Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Hunyadi defeated two Ottoman armies, 1442

the statue of Hunyadi János in Kecskemét, Hungary

The situation in the Hungarian Kingdom was quite inviting for the Ottomans to attack it. There was a devastating peasant war in Transylvania in 1437-38, and inner disorder weakened the country. Taking advantage of this, the Ottomans launched two large campaigns in 1442 against Transylvania but they suffered a devastating defeat in both cases by Hunyadi János, Voivode of Transylvania. (I am using the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)

Hunyadi János in the Thuróczi Chronicle, 1499

Hunyadi was in a difficult position because his co-voivode, Újlaki Miklós was away at Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) where his army was helping the Hungarian king against the followers of the Habsburg party. This way, Hunyadi was left alone to defend the entire southern border of Hungary. It made things worse that the Turks attacked from two directions. They broke in not only into Transylvania but also besieged the castle of Szrebernik in Bosnia. It was 600 kilometers away from Szeben (Sibiu). The enemy was burning and destroying the southern counties of Transylvania.

Hungary in the age of Hunyadi János

The first Ottoman attack was rather a larger raid: during the spring, Bey Mezid led a bigger unit of 17,000 soldiers. They were not just irregular or light cavalrymen but they were also aided by regular soldiers of the Sultan. The second attack was launched during the summer, led by Begler-Bey Sehabeddin who took along an even greater army so as to take revenge on Hunyadi for the previous defeat. The Begler-Bey’s army was four times bigger than Mezid’s, moreover, it consisted of lots of regular troops whose quality was better, too.

In both cases, Hunyadi had a lot smaller army but he could beat the foe.


 

The victory over Bey Mezid on 25 March 1442

However, Hunyadi had a hard time winning the fight against Bey Mezid in March 1442. The first battle was won by the Ottomans on 18 March at Marosszentimre where Lépes György, bishop of Transylvania fell with a sword in his hand. Let us recall, he was the one who had triggered the peasant war before. According to some sources, Hunyadi almost lost his life in this battle at Marosszentimre.

Hunyadi suffered great losses at that time, and he had to raise a new army in a very short time. He withdrew to Gyulafehérvár, the capital of Transylvania to reorganize his forces. He had to summon the peasants to join his army which was a rather uncommon thing. And after the peasant war of 1437, it must have been risky, too. Yet, he had no choice: the Székely soldiers and the Hungarian noblemen were not enough against the foe. Luckily, Hunyadi acquired some information about the plans of Bey Mezid, and this was how he could overcome his enemy, by using a trick. 

Hunyadi received the information that Bey Mezid had put a prize on him and described his armor to his Sipahis in great detail, offering lots of gold in case they could get him, dead or alive. The victory was gained by the heroic self-sacrifice of one of Hunyadi’s knights called Kamonyai (or Kemény) Simon. Kamonyai put on Hunyadi’s armor and they changed a horse, too. However, Hunyadi assigned 500 cavalrymen to guard Kamonyai’s life but he remained in reserve, in charge of his heavy cavalry.

Hunyadi’s campaigns in 1442 (Source: Magyar História)

The attackers focused on the “bait” and Kamonyai was killed in the battle but Hunyadi could control his army. He and his cavalry charged and attacked the side of the Turk army. The enemy recognized Hunyadi’s face because he was wearing an open Hussar helmet, and they thought he was resurrected from his death. They thought him a jinnee, and panic and havoc gripped the Ottoman soldiers. A common Hungarian soldier, Cserei László was the one who killed both Bey Mezid and his son. The battle took place near Szeben (Sibiu) so the Saxons of Szeben city helped Hunyadi to attack the Ottoman camp where they released all the Hungarian captives who had been kept there. Then, the enemy was attacked from three sides and suffered a major defeat. Several thousands of Ottomans were slaughtered, perhaps about 20,000. The enemy was pursued until the Carpathian mountains and just a few could escape. The Hungarians were said to have lost about 3,000 men.

Kamonyai (Kemény) Simon (by Somogyi Győző)

Hunyadi gained a huge booty. He put lots of treasures and weapons on a wagon that ten horses could hardly pull and sent it to King Ulászló to Buda. Hunyadi had a monastery built at Tövis from the gold he found in the Turk camp, to thank God and commemorate the victory. Several monuments were erected (five altogether) for commemorating the events, one of them used to be at Zajkány (Zeikany) and is connected to Hunyadi’s second battle. It was a huge iron mace but it was stolen in 1992:

Hunyadi’s campaign to Wallachia

The Voivode of Transylvania took full advantage of his victory and pushed on, pursuing the Turks even beyond the Carpathian mountains. His Wallachian campaign took place between 10 April and 25 May. There, he had Voivode Vlad Mircea beheaded because he had been siding with the Ottomans. Then, Hunyadi helped Basarab to the throne of Wallachia because he was the friend of the Kingdom of Hungary. Thus, he has re-established the Hungarian influence in Wallachia, at least for the time being.

Hunyadi János (a portrayal from the 16th century)

The victory against Begler-Bey Sehabeddin in July 1442

Hunyadi was better prepared for the next battle, it was not so sudden as Mezid’s attack. He heard that the Sultan got very angry and ordered the Rumelian Begler-Bey Sehabeddin to punish Wallachia and Hungary and told him not to return without teaching the Christians a bloody lesson. Besides the Rumelian soldiers, soldiers joined the Begler-Bey from six Anatolian districts and his army grew to 80,000 men. 

The date is different: it was on 6 September

They crossed the Danube River at Nicopolis in June and divided his army into two. They made great destruction in Wallachia in the second part of August. Vlad Dracul and his men hid in the hills before him, not having enough soldiers to stop them.

 

Sehabeddin arrived near the border of the Hungarian Kingdom and was about to enter Transylvania, from the direction of the Iron Gate Pass of the southern part of the Carpathian Mountains. He wanted to lure Hunyadi to a flat terrain where he could make use of his superior numbers better than in a narrower pass of the Carpathian mountains. He was boasting that it would be enough to show his turban to the infidels, they would flee at once.

Hunyadi had the “bloody sword” carried in Transylvania, thus summoning all able-bodied peasants, Székely border guards, and noblemen to defend the homeland. The troops were gathering at Szeben (Sibiu). Read more about the Székelys here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/essays/who-were-the-szekelys/

Hunyadi János (Photo: Thaler)

This time, he had more time and could rely on the sword of the commoners. Yet, together with the contingent of Baron Újlaki Miklós, he had about 15,000 soldiers. The battle took place on 6 September 1442.

In the meantime, Sehabeddin arrived at Karánsebes and sent three larger units towards Temesvár, Lugos, and the Iron Gate. Hunyadi let the raiding parties through. Sehabeddin’s main army was marching through the hill of the Iron Gate but Hunyadi’s army was following them on the other side, unseen by the enemy. When Sehabeddin arrived at a place that Hunyadi decided was a perfect spot for a battle, so the Hungarian troops descended from the slopes and blocked Sehabeddin’s way. Seeing this, the Begler-Bey stopped and built trenches around his camp. Hunyadi did the same: both armies were getting ready for the clash.

The Vaskapu Pass (Photo: Adria Holiday)

Then, Hunyadi deployed his army: according to Bonfini, he positioned his heavy cavalry to the wings, and in the middle, proportionately. He placed light horsemen around them who were armed with slings. The heavy infantry stood in the middle while the reserve force consisted of spearmen and archers. On two sides, he had his Hussite-style wagons lined up, packed full with light artillery and light infantrymen. They were placed behind the wings, on the slopes of the hills.


As for the Ottomans, they stood in two or more lines, the heavy cavalry in the middle with the Janissaries on their two sides. There were the light cavalrymen on the two wings.

According to Bánlaky, Hunyadi ordered his army to pray before the middle section attacked the enemy. Nevertheless, the Janissaries managed to stop Hunyadi’s advance and the Ottoman light cavalry was ordered to attack the heavy infantrymen from the sides. Then, Hunyadi pushed them back, using his own cavalry. After this, he withdrew his middle to their original position.

The Ottomans thought that the Christians were fleeing, so they victoriously attacked, without any order. But they had to face the heavy cavalry’s charge while Hunyadi’s Hussite wagons arrived from the two sides and attacked the enemy from higher ground. The Ottomans got confused. They had no chance: they have never met before this kind of warfare. Moreover, they were in a narrow valley where Hunyadi had lured them.

The Ottomans began to stamp at each other and the panic was growing minute by minute. They fled and half of their army was slaughtered, leaving behind 200 flags. Hunyadi took more than 5,000 captives as well. Only half of the enemy army could escape. The Ottomans lost Begler-Bey and many high officers like Bey Umur with his son, along with Ozmán Cselebi, Firusz, or Firicz, Jakib, son of Dede Muzák, Chisr, and Dedefuták. 

Hunyadi János

The Ottoman vanguard who had been raiding in the Temes area was wiped out easily as they were cut off from the main army.

Hunyadi János was praying and reorganizing his troops for three days, then he set out again to Wallachia where he replaced Vlad Dracul II with Voivode Dan because Vlad Dracul II had been accused of plotting with the Turks. He was said to have been a talented military leader but the world remembers rather his son, unfortunately. As for his name, Dracul: he was named so because King Zsigmond had invited him into the Order of the Dragon in 1431.

Hunyadi (by Gustave Doré)

Vlad Dracul’s son, Vlad Tepes became the inspiration of future vampires – is a dividing person, some of my Romanian friends consider him a hero against the Ottomans while others say he was cruel even to his own people.

Anyhow, Voivode Dan began his rule by killing all relatives of Vlad Dracul he could lay his hand on, then offered a tax to the Hungarian king (3,000 bows and arrows and 4,000 shields annually), according to a historian called Bánlaky József.

The relationship later improved but it became abysmal between the Vlad family and Hunyadi only after the defeat suffered at Várna in 1444 – but we will read about it later. Here are my three articles about Várna:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/1372-1490/the-battle-of-varna-1444-part-three/

Hunyadi’s army took a detour to Ottoman-held Bulgaria where he was burning and plundering. He returned home with lots of bounties and his military reputation has been greatly increased.

When King Ulászló heard of Hunyadi’s victory, he sent the Ottoman envoys home empty-handed: the sultan had offered peace in case the King ceded the castle of Nándorfehérvár aka Belgrade. Now, the enemy had to wait until 1521 to take it.

Hunyadi’s statue on Heroes’ Square, Budapest

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The monument in 1896 at Zajkány (it was stolen in 1992)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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