Whenever it comes to the study of international affairs, a practical fragmentation of the subject matter is most of the time required for gaining thorough knowledge. One example of such a division is between regions such as the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic area, the post-Soviet space, the EU, or Eurasia. The list can hardly ever be exhausted because regionalism is a dynamic process, not a static definition. A break-up of the world in these terms is as we said useful for analytical purposes, but in real life the global relations are deep and strong. At times, it can be revealing and interesting to look at the bigger picture for a better understanding of what goes around us.
In this short paper we will try to do precisely this by going back in time to the 18th century. Our case under observation will be the intertwinement of Central Europe, the Black Sea region, and the Mediterranean. This will be exemplified by the conflictual rapport between the Austrian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Republic of Venice.
The point of departure, and paradoxically the end point of our discussion is the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-18. The paradox is a consequence of the method of studying history. In order to understand the central episode of our investigation, it is necessary to roll-back the events that led to it. Thus, we will take it backwards to 1714, and then to 1710. Aside from allowing for a better understanding of the Austro-Turkish war, following back the traces that led to this event enables us to introduce the other actors into the story. This way, our example becomes emblematic for the argument that international politics can at times be better comprehended by taking an inter-regional stance.
The Inter-Regional Affairs of Austria, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Venice
In 1718, the Treaty of Passarowitz turned more Ottoman possessions into the Austrian Empire’s backyard. More specifically, the central part of present-day Serbia (Syrmia), along with two western and southern parts of present-day Romania (Banat and Oltenia) went under Austrian dominion. The same Treaty took the Peloponnese peninsula from Venice and put in the Turks’ handsi. Such a situation concluded the so-called Austro-Turkish war of 1716-18, conflict initiated but the Ottomans’ declaration of war against Austria. For the sake of fairness, it must be mentioned that the Turks had been previously threatened by the Austrians who were considering themselves the guarantors of the Karlowitz Peace Treaty that had put an end to yet another earlier war between the two powersii.
The balance of power which had been established between the two at Karlowitziii was shattered with the Turkish war against Russia in 1710-11, and against Venice in 1714-18iv. Regarding the Russo-Turkish conflict, the Ottomans responded with a declaration of war to Peter the Great’s demands for handing back Charles XII of Sweden, who was the Swedish monarch that had sought refuge in the Court of Sultan Ahmed III after being wounded in the Battle of Poltavav (the decisive victory of Russia over Sweden in the Great Northern War that had begun in 1700vi). The fight between the Turks and the Russians was won by the former, and the Treaty of the Pruth of 1711 stipulated the return of Azov to the Ottoman Empire, the demolition of several Russian fortresses, and the promise of latter’s non-involvement in the internal affairs of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealthvii.
The casus belli for the Turkish-Venetian war was twofold. First, there was the confiscation of the former Grand Vizier Damad Hasan Pasha’s treasure ship by the Venetians. Second, the granting of sanctuary to the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro Danilo I after his revolt against the Turks, by the same Venetiansviii. In strategic and political terms, these two events can be interpreted as instances of Venetian obstruction of Turkish access to the Mediterranean Sea, and of Venetian intervention in Turkish domestic affairs. However, the element of Ottoman revisionism also plays an essential part as we can see from the development of the war. Thus, the Ottomans captured the Morea (Peloponnese) in 1715ix, territory that had been lost 20 years earlier to the Venetians after the Treaty of Karlowitzx. When the pasha of Bosnia marched towards Dalmatia, another possession of Venice, but closely-located to the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian Habsburgs entered the war against the Ottomansxi. It was the beginning of the Austro-Turkish war that we discussed above.
Brief Geopolitical Considerations
In relation to the Austro-Turkish war of 1716-18, the fundamental zone of interest of this particular conflict can be defined as Central Europe. The war itself had direct repercussions for Southeastern Europe, but ultimately the goal was keeping the Ottoman Empire furthest possible from the ‘headquarters’ of the Habsburgs. All three wars discussed in this essay point to the strategic importance of having foreign territorial possessions, or of at least exerting influence over vassal forms of political organization. For instance, in the case of Austria and Turkey, one of the most important battles had taken place in Petrovaradin (present-day Novi Sad, Serbia), which at the time was part of the Military Frontier, a Habsburg borderland acting as cordon sanitaire against Turkish incursionsxii. Despite forming an administrative unit of Austria, the foreign regions belonging to this borderland (parts of today’s Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, and Romaniaxiii) had merely instrumental buffer-zone functions meant to keep Vienna safe.
Regarding the Russo-Turkish conflict of 1710-11, the competition for influence over the areas that constitute present-day Moldova, Eastern Romania, and present-day Ukraine’s Black Sea shores are clear. We could pinpoint the zone of interest of this war within the Black Sea region. This particular case is not in the slightest different from the Austro-Turkish war when it comes to the relevance of buffer-zones. The decisive battle between Russia and Turkey was planned to take place along the Pruth River, in Moldavia, with the consent of the local ruler Dimitrie Cantemir. The campaign failed as the Turks had surrounded and defeated the Russian troops at Stanilesti, same Moldaviaxiv. Again, the destructiveness of the war was being handled on another people’s soil. The strategic significance of the Moldavian land (also called Bessarabia) was properly understood by the Russian Empire who annexed it after the Russian-Turkish war of 1806-1812xv.
Finally, as for the Turkish-Venetian War of 1714-18, the dispute for dominion over the Mediterranean can be conceived of as the crucial motivator. Regardless of the fact that the ultimate strategy was access to the sea, the tactical moves demanded possession of land, namely of island in the Aegean Sea. Thus, the Ottoman Fleet captured the islands of Tinos and Aigina, then the entire Peloponnese, and even attempted to conquer the island of Corfuxvi. Moreover, the reaction of the local Greek population was decisive in the Turkish-Venetian affairs since they disliked the latter and preferred the formerxvii. In this example as well, the events took place on the land and seas of what is current-day Greece, with Constantinople 1000 km away from the battlefield.
All these three wars can be interpreted as taking place within clearly defined zones: Central Europe, the Black Sea region, and the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, all these episodes are interconnected because of the intertwined interests and hostilities between the time’s major powers: Austria, Venice, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia. The need for buffer-zones was a response to the threat posed by the other actors. Inter-regional competition and alliance-making was additional to the same patterns in terms of the intra-regional. In Central Europe, Austria and the Turks were enemies. The same however in the Mediterranean, because the Austrians were allies of the Venetians who were fighting the Ottomans. The latter nevertheless, were backed by the Greeks. Around the Black Sea, the Russians were fighting the Turks alongside the Moldavians, but ended up promising not to interfere in the affairs of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and annexing Moldavia itself a century later. This maze of temporary and interest-driven partnerships are an illustrative example of 18th century inter-regionalism.
In conclusion, the political and military landscape of the beginning the 18th century in Europe cannot truly be presented and analysed through a fragmentation of the subject in terms of regions or zones. Sure, such an attempt would have its benefits, in particular the access to unique historic details. But such details lose significance if we make abstraction of the bigger picture. It is only a broad perspective that can shed light on the inter-regional affairs occurring at the time. And only by putting these affairs in the geopolitical context can we extract lessons from the past. Otherwise, too much of a rigid partition of the episodes presented above, even if regionally contextualized, leads precisely to that: a series of episodes that hold no historical/political value.
iTreaty of Passarowitz, self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Treaty_of_Passarowitz
iiAustro-Turkish War of 1716-18, self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/austro-turkish_war_of_1716-18
iiiMore about the Great Turkish War that concluded with the Treaty of Karlowitz, here: Great Turkish War, self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Great_Turkish_War
vRusso-Turkish War (1710-1711), self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Russo%E2%80%93Turkish_War_%281710%E2%80%931711%29
viMore on this here: Great Northern War, self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Great_Northern_War#1710.E2.80.931721:_Finland
viiRusso-Turkish War (1710-1711), self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Russo%E2%80%93Turkish_War_%281710%E2%80%931711%29
viiiTurkish-Venetian War (1714-1718), self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Turkish%E2%80%93Venetian_War_%281714%E2%80%931718%29
xTreaty of Karlowitz, self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Treaty_of_Karlowitz
xiTurkish-Venetian War (1714-1718), self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Turkish%E2%80%93Venetian_War_%281714%E2%80%931718%29
xiiMilitary Frontier, self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Military_Frontier
xivRusso-Turkish War (1710-1711), self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Russo%E2%80%93Turkish_War_%281710%E2%80%931711%29
xv(tr.) Florin Constatiniu (2011), An Honest History of the Romanian People (O istorie Sincera a Poporului Roman), Univers Enciclopedic, p.186
xviTurkish-Venetian War (1714-1718), self.gutenberg.org: http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Turkish%E2%80%93Venetian_War_%281714%E2%80%931718%29