The Crimean War: Summary, Causes & Effects

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  • 0:08 The Crimean War
  • 0:35 Congress of Vienna
  • 1:09 System Breaks Down
  • 1:35 War
  • 4:09 Impact
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Crimean War of 1854-1856 between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, France, and Great Britain. It is often considered one of the more bungled military campaigns in recent Western history.

The Crimean War

Most people consider compromise the key to maintaining a working democracy. Most Americans know by now, the less our leaders seem willing to compromise, the less actually gets achieved in the end. But compromise isn't the only aspect of democracies. In the early 19th century, the European powers attempted to compromise with one another in order to make a lasting peace in Europe, but when this compromise broke down, yet another war took place: the Crimean War.

Congress of Vienna

After the final defeat of Napoleon and his subsequent exile in 1814, the victorious powers of Europe (which, at this point, was basically everyone but France) gathered at the Austrian capital, Vienna, to try and figure out a stable settlement for Europe. The diplomats tried to safeguard Europe against the intermittent, but frequent conflict that had plagued it for centuries by divvying up territory and spheres of influence. The countries also tried to work out solutions and plans that would maintain the political status quo in each country, making significant upheavals, like the French Revolution, impossible.

System Breaks Down

This agreement worked for several decades until the power of the Ottoman Empire, which had held large parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe for centuries, began to wane. The Ottomans were under pressure from France and Russia to grant special privileges in the Holy Land to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Attempting to pressure the Ottomans into granting the Eastern Orthodox Church special concessions, Russia invaded and occupied Ottoman territory in Moldavia and Wallachia in July of 1853.


The Ottoman Empire was outraged at this encroachment upon its territory and declared war on Russia in October. Despite being able to quickly mobilize their forces, the Ottoman fleet was smashed by the Russians in the Black Sea, forcing the Ottomans back to port on Asia Minor. The other powers of Europe were worried that Russian advances into the Balkans and possibly even the Middle East would ruin the precarious European balance of power devised earlier in the century. Additionally, Great Britain was worried that Russian control or influence in the Middle East would disrupt Britain's trade routes to India and the Far East that ran through the Mediterranean Sea.

France also had an interest in getting involved in the conflict, as the new French President, Napoleon III, nephew to Napoleon Bonaparte, had recently declared the Second French Empire and was eager for military victory. Military victory against the Russians would be symbolically important for the French, as it was defeat in Russia which had signaled the beginning of the end of the first French Empire.

As a result, Britain and France demanded Russia leave Ottoman territory by March of 1854, and sent fleets to the Black Sea in early 1854 to secure Ottoman ports and trade routes. When Russia failed to leave the territory, Britain and France declared war on Russia. Eventually, Russia did evacuate the territory in the summer of 1854, but only after Austria threatened to join the allies if Russia failed to heed the demands.

Despite this, France, Britain, and the Ottomans landed forces in Russia in Crimea on the north shore of the Black Sea in September of 1854. Though some fighting occurred in the Baltic Sea, most of the military action occurred here, as the allies conducted a long siege of the Russian city of Sevastopol. After over a year of heavy fighting in and around the city, the Russians resigned themselves to defeat and left Sevastopol. However, they also blew up forts, munitions, and boats at port - essentially anything they could not take with them on their retreat.

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