Useful Terms for Before the Fortress Falls

Aga: Title for a high-ranking Ottoman official. In this novel, a leader of the Janissaries.

Bastion: Defensive structure that projects outward from a curtain wall or a fort.       

Cheval-de-frise: A defensive element consisting of a log or frame with protruding spears, pikes, or other projections used to stop cavalry or shore up breached defenses. (Plural: Chevaux-de-frise)

Countermining: Efforts by defenders of a besieged city or fortress to find and destroy enemy mines and tunnels that would be used to undermine defensive fortifications.

Counterscarp: Side of a fortification’s ditch farthest from the fortress and closest to the enemy.

Covered way: Portion of the counterscarp designed to provide defenders with a sheltered place from which to observe and fire at the enemy.

Devshirme: Ottoman practice of taking Christian children, forcibly converting them to Islam, and using them as janissaries or administrators.

Ditch: In this novel’s context, the defensive excavations surrounding the walls, ravelins, and bastions. Designed to slow down attackers, hinder mining efforts, and reduce the effectiveness of enemy artillery.

Dragoons: Soldiers who use horses for mobility but generally dismount for fighting. In the time period depicted in this novel, they were usually armed with matchlock muskets and swords.

Edle: Wife or daughter of an edler.

Edler: Noble rank in the Holy Roman Empire, below a ritter or knight.

Enceinte: Main defensive enclosure of a fortress or city. Vienna’s enceinte included the walls, bastions, ravelins, glacis, and all ditches and moats.

Ensign: Junior-level military officer, ranking below a lieutenant.

Fascine: Bundle of branches fastened together and used to fill in ground, provide roofs for trenches, or create revetments for artillery or infantry.

Gabions: Tall wicker baskets, usually filled with earth and used as barriers on defensive works.

Glacis: Slope leading up to a fortification, designed to force any attackers across open ground where they have no shelter from defensive fire.

Holy Roman Empire: A loose federation of territories allied under an elected emperor. The various territories were ruled by largely independent secular or ecclesiastic princes. At the time of this novel, the empire included most of Europe’s German speakers as well as some Dutch, Czech, Italian, Hungarian, and Slavic peoples.

Hussars: Light cavalry soldiers often used as shock troops.

Investment: The process of surrounding a fortification and blocking all entry or exit, cutting off communications and supplies.

Janissary: Elite infantry unit in the Ottoman army.

Matchcord: Slow-burning fuse made of twine or cord, soaked in saltpeter, used to ignite muskets and artillery. Sometimes called slow match.

Orta: Organizational unit for Janissaries.

Pasha: Title for a high-ranking Ottoman official.

Ravelin: Freestanding defensive structure in the ditch of a fortification, positioned to support nearby bastions and the curtain wall.

Revetment: In the context of this novel, either a retaining wall of stone or masonry or a barricade to provide shelter from artillery.

Saka: Ottoman soldier who carries water and assists with medical care.

Saucisson: Fuse made with a cloth tube full of gunpowder.

Scarp: Inner side of a fortification’s ditch.

Sortie: In this novel’s context, an attack made by defenders who leave a fortress or position of strength to assault the enemy.

Sublime Porte: Government of the Ottoman Empire.

Yataghan: Short, curved sword often used by janissaries.