The Ottoman-Habsburg Struggle and Western European Expansion

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Back to Age of Exploration

See The Balkan Peninsula: Southeastern Europe

Table Of Content
The Muslim-Christian Competition in the East and West 1450-1600
1. Iberian-Christian Expansion 1415-1498
–> 1.1 Maritime Explorations by Spain and Portugal to reach India
–> 1.2 Apocalytic Expectations
–> 1.3 Reforms in Castile
–> 1.4 The Conquest of Granada
–> 1.5 Comumbus’ Journey to the Caribbean
–> 1.6 Vasco da Gama’s Journey to India
Rise of the Ottomans and Struggle with the Habsburgs for Dominance 1300-1609
2. Fiscal-Military State: Origins and Interactions
2.1 Late Byzantium and Ottoman Origins
2.2 State Transformation, Money and Firearms
3. Imperial Courts, Urban Festivities and the Arts
The Spanish Habsburg Empire: Popular Festivities and the Arts
The Ottoman Empire: Palaces, Festivities and the Arts

From 1500 to 1600 the Ottoman Empire expanded from Anatolia into eastern Europe and conquered Syria (1516), Egypt (1517), and Iraq (1534). The Safavid Empire, based in Azerbaijan, subdued the Iranian plateau. The Mughal Empire reached from Kabul down into the Gangetic plain, uniting most of northern India. These three Muslim states, their power based partially on borrowed Chinese and European technical advances in artillery,

See The Ottoman-Habsburg Struggle and Western European Expansion

1. Iberian-Christian Expansion 1415-1498

During a revival of anti-Muslim Crusade, passions in the course of the fourteenth century ran high in Portugal.  Portugal resumed its Reconquista policies by  driving out their Muslim rulers and expand into North Africa to take the trade port of Cueta.

Looking for a way to circumnavigate the Muslims, collect West African gold in “gold coast” of Africa (Ghana today), and reach the Indian spice coast, Portuguese sailors and traders established fortified harbors along the African Coastline. Instead of using the Mediterranean, the Portuguese planned to sail on the Atlantic along the west Africa. They also tapped into the knowledge of sailing (excellent Atlantic seafaring, built caravel) from other people in Africa who knew the area better. This actually spurred an age of navigation.

1.1 Age of Exploration: Maritime Explorations by Spain and Portugal to reach India

The sixteenth century marked the settlement of the Portuguese merchant empire in the East. The spice trade was organized as a crown monopoly based on three factors: the all-sea-route to India, diplomatic agreements with local kings from the Eastern coast of Africa to the Spice Islands, and the establishment of fortresses in strategic geographical locations — a jagged semi-circle of over 15,000 miles. The ultimate goal was to control all spice trade in the Indian Ocean by exacting taxes on all ships, thereby blocking the Levant trade and becoming the unique middleman between Europe and Asia in an extremely profitable business.

[Note:  The English (EIC) and the Dutch  (VOC) East India Companies were chartered monopolies, belonging to groups of private merchants who founded the world’s first joint stock companies. The English monarch had no share in Eastern trade other than the natural return on customs duties and the payments at every renewal of the company’s charter, nor did she have any power to influence the administration of the enterprise.

Each company had the monopoly of trade of eastern products in the country (in the Netherlands, only the VOC could send ships to India through the Cape route and sell spices at home; the same was valid for the EIC in England) but did not have the monopoly of trade in Europe, where there was competition for distribution.]

TABLE 1 Portuguese Discoveries and Conquests in the Fifteenth Century

Year Location Region
1415 Ceuta Northern Africa
1419 Madeira Islands Atlantic Islands
1421 Cape Não West African coast
1427 Azores Islands Atlantic Islands
1434 Cape Bojador West African coast
1436 Gold River West African coast
1442 Cape Branco West African coast
1443 Cape Verde –Senegal West African coast
1446 Grande River West African coast
1446 Guinea West African coast
1458 El-Qsar-es-Seghir Northern Africa
1460 Cape Verde Islands and Sierra Leone West African coast
1471 Asilah and Tangier Northern Africa
1471 Gulf of Guinea West African coast
1474 Cape Saint Catherine West African coast
1481 Mina –Ghana West African coast
1482 Congo River West African coast
1487 Cape of Good Hope Southern African coast
1489 Sofala –Mozambique East African coast
1498 Calicut –India India

Portugal was already famed for it’s explorers, particularly Bartholomew Dias, who reached the Cape of Good Hope, Africa in 1487. The Portuguese then wanted to go further and reach India to establish trade for spices.

Reception of Vasco da Gama by the Samudiri of Calicut, India, May 1498. Liebig educational card, from a series on the discovery of the route to India, late 19th or early 20th century.

Vasco da Gamma in 1497 and the crew sailed down the coast of Africa and made a short journey into the Atlantic, before swinging back to reach the south of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. The explorers passed round the Cape of Good Hope and sailed up the east coast of Africa, and then crossed the Indian Ocean to reach Calicut (now Kozhikode) by May 1948.  This was the first totally water-based route to India. Here is he presented himself to the local ruler, the Samudiri of Calicut,  in India.

1.2 Apocalytic Expectations  1400-1500

According to the widespread apocalyptic beliefs of Iberian Christians, the end of the world with the Second Coming of Christ could only happen in Jerusalem which was then under the control of Muslims. The loss of the crusader kingdom in Palestine to the Muslim Mamluks in 1291 (Siege of Acre) was an event that stirred deep feelings of guilt among the western Christians. Efforts to organize military expeditions to reconquer Jerusalem failed to get off the ground, however, mostly because the rulers in Europe were now more interested in warring against each other for territorial gain. Thus it was important to retake Jerusalem immediately.

The Christians widely believed that they would be aided by Prester John, an alleged Christian ruler at the head of an immense army from Ethiopia or India. Both religions — Christians and Muslims — saw military conquest in the name of God to be morally just. A providential god they believed justified the conquest of the lands and enslavement of the conquered. The religious justification of military action therefore was not a pretext for more base material interests but a proud declaration by believers that God was on their side to help them convert and conquer the non-Christian world.

In Portugal, political claims in guise of apocalyptic expectations guided military orders to reconquer Ceuta (Map above).The orders argued that prior to Berber-Arab conquest of the early 700s, Ceuta had been Christian and therefore it was lawful to undertake its Reconquista. Henry the Navigator succeeded in taking Ceuta in 1415, capturing there a huge stock of African gold ready to be minted as money.

The Spanish Inquisition 1478

1.5 Comumbus’ Journey to the Caribbean

1.6 The Exploration Age: Vasco da Gama to India

In 1502 Vasco da Gama destroyed the Arab trading centers in India and along Africa’s East coast and set up Portuguese trading centers, securing Portugal’s position as one of the most important global trading powers. Later, in 1524, after da Gama had set up many trading centers King John III named him Viceroy to India. [From India, John III collected all kinds of spice, drug & stone & many cotton clothes, taficiras and alaquecas (kinds of Indian fabrics)].  During that same year he also became Admiral of India. Unfortunately, later that year, he died in Cochin, his body was returned to Portugal however many memorials remain worldwide recognising his efforts in global exploration and trade expansion.

Rise of the Ottomans and Struggle with the Habsburgs for Dominance 1300-1609

Byzantine Empire around 500 AD

Invasions of the Roman Empire 1.png

The Ottoman, Habsburg Vienna, The Iranian Safavid empires in 1600-1700. By 1453, the Ottoman’s conquered the areas up to the Danube (green). Hungary, on the north of Danube used to be the border between the Ottomans and the Europe.

While the Muslim rule disappeared in the late fifteenth century from the Iberian Peninsula, the opposite happened in the Balkan peninsula. Here the Ottoman Turks spearheaded the expansion of Islamic rule, initially over Eastern Orthodox Christians (the Eastern Roman Christians), and eventually over the western Christians (mainly Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic). By the late sixteenth century, when the east-west conflict between the Habsburgs and Ottomans reached its peak, entire generations of Croats, Germans and Italians lived in mortal fears of the “terrible Turk” who might be conquer all of Christian Europe.

In 1299, Turkish warlord Osman I declared himself Sultan and thereafter his territories became known as the Ottoman Empire. Within 50 years of Osman I’s establishment of the Ottoman beylik, Byzantine Asia Minor had ceased to exist and by 1380, Byzantine Thrace was lost to the Ottomans. By ca. 1400, the once mighty Byzantine Empire was nothing more than a collection of the Despotate of the Morea, a few Aegean islands and a strip of land in Thrace in the immediate vicinity of the Capital. The Crusade of Nicopolis in 1396, Timur’s invasion in 1402 and the final Crusade of Varna in 1444 allowed a ruined Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) to stave off defeat until 1453. With the conclusion of the war Ottomans put an end to the Eastern Roman Empire and established supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Ottomans in Europe: After the conquest of Constantinople, The Ottomans began to expand throughout the Balkan peninsula. Neighboring Bosnia, whose kings were of Croatian origin, was the first to come under attack. It finally surrendered to Turks in 1463. Belgrade, east of Croatia in what is now Yugoslavia fell to Ottoman’s in 1521. It was the last obstacle before reaching the plains of eastern Croatia’s Pannonian lowlands. The Turks attacked the then combined Hungary-Croatia in 1526. The battle took place on the field on the field next to the Hungarian city of Mohac (Battle of Mohacs)and the Turks came out victorious.

Though it resulted in an Ottoman victory, there were heavy losses on both sides – Suleiman in his tent from natural causes. So, although the battle was an Ottoman victory, it stopped the Ottoman push to Vienna that year. [Vienna was not threatened again until the Battle of Vienna in 1683 (Austria-Turkish war of 1683-1699)]

At the point, the Western European nobles decided to invite the Habsburgs to take over rule of Croatia and Hungary.  The nobles hoped that by joining the Hansburg empire, their land would be saved from the Turks. To help defend  Western Europe, a Military Border region was established in the 16th century in the zone of contact between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. In order to match Ottoman military might,  the Habsburgs established a new border defence system in Hungary and Croatia, strengthened and renovated their forts, and centralised and modernised their military, their finances, and their bureaucracies.

The Ottomans went on to take Transylvania and Wallachia (Rumania) as well. The  Ottoman Empire had become a significant part of European politics. It entered into a military alliance with France, England and the Netherlands against Habsburg Spain, Italy and Habsburg Austria. The Ottoman navy aided Francis the I to take Nice from the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1402, Timur defeated the Ottomans in the Battle of Ankara and became the preeminent ruler of the Muslim ruler in the world.

The End of Byzantium in 1453


Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Mehmet II

For a few years, the Ottomans held off because of defeat suffered at the hand of last great Mongol conqueror Timur Lang, but they surrendered the capital on all sides. There was another Turkish attack in 1422.
The Byzantine Emperor John VIII made a last attempt to overcome the strongest barrier to cooperation with the west when he went in 1439 to Florence and there accepted a papal primacy and union with Rome.
Western Christendom rejoiced; the bells rung in all the parish churches in England. But the Orthodox east scowled. The most influential Greek clergy had refused to attend the council; those who did signed the formula of union but many of them recanted when they went home.

Better to see in the city the power of the Turkish turban than that of the Latin tiara” – one Byzantine dignitary commented.

Submission to the Pope was for most Greeks a renegade act, a denial of the true Church whose tradition Orthodoxy had conserved. The Byzantine emperors were loyal to the agreements but 13 years passed before they dared to proclaim the union publicly at Constantinople. The only benefit drawn from their submission was the Pope’s support for the last Crusade (which ended in disaster in 1441).

In the end the west and east still could not make common cause. They took different views of the world and were divided over religion. To the west, the infidels were only battering the outermost defenses of Constantinople. Spain was almost recovered from Islam. France and Germany were absorbed in their own affairs. Venice and Genoa saw their interest might lie as much in reconciliation of the Turk as in opposition to him.

Even the Russians, harried by the Tatars, a Mongol people, could do little to help Byzantium, cut off as they were from direct contact with her. The imperial city of Constantinople, and little else, was left alone, divided within itself to face the Ottoman’s final effort.

The Fall of Constantinople was an event when the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed II sieged and eventually took over the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Many historians mark this as the end of the Roman Empire. From April 6th to May 29th of 1453, the Ottoman Army constantly bombarded the walls of Constantinople until finally entering the city on May 29th. On the evening of 29 may, Roman Catholics and Orthodox alike gathered in St. Sophia and the fiction of a united Christendom was given its last parade. Constantine XI took communion and then went out to die fighting.

Soon afterwards, the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II entered the city, went straight to St Sophia and set up a triumphant throne there. The church which had been the heart of Orthodoxy became a mosque. Christendom shuddered at the news.

The Sultan then named the city Istanbul and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire (See map). This is how the Roman Empire, that started with Augustus, finally came to an end after nearly 1500 years.

Rise of The Habsburgs

A daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Castile-Aragon married a member of the Habsburg dynastic family which ruled Flanders, Burgundy, Naples, Sicily and Austria as well as Germany (the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation). Their son, Charles V, The Holy Roman Emperor (r 1516-1558) not only inherited Castile-Aragon (now merged and called Spain) and the Habsburg territories but also became the ruler of the Aztec and Inca Empires in the Americas. Because of this, he was considered the titular political head of western Christianity and thereby the direct counterpart of Sultan Suleyman in the struggle for dominance in the Christian-Muslim world of Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa.

The struggle with the Ottoman Empire was fought in Hungary and the Mediterranean. The Siege of Buda (4 May to 21 August 1541) ended with the capture of the city of Buda, Hungary by the Ottoman Empire, leading to 150 years of Ottoman control of Hungary. The siege, part of the Little War in Hungary, was one of the most important Ottoman victories over the Habsburg Monarchy during Ottoman–Habsburg wars (16th to 18th century) in Hungary and the Balkans.

After seizing most of eastern and central Hungary in 1526, the Ottomans’ advance was halted at their failed Siege of Vienna in 1529. Following Suleiman’s unsuccessful Siege of Vienna in 1529, Ferdinand I launched a counter-attack in 1530 to regain the initiative and avenge the destruction brought by Suleiman’s 120,000 strong army. A lengthy war of attrition, conducted on his behalf by his younger brother Ferdinand, continued for the rest of Charles’s reign.

Charles was only 56 when he abdicated, but after 34 years of energetic rule he was physically exhausted and sought the peace of a monastery where he died at the age of 58. On Charles’s abdications, the Holy Roman Empire was inherited by his younger brother Ferdinand (who had already been given the Austrian lands in 1521). The Spanish Empire, including the possessions in the Netherlands and Italy, was inherited by Charles’s son Philip II. The two empires would remain allies until the 18th century.


The Ottomans and Byzantines in 1355

The Ottoman and Habsburg Wars in the Sixteenth Century

The Ottoman fleet attracted the attention and antagonism of Portugal and other sea powers. In 1571, Ottoman forces suffered a temporary setback when their fleet was defeated at the battle of Lepanto. Authorities differ on whether this battle had a permanent effect on Ottoman power.

 In 1683, Ottoman power was checked at its final zenith when the siege of Vienna failed. The empire began a decline marked by increasing backwardness relative to Europe as well as corruption and dissipation and poor judgment of several of the Sultans. The Janissaries became corrupt and ineffective as soldiers and used their power to dictate political affairs. For a time, the empire was ruled essentially by the women of the Harem, mothers of the Sultans.

The Ottoman state was born on the frontier between Islam and the Byzantine Empire Turkish tribes, driven from their homeland in the steppes of Central Asia by the Mongols, had embraced Islam and settled in Anatolia on the battle lines of the Islamic world, where they formed the Ottoman confederation. They were called ghazis, warriors for the faith, and their highest ambition was to die in battle for their adopted religion.

The rapid rise of Ottoman Turkey was due to opportunity as well as merit. The Ottomans arrived when the Byzantine empire was in decay. Asia Minor and Eastern Europe were up for grabs. Europeans had not yet devised centralized monarchical states, and were slow to unite against the Turks. Ottoman advances were met by shaky feudal coalitions and took advantage of the divisive political quarrels of the Italian republics and European principalities. The Ottomans were the only power with a standing army for hundreds of years, the  Janissaries, which made them the world’s only superpower in effect.

The Thirty Years’ war (1618 and 1648)

The period encompassing the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe has often been called “The Age of Kings.’’ Some of the most powerful rulers in history occupied the thrones of various countries during this time: Frederick the Great of Prussia, Maria Theresa of Austria, Peter
the Great and Catherine the Great of Russia, and a succession of grand kings named Louis in France, to name but a few. These monarchs governed as virtual dictators, and their influence dominated social and cultural affairs of the time as well as political matters.

The Second Defenestration of Prague (1618), which marked the beginning of the Bohemian Revolt, which began the first part of the Thirty Years’ War.

Defenestration of Prague

Europe in 1648


Central Europe at the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648

States’ participation in the Thirty Years’ War

In A.D. 330, the Roman Emperor Constantine founded the city of Constantinople on the Greek village of Byzantine to be the new imperial capital of the Eastern empire. Sitting on the Bosporus strait, which connects Europe and Asia, the new city was more easily defended than Rome, and it was a Christian city to reflect the emperor’s religious preference. Like Rome, Constantinople had seven hills divided into 14 districts.

The fall of  Constantinople in 1453 provided humanism with a major boost, for many eastern scholars fled to Italy, bringing with them important books and manuscripts and a tradition of Greek scholarship. The death of Byzantine emperor Constantine XI marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had continued in the East for 977 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

4. Battle of Buda (1686)

The Great Divergence


  1. Part Four: Interactions Across the Globe.
  2. Chapter 16. The Ottoman-Habsburg Struggle and Western European Expansion
  3. The-western-european-overseas-expansion-and-ottoman-hapsburg-struggle-flash-cards   
  4. The History Guide’s Lectures on Early Modern European History
  5. Ottoman Timeline and list of Ottoman Emperors
  6. Google search “portuguese mercantile empire in the sixteenth century”
  7. Empires and warfare in east-central Europe, 1550–1750: the Ottoman– Habsburg rivalry and military transformation
  8. The Spanish Empire



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