Book Review of Empire and Military Revolution in Eastern Europe: Russia’s Turkish Wars in the Eighteenth Century

Brian L. Davies. Empire and Military Revolution in Eastern Europe: Russia’s Turkish Wars in the Eighteenth Century. Continuum Studies in Military History. London, England: Continuum International, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4411-7004-0. Map. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. ix, 364. $120.00.

Originally posted in Military History (27 July 2012)

In this study, Dr Brian L. Davies, a Professor of History at the University of Texas at San Antonio, examines Russia’s wars and military campaigns against the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth century. The author stresses Russian military reforms from Peter I of Russia through the early reign of Catherine II. Moreover, the author devotes detailed attention to the players involved in Russian foreign affairs, including the Ottoman Turks, Crimean Khanate, Ukrainian Cossacks, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden, and others. His previous works include State Power and Community in Early Modern Russia: The Case of Kozlov, 1635-1649 (2004) and Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 1500-1700 (2007). He has also recently edited Warfare in Eastern Europe, 1500-1800 (2012).

In 1686, Russia (Muscovy) joined the alliance of the Holy Roman Empire, Poland-Lithuania, Venice, and the Papacy, against the Ottoman Turks. The War of the Holy League (1683-99) had begun with the Turkish invasion of Austrian Habsburg territories and the siege of Vienna in 1683. As part of this alliance, Russia launched unsuccessful campaigns against the Crimean Tatars in 1687 and 1689. After taking control of Russia from his half-sister Sophia, Peter I sought expansion south towards the Black Sea. As such, Russia came into conflict with the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Turks. His first military campaign to capture the Ottoman fortress of Azov in 1695 failed, but the following campaign, employing ships, captured Azov in 1696, and Russia founded the first Russian naval base at Taganrog. The first phase of Peter I’s struggle against the Ottoman Turks ended with the Peace of Constantinople (1700).

Davies describes Peter I’s foreign policy, the Russian army, and military events dealing with the Sweden in the Baltic Region and the Ottoman Turks in the south. In 1700, Peter I allied with Denmark, Saxony, and Poland-Lithuania in an attack on the Swedish Empire, beginning the Great Northern War (1700-1721). But, Sweden, led by Charles XII, defeated the Danes (1700) and then the Russians at Narva (1700), followed by an invasion of Poland-Lithuania in 1701. This gave Russia the opportunity to recover from defeat and begin reforming the army. Therefore, when the Swedish army turned and invaded the Ukraine several years later, the tsar commanded a rebuilt military reformed and trained along western lines. Peter I defeated Charles XII at the battle of Poltava in 1709, forcing the Swedish king to retreat to the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, Sultan Ahmed III declared war against Russia in 1710, leading to Peter I’s disastrous Pruth Campaign. In this campaign the Russians attempted to invade Moldavia but were surrounded and defeated in the decisive battle of Stanileşti in July 1711. In the Treaty of Pruth (1711), Peter I was forced to give up Azov and several fortresses, including Taganrog, were to be demolished.

Davies provides a valuable depiction of Russian military operations during the Russo-Turkish War of 1736-1739. He argues that Field Marshal Burckhard Christoph von Münnich and General Peter Lacy gained valuable experience during each annual military campaign and gradually improved the military effectiveness of the Russian army. This included finding revenue sources as well as increasing military discipline, logistics, and experimenting with new tactics. The first campaign, in 1736, resulted in Münnich capturing the Turkish fortifications at Perekop and then occupying the Crimean capital of Bakhchisarai. But, the lack of supplies and the outbreak of disease forced the Russians to retreat to the Ukraine. Lacy, however, employed a flotilla to assist his army in capturing the fortress of Azov. Then, in 1737, Münnich captured the Ottoman fortress of Ochakov while Lacy invaded the Crimea and captured Karasubazar. The author points out that the Russians once again had to withdraw from the Crimea because of the lack of supplies. In the meantime, in 1737, Habsburg Austria, allied to Russia, went to war against the Ottoman Turks (the Austro-Turkish War of 1737-1739). Ottoman forces, however, defeated the Austrians at Banja Luka (1737) and Grocka (1739), and then besieged and captured Belgrade (1739). In the meantime, Münnich defeated the Turks at Stavuchany and occupied the fortress of Khotin in Moldavia in 1739. The Turkish defeat of Austria at the battle of Grocka and the capture of Belgrade resulted in the Habsburgs negotiating a separate peace in the Treaty of Belgrade (1739). The loss of the Austrian alliance, along with the threat of a Swedish invasion in the north, forced Russia to agree to end the conflict in the Peace of Niš. Russia had to give up its claims to the Crimea and Moldavia.

In the next few decades Russia became the strongest power in southeastern Europe. The Russian Empire expanded through the employment of military power. Russian military power as the author shows had been strengthened by an improved military administration, tighter central control over military finances, and an improved logistical system. The Austrian Empire was weakened by the expense of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and Seven Years War (1756-1763). The Ottoman Empire was destabilized by widespread revolts and the Persian threat. War between Catherine II’s Russia and the Ottomans (the Russo-Turkish War of 1668-1774) broke out after several border clashes. In 1769, the Russian army, commanded by Field Marshal A.M. Golitsyn, invaded Moldavia and captured the fortress at Khotin and the capital of Iasi (Jassy). Then, as Davies stresses, the Russian army, under the command of Peter Aleksandrovich Rumiantsev, won a “series of victories over much larger Ottoman and Tatar forces, victories more decisive and lopsided than had ever occurred before” (p.267). The Russians marched south and occupied the Wallachian capital of Bucharest. The Russians defeated the Turks at Larga, captured the fortress at Bender, won a victory at Kagul, and routed the Turks at Kartala. Meanwhile, in 1770, the Russian Baltic Sea fleet sailed from northern Europe to the Aegean Sea and defeated an Ottoman fleet at Chesme off the coast of Asia Minor. Next, in 1771, the Russian army under V.M. Dolgorukov invaded, captured, and held the Crimean Peninsula, including the capital Bakhchisari. This campaign ended the threat of the Crimean Khanate to Russia’s southern frontier that had existed for 260 years (p.271). Meanwhile, Rumiantsev captured the Ottoman fortresses in the eastern Danubian Region.

At this point, in 1772, Sultan Mustapha III of the Ottoman Empire opened up peace talks with Russia. The Turks stretched out the peace negotiations with Russia. The Sublime Porte realized that Austria, Prussia, and Britain feared Russian territorial expansion and the disruption of the European balance of power. Austria was concerned about the growth of Russian power in Moldavia and Wallachia and the threat to the Austrian sphere of influence in the region. In fact, in 1771, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had deployed troops to Hungary to restrain Russia in Moldavia and Wallachia. He even began to negotiate an Austro-Turkish alliance against Russia. An Austro-Russian war was avoided by Catherine II agreeing to Frederick II of Prussia’s proposal for the First Partition of Poland (1772) to satisfy Austrian and Prussian demands for territorial expansion as compensation for Russian territorial aggrandizement. Then, to force the Sultan to come to terms, Catherine II sent Rumiantsev’s army across the Danube River into Silistria in 1773-1774. Major General Aleksandr Suvorov defeated the Turks at Turtukai in 1773 and Kozluji in 1774. As a result, the Sublime Porte agreed to the Peace of Kuchuk-Kainarji in Bulgaria. In this settlement, Russia agreed to withdraw from Moldavia and Wallachia. However, Russia gained some territory in the southern Ukraine, northern Caucasus, and the Crimea. Russia regained Azov and the seaports of Kerch and Enikale, thus allowing Russian merchant and naval ships access to the Black Sea and the ability to pass through the Turkish Straits into the Mediterranean. Moreover, the Crimea became a Russian protectorate, and would be annexed by Russia in 1783.

Davies asks was there a Russian military revolution during the eighteenth century that led to Russia’s success against the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774? The author points out that most historians believe that the new tactical and strategic thinking displayed by Rumiantsev, Potemkin, and Suvorov during the conflict marked a radical change from the military doctrine of the Seven Years War. But Davies thinks that the so-called Russian military revolution in tactics and strategy has been overstated (p.279). Russia did adopt recent innovations in military technique from the West. Even so, another reason for the overwhelming Russian military victory is the relative decline of Ottoman military power in the late eighteenth century. Davies also considers as important “the long-term accumulation of strategic advantage from Russia’s more flexible taxation and military finance practices and her more aggressive and opportunistic exploitation of the weakness of frontier politics. [T]he end of the war did mark a geopolitical ‘revolution’ in the sense that it reversed power relations in Pontic and Danubian Europe” (p.283).

Davies provides a detailed study of Russian mobilization of military resources for expansion to the southern steppe frontier and how Russian army rolled back the power of competitors, such as the independent Cossack hosts, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Crimean Khanate, Ottoman Empire, and others in the region. Russian military operations grew in size and success against the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth century. This reader is looking forward to a promised subsequent volume that will discuss Catherine II’s later wars against the Ottoman Turks. The present study is recommended to those students and scholars interested in the military history of East Europe.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Europe in the 18th Century (1713-1789), Military Revolution, Ottoman Foreign Policy, Ottoman Wars, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Military History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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