The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe
In The Enemy at the Gate, Andrew Wheatcroft sets out the political background to the 1683 siege of Vienna in clear detail. There had been other sieges of Vienna, the first one in 1529, but the 1683 siege has become a ‘metaphor of perpetual struggle’. Wheatcroft starts with a description of both armies, contrasting the well-disciplined and efficient Turkish army, under the sole command of one man (nominally the sultan, Mehmed IV, but in fact the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa) to the rather more diverse armies of the Habsburgs and their allies, with no-one in overall command. Charles, Duke of Lorraine was the nearest the allies had to a supreme commander, and he, a better diplomat than military thinker, needed all his tact to keep the Habsburg alliance together and the commanders working in tandem.
The siege itself, and the battles around it, are described in the central portion of the book, with a clarity that, along with the maps provided, makes it easy to follow the events, with Wheatcroft’s descriptions of the personalities involved adding to the overall understanding of what happened and why. The final part of the book is a summing up of the aftermath of the siege and its long-term effects.
Wheatcroft calls his book a study in fear and, with its historical analysis of the relationship between Christian Europe and Islamic Turkey, it is a well-balanced, readable and timely account of the 1683 siege. There have been other books on this important event in European and Ottoman history, but for a well-written and knowledgeable introduction, you could not do better than The Enemy at the Gate.