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Syldavian History 1681-1682: Dbrnouk at the centre of attention

Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa

King Ivan’s efforts after 1677 to modernize Syldavia’s military were timely indeed.  In 1681-82, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, the Ottoman Sultan’s chief minister and satrap of Rumelia (the western provinces of the Ottoman Empire, comprising the southern Balkans) put in motion a grand plan of aggrandisement, both Imperial and personal.  Kara Mustafa sought to mount an aggressive campaign against the Habsburg Imperium and to bring Hungary, then (as always) dissenting from Habsburg rule, firmly under his control in doing so.  In order to prepare the way for his plan, and through occupation and intimidation, Kara Mustafa attempted to consolidate his hold on the Balkans and to secure from that region both sources of men and materiel.  He also sought access to ports in the Adriatic from which he could sustain a naval threat to Venice or move troops around the Balkan Peninsula.  Kara Mustafa amassed troops in Borduria and Wallachia and turned those client states into forward bases for his push northwards into Hungary.  He attempted to extort Syldavia’s submission through diplomatic threats backed up by raids into Syldavian territory from Skhoder and Borduria.  Similarly, the free petty-state of Ragusia (the city of Dbrnouk) was threatened by Kara Mustafa with outright annexation and extermination of its ruling council if it did not consent to vassalage, to turn its fortress, fleet and fortune over and to aid the Ottoman fleet to confront Venice in the Adriatic. Dbrnouk’s excellent fortifications, upon which Ragusian independence largely rested, had been seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1679 and were still in repair three years later.  The city’s governing council felt quite vulnerable to the Ottoman threat as they knew that they could not hope to resist a determined Ottoman effort from an occupied Syldavia, and that they could not defend themselves against Venetian reprisals that would inevitably come if they consented to be used as an Ottoman naval base.
Part of the fortifications of Dbrnouk

Scrambling to react to the Ottoman threat, Ivan mobilised his forces and succeeded in pushing back raider forces that attacked the towns of Cetinjow in Zeta and Djordjevaro in Hum.  He personally led the force that vanquished the Hum raid.   Fortunately for Ivan, Kara Mustafa was impatient and impetuous; he had already begun to move the bulk of his army up the Danube and did not bother to ever send more than a small force against Syldavia.  Nevertheless, not knowing Ottoman dispositions, Ivan kept his forces, their nerves taught with dread, on guard. 

The Venetians were not idle in this time and did much to add to the tension of the moment.  In great anxiety himself over the Ottoman offensive, the Doge sent emissaries to attempt to coerce the Syldavians and Ragusia into vassalage once again as a means of better controlling the Balkan frontier and Balkan military forces (the Venetian army was not so very strong).  In opening a front on the Ottoman’s western flank in the Balkans, the Doge hoped to deflect some of the force moving against the Imperium and to create opportunities for re-conquest in the Mediterranean islands at the same time.  Messengers brought the Doge’s stern admonishment to join in the fight against the Ottomans under Venetian leadership to King Ivan and the Ragusian governing council even as Ottoman troops were being amassed on the Bordurian frontier.  Being entirely aware of the weakness of Dbrnouk’s defences, and informed by their spies of another impending raid into Travunia and Ragusia from over the St. Mihailo Pass, the Venetians ultimately took the initiative themselves and landed an improvised force of mercenaries, Oultramarinos, a light cavalry squadron and some artillery (including a few siege cannons) north of Dbrnouk, with the intention of seizing the city when the bulk of its troops were engaged with the Bordurian/Ottoman raiding party. 

A Ragusian man with Dbrnouk in the background
Ragusia had plenty of its own spies, however, and knew of the Venetian plan of annexation.  The leader of the Ragusian ruling council, Nikolai Marcusj, was a very crafty fellow and hurriedly mobilised his own forces (largely militia) and proposed an emergency meeting to King Ivan, who was in nearby Hum province, having just repulsed the first Bordurian raid near Djordjevaro. Marcusj met with King Ivan near the border village of Gladinajur.  There, Marcusj proposed a joint defence in the short term (ostensibly against the Ottomans) and a political union, where Ragusia would re-join the Syldavian kingdom as a semi-autonomous province legally subject to the King but retaining its traditional laws and quasi-Republican government.  King Ivan was astonished by the proposal but eagerly agreed (hardly needing any encouragement by his ministers who seemed well-informed of the proposal and rather too quickly produced papers legalising the union…).   Returning to Dbrnouk with the Ragusian dignitaries and detachments of Ragusian and Syldavian troops, King Ivan and Marcusj intercepted the Venetian force.  The political officer in charge of the army was more than vexed to learn of the de facto fusion of the two petty states; to overrun tiny and friendless Ragusia was one thing but an attempt to annex a Syldavian territory through naked force would be outright war on a country Venice hoped to steer back into its fold and one with mutual allies with Venice (the Imperium).  Even if it was a small and weak state, war with Syldavia would be a pure gain for the Ottomans and a significant problem for Venetian strategy to keep the Ottomans out of the Adriatic.  The Venetian officer was a prudent man, he abandoned the planned move on Dbrnouk and to save face when challenged to explain the presence of his own force, he had to concede to join the conjoint Syldavian-Ragusian expedition against the Ottoman raiding parties in Travunia.  In this venture, the Venetian troops played a useful role (in one key skirmish, their siege artillery was used to effect against a fortified position, forcing the Ottomans to leave the field), before departing.  Nikolai Marcusj went to bed a happy man, having more than trebled overnight the number of troops defending Ragusia and in having repelled one weak Ottoman threat and one a very significant Venetian threat through a diplomatic coup de main that changed little for Ragusian political reality.  And what delicious irony to have had that Venetian army in the field technically in the defence of Ragusia!  King Ivan was also extremely pleased, for he had expanded his kingdom by recovering a long-lost territory without a shot fired, and gained a major city and a port.  The port was significant for the trade and revenues it would bring, even if it was not well-connected to Syldavia’s heartland or rivers.  In Venice, the unfortunate office in charge of the aborted mission had to explain to the glowering Doge that he had at least forced Syldavia and Ragusia into the war squarely against the Ottomans.  And elsewhere, in Szhod, Kara Mustafa put his plans of conquest into motion...   


  1. More entertaining -and better written- than a lot of 'real' History: compliments!


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