Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Hunyadi’s Long Campaign in 1443-44, part two

Sultan Murad II is taking Hunyadi’s head: a wishful thought, it never happened…

In fact, the so-called Long Campaign lasted no more than 5-6 months, but it was so-called because of the unusually frequent military clashes with the enemy. Besides, it was no small thing to lead a campaign in winter, 2,000 kilometers back and forth across enemy territory. You can read about the preparations for this campaign here:

but Hunyadi János was very much alive

The ultimate goal of King Ulászló I and Hunyadi János was to drive the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. The first target of their crusade was Edirne (Drinápoly, Hadrianopolis), the capital of Sultan Murad II. The Serbian horsemen of Despot Brankovics proved to be very useful guides after crossing the Danube in October 1443. Their marching order took shape, while the units of Hunyadi and Újlaki (about 12,000 men) followed the vanguard throughout the campaign. They were followed by the main army, two days behind, led by King Ulászló I.

King Ulászló I aka Wladyslaw III

After a few days, the vanguard (this time led by Hunyadi) encountered the first Ottoman forces around Jagonida. After scattering them, the 35,000-strong army moved on with its 3,000 wagons, including at least 600 Hussite war wagons, supplied by experienced Czech mercenaries. The Bohemian mercenaries, paid by Cardinal Cesarini, and the German/French knights totalled some 5,000 men.

With most of the Sultan’s army occupied in Morea, the Ottomans could only send their soldiers from Serbia and Bulgaria. Upon hearing the news of Hunyadi’s arrival, Murad ordered his Janissary troops to take up positions in the passes of the Balkan Mountains. The Ottoman emperor rushed to assemble his army, which numbered some 150,000 men.

The first major battle was against Bey Szinán, who was defeated, and then the Crusaders took the fortress of Krusevác and razed it to the ground. They then set their sights on Nis and took it without much ado. After looting and burning the town, the Crusaders received news that three Ottoman armies were approaching.

Hunyadi set upon them and defeated the armies before they could unite. First, he defeated the 10,000-strong army of Bey Isaac / Iszák, then he defeated the second army coming from the direction of Sofia and led by Begler Bey Khászim (30,000 soldiers). Finally, he turned towards Bey Turachán and his 20,000 soldiers dealt with him accordingly. Usually, the enemy was stopped by the mercenaries’ wagon fortress and Hunyadi’s heavy cavalry attacked the enemy from another direction.

Hussite style war-wagons

The victory at Nis (Nissza)

Shortly afterward, on 3 November, Hunyadi was informed that a huge Ottoman army was sneaking around him, presumably intending to attack the king’s army at Nis. It was about 30,000 soldiers, led by the Rumelian Pasha Kaszun, who had managed to gather together the units that Hunyadi had recently scattered. Obviously, they wanted to cut him off from the king’s army.

Hunyadi immediately turned north, but even he was frightened when he saw the enemy at the Nisava River at dusk. The enemy was three times stronger than his army, as he later admitted in his letter to Baron Újlaki. (Újlaki joined the army a little later.) After a short hesitation, he bravely gave the order to attack the enemy. His heavy cavalry charge hit the Rumelian Pasha’s army so hard that his men fled. In all, 2,000 Ottomans were killed and 4,000 captured, while the fleeing soldiers were hunted down by the local Balkan villagers.

The tombstone of Baron Újlaki

Nine flags were captured and there was a rich bounty. Many high-ranking Ottoman officers were captured, such as Bey Kese of Vidin, Bey Omár of Sofia, Bey Ali of Sumla, son of Timurtas, Pasha Balaban of Tokat, Begler Bey Kaszim of Rumelia, and Bey Kursolch and Kovjanov, as well as Bey Zsivan and Bey Hamzsa. Among them were Bey Isaac of Philippopolis, Bey Dan of Zetnice, and Mahmud Cselebi, the brother-in-law of Sultan Murad, as well as the Sultan’s chancellor, Bey Kapus and Pasha Chalil, the brother of the Grand Vizier.

In total, Hunyadi won four victories in two days against an enemy at least twice the size of his army. I dare say it was an unparalleled military success. Hunyadi joined the king’s army on 8 November. King Ulászló didn’t allow him to dismount from his horse, but greeted him from the saddle as an equal, thus honoring him. A few days later, they set off for Sofia in the above-mentioned marching order. These were the days when Sultan Murad II quickly made peace with Emir Ibrahim of Karaman in order to hurry home and save what he could.

 It was also the beginning of the career of a famous Albanian military leader, Scanderbeg alias Gjergj Kastrioti (1403? -1468), who had been trained as an Ottoman officer from the age of nine. However, he was encouraged by the appearance of Hunyadi and escaped from the Ottoman camp at the Battle of Nis with 300 Albanian horsemen. His escape was very clever. He withdrew his cavalry from the Battle of Nis and didn’t fight Hunyadi, and later they were never able to join forces.

Hunyadi János in the Chronicle of Thuróczi

In the confusion that followed Hunyadi’s victory, he sought out the Sultan’s scribe and obtained official authorization on Murad’s behalf. He took his riders home to his father’s castle, Kruja. There he gave the forged “pherman”, the Sultan’s order, to Pasha Szábel, who was in charge of the castle. In this way, he was able to regain his family’s stronghold without having to fight for it.

Bey Iskander aka Skanderbeg

Within a month, he had regained the lands taken by the Ottomans and became Prince of Albania. Skanderbeg renounced Islam, returned to Christianity, and ordered others who had embraced Islam or were Muslim colonists to convert to Christianity or face death. Yet he is a divisive figure for some modern historians. Hunyadi’s long campaign had much to do with his success.

The Long Campaign has not been finished just yet… (There is one more part to read.)

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Hunyadi János on a Tshirt; available: