The Siege of Magdeburg

The Sack of Magdeburg in April 1631 by Johann Philipp Abelin
The Sack of Magdeburg in April 1631 by Johann Philipp Abelin

J. P. Abelin’s Engraving, The Sack of Magdeburg

Above, is an engraving by Johann Philipp Abelin, that shows soldiers riding on their horses, going to battle. In the picture we also see, billowing smoke clouds, a city (Magdeburg) on fire, and men charging into battle. The purpose of the picture is to get people to think of the battle from different perspectives. Philipp Abelin could have given a view of the battle from below, showing soldiers close up, the violence and blood shed that occurred during this yearlong battle, but instead he offers a view from above. He gives a view that offers no reason for admirers to feel any sort of connection to the men in the picture. Abelin shows many soldiers, none with a specific identity going to battle, he does not show the men, women, and children that were killed during the battle, and he does not put much detail into the burning city, it is clearly on fire but you cannot truly see the amount of damage being done.

Peter Hagendorf, Excerpt.

Peter Hagendorf was a soldier in the war, many years after the war his diary was discovered. The diary contained a very detailed description of the Thirty Years’ war, and more specifically the Siege of Magdeburg. Hagendorf writes about the struggles of being a soldier and the things he went through during the Sack of Magdeburg. He describes a scene of great violence in war, soldiers being killed in battle, him being injured, and the coraguse acts his wife did to make sure he was okay. His diary entry is mainly facts about the war by date, and has fewer details such as the amount of people who died or how long the battle went on for. Hagendorf’s diary entry is an example of history from below because it gives a personal account of the battle and allows readers to connect with Hagendorf and his family. We get to see how the battle directly affected a soldier and his family and were given enough information to paint a mental image of what it looked like to be there in that moment.

Otto von Guericke, Fragment

Otto Von Guericke offers a different version of the Sack of Magdeburg. Guericke’s version of the war comes from Volume one of the Reformation to the Thirty Year’s War. Guericke’s accounts of the battle offers a view of the war from above. While it does offer gruesome details on the battle it does not give specific names which creates a disconnect for readers. There is no one person for his audience to connect to and it feels like he is saying that all the people that died did it for a greater cause. Guericke’s version of events also goes into a lot more detail about the ways people died and the amount of bodies left on the battlefield afterwards.

The Last Valley 

The Last Valley, a film directed by James Clavell, offers a different perspective on the war. It shows war from below. Soldiers are depicted up close and personal, giving them a chance to share their story and make a connection with the audience. The Last Valley makes the audience connect with the soldiers on multiple levels. In one scene, the captain says that he does not agree with what they did in Magdeburg but he was doing his job. “You know, that was vengeance for one of our cities… […] to give some fat little princeling…a better view of the Rhine”. In this quote the captain explains that the Siege of Magdeburg was nothing but an order given, with the hopes of padding a prince’s ego. This scene allows the audience to make a connection to the character. He is explaining a situation; many people go through, having to follow orders given by the boss, whether they want to or not.

Sega’s video game, Medieval II: Total War

The video game Medieval II: Total War was released in November of 2006. It is an interactive game that takes players through a virtual world set between 1080-1530. In the last level of the game, players are fighting in the Sack of Magdeburg. They play as generals in the war and have to place their soldiers, come up with strategy, and attack the city. The video game shows history from above because it puts players in a position of power. Players are not worried about how many people die, they want to win and will do what they have to in order to beat that level. While I do not think the game is meant to be educational, I think there can be some things learned from it, about how events in history are represented.

B. Brecht, Mother Courage, Scene 5 (I could not find a PDF for the book) 

Mouther Courage and Her Children by B. Brecht is a play about a money hungry woman who despite her greed, also wants to look after her children. The play shows war from below by developing multiple characters and showing how the war affects them. In scene 5 of the play we see how war can either make someone very selfish or selfless. When a wounded soldier comes to Mother Courage in need of bandaging, she turns him away; she is not willing to help unless he can pay. While Mother Courage rejects him, her daughter, Katrrin, wants to help. Katrrin goes as far as trying to hit Mother Courage in order to get her to give up something the soldier can use to wrap his wound.

In comparing Otto von Guericke’s story and the Sack of Magdeburg, there are many similarities and clear differents. In Otto von Guericke’s version of events he illustrates a scene full of blood shed and death, but J. P. Abelin’s Engraving, The Sack of Magdeburg, does not show as much detail. In Abelin’s engraving, you do not see dead bodies in the river, the aftermath of the city being set on fire, or the chaos in the small villages around the wall that should have protected the city. It also does not show what happened to the people that were left without parents, a husband, or a home to go back to. While they both give a view of the battle from above, Abelin’s engraving does not really show how violent the battle was. The Sack of Magdeburg offers a view from further above than Guerick does. The Sack of Magdeburg shoes the big picture of the battle and just illustrates the fact that it happened while Otto von Guericke’s summary of the battle goes into detail about how many people died, how they died, and the feelings of survivors afterward.


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