Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

1456, the heroic Siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade)

Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade (Photo: Ainars Bruvelis)
Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror took Constantinapolis, the capital of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, and turned it into the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Then, he turned his attention to the north: Serbia and Hungary became his targets. Indeed, he gradually managed to occupy the bigger part of Serbia between 1454 and 1455. Thus, he eliminated the “bumper zone” between Hungary and the Ottoman empire. It was the zone that had been created as a result of General Hunyadi János’ Long Campaign of 1443-44.
You can read more about Hunyadi’s famous campaign here:

In Hungary, only a few people realized the Ottoman threat. One of them was Hunyadi János who was in charge of Hungary’s southern Borderland, and the other one was sent by the Pope, he was Giovanni da Capestrano aka Kapisztrán János, the Franciscan preacher whose task was to prepare a crusade against the Muslims. Hunyadi, just like before, was organizing an offensive war against the Ottomans in February 1456. According to this goal, he had the Diet order a general call to arms in Buda, in August 1456. However, Sultan Mehmed was faster because he had launched his army in April 1456.

Nándorfehérvár in 1521
At that age, there was a serious problem, though: it was hard to find out the military target of the enemy. Sometimes it was realized only when the foe has already besieged the chosen castle. As a result of this, it was impossible to concentrate the Hungarian army before the siege was laid. The Ottomans took advantage of their superior numbers and often launched attacks to deceive the enemy. They assaulted Slavonia, the Lands of the Temes River, or Transylvania. Thus, it was already May when the Ottomans’ final target became obvious: it was Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrade. Here is more about the history of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade):

Hunyadi did his best to send reinforcement to Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade): he sent his own feudal troops along with mercenaries whom he had hired from his own money. Nándorfehérvár was defended by his son-in-law, Szilágyi Mihály and Geszti János. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) Also, the crusader army of Capistrano was approaching, the monk had almost 30,000 peasants in his army. All in all, the Ottomans still had a twice larger regular army, as for the irregular troops, their number was three times more than in the Christian army.

The siege of Nándorfehérvár began on 4 July 1456. Sultan Mehmed didn’t surround the fort completely, only from the south. Admiral Baltoglu’s fleet consisted of 200 Ottoman boats, they blocked the Danube River. However, the Sultan failed to assign troops who could have supported the fleet from the riverbank. Taking advantage of this, Hunyadi occupied both sides of the Danube River and his boatmen broke the Ottoman blockade on 14 July. This time, the Ottomans suffered lots of casualties. It was how Hunyadi’s army could enter the castle to relieve the exhausted guards. There used to be 7,000 warriors with Szilágyi but Hunyadi brought in 12,000 more soldiers.

The Ottoman cannons were under the command of an Agha who used to be a Hungarian before. His artillery soon leveled the walls of the fort. Then, Sultan Mehmed ordered a general assault on the evening of 21 July. Many attacks were beaten back by the defenders but the attackers could penetrate into the town. They were driven out from there only in the dawn. It was the time when according to the legend, Dugovics Titusz, a defender of the castle saw that a Turkish soldier was planting his flag on the wall: he heroically threw himself at them, sacrificing his life. However, modern historians claim it never happened because the figure of Dugovics was an invented person; but it is quite certain that similar deeds may have been witnessed during the siege.
The self-sacrifize of Dugovics Titusz (by Wagner Sándor)
There was a great silence on the morning of 22 July between the two sides when Hunyadi banned all kinds of counter-attacks. Yet, a few archers from the crusader army crossed the Száva River and began to shoot at the Turks. Many soldiers joined them. Seeing this, Hunyadi sent a message to Capistrano to stop it. The monk crossed the river in a boat to call his soldiers back: but he achieved a different effect with this. Seeing him cross the river, the rest of the crusader army followed him. By this time, the Turks had been deployed against them but they left their cannons and their camp unguarded.
Hunyadi János (Chronicle of Thurócz, 1488)
It was when Hunyadi attacked them with his heavy cavalry. He took the cannons and turned them against the Ottomans. Allegedly, the Christian artillerymen decided to save their life and took Hunyadi’s side, it was how the cannons could be put to work so quickly. The soldiers of Capistrano and Hunyadi crushed the Ottomans in a brief fight. Even Sultan Mehmed got wounded, he had to break camp and leave in the evening. The siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) was a huge triumph, we still commemorate it in Europe by tolling the bells at midday. However, the Pope ordered this custom not because of the victory but before it, when he called all Christians to pray against the Ottoman threat. You can read more about this here:
Sadly, a high price was paid for the victory: Hunyadi died in plague on 11 August 1456, and Capistrano passed away in October, too. The outcome was, that the Ottoman Empire has ceased to threaten the Kingdom of Hungary with more serious campaigns until 1521.

Source: Szibler Gábor

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