The Thirty Years War was a battle to end the absolute totalitarian Catholic church rule over the ways to God, as it were. It was fought primarily by the Byzantines, or the remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire who were allies with the Vatican against a series of Bohemian and Germanic states. The radical Calvinists who rose up in Northern Europe in the 16th century were grimly determined to mundify their neighborhoods from “popery” and the “Whore of Babylon”.
On July 6th,the Protestant hero, Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus landed a significant force in Pomerania which bolstered the confidence of the predominantly Protestant population of the city in Magdenburg. Adolphus and his formidable army, a mix of foot soldiers and cavalry were mostly battle harden and loyal Swedes, and his army was on the move. In 1629, Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II issued the Edict of Restitution which replevined land absconded by the Protestants. The city of Magdenburg sided with Adolphus and soon became a target of the Empires’ armies.
But 25,000 of Wallensteins’ forces under the purview of the Count of Tilly laid siege to the beleaguered city for six months. Inside the city, provisions held out long enough for them to mount a spirited defense of Magdenburg. Musket fire killed Imperial troops and eighteen hundred missiles made airborne everyday from artillery took its tool inside the walls. But Falkenstein, the mayor, with his charismatic presence convinced the town council to scupper any talk of surrendering and living under the papist yoke. On May 20th, 1631, the regular artillery strikes, and a surprise breach of city walls by the polyglot Catholic forces entered the city.
Thus the real problems and misery began. The army had not been paid and so decided that while raping and burning, they would also plunder. The soldiers literally tortured people who had nothing left often out of pure rage. Otto Von Guericke was an eyewitness and described the actions the conquering soldiers took.
“When a band of looters broke into a house, if the master of the household was able to give them something, this served to rescue him and his family from harm. But only until the next soldier turned up, also making demands…..after all the household’s possession have been looted…and nothing remained, the soldiers assaulted and hacked the victims and terrified them…within hours over two thousands innocent people had been pitiously murdered and words cannot do justice to what took place.”
Bodies, many burned or buried alive had to be excavated by the poor and placed in the Elbe River where they clogged it for two weeks.
This sort of inchoate rage and violence was common during the Thirty Years War.
source: The Furies, War in Europe 1450 -1700, Lauro Martines. Bloomsberry presss 2013