The Battle on the Marchfeld. Military aspects and political significance

Term Paper, 2017
13 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background

3. Political significance of the Marchfeld Battle 1278

4. Military aspects of the battle

5. Closing words

6. List of references

1. Introduction

“The Battle of the Marchfeld permanently ends the dream of a great Slav kingdom in Central Europe.”1

One of the largest knight battles during the Middle Ages, the Battle on the Marchfeld, located between Jedenspeigen and Dürnkrut in Lower Austria, took place on the 26th of August 1278 and was an important event for the further history of Central Europe. The battle resulted in the death of King Ottokar II and ushered in a new era: The Habsburg Dynasty over Austria. The Bohemian army, led by Přemyslid King Ottokar II, fought primarily against the alliance-troops of Rudolph I of Habsburg and King Ladislaus IV of Hungary.

This term paper aims to give information about the Background of the Marchfeld Battle, the political significance of the conflict and also military relevant aspects. The last chapter “Closing words” evaluates the incidents with regard to the influence the outcome of the Battle had for the history of Europe.

2. Background

What happened before the Battle on the Marchfeld? Due to a personal conflict, Pope Innocent IV induced the deposition of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen in 1245. Nevertheless, Frederick challenged the authority of the pope and defied the surrender of the church-territories.2 Meanwhile many nobles tried to get in a powerful position. However, no one was successful. In 1250 Frederick II died and the situation changed. Ottokar II, son of King Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, who moved 1250 into the Duchies of Styria and Austria, gained the support of the local nobles and was proclaimed Austrian and Styrian duke in 1251.3 Two years later, upon the death of his father in 1253, Ottokar II became bohemian king. Furthermore, he aimed at the imperial crown, which clearly signified his striving for power. The Princes-Electors, the so called seven Kurfürsten, destroyed his plans and elected Rudolph of Habsburg King of the Romans on 29 September 1273. He was elected at Frankfurt and crowned in Aachen.4 It is an interesting fact that unlike his predecessors Rudolph was never “formally crowned ‘Roman’ Emperor by the pope”5. Needless to say Ottokar, who wanted the imperial crown for himself, did not acknowledge Rudolph as king. Moreover, King Rudolph claimed the Austrian and Carinthian territories for the Empire and ‘invited’ Ottokar in 1275 to the Reichstag at Würzburg. Ottokar did not appear and inter alia therefor received 1276 the Imperial ban. There are even reports (continuation vindbonensis) that Rudolph’s legates were executed by Ottokar.6 In consequence, he lost his territorial rights - Austria, Styria and Carinthia- and consequently his Bohemian inheritance.7 After all these past events, Ottokar knew Rudolph was a powerful rival.8 A submission to the emperor maybe could have saved his land and also his power. vner describes his “narcissistic grandiosity”9 as “his undoing”10. His dishonourable behaviour forced Rudolph to gather his allies and to prepare for a battle. It is necessary to take a look at these alliances to understand what happened in the Battle on the Marchfeld. Primarily Rudolph had to count on his relatives: Meinhard from Tirol and also the nobles who had their territories in the regions taken by Ottokar. These included Raimund of Aquileia, the Archbishop of Salzburg, Albert of Görz, Friedrich of Nuremberg and some other influential men.11 Another alliance was concluded with King Ladislaus of Hungary, who contributed extensive military resources and hence was a very important and valuable ally.12 Without any doubt, Rudolph was able to get in a very strong position at that time and therefore besieged Ottokar at Vienna in 1276. Although Ottokar had to surrender, he received Bohemia and Moravia as a fief from King Rudolph.13 Nevertheless, Ottokar still aimed to get in a more powerful position.

The following chapter focuses on the political significance of the Marchfeld Battle, which can be seen amongst other facts as the result of Ottokar’s striving for power and Rudolph’s attempt to secure his reign.

3. Political significance of the Marchfeld Battle 1278

The political significance of the Marchfeld Battle was “even greater than its military importance”14. Everything revolved around the question of who is going to be pulling the strings in the eastern regions of the empire: “15 Ottokar, who wanted to extend his territory down to the frontier of Italy, is described as the “most striking figure in the history of the great Interregnum (1254-73)”16. After being defeated in 1276 Ottokar and his allied Poles and German mercenaries started to invade Austria again in 1278.

s Oman explains, his “renewal of the war was not unjustifiable”17. He backs up his argument by explaining that Rudolph “had shown himself prone to interfere in the internal affairs of Bohemia in a manner which could not be tolerated18. Furthermore, primarily the citizens of Vienna, did not support Rudolph. They also had let it be known, that they would be willing again to join the allegiance of their former master.19 Therefore, Rudolph was faced with the problem that he was not able to count on the support of the majority of empire princes.20 A lot of them regretted the end of the anarchy Interregnum and sub- sequently did not back Rudolph’s political plans. s Oman describes, they were “nearly all 21 which the new king had shown during the first five years of his rule. Due to the explained situation, Rudolph had to defeat Ottokar. Gaining victory was indispensable for him to confirm his dominion.

The next chapter aims to give information about the military aspects of the Battle on the Marchfeld and provides an insight into medieval warfare.

4. Military aspects of the battle

As explained before, Rudolph was in a difficult situation. Primarily he could only count on the loyalty of his dominion in Styria, Carinthia, Austria and his old vassals of Swabia. It is important to say, that these Austro-German troops would not have made up one-half of Ottokar’s army. North Germany - Saxons and Brandenburgers - fought for Ottokar. Bavaria, whose “dukes were ill pleased to find themselves shut in between the Swabian and the Austrian territories of the Habsburgs, was inclined to side with the king”22, but finally supported Ottokar as well. In consideration of the fact that many soldiers from the duchy were in the bohemian ranks23, it comes as no surprise. Furthermore it is reported (Annales sancti Rudberti Salisburgenses ) that Ottokar tended to use bribery in order to seek favour with influential nobles.24

Schwarz also gives a detailed list of the participating mercenaries:

“ uf Rudolfs Seite kämpfen Österreicher und Steirer, Kärntner und Salzburger, Schwaben, Schweizer und Ungarn; in Ottokars Heer sind Böhmen, Mährer25

Inspite of such Rudolph was able to „swell his army to a formidable size”26. The addition of a great amount of auxiliary troops played an important role in his warfare. Due to the fact that Ottokar invaded the Hungarian boarders several times, he had “won her permanent ill- will”27, especially by the great victory of Cressenbrunn (1260). King Ladislas of Hungary wanted to avenge his father’s defeat and brought among other things a “great host of horsemen”28 to Rudolph’s aid. Although the sources for the Battle on the Marchfeld are for the most part accurate compared to some other war events, one is not able to give reliable information about the exact placement and size of both military troops. The Hungarian horsemen were estimated to circa fifteen thousand.29 However some sources also speak about forty thousand.30


1 Tucker, Spencer C.: A Global Chronology Of Conflict. From the ancient world to the modern middle east. Volume I: ca. 3000 BCE-1499 CE. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO 2010, p. 289.

2 Cf. Schutz, Herbert: The medieval empire in central europe. Dynastic continuity in the post-carolingian frankish realm, 900-1300. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2010, p. 289.

3 Cf. Schubert, Kurt: Die Geschichte des österreichischen Judentums. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau 2008, p. 26.

4 Cf. Falk, Avner: A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews. Madison/Teaneck: Fairleigh University Press/London: Associated University Presses 1996, p. 486.

5 Ibid.

6 Cf. Continuation vindobonensis, p. 74.

7 Avner 1996, p. 486.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Cf. Kusternig, Andereas: Die Kämpfe zwischen Rudolf und Ottokar. In: Ders. (Hg.): 700 Jahre Schlacht bei Dürnkrut und Jedenspeigen: [1278-1978]. Ausstellung im Schloss Jedenspeigen, 13.5.-29.10.1978 (= Katalog des Niederösterreichischen Landesmuseums. N.F., 79). Wien: Amt der Niederösterreichischen Landesregierung 1978, S. 32-37, p. 32.

12 Cf. Ibid.

13 Wie Geschichte Wiki: [07.12.2016].

14 Oman, Charles: A history of the art of war. The middle ages from the fourth to the fourteenth century. London: Methuen & Co 1898, p. 499.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Cf. Ibid.

20 Cf. Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Cf. Ibid.

24 Cf. Annales sancti Rudberti Salisburgenses, p. 5.

25 Schwarz, Jörg: Das europäische Mittelalter II. Herrschaftsbildungen und Reiche 900-1500. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2006, p. 74.

26 Oman 1898, p. 500.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Cf. Chronicon colmariense, pp. 114, 116.

30 Cf. Oman 1898, p. 500.

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The Battle on the Marchfeld. Military aspects and political significance
Charles University in Prague  (Geschichte)
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Schlacht bei Dürnkrut und Jedenspeigen, Schlacht auf dem Marchfeld, Marchfeldschlacht, Habsburg, Rudolph I, Ottokar, Czech history
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Dominik Keßel (Author), 2017, The Battle on the Marchfeld. Military aspects and political significance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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