Today in European History: the Russians capture Plevna (1877)

Although they’ve settled into a kind of love-hate rut nowadays, historically relations between the precursors of modern Russia and modern Turkey have tended not to be so great. Consider that the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, two of those precursors, fought a whopping 12 wars against one another between the second half of the 16th century and World War I (which, of course, brought about the end of both empires). The Russians won most of these wars, while the Ottomans, suffice to say, did not. The Sick Man of Europe needed help from Britain and France to win their biggest victory against the Russians, in the 1853-1856 Crimean War.

By 1877, both empires had seen better days, and the Ottomans in particular were struggling with a relatively new concept: Balkan nationalism. All those European provinces and peoples that had been part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries—many of whom were fed up with the second-class status of Christians living within the empire—started, in the early 19th century, to absorb some funny ideas about national identity and self-determination from elsewhere in Europe. Those ideas were reinforced when the 1821-1832 Greek War of Independence ended with, well, an independent Greece. Serbs, Bulgarians, Albanians, and many others figured, hey, if the Greeks could be independent, why can’t we? This was the heyday of “pan-slavism,” and Russia, which was always interested in challenging Austria-Hungary for influence in the Balkans and acutely interested in avenging its defeat in the Crimean War, was eager to help its fellow Slavs win their freedom from the hated Turk.

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4 thoughts on “Today in European History: the Russians capture Plevna (1877)

  1. Oh, so that’s how the AustroHungarians got their hands on Bosnia-Herzegovina.

    I am reminded of Watzlawick’s “Pragmatics of Human Communication” in the sense that history is a dialog that began thousands of years ago, so when telling your own story you must pick a point and say “this is where time began.” Most of the stories I read begin with the annexation as an accomplished fact and get down to proving that Germany was uniquely responsible for starting The Great War.

    Thanks, and interesting as always.

  2. Georgian author Boris Akunin has a delightful series of historical fiction novels featuring detective Erast Fandorin. The second in the series is “The Turkish Gambit” and all the action cycles around the Siege of Plevna. It’s probably available in your local library and can certainly be ordered on Amazon.

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