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The historian John Keegan noted that Adrianople has the "curious distinction as the most frequently contested spot on the globe" (p. 70). In fact, the city (known as Edirne by the Ottomans and Turks) has been the site of a major battle at least sixteen times since 300c.e. Keegan also pointed out that it was the city's geography, lying on the invasion route to the Bosphorus and Constantinople, rather than its wealth or population, that made it a strategic epicenter. The city fell to the Turks in 1361 and was the capital of the Ottoman Empire until 1453. Under the Ottoman Turks, Adrianople became a significant cultural and religious center as well as home to many of the sultan's famous Janissary regiments.

In the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–1829, an unstoppable Russian offensive swept south out of Romania, aiming at the conquest of Thrace. By midsummer 1829, three Russian army corps of more than forty thousand men pushed a battered Ottoman army of fifteen thousand men into Adrianople. Threatened with encirclement, the Ottomans abandoned the city, which fell on 20 August 1829. The subsequent Treaty of Adrianople, however, ended the fighting and restored the city to the Ottoman Empire. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, after an unexpectedly successful offensive in early 1878, the Russians again took the almost undefended city and swept toward the Ottoman capital. On 3 March 1878 Russia forced the Ottoman government to sign the humiliating Treaty of San Stefano, which ceded the city as well as most of Thrace to Russia's Bulgarian ally. This treaty, unilaterally forced on the Ottoman Empire by the Russians, so upset the balance of power in Europe that German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened the Congress of Berlin in June 1878 to restore the harmonious relationships among the Great Powers. At the conference, Bismarck succeeded in gaining the abrogation of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ended the possibility of a Russian-sponsored "Greater Bulgaria" dominating the Balkans and returned Adrianople to the Ottomans. Unfortunately, the Russians felt cheated of their hard-won gains, and the congress ended the delicate web of diplomatic relationships that had created security in Europe since 1815.

After 1878 the Ottoman Empire's new western border with Bulgaria lay just twenty kilometers (twelve miles) west of Adrianople, making the city acutely vulnerable to attack. Having lost the city twice, the Ottoman army decided to heavily fortify Adrianople and began to build concentric defenses with German assistance and modern Krupp cannons. In 1910 they began a second series of modern fortifications that included machine guns, telephones, and rapid-fire artillery. By 1912, the Ottoman army's fortress complex was substantially completed. Deploying 247 guns, accommodating sixty thousand soldiers, and blocking any Bulgarian advance on Constantinople, Adrianople was considered one of the strongest positions in Europe.

The First Balkan War broke out in October 1912, and the Bulgarians rapidly attacked and decisively defeated the Ottoman army at Kirk Kilise. The retreat of the Ottoman army left Adrianople isolated, and the Bulgarians, with Serbian assistance, besieged the city in early November 1912. Inside the city, General Mehmet S̨ükrü Pas̨a's fortress command (reinforced by the army's IV Corps) conducted a vigorous defense and occasionally sallied outside to attack the enemy. All Ottoman attempts to relieve the city failed. An armistice in January 1913 temporarily brought the combatants to the peace table, but fighting began again the next month. On 8 February the Ottoman X Corps staged an amphibious landing at S̨arkoy to break the enemy's hold on the city, but withdrew as Bulgarian reserves sealed off the beachhead. The starving and exhausted defenders of Adrianople held out until 26 March 1913 when a dynamic Bulgarian offensive took the city. The battle was seen at the time as a victory for the artillery arm, but in fact, Bulgarian infantry broke into the defensive strong points of the fortress with aggressive night assaults.

The victorious Bulgarians fixed the new border on the Enez-Midye line, which left Adrianople fifty kilometers (thirty-one miles) inside Bulgaria. The Turks, however, incensed at their humiliation, took advantage of the war-weary Bulgarians (then engaged in the internecine Second Balkan War with Greece, Romania, and Serbia) and retook the city on 22 July 1913.

From 1829 until 1914, Adrianople acted as a magnet for both the Russians and the Bulgarians as it had for previous conquerors. The strategic instability caused by its loss in 1878 accelerated the process of disintegration that afflicted the Ottoman Empire and destroyed the Concert of Europe. Moreover, Adrianople's fate in the Balkan Wars highlighted the continuing military weakness of the Ottoman Empire. That the gateway city to Constantinople could be taken so easily, and could be held only with the consent of the Great Powers, confirmed the end of the Ottoman Empire's status as a European power.

See alsoBalkan Wars; Congress of Berlin; Ottoman Empire; Russo-Turkish War; San Stefano, Treaty of.


Erickson, Edward J. Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912–1913. Westport, Conn., 2003.

Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York, 1993.

Edward J. Erickson

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