Bruno Mugnai, Wars and Soldiers in the Early Reign of Louis XIV: Volume 3 – The Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1645-1718 (Helion, 2020)
Almost from its beginning in the 13th Century, the expanding Ottoman Empire, centred in modern Turkey, offered a potent threat to the Christian West. When it took Constantinople in 1453, the alarm bells rang out all across Europe. War across the cultural chasm separating the two spheres became endemic with no clear winner as usually happens when two titans clash. The Military Revolution in the 17th Century West revitalized that struggle, culminating in the Ottomans knocking on the doors of Vienna in 1683 in what proved to be their high tide. In this, the latest volume in Helion’s survey of the wars of Louis XIV’s reign, Bruno Mugnai analyses the Ottoman army in a book that will surely be considered definitive for many years to come.
Mugnai begins with an overview of the complex Ottoman political, economic, and military structure, which was in crisis by the mid-17th Century. He notes that the Ottomans failed to develop military theories along the lines of the Military Revolution in the West, illuminating the differences between them and the western powers. Mugnai next surveys the Ottoman allies: the Tatars, Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia, Georgia, the North African Regencies, the Cossacks, Persians, and even for a time the Swedish King Charles XII. That brings Mugnai to the thrust of his book, the Ottoman Army.
Judging how many men constituted the Ottoman Army is no mean feat, but they were generally described as a multitude. Mugnai has issues with the inflated numbers in the sources, though his detailed description of all the elements of the Ottoman army and its allied contingents illustrates just how impressive they were. Mugnai turns to how the Ottomans waged war, highlighting that they usually opted for the strategic offensive. Mugnai assesses how they did this through their logistical and administrative acumen. Ottoman deployment and tactics on the battlefield rarely changed over the 17th Century, notes Mugnai. They were adept at pulling enemies out of formation, he continues, but struggled against disciplined armies. The Ottomans also placed too much reliance on their cavalry, which was also not effective against troops who stood their ground. The Ottoman infantry became more prominent in the latter part of the century and their fanatical charges were feared by those facing them. They were not above creating field defences, however, when the situation required, and they were methodical in their siege-craft. Mugnai works through several battles and campaigns to illustrate how Ottoman tactics and strategy came together or didn’t as the case may be. A lengthy review of weapons, equipment, and dress, some of it highly ornate, rounds off Mugnai’s study.
If there is a better book on the Ottoman army in the 17th Century, I would like to see it, because it must be very impressive to beat what Mugnai has achieved in this volume. Mugnai writes with clarity and obvious specialist knowledge, and while I found the narrative of battles and campaigns, particularly those around the siege of Vienna in 1683, the most interesting aspects of the book, the understanding that Mugnai brings to every aspect of the Ottoman army is informative and well written. This book is full of illustrations and photographs, but it is the beautiful colour plates, also painted by the multi-talented Mugnai that catch the eye. Overall, this is an excellent book for specialists and general military history enthusiasts. Highly recommended 10/10.