Just over 300 years ago the Turkish Ottoman Empire was within striking distance of assimilating Europe. But, in one of the defining moments of European history, Ottoman dominance evaporated in a mortifying military defeat. At Zenta in Northern Serbia, the 80,000-strong Turkish army was annihilated by the Habsburg forces under the leadership of a brilliant military tactician, Prince Eugene of Savoy.
After Sultan Mustafa II had captured Belgrade, he headed northwards along the River Tisza towards the strategically important Hungarian city of Szeged. It was too late in the year for further campaigning so he decided to cross the Tisza at Zenta to ensconce his troops in Ottoman-held territory for the winter. Meanwhile Prince Eugene, one of Europe’s ablest commanders, had hastily mustered an opposing army.
The Sultan, unaware that he was being pursued by Eugene, entrenched his troops and prepared to cross the Tisza. Eugene sneaked up behind him, positioning his heavy artillery in the high ground overlooking the river. He chose his moment carefully: just as the Sultan’s own artillery was fording the river, and therefore out of action, he gave the order to start raining shot down from above. At the same time he mounted an assault on the rear flanks of the Turkish army. The Turks found themselves hemmed in between the river and Eugene’s army. Mayhem broke out as thousands plunged into the water to escape being slaughtered.
Zenta was arguably the most ignominious defeat ever inflicted on the Turkish Empire. Not only were all the Sultan’s arms and treasure captured but he even lost his Imperial state seal and personal harem. The threat of Ottoman hegemony was ended for good; it was Austria’s turn for dominance over Europe.
When: September 11 1697
Where: Zenta (Senta), Hungary (now Serbia)
Death toll: The Turks lost some 20,000 men killed in action, while more than 10,000 drowned in the River Tisza. The Habsburg forces suffered only a few hundred casualties.
You should know: The Battle of Zenta signaled the end of the Austro-Ottoman Great Turkish War of 1683-1699, forcing the Turks into signing the Treaty of Carlowitz, which ceded a large chunk of Hungary, the whole of Croatia and Slovenia, and most of Transylvania – all the territory that the Ottoman Empire had gained in central Europe since 1526 – to Austria.