فصل 32کتاب: تاریخی کوچک از جهان / فصل 32
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MEANWHILE, LOOKING EASTWARDS …
While Louis XIV was holding court in Paris and Versailles, Germany suffered a new misfortune: the Turks. As you know, more than two hundred years earlier (in 1453), they had conquered Constantinople and established a great Muslim empire, known as the Ottoman empire, incorporating Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Greece in other words, the whole of the ancient Roman Empire of the East, of whose magnificence and splendour, it must be said, not much remained. Under their great leader, Suleiman the Magnificent, they had then pushed onwards beyond the Danube and defeated the Hungarian army in 1526. Almost every Hungarian nobleman, including the king, had been killed. Having conquered the better part of Hungary, the Turks had tried to take Vienna, but they soon turned back. As you remember, their fleet had been destroyed in 1571 by King Philip II of Spain and his Venetian allies. But they were still a powerful state and a Turkish pasha or governor was ruling in Budapest. Now many Hungarians were Protestants, and when their king had been killed they had become unwilling subjects of the Catholic emperor and had fought against him during the religious wars. After the Thirty Years War these uprisings continued, until one day the Hungarian nobility asked their Turkish neighbours for help.
The sultan, as the Turkish ruler was called, was only too happy to respond to this request. For a long while he had been wanting a war because his soldiers and warriors had become too powerful at home. He was afraid that he would lose control of them and was delighted to be able to send them off to fight. If they won, so much the better, and if they lost he would be rid of them. You can see what sort of a person he was! So in 1683 he mobilised a huge army from all four corners of his empire. The pashas of Mesopotamia and Egypt brought their soldiers, and Tatars, Arabs, Greeks, Hungarians and Romanians all assembled in Constantinople under the leadership of the Grand Vizier or prime minister Kara Mustafa, and prepared to march on Austria. There were more than two hundred thousand of them, armed to the teeth and dressed in exotic and colourful costumes and turbans with banners bearing their sign: the crescent moon.
The emperor’s armies stationed in Hungary were in no position to withstand such an assault. They retreated and left the way to Vienna open to the Turks. Like all towns at that time, Vienna had fortifications at the ready. These were now hastily put in place, and cannon and supplies brought in. Twenty thousand soldiers were to hold the city until the emperor and his allies came to their aid. But the emperor and his court had fled, first to Linz and then to Passau. And when the Viennese saw smoke rising from distant villages and suburbs set on fire by the Turks, some sixty thousand people abandoned the city, in an unending stream of carts and carriages.
Now the Turkish cavalry arrived. Their gigantic army ringed Vienna and began firing cannon balls at the walls and undermining them with explosives. The Viennese fought back with all their might. A month went by. With each day the danger increased as more and more breaches appeared in the walls, and still no help came. Terrible outbreaks of disease began to sweep through the town, far more deadly than the Turkish bullets. Supplies of food were running low, despite daring sorties by soldiers who sometimes returned with an ox or two. As time went on, people found themselves paying twenty or thirty crowns for a cat no small sum in those days for such unappetising fare! The walls were on the verge of collapse when the imperial troops finally reached Vienna. The Viennese could breathe at last! However, the imperial troops from Austria and Germany hadn’t come on their own. The Polish king, Jan Sobieski, who had previously signed an alliance with the emperor against the Turks, had declared himself willing to help in return for significant concessions. These included the honour of supreme command which the emperor wanted himself, so precious time was lost in negotiation. In the end Sobieski’s army took up position on the heights above Vienna and from there charged down upon the Turks. After fierce fighting, the Turks fled without even taking the time to decamp, leaving rich pickings for the imperial soldiers. The camp, consisting of forty thousand tents, set out in neat, straight lines separated by narrow lanes, was just like a small town, and a truly magnificent sight.
The Turks continued to retreat. Had they succeeded in taking Vienna, the situation would have been almost as bad as if the Muslim Arabs had defeated Charles Martel at Tours and Poitiers a thousand years earlier.
However, the imperial troops pushed them further and further back, while Sobieski’s men went home. A distinguished French general was to lead the Austrian army in this triumphant pursuit. This was Prince Eugene of Savoy, a man whom Louis XIV wouldn’t have in his army on account of his plain appearance. In the years that followed he took country after country from the Turks. The sultan was forced to give up all of Hungary, which then became part of Austria. These victories brought much wealth and power to the imperial court at Vienna, and now Austria too began to build magnificent castles and many fine monasteries in a sparkling new style which they called Baroque. Meanwhile, Turkish power continued to decline, not least because a new and mighty enemy had appeared behind them. This was Russia.
Until now we have heard nothing about Russia. It was a vast wilderness of forests, with great steppes in the north. The landowners ruled the poor peasants with terrible cruelty and the sovereign ruled the landowners with, if anything, greater cruelty. One of Russia’s tsars, around 1580, was known as Ivan the Terrible, and rightly so. Beside him Nero was mild. In those days Russians took little notice of Europe and what went on there. They were too busy fighting among themselves and killing each other. Although they were Christians they didn’t come under the pope’s authority. Their spiritual leader was the bishop or patriarch of the Roman empire of the East in Constantinople. So they didn’t have a great deal to do with the West.
In 1689 that is, six years after the Turkish siege of Vienna a new tsar came to the throne. This was Peter, known as Peter the Great. He was no less barbarous or cruel than many of his predecessors. Nor was he any less fond of drinking or less violent. But he was determined to model his empire on western states, like France, England or the German empire. He knew what was needed: money, trade and cities. But how had other countries acquired these? So he went to find out. In Holland he saw great seaports with mighty ships that sailed as far as India and America to do business. He wanted ships like these, and he needed to know how they were made. Without a second thought, he took a job as a ship’s carpenter, first in a Dutch shipyard and later in the dockyard of the Royal Navy in England, to learn the art himself. Then he went home, taking with him a team of skilled craftsmen to build his ships.
All he needed now was a seaport. So he gave orders for one to be built. A city on the sea, just like those he’d seen in Holland. The coast to the north of Russia, however, was nothing but barren marshland and actually belonged to Sweden, with which Peter the Great was at war. This didn’t deter him. Peasants were rounded up from the surrounding countryside and made to drain the swamps and drive piles into the ground. He had eighty thousand labourers toiling there, and soon a real seaport rose up out of the marshes.
He named it St Petersburg. Next, Russians had to be made into true Europeans. They had to stop wearing their traditional long-skirted kaftans and weren’t allowed to grow their hair and beards long. From now on they were to dress like Frenchmen or Germans. Anyone who protested or disagreed with Peter’s innovations was flogged and then executed. Even his own son. He was not a nice man, but he achieved what he wanted. The Russians may not have become Europeans overnight, but they were now ready to enter the field as players in Europe’s bloody contest for power.
Peter the Great made the first move. He attacked Sweden which, following the victories of Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years War, had become the mightiest state in northern Europe. Sweden’s ruler in Peter’s time may not have had the piety or the perspicacity of Gustavus Adolphus, but he was one of the most extraordinary adventurers the world has ever known. The young King Charles XII came to power in 1697. He might have leapt straight out of the pages of the popular adventure books that left me spellbound as a boy in Vienna. His exploits can hardly be believed. He was as foolhardy as he was brave and that’s saying something! He and his army fought Peter the Great and defeated an army five times as strong as his own. Then he conquered Poland and pushed straight on into Russia without bothering to wait for another Swedish army, which was on its way to assist him. On he went, deeper and deeper into Russia, always at the head of his troops, wading through rivers and trudging through swamps, without ever meeting any resistance from the Russian army. Autumn came, and then winter the bitter, biting-cold Russian winter and still Charles XII had had no chance to prove his courage against the enemy. Only when his men were half-dead with hunger, cold and exhaustion did the Russians finally appear and inflict a massive defeat on them. This was in 1709. Forced to flee, Charles made for Turkey. And there he remained for five years, vainly trying to persuade the Turks to go to war with Russia. Eventually, in 1714, news reached him from Sweden that his subjects had had enough of their king’s adventures in Turkey. The nobility were about to elect a new ruler.
This shows you the route taken by Charles XII, King of Sweden, the daring young adventurer who marched through Poland and into Russia, and later raced back to Stralsund from Turkey and met his death besieging a fortress in Norway.
Disguised as a German officer and with only one attendant, Charles crossed the Turkish frontier without delay and, riding as fast as he could by day and sleeping in mail coaches by night, raced back to Stralsund in north Germany in those days part of Sweden in a mad sixteen-day journey that involved all sorts of perilous adventures as they passed through enemy territory. Roused from his bed, the governor of the fortress could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw his king standing before him, for like everyone else he thought he was somewhere in Turkey. The town was delighted with Charles XII’s dramatic appearance, but Charles simply fell into bed and slept for a very long time. His feet were so swollen from his long ride that his boots had to be cut off him. But there was no more talk of electing a new king. Charles hadn’t been back in Sweden long before he embarked on a new military adventure. He made enemies of England, Germany, Norway and Denmark. Norway was first on his list. He died while besieging a Norwegian fortress in 1718, shot, some say, by someone on his own side because the country simply would not tolerate any more wars.
With this enemy out of the way Peter the Great, who now called himself Emperor of All the Russias, was able to increase his empire’s might, expanding in all directions: into Europe, into Turkey, into Persia and into the countries of Asia.