the Pope. Innocent XI is a bit of a bystander in the narrative with the reference to the Papacy being only of the vast transfers of cash the Pope made to support the defence of Christendom. The narrative of the siege itself is absolutely breathtaking stuff. The battle descriptions are gripping and it is exciting to read each phase as the Ottomans gradually pushed through the defences. The graphic descriptions add to the allure of what was clearly a bitterly fought battle. It was a turning point and both sides clearly understood the importance. Wheatcroft describes a couple of missed opportunities by the Ottomans and lays the blame fairly on Kara Mustafa. Mustafa may not have been a military genius but he was not far from taking the greatest city of Eastern Europe when he was ultimately defeated with the arrival of John Sobieski, King of Poland.It may have been interesting to read of the aftermath for Vienna but Wheatcroft chooses to go with the bigger picture. The continuing rivalry between Habsburg and Ottoman fills the final chapter as the two continue to battle one another back through south east Europe in a fight that only really ends with the dissolution of both Empires in 1918. Enemy at the Gate is a great description of the events of 1683 and of the later implications. The battle scenes are terrific and even the preparations for war conjure an epic picture. Wheatcroft's own analysis in the coda leaves a little to be desired as he seeks to address what he clearly sees as a popular misconception of the Turkic peoples by the West. The coda does not really follow from what has gone before and does not really add anything to the debate. Coda aside though, Enemy at the Gate is a terrific read for anyone especially those with an interest in the subject as a potent reminder of the turning point that happened at Vienna during some bloody days in the summer of 1683.

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