Monday, May 17, 2010

16 May 1664: Battle of Scharnowitz

A date of no overwhelming importance, but one of many lesser events now forgotten in a chain of greater ones.

Austro-Turkish War: On 16 May 1664, the northern wing of the Austrian Imperial army under the Huguenot refugee Jean-Louis Raduit, Count de Souches, defeated a combined Turkish-Tartar army at Scharnowitz (Žarnovica, Slovakia; not sure which side my ancestors were on in that one). It was the prelude to his even greater success at Levice (Leva) in northern Hungary (Slovakia) on July 19.

Map, from Galazzo Gualdo Priorato, Historia di Leopoldo Cesare (Vienna, 1670)

That victory, plus the one at Mögersdorf (Szentgotthárd) blocked the Turks' advance on Vienna and forced them to sue for peace.

That peace lasted for some two decades, until the Turks attacked Vienna in 1683 and in the subsequent fighting were once and for all driven out of Austria and Hungary.

One of the charms of these old maps (aside from the window onto decisive moments in history) is being able to examine the engraver's technique in detail. This is not an especially sophisticated rendering, but like its more accomplished relatives, it in many places relies on suggestion rather than micro-realism to achieve its ends. Here we can see how a few characteristic lines suffice to depict the Ottoman army: a man and a horse, a sword or a bow. In particular, I've always found charming the use of the circular or ovoid shape, which instantly connotes the turban or helmet, and thus, "the Turk."

Note: Trying to untangle some of the geography in both the image and the accounts proved to be an amusing challenge. The dealer sold it as a map portraying a battle at Czernowitz (at the time, Turkish; acquired by Austria in 1775). However, I was aware of no major battle at Czernowitz, and neither the topography nor the names of the rivers matched the location of that city. To be sure, the Italian rendering as Scernowitz sounds like the Ottoman Çernovi and German Czernowitz, but the site turned out to be the aforementioned Slovakian town of Scharnowitz rather than the similarly named leading city of the Bukovina. For those interested in that fabled place, the "Vienna of the East" "where people and books lived," my worthy colleagues and betters at the portal for everything devoted to Czernowitz provide a wealth of information. 

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