Damir Stanić: A Conversation with Michael Weise about Croatian Soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War

Discussing Croatians with Michael Weise

Michael Weise njemački je povjesničar mlađe generacije. Nakon završenog studija, od 2006. do 2012. radio je kao asistent na Sveučilištu u Giessenu, a od 2012. do 2015. bio je “istraživački asistent” pri Research Group of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft “Gewaltgemeinschaften” na podprojektu Fremde GewaltGrenzkriegergruppen in Binnenraum des europäischen Kriegstheaters im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. Trenutno je zaposlen kao “voditelj izložbi i zbirki“ u Stiftung Lutherhaus Eisenach. Već se u svom diplomskom radu bavio hrvatskim vojnicima u Tridesetogodišnjemu ratu, preciznije njihovim djelovanjem na području njemačke savezne države Hessen. O hrvatskim vojnicima u Tridesetogodišnjem ratu objavio je još nekoliko članaka, a trenutno piše doktorsku disertaciju pod naslovom “Kroatenjahre”- Gewalthandeln und Gewaltwahrnehmung einer “fremden” Kriegergruppe im Dreißigjährigen Krieg odnosno u engleskom prijevodu „Year of the Croats“ – Acts of violence and perception of violence of the foreign group of mercenaries in the Thirty Years’ War.”

Kolega Weise bio je i član uredničkog odbora zbornika Zwischen Tätern und Opfern. Gewaltbeziehungen und Gewaltgemeinschaften (Between Perpetrators and Victims. Violent Relationships and Community Violence), Göttingen, 2017.

Treba naglasiti da je bio i jedan od sudionika zapažene Međunarodne znanstvene konferencije “Kronike plaćenika, legende i stereotipi” održane povodom obilježavanja 400. obljetnice početka Tridesetogodišnjega rata u travnju 2018. u Zagrebu. Budući da piše doktorsku disertaciju koja će nedvojbeno izazvati veliko zanimanje na domaćoj historiografskoj sceni, zamolio sam ga za Razgovor o hrvatskim vojnicima tijekom Tridesetogodišnjega rata u kojem bi predstavio svoja istraživanja hrvatskom čitateljstvu.

Bibliografija kolege Weisea na „hrvatske teme“ nalazi se u prilogu razgovora vođenog na engleskom jeziku.

dr. sc. Damir Stanić

(Michael Weise)

Michael Weise is a German historian of the younger generation. He studied and worked as a student research assistant at the University of Giessen from 2006 to 2012. From 2012 to 2015. he was a “research assistant” at the Research Group of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft “Gewaltgemeinschaften on the sub-project Fremde GewaltGrenzkriegergruppen in Binnenraum des europäischen Kriegstheaters im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. He is currently employed as “head of exhibitions and collections” at Stiftung Lutherhaus Eisenach. Already in his master’s thesis, he wrote about the role of Croatian soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War, more precisely on their activities in the territory of the German federal state of Hessen. He published several more articles about Croatian soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War and is currently writing his doctoral dissertation entitled “Kroatenjahre” – Gewalthandeln und Gewaltwahrnehmung einer “fremden” Kriegergruppe im Dreißjährigen Krieg, i.e. in English translation “Year of the Croats” – Acts of Violence and Perception of the Violence of Mercenaries in the Thirty Years’ War.

Colleague Weise was also a member of the editorial board of the collection of papers Zwischen Tätern und Opfern. Gewaltbeziehungen und Gewaltgemeinschaften (Between Perpetrators and Victims. Violent Relationships and Community Violence), Göttingen, 2017.

It should be emphasized that he was also one of the participants of the notable International Scientific Conference “Chronicles of mercenaries, legends and stereotypes” held on the occasion of marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War in April 2018 in Zagreb. Since he is writing his doctoral dissertation, which will undoubtedly arouse great interest in the domestic historiographic scene, I asked him for an interview in which he would present the results of his research to the Croatian readership.

Colleague Weise’s bibliography is attached to the interview, which was conducted in English.


  1. Greetings Herr Weise, it is nice to have the opportunity to have this conversation regarding the role of Croatian soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

Thank you very much for inviting me to this interview.

  1. You are researching the role of Croatian soldiers during the Thirty Year’s War for some time now. Is there any particular reason why You chose this subject, or was it one of those things that just happens without prior planning?

The subject came to me without prior planning. In 2012, I was at the end of my studies and in search of an exciting issue for my Master’s thesis. I spoke with Professor Horst Carl about that and he proposed to write about the Croatian soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War because this question was an absolute desideratum. 

  1. So we also have to thank professor Carl for directing You towards Croatian themes! Let us now discuss the role of Croatian soldiers during the War. Perhaps we can start with something general – what was the position of Croatian soldiers in the political context of that time? Is there anything to emphasize concerning that?

When the Bohemian-Palatinate War broke out as a result of the Second Defenestration of Prague in 1618, the Roman-German Emperor had to assemble a powerful army within a short time in order to be able to oppose the Bohemian force. After the end of the previous Long Turkish War in 1606, the Habsburg monarchy had greatly disarmed its troops. Now, in a hurry and with limited financial resources, an army had to be put together that was up to the challenge posed by the Bohemian estates.

First, the units still available from the Uskok War, which had ended the previous year, were reactivated: Together, however, they made up little more than 1,000 men. New appointments were hastily issued and in the course of 1618, the imperial force grew to 14,200 men. However, since the Bohemian estates were also intensively recruiting new troops, the Viennese government issued orders in the first months of 1619 to recruit fighters from Flanders, Lorraine, Italy, the Old Empire itself as well as from Hungary and Croatia. Especially in the area of the Military Frontier, the need for soldiers had decreased significantly as a result of the peace with the Ottoman Empire concluded in the Treaty of Sitvatorok, so that military capacities were freed up here. At the same time, the inhabitants of this region were battle-hardened men who were very familiar with the craft of war.

  1. And, of course, as the War protracted the number of Croatian soldiers rose.

According to my research, the Croatian engagement in the Thirty Years began in 1619 with a small number of about 1,500 men. Until 1625, the total number of Croatian mercenaries remained quite limited. The campaign against Gabor Bethlen marked the beginning of the rise of the light cavalry, when nine companies were raised. The appointment of Isolani as general of the light cavalry furthered this development, which reached its peak in 1636, when 19 Croatian regiments were in imperial service. Subsequently, the number of Croatian mercenaries declined rapidly and remained at a low level from the 1640s onwards.

  1. Initially, among Croatian soldiers the infantrymen were in higher numbers but with the start of the Gabor Bethlen’s uprising in Hungary and its aftermath, the horsemen prevailed. Is that correct?

Yes, that’s right. In the battle against the Transylvanian prince, Wallenstein recognised the massive deficiencies of his army in the field of light cavalry. He, therefore, advocated the extensive recruitment of light horsemen.

  1. Croatians were not the only outsiders/foreigners that fought in the ranks of the imperial army. From which countries were they recruited and were there some specific internal dynamics among these foreigners? Were there any conflicts or mutual influences recorded?

The imperial troops were indeed very internationally positioned. Italians, Swiss, Irish, Walloons, Spaniards, Bohemians, Poles, Cossacks, Hungarians and Croats fought on the imperial side, occasionally also Scots and Danes. The composition of a Bavarian regiment at the beginning of the 1640s is a particularly impressive illustration of the internationality of the troop units in the Thirty Years’ War. In addition to 534 Germans and 217 Italians, this regiment consisted of Poles, Slovenes, Croats, Hungarians, Greeks, Dalmatians, French, Bohemians, Spaniards, Scots, Irish and 14 Turks.

In the case of the Croatian light cavalry, most units nevertheless seem to have possessed a relatively stable “national” core, which was, however, increasingly replenished with mercenaries of other origins from the 1630s onwards. As a rule, however, the light cavalry of the imperial army (and also that of the army of the Catholic League) were perceived summarily as Croats, which was certainly not least due to the fact that the cavalry companies, which had become heterogeneous in terms of nationality, had also adopted the specifically “Croatian” way of warfare and were therefore still identified as Croats by the opposing troops as well as by the population.

  1. So, when we say “Croatians” what does it then represent? How many dimensions or meanings the term “Croat“ has? Concerning their origins, military status, identities, etc.?

I think, there are two meanings, which are dominating. The first concerns the origins of the mercenaries from the Kingdom of Croatia and the Military Frontier. The second meaning is related to the branch of service. The Imperial light cavalry was often perceived sweepingly as Croats. Therefore, depending on the type of record, you have to check very carefully which Croats are actually meant here or in which meaning the term is used in each case.

  1. The problem presents the fact that Croats left very few sources of their own, which is quite interesting?

I would say, they left – according to current research – hardly that kind of source, which is called “Ego-Dokument” or “Selbstzeugnis” in German historiography. In other words, records in which a person testifies about himself in written form of his own accord. There is certainly correspondence between Croatian colonels and the imperial army leadership, but from this you learn relatively little about the internal structure and the inner life of the Croatian units.

  1. It is very important to emphasize that Croatian soldiers were excluded from war Regulament i.e having prisoner rights, getting pardons when captured, etc. They had, what You call, an “Extraregal Status” within the context of the Thirty Year’s War, which represents an exception in a period when although there was no codification, military rules did exist? Can You elaborate?

The killing of captured (Christian) soldiers became increasingly outlawed in the course of the early modern period (In practice, however, this still occurred in the 18th century). Although the fate of captured mercenaries in the Thirty Years’ War depended on a variety of factors, in the course of the war the warring parties increasingly concluded so-called “Kartelle” or “Quartierabkommen” which regulated the mutual exchange of prisoners of war. Sweden was considered a pioneer in this context, but Gustavus Adolphus excluded in particular the Croatian soldiers explicitly from these treaties.

  1. What were the consequences of this “Extraregal Status”?

As a result of their “Extralegal Status”, any capture was an extremely precarious situation for the Croatian mercenaries. In the same cases, they were killed, in others, they were taken to work in Swedish copper mines. From the 1640s onwards, however, captured Croats were increasingly included in the exchange lists of the “Kartelle”. At the same time, the light cavalry’s area of responsibility, which often involved operations far from the supervision of the military leadership, opened up considerable room for maneuver for them, which they not infrequently used for extensive raids.

  1. Why did the Swedes, who were concerning military laws, otherwise, the leading figures in the Empire (Alten Reich), exclude Croatian units from ius in bello?

This measure was justified with the cruel warfare of the Croats, which is why they themselves were placed outside the “ius in bello”. In addition to a clearly propagandistic dimension, this exclusion also included a very practical one: in fact, the Croatian mercenaries could hardly be incorporated into the Swedish army in purely practical terms, and a larger group of captured Croats represented a permanent danger that had to be avoided.

  1. You also addressed the situations when Croats were the victims of target attacks. Especially regarding the Swedes?

Yes, in the records, you can find a lot of situations, where Swedish units deliberately attacked Croatian horsemen – not only in the Imperial “Feldakten”, but also, for example, in the letters of the Imperial governor of Lindau, Franz Peter König, or in the “Journal” of the army from Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. In these cases, a reversal of roles can be observed, so to speak: The Croatian mercenaries were not perpetrators, but victims.

  1. And the Swedes even had special units to fight the Croats?

Exactly. Gustavus Adolphus set the so-called Hakkapelites on the Croats. This Finnish cavalry unit was to hunt the Croats mercilessly and give them no quarter. They, too, were considered fast, agile and brutal, and similar to the Croats, they were perceived as exotic in the Holy Roman Empire because of their alien appearance and foreign-sounding languages.

  1. So we can say that the borderlands of Northern and Southern Europe collided in central Europe?

That is how one could summarise it pointedly. And this is at the same time an important aspect that makes the European dimension of this war conspicuous.

  1. How did the Swedish propaganda function, what purpose did it have within the Swedish army and what were the characteristics of these “Feindbildes”? It was very suitable for producing stereotypes and bias?

The Swedish propaganda against the Croatian mercenaries had a dual function. On the one hand, the common “Feindbild” strengthened the cohesion of the own troops. On the other hand, the Croats served as a negative foil from which the Swedish soldiers were supposed to stand out. The “Feindbild” should therefore also have a disciplinary effect on the own army.

I don’t think, that the Swedish propaganda produced entirely new stereotypes and bias, but it reinforced already existing aversions and reservations toward people, which were perceived as foreign.

  1. The concept of time is always of absolute importance for historians, as very few phenomena alter human perceptions and actions as time. Did the same happen between the Croats and the Swedes? Because in one of your articles you say that the exchange of prisoners was practiced from the 1630s onwards, with a clear increase in the 1640s.

In fact, it seems that in the course of time there has been a tendency towards a certain decrease in violence in dealings between Croats and Swedes, at least with regard to the treatment of prisoners of war. Of course, this observation by no means excludes the possibility of further violent excesses by and against Croatian mercenaries. But I have found no more evidence for the ordered execution of Croat prisoners of war for the later years of the war, for example.

  1. There is one very important concept in your studies – “Gewaltgemeinschaften” or “communities of violence”. Can You elaborate on the significance as well as the methodological and heuristic value of this concept?

Very gladly. The concept of “Gewaltgemeinschaften” (communities of violence) refers to social groups for which physical violence is an essential part of their existence and which operate under conditions of incomplete statehood. The concept includes a phenomenological approach to violence research, by means of which different logics of violence can be worked out. This approach can be used, for example, to describe the central function of collectively exercised violence for group identity and internal cohesion.

  1. You say that the Grenzers were an archetype for such a group and because they originated and operated in the areas with reduced state control, they developed their methods of practicing and manifesting warfare and violence in general? So the concept of “Gewaltgemeinschaften” is intertwined with the figure of State i.e. its ability to enforce laws and discipline?

Historically, pacified societies and a state monopoly on the use of violence are the exceptions, while societies in which different actors fight for power, resources and recognition are the rule. Especially in spaces with a weak state or centralised violence, the emergence of “Gewaltgemeinschaften” can be observed, which are characterised by permanent and sometimes excessive use of violence. Their continued existence is only possible in areas of incomplete statehood, since the regular violation of norms and rules cannot be consistently sanctioned here. Nevertheless, even in these spaces of violence, there continues to be at least a notion of law and order, even if it is violated time and again. This results in the intense and sustained perception of “Gewaltgemeinschaften” because they demonstrate normative fragility as permanent rule-breakers.

  1. So can we say that they were really out of control by nature, as it’s often implied, or was it primary the absence of firmer state control that produced groups that had their logic and hierarchy and functioned in a more or less autonomous fashion?

I don’t believe that the Croats or other groups had a quasi-biologically induced affinity for violence. In my opinion, the violent behavior of the Croatian mercenaries resulted from the interplay of the particular concrete situation, the absence of regulating state control, personal experience of violence from earlier contexts (e.g. at the Military Frontier) and, of course, the respective individual disposition.

  1. On how many levels were those “Exotische Gewaltgemainschaften” attacked by their adversaries?

The “Exotische Gewaltgemeinschaften” of the Croatian mercenaries were attacked by the Swedish military leadership on at least three levels. Physically, they were massively attacked, especially by the use of the Finnish Hakkapelites. Legally, they were (initially) denied the right to be prisoners of war by being excluded from the “Quartierabkommen”. And propagandistically, they were denounced by Protestant pamphlets as cruel barbarians who were not part of the Christian community.

  1. Concerning the lack of discipline, certain problems propelled this issue, i.e. the deficit of supplies and supply routes, the question of whether Croatian soldiers even received salaries and in which amount as well as the fact that their colonels did not have a right of ius gladii, at least in the first phases of the War?

In particular, the older German-language research has generally attributed the lack of discipline to the inadequate supply and lack of pay for the Croatian mercenaries. And indeed, the Croatian units were not regularly paid and fed during the first years of the war. In addition, their officers were also denied certain rights, such as the ius gladii, i.e. the right to pronounce and execute death sentences. However, this disadvantage was abolished at the latest with the beginning of Wallenstein’s 1st Generalate, for from that time onwards the Croatian horsemen were also organised into regiments and they received the same rations as the cuirassiers, although their pay was somewhat lower (six guilders instead of nine). This circumstance is therefore no explanation for the indiscipline and excessive violence.

  1. The Croats sometimes performed violent acts against the nobility which was almost unheard of among other armies at that time?

Exactly. An impressive example of this is the mistreatment of Melchior Freiherr von Wurmbrand. In 1634, the inventor of the Swedish leather cannon, who had been given the territory of Ottobeuren, was tied with a rope by his tormentors, led around and mocked as the “Abbot of Ottobeuren”, then tortured and in the end killed. This form of torture and humiliation was extraordinary not least because it was not directed against simple peasants or burghers, but against a nobleman. The fact that a representative of the aristocracy was treated in such a degrading manner was a clear breach of taboo in the eyes of contemporaries.

  1. You quote Martin Rink who advocated that the concept of “irregular troops”, which is also often associated with the Croats, is an anachronism because the term itself is “a child of the modern?

Yes. Martin Rink has – rightly – pointed out that the clear and evaluative distinction between regular and irregular troops is a 19th century idea. The modern distinction between military and civilian actors, however, cannot be easily transferred to the early modern period, for which it is precisely the intertwining of military and society that is characteristic.

 If you want to use the term irregular troops, you can use it not exceeding for the time until 1625. Afterward, I don’t see good reasons for this denomination.

  1. So, was at one point the standard military hierarchy and structure implemented?

If I see it correctly, the implementation of the standard military hierarchy was a process rather than an isolated event. Nevertheless, one can certainly identify the decisive turning point in this matter in Wallenstein’s appointment as commander-in-chief of the Imperial army. Since Wallenstein’s 1st Generalate, the Croatian light horsemen were regularly paid and listed alongside the other troop units in the rations ordonances. For the upper batches, however, it can be determined as early as 1624 that they received almost the same pay as dragoons and arquebusiers.

  1. Were there issues within their ranks, especially regarding their officer corps and superior commanders?

The commanders were responsible for communicating with the military leadership and had to ensure that their instructions were properly implemented. Conversely, they had to represent the interests of their regiment vis-à-vis their employer, for example with regard to questions of rations and quarters. Within the regiment, the officer corps was responsible for maintaining discipline and fulfilling military orders, as well as for military jurisdiction. In the quarters, the officers took over communication with the responsible bailiffs and had to document how much pay and rations the mercenaries had received. At the same time, they had to make sure that the mercenaries communicated possible complaints about them and did not take action themselves. In practice, of course, this did not always work as intended, but there are definitely best practice examples.

  1. So, the “irregularity” of their status cannot explain some of the biggest excesses of Croatian units which occurred in the 1630s, a period when general Isolani’s troops enhanced and he enlisted many soldiers of various descents?

Yes, I think that the irregularity of their status is not the decisive factor for the excesses of violence, which were committed by Croatian units. Some of the most memorable outbreaks of violence by Croatian mercenaries occurred in 1634 and 1637, at a time when the light horsemen had long since been regularly paid and fed. Other factors must therefore have been decisive for these violent excesses. And in order to trace these, the context of each event and the nature and act of violence must be examined as closely as possible.

  1. Can their violent acts also be placed within the context of „Notlagenkriminalität“? Can You elaborate on the term?

I adopted the term “Notlagenkrininalität” from Johannes Arndt. He used it to describe how the inadequate supply situation of the armies almost necessarily gave rise to the use of violence to capture food. This problem was exacerbated by the growing number of the “Tross” in the course of the war. As a general explanation, however, this approach falls short because it is too sweeping and does not take into account a multitude of situations and factors.

  1. So the existential insecurity and stress caused by different forms of suffering (Leidensdruck) was a very important generator of Croatian military ventures and violent acts. I presume, many sources testify that?

Yes, there are a number of sources in which the poor supply of Croatian mercenaries is discussed, for example in the imperial field records. In the local chronicles and the self-testimonies of priests and citizens, on the other hand, the focus is more on the violent acts of the mercenaries; their supply situation, on the other hand, is usually not described.

  1. Could violence at some level be considered as “letting off steam” in a horrific way?

In some cases this metaphor could be used, but by no means always. The excesses of violence committed by Croatian horsemen in Saxony between August and December 1632 were not the result of an existential emergency, but were carried out on Wallenstein’s explicit orders. The role of the respective commanders should not be overlooked in the outbreaks of violence. The Croatian colonel Lucas Hrastovacky, for example, was temporarily relieved of his command because he did not know how or did not want to stop the excesses of his mercenaries. And of course, the phenomenon of the desire for violence (“Gewaltlust” respectively “autotelische Gewalt”) described by the sociologists Wolfgang Sofsky and Jan Philipp Reemtsma must also be taken into account, as well as the communalising effect of collectively exercised violence.

  1. You rely on the work of Potsdamer historian Bernhard R. Kroener and also address the question of whether soldiers can also be categorised as victims, and not always as the perpetrators. Do you advocate the stand that the researchers have to implement a more complex model of interpretation and analysis of this problem?

Yes, Bernhard R. Kroener pointed out as early as 1982 that mercenaries were treated almost exclusively as perpetrators of violence in historiography – in contrast to soldiers, whose role as victims was certainly examined. Especially in the 19th century, the early modern mercenaries formed the negative foil to the soldiers who, as heroic defenders of their own nation, positively distinguished themselves from the mercenaries who fought only for monetary interest. This fiction must be critically questioned and the Croatian mercenaries are an instructive example of how even cruel perpetrators of violence could become victims of brutal violence. A purely dichotomous perspective falls short here; instead, a differentiated view is needed that takes the respective situation into account.

  1. So, can Croats and well as other Gewaltgemeinschaften also be seen as victims and placed in the same category as women, children, elderly, and men of the cloth?

In my view, that would be too simple. While it is generally difficult to establish hierarchies of victims, one must consider the respective potential ability to defend oneself as well as the previous behavior in the context of the Thirty Years’ War. If one takes these factors into account, it quickly becomes clear that women, children, the elderly and men of the cloth were victims of war violence to a different extent than was the case with the Croatian mercenaries.

  1. What was the purpose of these “spectacular violent excesses” (Spektakuläre Gewaltexzesse), which were so effectively publicly disseminated? Had these horrible ordeals another purpose than the violence and hunt for booty itself?

Quite right. To a certain extent, “Spektakuläre Gewaltexzesse” could and were used tactically to make clear what violence one was capable of. Violence had a communicative function here, by means of which a message was to be sent to the population. This “self-fashioning” of the mercenaries reduced their own risk of injury or death when towns and monasteries willingly paid tribute without the need for protracted sieges, for example.

  1. The phenomenon of “revenge” (Racheakte) is from this point of view also very important?

To analyse the phenomenon of revenge, I refer to the literary scholar and philosopher Fabian Bernhardt, who has shown that it is not the objectively inflicted damage that is the guiding motive for action, but the severity of the individually experienced suffering and the associated humiliation. This can be illustrated by an example from the year 1635, when a small group of Croats attacked a village in the Thuringian Forest and plundered it. The peasants of the village then shot three Croats who had lagged behind the others and took the loot back from them. For the Croatian mercenaries, this represented an outrageous violation of their group members, but also the honor of their unit. The next day, 200 Croatian horsemen attacked the village, plundered it again and killed most of the inhabitants.

On the one hand, this act of revenge was aimed at retaliation for the killed comrades. I use this seemingly anachronistic term (“Kameraden”) deliberately in this context because it draws attention to the fact that the primacy of unconditional group cohesion created a classification of insiders who had to be protected.

On the other hand, such acts of revenge also had a forward-looking signal character. It was intended to demonstrate to everyone that an act of violence against a Croatian mercenary would be repaid by the civilian population with a punishment many times harsher.

  1. Regarding everything said, it is of no surprise that “the dread/fear of Croats” (Kroatenfurcht) also spread to the areas outside the Empire itself? For example, Englishman William Crowne wrote that every venture through the woods bears a risk of attack by “Marodierenden Kroaten”?

That’s right. William Crowne, who visited the German Empire in 1636 in the entourage of the royal envoy Thomas Lord Howard, Earl of Arundel, feared that the group might be attacked by marauding Croats almost every time they crossed a forest. His compatriot Philip Vincent, who had also stayed in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, drew an even more drastic picture of the Croats in his travel report, who, according to his descriptions, even ate children and had also trained their horses to eat human flesh.

  1. And there is of course the important issue of how were the Croats later remembered as well as the issue of generalisation and politically charged interpretations of the past. How did the later periods affect the picture of Croats, and what was the influence of the Söldner vs Soldaten debates and the catholic vs protestant competition?

Baroque literature had a style-defining effect on the picture of Croats in that they always emphasised their combative nature, often in connection with violent plundering. The majority of the authors were Protestant, which made a positive portrayal of the Croats, who were perceived as Catholics, even less likely than it already was due to their wartime experiences. Especially in the field of German literature, the Protestant side gained a cultural interpretative sovereignty in the early modern period that had a striking effect on the formation of the canon. The Catholic authors of the Baroque period were defamed as “undeutsch”, while Protestant literature was stylised as general German national literature. Thus, however, the Protestant-influenced Croatian stereotypes also became dominant. These can then be found in the 19th century in Gustav Freytag’s extremely popular books “Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit” and were also continued in older German military historiography. The negatively connoted concept of the mercenary played a significant role in this, from which the soldier was positively contrasted (see also the answer to question 32).

  1. What was the role of appearance, concerning their identity and the way it separated them from others, but also as a means of marketing?

In general, the imperial army did not have a uniform throughout the 17th century. However, a common distinguishing feature for Croatian troops was their native outfit which consisted of a short, tight-fitting tunic, sometimes a fur-lined coat, trousers that were wide to the knee and tight below, a simple cap and leather boots that were higher in the front than in the back. Combined with their special armament and language, the Croats looked extremely exotic to the local population. Not least from this circumstance stems the prominent perception of their acts of violence, which were mixed with attributions of the classic barbarian topos. However, the Croatian mercenaries knew how to use this exotic foreign perception for their own purposes by “aggressive image branding” (Erving Goffman). The associated “Kroatenfurcht” (see also Question 34) often proved to be a door opener for the forays of the light horsemen.

  1. Let us talk about some less familiar aspects of their activities during the War. You say that the Croats were not just good soldiers but also very successful war entrepreneurs and that they skilfully profited on the “markets of violence”. Can you elaborate more?

Already in the first years of the war, the Croatian horsemen succeeded in winning the esteem of Wallenstein, who had them recruited in large numbers as specialists for the Petty Warfare. In the Petty Warfare, the light horsemen were able to make optimal use of their skills in battle, their speed and mobility, which made them sought-after war specialists. At the same time, they apparently knew quite well how to distinguish between booty spaces on the one hand and quartering and trading spaces on the other hand. Accordingly, they sometimes acted as raiders, sometimes as traders.

  1. Can you tell us something more about the heuristic significance of “markets of violence”, a concept that was advocated by German ethnologist and sociologist Georg Elwert? What are the prerequisites for the appearance of such Gewaltmärkte?

Georg Elwert understands “Gewaltmärkte” (markets of violence) as economic spaces in which a system emerges in times of war that “combines non-violent acquisition with violent acquisition of goods”. The appropriation and distribution of resources obeys the principle of the economy of violence, i.e. it is violence-driven.

The appropriate environment for the emergence of such markets of violence is found in “gewaltoffenen Räumen” (spaces open to violence), i.e. where, in the absence of a state monopoly on the use of force, no fixed rules limit the use of force. Although routines of the use of violence can arise here as well, they can be broken at any time.

The decision as to whether certain goods are looted or acquired through trade is in principle open in markets of violence. It presents itself to the actors as a strategic triangle of violence, trade and time. War entrepreneurs consider and optimise the relationship between effort, risk and return. The most important resource, especially for mobile actors, is money or a similar medium of exchange that is easy to transport and, if necessary, easy to hide. If we look at the actions of the Croatian mercenaries under this premise, we can often recognise a cool rationality of purpose that is analytically more advanced than the topos of the wild barbarians.

  1. What were the specific goals of such “war entrepreneurs”?

The specific goals of a “Kriegsunternehmer” were to generate as much capital as possible with the resources at his disposal. In this context, capital does not only mean monetary resources, but – following Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the different types of capital – also includes symbolic or social capital. A Croatian colonel could gain this, for example, by being elevated to the rank of general (like Juraj Zrinski and Goan Lodovico Isolani) or by being awarded a title of nobility (like Isolani and Marcus Corpes).

The use of violence played a special role in this, but it was not always the means of choice; sometimes, for example, the mere threat of violence could be enough to obtain tribute.

  1. But there was a downside to it all because their skilfulness in acquiring booty also made them prey for other soldiers?

Yes, that was a downside of their success, in a way. The Croats’ reputation as particularly greedy and successful mercenaries preceded them. This made them a lucrative target for other mercenary groups to raid. In addition, their weapons apparently had a high symbolic value. This can be exemplified by the high esteem in which an actually relatively simple saber of a Croatian commander was held at the Electoral Saxon Court after Johann Georg I received it as a gift from a commander in 1635.

  1. There are also interesting sources about their peaceful coexistence with locals? An excellent example is the Croatian (winter)quarters in Fulda, which functioned since the 1620s?

Since the early 1620s, Croatian units have repeatedly taken up (winter) quarters in the Hochstift of Fulda, and the temporary coexistence has generally functioned well and largely without violence. Of course, the quartering was always a burden for the townspeople, but at least parts of the townspeople were occasionally able to profit from it, for example when they were able to buy stolen sheep from other territories at favorable prices from the Croatian horsemen. Marcus Corpes even had the fields of the Fuldian peasants protected from enemy soldiers, which was not least connected to the fact that he and his mercenaries also profited from their yields. This circumstance, however, clearly shows that the Croats by no means only left scorched earth everywhere, even if this often occurred during their raids.

  1. What was the role of Valentin Wagner, and what were his connections with Croatian soldiers?

In the winter of 1634/35, Valentin Wagner led a party of Croats to the Treusch von Buttlar knights’ residences in Holzhausen and Rittersberg (in Hesse), as well as to a hidden mill in the surrounding woods. The Croats plundered the noble residences and the barricaded mill, robbed a lot of livestock and also set fire to several houses. Wagner himself also held his own, but did not profit from his booty for too long. Hubert Treusch von Buttlar was not at all inclined to let the incident rest and took revenge by shooting Valentin Wagner a little later. In the course of this, a criminal case was brought against the Hessian nobleman in 1635/36, which made Wagner’s cooperation with the Croats a matter of record in the first place. There were certainly many other cases in which local actors made pacts with foreign mercenaries, but unfortunately these cooperations have only been handed down in exceptional cases.

  1. What were the characteristics of this ransoming economy and middleman assistance?

The taking of profitable victims hostage and their release after paying a ransom belongs to the context of the „Gewaltmarkt“ mentioned above. In the case of wealthy citizens and nobles, but also for priests and enemy officers, taking hostages was often more economically attractive than killing them. However, this required a certain infrastructure and relevant information. This required cooperation with local actors, who in turn benefited from working with the mercenaries. Especially for the exchange of hostages and ransom money, middlemen were necessary who established contact between mercenaries and relatives, translated if necessary and arranged the place and time of the handover.

  1. Can You elaborate on the term “Kroatenjahr”? How is it still present in local memory and where?

In the memory phenomenon of the “Kroatenjahr”, the raids and lootings of the Croatian mercenaries were in part handed down and remembered in the collective memory of the affected places and regions for centuries to come. Especially in Franconia, Württemberg, Thuringia, Saxony and Hesse, the memory of the “Kroatenjahre” was present in many places and regions until the beginning of the 20th century. The memory of the Croats found its manifestation in the form of memorial stones, inscriptions, names of buildings and streets, commemorative ceremonies, legends and fairy tales.

  1. You addressed also one important but seldom quoted problem, and that is the communications issue between the Croats and other foreigners and the domestic population.

It is indeed astonishing that the problem of communication between foreign mercenaries and the local population has rarely been considered. Mercenaries from all parts of Europe came to Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, but it must be assumed that only a minority of them knew the German language. So how did the mercenaries communicate with the local population? In the case of the Croats, there are some references to such cases of communication difficulties. In one case, this led to an officer named Rudolf Freiherr von Morzini being ordered to join a Croatian unit because he knew Croatian and could thus act as a translator.

  1. We can then conclude with an obvious statement – that all men, with a clear gradation, of course, are the victims of war. But have we learned anything from our past experience?

If you look at the current situation in Europe, but of course also in other parts of the world, you get the impression that there have been no learning effects whatsoever. However, I consider codified agreements on the international law of war, such as the Geneva Conventions, or the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, to be enormous achievements, even if the law of war is violated again and again and only a tiny minority of war criminals are later brought to justice.

In this context, I believe that it is the task of historians to counter the propagandistic use of past wars with factual representations and interpretations. This means, not least, not telling the story of a war as the heroic deeds of great men, but looking at all the actors with their deeds, options for action and their hardships.

  1. I know that the audience in Croatia is looking forward to reading Your dissertation when finished, so I can ask, how is the work on Your dissertation going?

I’m still working on it, but I’m currently only making progress in small steps because I’m dealing with other issues at work and also have family and voluntary commitments. That’s why I only get to write on the dissertation in my remaining free time, the completion of which I can’t exactly predict at the moment. However, the interest in my research in Croatia is an important motivation to keep pushing the project forward.

  1. Herr Weise, thank You very much for this interesting interview and we hope that we will soon talk again about new research regarding the Croatian soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War!

Thank you very much for your questions and your interest in my research.

Selected Bibliography

Editorial Board

with Philipp Batelka and Stephanie Zehnle (eds.): Zwischen Tätern und Opfern. Gewaltbeziehungen und Gewaltgemeinschaften [Between Perpetrators and Victims. Violent Relationships and Communities of Violence], Göttingen 2017.


Adlige Kroatenobristen als Militärunternehmer. Fallstudien aus dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg [Noble Croatian Colonels as Military Entrepreneurs. Case Studies from the Thirty Years‘ War], in: Annette C. Cremer, Alexander Jendorff (eds.): Decorum und Mammon im Widerstreit? Adeliges Wirtschaftshandeln zwischen Standesprofilen, Profitstreben und ökonomischer Notwendigkeit Mammon in conflict? [Decorum and Mammon in conflict? Noble economic activity between status profiles, the pursuit of profit and economic necessity] (Höfische Kultur interdisziplinär – Schriften und Materialien des Rudolstädter Arbeitskreises zur Residenzkultur, Vol. 4), Heidelberg 2022, p. 297–325.

Mobilität, Geschwindigkeit und Gewalt – die kroatischen Reiter in Brandenburg und Sachsen [Mobility, Speed and Violence – the Croatian horseman in Brandenburg and Saxony], in: Matthias Asche, Marco Kollenberg, Antje Zeiger (eds.): Halb Europa in Brandenburg. Der Dreißigjährige Krieg und seine Folgen [Half of Europe in Brandenburg. The Thirty Years‘ War and its outcome], Berlin 2020, p. 80–94.

Die kaiserlichen Kroaten im Dreißigjährigen Krieg [The Imperial Croats at the Thirty Years‘ War], in: Robert Rebitsch, Lothar Höbelt, Erwin A. Schmidl (eds.): Vor 400 Jahren. Der Dreißigjährige Krieg [400 Years ago. The Thirty Years‘ War] (Innsbrucker Historische Studien, Vol. 32), Innsbruck 2019, p. 107–115.

with Philipp Batelka, Stefan Xenakis and Horst Carl: Berufsmäßige Gewalttäter. Wie Söldnergewalt in der Frühen Neuzeit entfesselt und begrenzt wurde [Professional Perpetrators of Violence. How Mercenary Violence was unleashed and limited in the Early Modern Period], in: Winfried Speitkamp (ed.): Gewaltgemeinschaften in der Geschichte. Entstehung, Kohäsionskraft und Zerfall [Communities of Violence in History. Emergence, Cohesion and Dissolution], Göttingen 2017, p. 83–100.

Gewaltprofis und Kriegsprofiteure. Kroatische Söldner als Gewaltunternehmer im Dreißigjährigen Krieg [Professionals of Violence and War Profiteers. Croatian Mercenaries as Military Entrepreneurs in the Thirty Years‘ War], in: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, Vol. 68 (2017) Nr. 5/6, p. 278–291.

Grausame Opfer? Kroatische Söldner und ihre unterschiedlichen Rollen im Dreißigjährigen Krieg [Cruel Victims? Croatian Mercenaries and their Different Roles in the Thirty Years‘ War], in: Philipp Batelka, Michael Weise and Stephanie Zehnle (eds.): Zwischen Tätern und Opfern. Gewaltbeziehungen und Gewaltgemeinschaften, Göttingen 2017, p. 127–148.

with Philipp Batelka and Stephanie Zehnle: Einleitung [Introduction], in: Philipp Batelka, Michael Weise and Stephanie Zehnle (eds.): Zwischen Tätern und Opfern. Gewaltbeziehungen und Gewaltgemeinschaften, Göttingen 2017, p. 9–21.