Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Battle of Kenyérmező (Breadfield), 13 October 1479

the chainmail of Kinizsi Pál

King Matthias Corvinus had been fighting the Ottomans for almost ten years, we have talked about how he had taken back Szabács, Galambóc, and Jajca. You can read more about Jajca Castle here:

The Battle of Kenyérmező (Breadfield)

The Battle of Kenyérmező is connected to Kinizsi Pál, the legendary general of King Matthias. (Note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.) According to a legend, Kinizsi Pál was a miller boy who offered a drink to the thirsty king who was passing thru; he offered it on a millstone because he was very strong. It was the beginning of his career. However, according to historians, he had come from a lower noble family in Bihar County but we can find the name “Kinizsi” in Abaúj-Torna County and also in the Székely-land in Transylvania. In the picture below, you can see Kinizsi as a side figure on King Matthias’ statue in Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg):

Before this battle, Ottoman marauders had attacked Transylvania several times between 1474 and 1475. They attacked Hungary in 1475 and could break in as far as Nagyvárad (Oradea) but they were driven out. Then, the Ottomans lost the castle of Szabács on our southern border during the next year, before suffering the sobering open defeat at Kenyérmező (Breadfield), Transylvania, in 1479 when General Kinizsi scattered their superior army. The victory was significant to the Christians because the enemy was defeated in a grand-scale battle. Since the battle of Nicopolis (1396) and the battle of Várna (1444) the Ottomans have been considered an unbeatable foe on the open field. During our tenth war against the Ottomans, Kinizsi Pál and Báthory István dispersed this myth at Kenyérmező / Breadfield. 

 Indeed, this victorious battle was the most tremendous Hungarian-Ottoman conflict fought in Transylvania up to that time, within the boundaries of the Kingdom of Hungary. 

Tombstone of Báthory István (1430–1493), in Nyírbátor (Photo: Szilas)

The battle took place on October 13, 1479, near the Maros (Mureş) River. The Hungarian army was led by Kinizsi Pál, Báthory István, Vuk Branković, and Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân. It was the time when Hungarian, Serbian, and those semi-heavy cavalrymen called Hussars became famous for their ability to defeat the Ottoman light cavalry. King Matthias said, “…they are the lightly armed riders whom we call Hussars” (1481) Verily, they were lighter than a heavy cavalryman but wore more armor than the ordinary light cavalrymen. You can read more about them here:

It is one of the earliest illustrations of a Hussar from the 15th century, (on the end of a buckle)

After the Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–79) in the spring of 1479, a major Ottoman Turkish army convened under Szendrő (Smederevo), above all Akıncıs. They were irregular cavalrymen, in the battles they were one of the first divisions to face the opposing military and were known for their prowess in battle. Unpaid they lived and operated as raiders on the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, subsisting totally on plunder. King Matthias assumedly was informed about their intention, according to the chronicle of Antonio Bonfini. The king ordered the voivode of Transylvania, Báthory István to mobilize his army on 11 July. Kinizsi Pál, the Comes of Temes was also alerted. Among the soldiers of Matthias,  there was also Jaksics Demeter, one of the favorite military leaders of the king. His brother was there, too, leading 900 riders.

the invincible Kinizsi Pál in a 16th-century picture

You can read more about Kinizsi Pál here:

The Ottoman army entered Transylvania on October 9, near Kelnek (Câlnic), led by Ali Koca Bey. Koca Bey commanded Basarab cel Tânăr IV, a Wallachian (Romanian) voivode to join him, who himself brought 1,000–2,000 infantrymen to the cause. On October 13, Koca Bey set up his camp in the Kenyérmező (Breadfield), near Zsibót.

The fortified church of Kelnek (Photo: Zsolt Deák)

The Ottoman-Wallachian (Romanian) army continued pillaging and taking prisoners of war for the slave markets, while Báthori and Kinizsi made preparations to set forth against the enemy. According to the letters written by King Matthias Corvinus, there were 43-45,000 Ottoman and Wallachian soldiers altogether. However, historians in our days say there were about 15-20,000 Ottomans, and they exclude the presence of Janissaries. It is also supposed that there were just 6,000 men strong. On the other hand, the contemporary Polish historian, Jan Długosz says there were 100,000 Turks but other sources estimate their number about 60,000. 

The bust of Kinizsi Pál near the battlefield at Alkenyér

Kinizsi’s army consisted of Hungarian, Székely, Serbian / Croatian, southern Slavic, Transylvanian German Saxon forces, including Wallachian (Romanian) volunteers. Altogether, there were about 12,000 to 15,000 men in the two armies before Kinizsi and Báthory met. Voivode Basarab III had about 1,000 men in the army: he was the enemy of Bassarab IV and hoped to get rid of him. Some theories claim there may have been Moldavians (also Romanians), Lithuanians, Polish, and even Russians in Kinizsi’s army, along with some artillery units.

Kenyérmező field in 1870

Look at the map of the Battle of Kenyérmező (Breadfield); Turks are on the left, Hungarian, Saxon, Wallachian (Romanian), and Székely forces, aided by the Serbian troops are deployed on the right:

Both armies were composed of three columns. The right flank of the Hungarian army was led by Kinizsi, the left was the Serbian light cavalry under Vuk Branković and Jaksics Demeter (aka Demetrius Jakšić) with the Saxons. Báthory’s forces stood in the center. On the Ottoman side, Koca Bey took the left flank, Isa Bey the center, and Malkoch Oglu deployed his men on the right flank. Hungarian / Serbian heavy cavalry played a key role in the coming fight. Read about the role of heavy cavalry in my other article:

The battle commenced in the afternoon, Báthory fell from his horse and the Ottomans nearly captured him, but a valiant knight called Nagy Antal whisked the voivode away. According to the Renaissance historian Bonfini, the Turks got behind Báthory’s forces but Kinizsi arrived and charged against the Turks with the Hungarian heavy cavalry and 900 Serbs, led by Jaksics / Jakšić who had “numerous courtiers of the king”.

COA of the Jaksics family (1453)

Ali Bey was forced to retreat. Kinizsi moved to smash the Ottoman center and before long Isa Bey also withdrew. According to the Ottoman sources, Isa got frightened seeing the heavy cavalry lining up against his light Akinjis. Yet, Isa Bey fought until his death, valiantly and the battle lasted for several more hours. Kinizsi fought with two swords in his hands, according to the sources. Here is  more about his life:

The few Turks who survived the massacre fled into the mountains, where the majority were killed by the local men. The hero of the battle was undoubtedly Kinizsi Pál, the legendary Hungarian general, a man of Herculean bodily strength in the service of Matthias Corvinus’ Black Army of Hungary. After the battle, he was said to have danced holding two enemy corpses under his arms and one with his teeth. The Christians lost 3,000 men and many thousands of Ottomans perished, about 30,000 of them. Allegedly, half of the attacking Wallachian voivode’s soldiers died there, too. A large booty was taken, and all the captives of the Ottomans were freed.

The Kingdom of Hungary at the end of the 15th century; the southern Borderland 

It was a crushing victory. Right after the battle, Kinizsi was chasing them deep into Serbia, gaining back territories again and again. Our Romanian friends also claim Kinizsi as their hero (they call him Pavel Chinezu), and there is nothing wrong with it; this illustration below is from a Romanian book, showing how the general was dancing with three Turks after the battle, according to Bonfini. In fact, Bonfini wrote that Kinizsi picked the third dead Turk up with his teeth, without even touching it with his hand.

As it was said, in 1480, General Kinizsi raided Serbia and several times defeated Ali Koca Bey. The Battle of Kenyérmező (Breadfield) was a great psychological victory for the Hungarians, and as a result, the Ottoman Turks did not attack southern Hungary and Transylvania for many years thereafter, except for one attempt.
As the Ottoman attacks had depopulated the Southern parts of the Hungarian Kingdom, having finished his campaign, General Kinizsi brought several thousands of Serbian settlers to replace the massacred Hungarian population with new inhabitants.
Here is an animation video of the battle, in the Hungarian language (your help is welcome to create English subtitles):

The COA of Kinizsi in Lietava (Zsolnalitva) – he made grand gothic enhancements to this castle

The next time, it was another general of King Matthias, Magyar Balázs who defeated the Ottomans in 1481 when he took the city of Otranto back, thus beating the enemy out of Italy, then he crushed another Turkish army at Becse, Hungary in 1482.

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The sword of Kinizsi Pál (replica)