Austro-Turkish War (1788–91)

Austro-Turkish War (1788-91)
Part of the Ottoman–Habsburg wars

The main Ottoman army led by the Grand Vizier advancing to Sofia in May 1788.
DateFebruary 1788–4 August 1791
LocationSoutheastern and Eastern Europe


Holy Roman Empire Habsburg Empire  Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Holy Roman Empire Emperor Joseph II (d. 1790)
Holy Roman Empire Emperor Leopold II
Holy Roman Empire Freiherr von Laudon
Ottoman Empire Selim III
Ottoman Empire Koca Yusuf Pasha

The Habsburg-Ottoman War, Austro-Ottoman War or Austro-Turkish War, was fought in 1788–91 between the Habsburg Monarchy (Austria) and the Ottoman Empire, concurrently with the Russo-Turkish War (1787–92).

War aims

The war began as a Russian-Turkish conflict. The Russian Empire, headed by Catherine the Great, had been involved in previous wars of aggression and conquest against the Ottomans, and the two nations were openly hostile. In August 1787, after "numerous Russian provocations" (Hochedlinger), the Ottoman Empire declared war on the Russians.[1] The Austrian Emperor Joseph II had concluded an alliance with the Russians in 1781, which (Hochedlinger) "obliged [him] to assist the Russians with his full might ... Vienna felt that it had to act promptly so as not to annoy the [Empress]. What Joseph had to make sure this time was that Austria did not come away empty-handed again, as over the Crimea in 1783–84."[1]

In fact, Joseph was facing a serious threat to his rule in a distant portion of his empire, in what is now Belgium; as well as long-term tensions with a powerful northerly neighbor, Prussia. Hochedlinger opines that "war could not have come at a more inopportune moment."[1]

Hochedlinger also judges the Turks also made a mistake in starting the war themselves. From the Russian point of view, "the conflict could now be presented to the European public as a defensive war against an aggressor. Turkish aggression also made it much more difficult for France to continue its traditional role as the Sultan's protector against Russian rapacity".[1]

The fighting

The Austrians entered the war in February 1788, though they had by now lost their best chance for an easy victory.[2] The slow preparations of Russia resulted in the Ottoman concentration on Belgrade.[3] The Austrians relied on Russian support in Moldavia, which only began in late 1788, and Joseph II seemed to have been reluctant to fight the Ottomans.[3] In July, the Ottomans crossed the Danube and broke into the Austrian Banat.[3] Shortage of supplies struck both sides, while disease struck the Austrian soldiers.[3] As many as 50,000 Serb refugees flooded across the Danube, causing logistical problems for the Austrians.[3] In mid-August, Joseph II dispatched 20,400 soldiers into the Banat.[3] A Serbian Free Corps of 5,000 soldiers had been established in the Banat, composed of refugees that had fled earlier conflicts in the Ottoman Empire.[2] The Corps would fight for liberation of Serbia and unification under Habsburg rule.[2]

Later on, the balance shifted toward Austria: the Turks were expelled from the Banat and Bosnia, and Belgrade was taken in a three-week campaign by the aging Field Marshal Laudon.[4] Habsburg-occupied Serbia (1788–92) was established. The Austrian army also decisively participated in the victories of Focşani and Rymnik under the overall command of Suvorov and Josias of Saxe-Coburg conquered Bucharest.


At the front, disease played a major role. According to Braunbehrens, in the Austrian army during 1788 there were "epidemics: the lazarettos were filled to capacity, half the army was sick, and thousands of soldiers died". Joseph II spent most of the war at the front, and was one of those who fell ill there; he ultimately died of his illness after his return home (20 February 1790).[5]


Joseph's successor Leopold II was compelled to end the war due to the threat of Prussian intervention in support of the Ottomans.[6] In the final negotiated outcome, established in the Treaty of Sistova,[7] Austria's gains were "meagre":[8] Austria returned all the territory from its conquests save the small town of Orsova and a strip of land near the Bosnian-Croatian border.[9]

The Russians won new territory along the Black Sea, and forced the Turks to acknowledge previous conquests; see Treaty of Jassy. For the Ottomans, the war was a salient event in a long period of national decline; see Stagnation and reform of the Ottoman Empire.

Serbia had been under Ottoman rule before the war, was closely fought over, and remained an Ottoman possession after the final treaty settlement. The war was to have important consequences for the future history of Serbia. Rajić writes,

The wars of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries instilled in the Serbian consciousness the deep-seated expectation that only Austria could lend a helping hand [i.e., in liberating Serbia from the Ottomans]. This faith was largely shaken after Kocina Krajina and the last Austro-Turkish War (1788–1791), when it became clear that despite the Serbs' merits and heavy casualties in the fight against the Turks, the emperor abandoned them and made peace with the sultan. Since then, Russia superseded Austria in the Serbs' plans to restore their state.[10]

For discussion of the fate of Serbia during the war, see Habsburg-occupied Serbia (1788–92).

The home front in Austria

The war had serious negative effects on the economy of Austria, and derailed progress in creating a modern civil society. Calinger writes:

To have the time and financial resources to establish his domestic reforms, Joseph II needed stability in foreign affairs. It is a well-tested maxim that war stops reform. Joseph's predatory foreign policy, however, joined with that of Catherine II, led to a war against the Ottoman Turks from 1787 to 1790. This war devastated his domestic economy. The next year the national debt soared to 22 million gulden, and in 1790 it reached 400,000 million. As food prices and taxes rose and a new conscription was implemented, the mood in Vienna turned ugly. Bread riots erupted after the bad harvest of 1788/89 and the emperor's popularity plummeted.[11]

Solomon writes that even "the morale of the cultural elite was severely eroded; fears of conscription led many aristocratic families to leave Vienna, and there were widespread feelings of disillusionment with Emperor Joseph, a sense that he had betrayed the promise of an enlightened reform movement."[12]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Hochedlinger (2003:382)
  2. 1 2 3 Paul W. Schroeder (1996). The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford University Press. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-19-820654-5.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Virginia Aksan (14 January 2014). Ottoman Wars, 1700–1870: An Empire Besieged. Routledge. pp. 163–. ISBN 978-1-317-88403-3.
  4. Britannica, 11th edition
  5. Braunbehrens 1990, 311
  6. Virginia Aksan, Ottoman Wars: An Empire Besieged, (Taylor & Francis, 2007), 138.
  7. Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in an Age of Revolutions, 1783–1793, (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 263.
  8. Encyclopædia Britannica, 1988
  9. Charles W. Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618–1815, (Cambridge University Press, 2000), 210.
  10. Rajić, Suzana, "Serbia -- the revival of the nation-state, 1804–1829: From Turkish provinces to autonomous principality. In Plamen Mitev (2010) Empires and Peninsulas: Southeastern Europe Between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699–1829. Münster: LIT Verlag, p. 144. Extract viewable on Google Books:
  11. Calinger (2003:71)
  12. Solomon 1995, 433. For detailed discussion of Joseph II's attempted reshaping of Austrian society, see Calinger (2003).


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