The Siege of Vienna in the Acton Library

The Acton Library contains works on the ecclesiastical and political history of Europe published between the 15th and 19th century in a wide range of European languages. With over 60.000 books held in the collection, there are clusters of titles on various specific historical topics, published at the same time as the events they describe. One such are holdings of contemporary accounts of the Siege of Vienna in 1683, written in German, English, Latin and French. In 1683, Vienna was besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months from July 14th before the situation escalated and an open battle took place on September 11 to 12. The Ottomans were ultimately defeated by the joint forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

A short account of the events is available in German, titled Kurtze doch gründliche beschreibung alter und neuer Wiener-belägerung, welche so wol anno 1529 als anno 1683, von dem türckischen erb-feinde jedesmahl vergeblich gethan worden-Sampt der residentz-stadt Wien eigentlicher abriss und fortification, in a volume of pamphlets  (Acton.b.54.35, no. 23 in this volume). The title itself is part of Breviarium historiae Turcicae exhibens vitas imperatorum omnium, praelia inter Christianos & Turcas omnia; praecipuè vero incrementa imperii Turcici ab initio ad haec usque tempora. Quibus in fine addita historia obsidionis Viennae 1683 (Acton.b.54.35, no. 22 in this volume). This Latin text includes a history of the siege of Vienna in 1683 and the German translation of it follows the Latin original. It is by Daniele Hartnaccio, was published in Hamburg and printed in Hanover.

A French account of the events is presented with the book Vienne deux-fois assiégée par les Turcs, 1529 et 1683, et heureusement délivrée (Acton.e.34.40). The book was written by Jean-Baptiste de Rocoles, a French historian who lived in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.  His book covers both sieges by the Ottomans, with his study of the second siege in 1683 beginning on page 114. His text also includes Des Réfléxions Historique sur la maison de Habsbourg, ou d’Autriche and sur l’origine, grandeur et décadence dernière de la Puissance Ottomane. The book also contains several illustrations and an index of the principal persons the author credits with having contributed to the liberation of Vienna on the 12th of September 1683.

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Books on the Siege of Vienna in the Acton Library

Another and probably the most detailed report of the siege was written in Latin and published in 1684 in Brussels by Lambert Marchant under the title Vienna a turcis obsessa, a christianis eliberata, sive diarium obsidionis viennensis, inde a sexta Maii ad decimam quintam suque Septembris deductum by Joanne Petro a Vaelckeren (Acton.e.34.41b).  He was Judge-Advocate of the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire and as such his report gives a very close insight into the events from the perspective of the besieged. His account is structured by days and gives the exact dates of the events he is recalling. The original text has 166 pages and includes several lists of weapons, ammunition and general war equipment found in the camp of the Ottomans after the battle.

Apart from the Latin original, the UL holds two translations of the text. The French version Vienne assiegée par les Turcs, et delivrée par les Chrestiens. Ou journal du siege de Vienne, depuis le 6. de May de l’année 1683. Jusqu’au 15. de Septembre de la même Année stands at Acton.e.34.41.

Having been published by the same publisher as the Latin version in the same year, the French translation is presented in a similar way regarding size, font and content, although it takes up 215 pages. The only differences are an additional note stating that the book was originally written in Latin (“composé en Latin”) and a further statement that the book includes illustrations (“avec des figures”). However, these illustrations have never been published and were actually never included. Additionally, two letters from the Polish King are attached, who held the overall command over the joint forces. One of these letters is addressed to Pope Innocent XI and the other one to the Marquis of Grana.

The English version of the same report A relation or diary of the Siege of Vienna (Acton.b.54.2, no. 4 in this volume) has 122 pages and contains two additional maps. The English translation claims that is was “Drawn from the Original by his Majestie’s Command” and was printed in London still in the same year, 1684. Interestingly enough, each book gives a different version of the author’s name as it has been translated in the corresponding language. The Latin version cites him as Joanne Petro a Vaelckeren, the French one as Pierre à Vælckeren and the English version as John Peter a Valcaren.

Map from Acton.b.54.2

Map from Acton.b.54.2

The Library of Congress (and also Cambridge) has in recent years changed the way it provides subject access to books on the siege of a particular city. Historically, the subject string would have read ‘City – Siege, [date]’. You may still find old records which follow that practice. Current practice, however, provides a subject string ‘City name – History – Siege, [date]’ as in ‘Vienna (Austria) – History – Siege, 1683’. Only general historical works on Austrian sieges would appear at the heading ‘Sieges – Austria’.

Stephanie Palek

One thought on “The Siege of Vienna in the Acton Library

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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