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Besieged by Turkish Army, Viennese Ate Rats, Cats: Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham of Lapham's Quarterly in New York. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The Ottoman Empire had long lusted after Vienna, and, after assembling a force of more than 100,000, Kara Mustafa almost conquered the city in 1683. Not until Stalingrad during World War II was there a siege of such grim horror.

Using arrows, scimitars, guns, grenades and cannons, both sides fought with savage ferocity against the enemy infidels. The heads of fallen soldiers were displayed on spikes. Unable to break through the fortified stone walls, the Turks systematically dug tunnels underneath and set off explosives.

Lacking food, the besieged Viennese ate cats and rats, and succumbed to infected wounds and diseases caused by the mounds of stinking waste humming with flies. After two months, conditions were not much better in the Turkish encampments.

Vienna was saved at the last possible moment with the arrival of a rescue army led by the King of Poland and his cavalry. The battle signaled the end of Ottoman ambitions in Central Europe and the rise of the Habsburg dynasty.

For his ignominious failure, Kara Mustafa was executed in Belgrade, strangled with a silk rope and then beheaded.

I spoke with Andrew Wheatcroft, author of “The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe,” on the following topics:

1. Christians vs. Muslims

2. Claims to the Roman Empire

3. Pit of Hell

4. Cataclysmic Battle

5. Turkish Retreat

For the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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