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Circulation and Control in the 'World of the Siege': The Contested Position of Belgrade in Early Modern Warfare

The siege might at first glance conjure up ideas of a static confrontation and of clear-cut boundariesbetween attack and defense. Yet, a closer look at practices and representations of early modernpositional warfare demonstrates how it also made people, things, and concepts move. Siegesconcentrated various circulations, e. g. of soldiers, food, and information, in a contested position.They thus at the same time made und unmade the locality under attack.

The project zooms in on the strategically important fortress of Belgrade. During the era of the 'cabinet wars', i.e. after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the place was besieged five times (1688,1690, 1717, 1739 and 1789). Every time, soldiers and civilian populations suffered from the dearth, destruction, and death that came with such operations. A comparative analysis of these instances ofsiege warfare undermines simplistic master narratives - whether of unimpeded European progression to global dominance or of continual Islamic threat to Christianity. Instead, Belgrade exemplifies the difficulties inherent in constructions of locality on the 'military frontier' between the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Balkans, where diverse ethnic and religious groups co-habited and intermixed. Siege warfare mobilized regional populations as well as military personnel from afar in flight and fight, forming ephemeral places of (violent) encounter. The struggle for control of thelifelines of circulation in siege warfare proved extremely demanding in this complex situation.

Such messy realities and representations of sieges undermine idealized notions of warfare as anabstract factor in the formation of the modern territorial state. Building on exploratory work I have undertaken with the edited volume The World of the Siege (, the project contributes to a cultural and relational shift in discussions of early modern warfare and statebuilding.


Siege of Belgrade 1688, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (public domain), URL:

Nature of the project:

Post-habilitation research



Participating researchers:

Dr. Anke Fischer-Kattner