1809 Terrain 5 – Religious Landmarks

Religious landmarks were ubiquitous around 1800 and can often be found on Napoleonic battlefields, such as the iconic church and cemetery of Aspern. In the Habsburg Monarchy, Catholicism was the state religion. Several religious minorities, such as Protestants, Greek-orthodox and Jews, existed, and different laws regulated if and how they were allowed to practice their religion in public. Protestants were allowed to have prayer houses, but those could not have an entrance towards the street or a tower. This means that all religious symbols that could be found in public in Eastern Austria around 1800 were Roman Catholic.

In this article, I will focus on three kinds of religious architecture: prayer houses (churches and chapels), cemeteries and small single monuments. I will mention monasteries only very cursory at the end.

Churches and chapels

Churches were representative as well as functional buildings. As functional buildings, they were the place of congregation for the parish and formed the communal centre of a village or town (or town district, in the case of larger towns with several churches). Going to mass was natural for most Austrians around 1800 and only very few people – most from the educated elites – would follow enlightenment religious schools of thought such as deism, which placed no importance on religious rituals (real atheism was even rarer). Incidentally, this was also true of French soldiers, despite their reputation as atheistic heathens!

Churches also had a representative and symbolic function. As such, they followed the architectural styles predominant at the time of their construction. However, they were also continuously modified according to requirements and taste. This means that many older churches incorporated elements from different periods and rarely showed pure architectural styles.

Many Austrian churches are Romanesque or Gothic in origin. Renaissance churches are rare, but baroque architecture is quite common, as there was a veritable building boom during the late 17th century. Many new churches were built to bolster the Counter-Reformation. Those baroque churches dominated the appearance of many villages and towns. The church of Aspern is a good example, being built in 1671.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, many older churches were also supplemented with baroque elements and decorations. Churches continued to be modified and added to during the 19th and 20th century, so it is often difficult to extrapolate how they looked around 1800. Fortunately, due to their importance, they are often depicted in townscapes, so it is often possible to find drawings or engravings of specific churches.

The following image shows Herzogbirbaum (40km to the north-west of Vienna) around 1830. The church, which features prominently in the lithography, is of Gothic origin and was finished at the end of the 13th century. The tower, however, was embellished with baroque elements during the 18th century, as can be clearly seen by the “Zwiebelturm” (onion-domed tower).

The next image is a detail of an image I’ve already shown in the article on villages, namely Mayer’s late-18th-century painting of Groissenbrunn.

This church was finished in 1763 and is a typical example of baroque architecture. Note the walled graveyard surrounding the church and the simple grave crosses, to which we will now turn our attention.


Until the end of the 18th century, the church alone was responsible for the burial of the dead. However, with the government of Emperor Joseph II., state authorities started to intervene to reform the funeral system.

Up until that time, cemeteries were usually around churches, with the whole area being walled in. There was a strict hierarchy concerning the locations of graves: clergymen and very high-ranking laymen were buried inside the church, while influential families or guilds had vaulted graves along the church’s exterior wall. The rest of the population was put into mass graves in the cemetery proper, where individuals were buried in layers.

Cemeteries became incredibly crowded, and bodies had to be exhumed regularly to make space for new ones. The bones of those bodies were kept in ossuaries, which were built near the church. The cemetery at Aspern had such an ossuary, which today houses the 1809 museum.

Image from wikipedia.

However, the exhumation of bodies posed hygienical problems, because they often hadn’t had time to decompose properly. This caused the government of Joseph II. to order the construction of new cemeteries outside of towns. Thanks to the enlightenment regime, Austria was, after France, one of the pioneers in the development of such new communal cemeteries. For example, Korneuburg (where a small battle was fought on 7 July 1809) got a small cemetery outside its city walls in 1785. In those new cemeteries, the deceased were buried in single graves in the order of their date of death – at least in principle, as wealthy families tried to get privileged places.

The new cemetery at Korneuburg. Detail from the Schweickhardt map.

Concerning grave decorations, the old church cemeteries were rather plain. The mass graves very seldom had artwork and mostly were marked with wooden, sometimes wrought iron, crosses. Here is a mid-18th century depiction of the cemetery of the Bürgerspital (hospital) near the St. Rochus chapel in Vienna.

It gives the impression of a pretty crowded hotchpotch of grave markers, most of them crosses, some of which are rather simple, others featuring elaborate carvings. The small roofs were intended to protect the wooden crosses from rain. There are also what looks like wrought iron crosses on stone pedestals and one single gravestone with a figurative relief.

Here are some images of wooden and wrought-iron grave crosses from the Tyrol, the iron ones dating back to the 16th and 17th century. It can be assumed that, despite regional stylistic differences, the overall shape of such crosses would be the same all over Austria (and probably the German states).

Up until the end of the 18th century, the graves inside the churches and the vaulted graves were also often simple affairs, as there was not enough space for elaborate monuments.

However, in the new cemeteries outside town, a new culture of often quite elaborate grave monuments began to emerge, often following neo-classicist models and introducing distinctions of wealth and status into the supposedly egalitarian rows of graves. Obelisks, urns, steles or figurative statues were the most common forms.

Cemeteries were usually surrounded by a wall (sometimes by a fence). In war time, this made them useful positions for the defence of a village, as happened at the battle of Aspern, where the cemetery was fiercely contested.

Scene from the Battle of Aspern. Image from Wien Museum.

It is important to note that at the time, cemeteries were not as important as today as sites of remembrance. The dead were mainly commemorated through prayer, litanies of intercession, days of remembrance and, in Austria, small monuments called “Lichtsäulen”.

Small Monuments

The Lower Austrian landscape around 1800 was dotted with small religious monuments in the form of pillars (many of which can still be found). In the vernacular, they are often called “Marterl”, although historians have remarked that this is an incorrect, pseudo-folksy designation. If anything, a “Marterl” would be an image or sculpture depicting Christ on the cross, something that is predominant in the Tyrol. The predominant Lower Austrian monuments are correctly called “Lichtsäulen” (light pillars) or “Bildstöcke” (image pillars). They are pillars built out of bricks and covered with plaster, topped by a sort of lantern. This lantern originally held a candle but now often features a cross or a small religious image.

Lichtsäule Hohenruppersdorf, Imagine from wikipedia

The “Lichtsäulen” first appeared in the 14th century and originated in France. There are a few that were made by known gothic artisans, following the style of gothic architecture, but most of them were made by anonymous artisans in a local, less elaborate style. They housed a light inside the lantern-like top, whose function it was to commemorate the dead.

Image from Berger: “Die Kultmale des Marchfeldes”

Here are more examples.

Lichtsäule Diepolz, Image from wikipedia
Lichtsäule at the Teiritzberg near Tresdorf. Image from marterl.at
Lichtsäule near Hausleiten. Image from marterl.at

During the 17th and 18th centuries, a new type was developed, the so-called “Bildstock” or “Bildsäule” (image pillar). Commemorating events such as plagues, they often featured elaborate carvings and figures, depicting Holy Mary or saints.

Dreifaltigkeitssäule Weikendorf, image from wikipedia

There were also other types, such as crosses and single statues of St. Nepomuk, a popular saint often found at bridges. However, the most common type was and still is the simple Lichtsäule.

Often, the original meaning of the monument changed over time. For example, after the Thirty Years War, many Lichtsäulen obtained an inscription thanking god for the end of the war. While the original meaning was changed or even lost, the durable monument itself was integrated into the “mental map” of the inhabitants, acquiring a function as a landmark and geographical reference. This is probably why such monuments feature prominently in the wonderful topographical map drawn by Franz Xaver Schweickhardt in 1837.

Detail from the Schweickhardt map.

And to show you that Schweickhardt didn’t just place them there as embellishments, but that his drawings denote real monuments, let’s have a closer look at the rightmost of the three monuments depicted in the map segment. It is located near the Neues Wirtshaus, the site of a battle between Austrian and Saxon cavalry on 5th July 1809. It still exists (it was restored in 2009-2011) and is known since long as the “Weisses Kreuz” (white cross) or “Wampertes Kreuz” (pot-bellied cross), even though its not in the shape of a cross, but in the shape of a Lichtsäule, albeit a very stocky one.

Image from sagen.at

It’s an oddly shaped thing and dates back at least to the 18th century, maybe even to the Middle Ages. For battlefield walks, it is useful as it helps locate the site of the Neues Wirtshaus, which no longer exists.

Abbeys and monastaries

I want to mention them only in passing, as they only played a peripheral role during the Napoleonic campaigns and probably won’t feature on a tabletop. Napoleon visited the most famous, Melk Abbey, in November 1805 and May 1809. At the later date, he witnessed Marcellin Marbot crossing the Danube on a daring reconnaissance mission, as narrated in the memoirs of the then-ADC of Masséna (which we might believe or not).

In 1809, the French also used several Viennese monasteries as hospitals, among them the Minoritenkloster, Augustinerkloster, Servitenkloster and the monastery of the Barmherzige Brüder.

Availability of models

Churches can be found in several terrain ranges. Another option would be to use churches made for model railroads, as they often depict very local styles. Najewitz Modellbau offers very nice stl files of the Aspern church and cemetery. I built mine from scratch:

Period-specific grave crosses, however, are difficult to find, as are Lichtsäulen and other small monuments. Again, model railroad companies offer a small selection, such as a set of “Marterl” by Noch. There are also a small number of stl files on Thingiverse and cults3d, but none of this is great. 

This would be a fine opportunity for someone versed in 3D-sculpting!


Berger, Walter: “Die Kultmale (Bildstöcke, Wegkreuze usw.) des Marchfeldes,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 79 (1976), pp. 1-72.

Deininger, Johann W. (ed.): Tiroler Volkskunst. Bäuerliche Architektur, Wohnräume, Getäfel, Mobilien, Geräte und Erinnerungszeichen. Innsbruck: Max Schammler 1914.

Fischer, Norbert: Vom Gottesacker zum Krematorium – Eine Sozialgeschichte der Friedhöfe in Deutschland seit dem 18. Jahrhundert. Dissertation, University of Hamburg 1996 (available online at https://ediss.sub.uni-hamburg.de/handle/ediss/155)

Lukasser, K.: Kirchen und Kapellen in Niederösterreich. Matrei in Osttirol: Journal-Verlag 1999.

Plechl, Pia M.: “Gott zu Ehrn ein Vatterunser pett” : Bildstöcke, Lichtsäulen und andere Denkmale der Volksfrömmigkeit in Niederösterreich. Wien: Herold 1971.

Sörries, Reiner: Ruhe Sanft. Kulturgeschichte des Friedhofs. Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, 2009.

The Schweickhardt map is accessible online at https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/s/i78ttb

marterl.at is a comprehensive database of small religious monuments in Lower Austria, containing images, exact locations and a short description.

Marbot’s tale of his adventure at Melk can be found in the chapter 14 of the second volume of his Mémoires.

1809 Terrain 4 – Fences

Some time ago, there was an argument in one of the napoleonic wargaming groups on Facebook about the presence or not of fences in the Central European landscape during the napoleonic wars. I can only speak about Eastern Austria, as this is where my games are set and my research is focussed. 

Let’s start with one of Franz Mayer’s great paintings, which he produced during the second half of the 18th century for the Abbey of Melk. This one shows Rohrendorf near Krems:

As always, there are a great many fascinating details to be discovered. For example, in the background, you can see vineyards and a “Kellergasse”, the traditional row of small earthen wine cellars. Many of the inhabitants seem to be vinters instead of farmers, so their buildings look a bit different than the typical farm buildings I have discussed in a previous post. But this would be another topic altogether!

For now, let’s first have a look at the individual farmsteads in the foreground. Closed towards the street with buildings, they are open towards the back, where you can see orchards, vegetable patches and the occasional barn (there are less barns than in farming villages, as the inhabitants seem to be mainly vinters). Everything that belongs to the farm is fenced in with what looks like a picket fence. Its function is not only to keep out animals, it also demarcates the property of the farmer and has a legal meaning. Crossing that fence would, in theory, be a criminal act. Up until the 17th century, a farmer was allowed to kill a trespasser at night if he did not answer when addressed. Those fences were permanent features and would be repaired regularly.

Simple picket fence. Image from Eysn: “Hag und Zaun im Herzogthum Salzburg”

Next, I want to draw your attention to the fields you can see between the village proper and the hills with the vineyards. They are rather small plots surrounded by narrow dirt tracks (you can see one where the two people are standing in the middle of the picture). There are no fences around the fields (something that is corroborated by many other contemporary images) – with one noteable exception, namely the field in the middle of the image.

However, what seems to be the main road leading from the village to the vineyards – or rather, into a hollow way and through this further into the background – is flanked by a fence on both sides.

This is something that can be seen in other contemporary images, too.

For example, in this image of Markt Gerungs, there also is a fence running along the road leading to the village. It is even more prominent in the image of Joachimsberg.

Those fences were seasonal and were built only along roads leading to pastures. Their purpose was to protect the crops from animals which were driven to their pastures. In Eastern Austria, there was actually not that much cattle breeding. Herds would be very small and usually a herdsman paid by the community would collect the cattle from the farms in the morning and drive it to the pasture, from where they were driven back in the evening. The pasture was common property and often located at meadows, e.g. near an arm of the Danube. Pastures would of course be fenced in to prevent the animals from going astray.

Usually, each farmer was responsible for his own field and had to build a fence if it bordered a road where cattle was driven. However, in some areas, the building of such fences was regulated, with the fences being erected by 1st May and dismantled after harvest at the end of September. According to tradition, after that time, “fields were free”, that is, it was allowed to let animals walk or graze there with impunity.

Fields that lay fallow (because of the three-year crop rotation) could also be used as pasturage. If so, then the fallow fields would be fenced in to prevent the livestock from moving into the tilled fields and ruining the crop. The fenced field in the middle of the painting could be one of those.

Simple cattle fence. Image from Eysn: “Hag und Zaun im Herzogthum Salzburg”

Such temporary fences were usually rather simple affairs, consisting of horizontal poles of wood propped up by stakes (the exact form would differ regionally). Wooden nails or wicker would be used to hold the construction together. There were only gates for animals; to allow pedestrians to access the fields, a “Stiegl” (stile) was used, e.g. in the form of a bench to step on and over the fence.

Gate with Stiegl. Image from Eysn: “Hag und Zaun im Herzogthum Salzburg”

For my gaming table, I made both kinds of fences. The picket fence was 3-D printed, using a file I found on Thingiverse. The cattle fence was built out of wooden rods.


Blau, Josef: “Zäune im Böhmerwalde,” Zeitschrift für österreichische Volkskunde 7 (1901), pp. 1-8.

Eysn, M.: “Hag und Zaun im Herzogthum Salzburg,” Zeitschrift für österreichische Volkskunde 4 (1898), pp. 273-283.

Österreichischer Ingenieur- und Architektenverein (ed.): Das Bauernhaus in Österreich-Ungarn und in seinen Grenzgebieten. Wien: Verl. d. Österr. Ingenieur- u. Architekten-Vereines 1906.

1809 Terrain 3 – Austrian Villages

Many settlements in Upper and Lower Austria go back to the middle ages. While actual buildings from that time rarely survived into the period that concerns us here, namely the years around 1800, the basic layout and the way the plots of land were organised stayed pretty much the same.

From a typological standpoint, several types of villages can be distinguished.

Image from Diercke Atlas (https://diercke.westermann.de/content/dorfformen-978-3-14-100800-5-77-5-1)

The most archaic form is the “Streusiedlung” or “Weiler” (hamlet), which goes back to the 9th century. It consists of a small number of farms built near each other without any system. The “Haufendorf” is also a rather old form, with irregular plots and several, sometimes winding roads.

The “Angerdorf” goes back to the middle ages. Here, the “Anger”, a communally owned and used village green, forms the center. The Anger often features a pond (used to water livestock and to put out fires), which is fed by a brook. The church was actually rarely built directly on the Anger, but often placed a bit apart, preferably on rising ground.

The “Straßendorf” (street village) also was first seen during the middle ages and is characterised by a central road, along which the farms are arranged alongside each other. Sometimes, there is a small space between the buildings, but often they are built directly adjacent. At the back of the plots, orchards, vegetable patches and barns would be arranged. Behind those were the fields. When the villages grew larger, a road could run along the backside of the plots, the so-called “Hintaus”. Even more growth would see this develop into a secondary main road, along which new farms would be built.

Of course, actual villages not always adhere strictly to this typology and many villages grew during the 18th century, for example Aspern, which developed from a village with one central street (Straßendorf) to having a second street.

Concerning the houses making up those villages, researchers in european ethnology (as the discipline of “Volkskunde” is known nowadays) have developed another typology: 

Image from: Baukultur im Weinviertel (http://kulturpaedagogik.ph-noe.ac.at/download/Baukultur%20Weinviertel/Baukultur%20Weinviertel.pdf)

The basic type of house in Eastern Austria was the so-called “Streckhof”, a long and narrow building with the gable end pointing towards the street and the entrances to living as well as work spaces towards the yard. When a barn was added at the rear, this developed into a “Hakenhof”. When an entrance area with more living quarters was added at the front, closing the yard towards the street, it became a “Zwerchhof”. When both are present, it is called a “Doppelhakenhof”. Closing the latter with additional buildings would have transformed it into a “Dreikant-” or “Vierkanthof”.

The buildings themselves were made out of air-dried mud bricks, covered with a mixture of earth and straw and whitened with lime. Contrary to popular imagination, open timber framing was extremely rare in Austria (and Southern Bavaria). The roofs were usually covered with straw or reed. Larger buildings had wooden shingles. Tiles were very rarely used before the middle of the 19th century, when fire insurance became widespread. Before that, buildings were easily inflammable – it is no suprise that battle reports always mention burning villages.

An interesting feature of some of those buildings are the so-called “Trettn”, an arcade along the inner front of the main building. This would shelter the residents from rain and bad weather when moving from living quarters to stables and other workspaces. It could take quite elaborate forms and was probably inspired by the arcades of the big farmsteads of nobles and abbeys.

Trettn in a Zwerchhof (image looking towards the front, with the yard gate to the right). Image from Kräftner: Naive Architektur II.

Villages also had a church surrounded by a small graveyard. However, at the end of the 18th century, new graveyards began to be built outside of the villages. This was a result of hygienical ideas developed by enlightenment thinkers and officials.

Additionally, many villages also had a manor house, often called a “Schloss”, where the local noble would reside. Sometimes, this mansion would have a small park and other accompanying buildings.

In larger and more prosperous villages, such as Aspern, some mud-brick buildings were replaced by stone buildings, often with two storeys. However, the basic layout of the plots mostly stayed the same.

Outbuildings, such as stables and barns, were also often made out of mud-brick. The basic type was the “Längsscheune”, with the main door on the gable side and a very low roof. There were, of course, also wooden barns.

Längsscheune. Image from Kräftner: Naive Architektur II.

Other farm buildings include granaries. In our context, the most famous is perhaps the “Schüttkasten” at Essling, but smaller types could be found in many villages.

This image of Groissenbrunn was painted by Franz Mayer in the second half of the 18th century. Many of the features mentioned can be seen. Groissenbrunn is a small village in the Marchfeld, about 30km to the east of Aspern. It is a typical “Angerdorf”, with the Anger, a central meadow traversed by a brook, being used as a communal area for assembly and festivities. Often, the village smithy was located there.

Image from Kräftner: Naive Architektur II (original at the Abbey Melk)

The simple farm houses, most of them “Doppelhakenhöfe”, have straw roofs. In the middle, there is a small manor house (or perhaps the residence of the parish priest) with what looks like a small formal garden (it may also be a herb or kitchen garden). There is also a church with a small walled graveyard. You can also discern interesting details, such as the grave crosses, which seem to have been made out of wrought iron. Grave stones are still a rare sight. Also note the drawing well in the foreground. Judging from other contemporary images, this (and not the bucket-on-a-windlass type) was the predominant form of wells in the region and many farms would have one. The walled rectangular shapes seen in the background are actually not common features of the rural landscape: They are water basins for the fountains of nearby Schloß Hof.

Unfortunately, most buildings offered to the wargamer by terrain manufacturers are not really fitting for Austria (and some still follow the timber-framing cliché). Fortunately, more appropriate buildings are very easy to make. For mine, I used stout cardboard which I textured with filler. The windows were printed with my 3D-printer and the roof was made from a dustcloth soaked in thinned-down PVA glue.


One of the best sources for the layout of Austrian villages around 1800 is the “Franziszeischer Kataster”, the land registry started in the 1810s during the reign of Francis I. Fortunately, this very detailed map is available online for free. The legend for the map is available via Wikimedia

Contemporary drawings and paintings of villages are available, but hard to find online, especially in a good enough quality to discern individual houses.

The following books offer a useful introduction to the subject:

Kräftner, Johann: Naive Architektur II. Zur Ästhetik ländlichen Bauens in Niederösterreich. St. Pölten, Wien: Verlag Niederösterreichisches Pressehaus 1987 [Very good images, the text is sometimes informative, but very romanticizing]

Stenzel, Gerhard: Das Dorf in Österreich. Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau 1985 [A good overall history of the development of rural settlements in Austria]

1809 Terrain 2: A Farmhouse

European rural architecture follows patterns that differ regionally. For example, timber framing, which can be found in parts of Germany, is virtually absent in Austria. The same is true for the layout of farmsteads. Different groundplans exist in different regions, and most traditional farms would have followed the local model.

Here is a map of the distribution of different types in Austria:

Image from Ellenberg: Bauernhaus und Landschaft

For my 1809 project, I decided to build a so-called “Dreikanter”, or three-sided farm, as this was the predominant model in Upper and Lower Austria, along the axis of the French advance towards Vienna. The farm has buildings on three sides and a wall with a large door on one side, closing the central yard. On one side would be living quarters, while on the other barns and stables would be located.

Image from Dimt: “Ergebnisse der Hausforschung”

For the overall look of such a building, I used this old photograph as inspiration:

Image from Dimt: “Ergebnisse der Hausforschung”

My aim was to build a model that was large enough to work as a central piece for a scenario, but small enough not to dominate the playing surface entirely. As with all my buildings, the scale is reduced, as I don’t assume a 1:1 ratio between figures and men in Sharp Practice – I usually assume that one figure represents 3-5 men, sometimes even more, depending on the scenario.

I quickly decided that I would not make the buildings accessible for figures. In my experience, this is too much of a hassle. It makes fitting the roofs more difficult and at the reduced scale, it gets very fiddly to place figures inside.

The core structure of the model was made with a material I now tend to use for all my buildings, namely a very sturdy but still easy to cut cardboard that is sold as “Finnpappe”, which seems to be some sort of wood cardboard made in Finland. It has really great properties – most importantly, I never had any problems with warping – and is inexpensive.

I printed windows with my 3-D printer and glued them to the cardboard. Then I applied thinned-down filler to the walls to give them a nice structure. The wooden parts I covered with matchsticks.

At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, most rural buildings in Austria were  still covered with straw or reed. Roof shingles or even tiles would be rare and only to be found on big estates or churches. To model the straw, I used a dustcloth which I glued to the roof and then soaked in thinned-down PVA glue.

I made the front wall seperately and did not glue it in place immediately, as I wanted to paint the whole thing before doing so. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to get to certain parts with the brush.

Also, I made the big front door moveable. After unsuccessful experiments with improvised hinges I went to a local dollhouse store and bought small hinges. They weren’t too expensive and the Lego-loving child inside me is happy that he can open and close the tiny doors…

Finally, a lick of paint and some drybrushing, and I have a Dreikanter for my 1809 campaign:


Dimt, Gunter: “Ergebnisse der Hausforschung im Mühlviertel. Eine Zwischenbilanz,” in: Das Mühlviertel. OÖ. Landesausstellung. Bd. 2: Beiträge. Linz 1988, p. 347-360.

Ellenberg, Heinz: Bauernhaus und Landschaft in ökologischer und historischer Sicht. Stuttgart: Ulmer 1990.

Schröder, Karl Heinz: “Das bäuerliche Anwesen in Mitteleuropa,” in: Geographische Zeitschrift 62 (4), 1974, pp. 241-271.