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First Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774)

The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire fought the First Russo-Turkish War between 1768 and 1774. The conflict stemmed from the Russia’s intervention in Polish-Lithuanian politics, particularly Empress Catherine II’s support for the election of Stanislaw Poniatowski as king of the Commonwealth. This was opposed by the officials of France who supported a Saxon candidate.

The Ottoman Empire was dragged into the conflict because of its alliance with France and its support for rebel Polish nobles. The First Russo-Turkish War was a disaster for the Ottoman Empire. The Turks suffered heavy losses in the Mediterranean, Crimea, and the Danube fronts at the hands of the Russians. Finally, the Ottoman Empire was forced to sue for peace in 1774.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Rise of Russia

A depiction of Catherine’s victory over the Turks by Stefano Torelli

The Ottoman Empire was only a shadow of its former self during the late 16th century and well into the 18th century. It was forced to concede large sections of territory to its enemies in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1699) and the Treaty of Belgrade (1739). The economy was in bad shape, while rebellions flared up every now and then in its territory. Austria, the Ottoman Empire’s long-time enemy, was not doing  well either. Russia, on the other hand, enjoyed a period of prosperity and military domination during the reign of Empress Catherine II.

However, the peace between Russia and the Ottoman Empire would be broken during the latter half of the 18th century. In October 1763, the Polish king Augustus III died. His heir, Frederick Christian, followed more than two months later. Now that the Commonwealth’s throne was vacant, Empress Catherine II of Russia pushed for the election of her former lover, Stanislaw Poniatowski, as the new king.

This was countered by France, Austria, and Prussia whose officials wanted an elector from Saxony on the throne. Despite the opposition, Catherine still managed to have Stanislaw Poniatowski elected as king of the Commonwealth in 1764. The Russian intervention did not sit well with some Polish nobles, so they formed a group (confederacy) to counter the Russians.

The problem, however, was that the group was disorganized and had no clear plans to shake off Russian influence in the Commonwealth. The Ottomans were dragged into this war with Russia when this Polish group appealed to them (as well as France) for help. The Ottomans were also eager to wage a new war with Russia as it threatened their domination in Crimea. The Turks responded by issuing an ultimatum to the Russians to recall their troops from the Commonwealth. The Russians, however, refused to leave Poland. In 1768, the Ottomans declared war against its powerful northern neighbor.

The First Russo-Turkish War was an ill-advised venture for the Ottomans. They suffered heavy losses at Khotyn in 1769 and at Kagul in 1770. In the same year, a Russian fleet sailed from the Baltic and into the English Channel. The fleet sailed past the Gibraltar, entered the Mediterranean, and sailed into the Aegean. The fleet’s goal was to dock in the Balkans and encourage the Orthodox Christians who resented the Ottomans to rebel against their rulers. This was an easy task, and before the Ottomans realized what they were up against, rebellions had flared up in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro. The Russians also assisted the Christian rebels in the Peloponnese Peninsula.

The Ottomans scrambled to assemble a fleet to help the Turkish defenders in the Peloponnese. Led by admiral Husameddin Pasha, the Turkish warships sailed to the peninsula to engage the Russian navy, but it was just too strong. The Ottoman ships sailed to Cesme in the Anatolian coast to seek refuge, but the Russians followed closely behind. A major naval battle ensued, so the Ottomans were forced to sail deeper into the coast.

The Russians were still hot on their heels, and they later set the Ottoman ships on fire when they finally caught up. Around 5,000 Ottoman seamen died in the battle, and only one ship managed to sail back to Istanbul. The Ottomans were luckier in the Peloponnese as the Muslim locals resisted the invaders and the rebels.

The Russians attempted to negotiate with the Ottomans, but the latter refused. The Ottomans made an alliance with Austria, but they were forced to give up territory to the Habsburgs in exchange for military support. Unfortunately, this military assistance did not materialize as negotiations were abandoned in 1772.

Things worsened for the Ottomans when the Russians invaded Crimea in 1771. Unable to resist, the khan of the Crimean Tatars agreed to turn his domain into an “independent” state that was under the domain of Russia. It also included the vast steppe in southwestern Ukraine and the Kuban steppe.

In July 1772, Austria, Russia, and Prussia finally agreed to partition Poland. It was clear to the Turks that the odds were not in their favor after they experienced a couple more losses in Danubian front in 1774. Once again, they were forced to negotiate with Russia. In July 1774, the two parties finalized the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca (Kaynardzha).

In this treaty, Crimea became a part of Russia, and it pushed the Russian border further south in the coastal areas of the Black Sea. Russians ships could now sail freely in the Black Sea and enter the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus. The treaty also allowed the Russians to set up a consulate anywhere in the Ottoman Empire, as well as set up a permanent embassy in the Ottoman capital. For the first time, the beleaguered Ottoman Empire was also forced to pay war compensation to an enemy.


Photo by: Stefano Torelli – former image source [1]; current image source [2], Public Domain, Link

Lloyd, Christopher, and M.S. Anderson. The New Cambridge Modern History: The American and French Revolutions 1763-93. Edited by A. Goodwin. Vol. VIII. Cambridge University Press , 1965.

Faroqhi, Suraiya, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey: The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603–1839. Vol. 3. Cambridge U Press, 2006.

Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. NY, NY: Basic Books, 2007.

Kia, Mehrdad. The Ottoman Empire. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Shaw, Stanford Jay. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey : Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

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