Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The road to Várna, 1444; Part Two

The road to Várna

Who were the real oathbreakers?

Hunyadi János crossed the Danube River with his own troops at Orsova on 22 September 1444. King Ulászló I aka Wladyslaw III joined him later with his Polish and Hungarian soldiers. As for the truce that they had broken: it was quite obvious at the very beginning that Sultan Murad had no chance to fulfill the Hungarian king’s terms. The Albanian Skander Bey offered his help to Hunyadi and his letter arrived soon at the king’s camp. He wrote:

“Who would not take up arms and rush into the open peril for the folks of Hungary who had been defending Christendom for so long time, by struggling and shedding their precious blood? By birth, they are the enemies of our eternal foe…”

Skander Bey

 Despot Đurađ (György) Brankovics

However, the Albanian troops could never join the army because this time Despot Brankovics did his best to separate them from the Hungarian and Polish crusaders. Skander Bey’s 15,000 men could never join the Crusaders. As Brankovics had gotten from Murad what he wanted (his Serbian lands and the return of his two blinded sons), he was not supporting Hunyadi anymore. Regarding the campaign, it became crucial later.

The Seal of Despot Đurađ Brankovics, its inscription says “Đurađ, believer of our Lord Christ, Christ-loving lord of the Serbs and the Danube region” 

When they reached Nicopolis (Nikápoly) on 19 October, the soldiers of the Wallachian Voivode Vlad II joined them as well as some Bulgarian forces. Yet, the entire number of the Crusader army was not bigger than 20,000 men. They could not take the inner castle of Nicopolis, only the city. Voivode Vlad Dracul was astonished to see how small the Hungarian king’s army was.

They were marching around the country of Brankovics as he didn’t let them go through. This time they followed the Danube river, not crossing the passes of the Balkan mountains as they had tried last year during the Long Campaign, led by Brankovics. You can read about the Long Campaign of 1443-1444 here:


After a five-day march, the Christians got to Vidin castle that they besieged. It fell to them after six days. 

The Byzantine Emperor

They had no idea that the Burgundian, Papal, Genovese, and Venetian fleet had only 21 ships which was not enough to blockade the waters of the Bosporus and the Hellespontos. Originally, more than 30 ships had been promised, though.

The Hellespontos are 80 km long and 6 km wide in some places. The Christian fleet’s commander, Admiral Wavrin finally realized that his mission was impossible and sent a message to Constantinapolis that the Byzantinians should help and stop Grand Vizier Halil to aid the transportation of Murad’s army to the European shores. Unfortunately, the Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos didn’t give a straight answer and did nothing. The Orthodox were not interested in helping Rome. How could he do that, wasn’t he invading the Latin Duchy of Athens during the summer?

Constantine XI Palaiologos

A few days later, Grand Vizier Halil managed to take control of the European side of the Bosporus and the Hellespontos. He hired cannons from the Genovians and began to shoot at the intruders. In the meantime, the Anatolian army arrived and began to bombard the ships from the other side as well. The Christian ships had to stay in the middle and fight against the strong current. 

The Genovese 

The Genovese ships clearly betrayed the Crusaders. They made business with Murad and helped him to get his army transported to the European side. They were carrying the bulk of the Anatolian army to the other side for two days and two nights, receiving one gold Florin per soldier. They collected 49,774 gold pieces in exchange for their toil, including the rented cannons. They would have received two thousand more gold pieces if they had blocked the Christian fleet to sail into the Black Sea but it became unnecessary. 

At home in Genova, they contributed this amount to the building of the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo church:

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

The Crusaders are reaching Várna

The Christian army went on marching from Nicopolis toward the sea. Between 24 October and 9 November, they took Yenibazar, Sistov, Razgrad, and Provádia, then the Ottoman garrisons of Kavarna, Makropolisz, Galata, and Várna surrendered.

Sultan Murad was getting to Provadia in a reinforced march, thus blocking the Crusaders’ way back home. It was how the Hungarian / Polish / Bulgarian and Wallachian troops made camp at Várna on 9 November, betrayed by both the Byzantine Emperor and by their Christian Genovese allies, not to mention the role of the Serbian Despot Brankovics. I don’t know whether Hunyadi or the king gathered any information about the peril they were walking right into.

Could the situation be even worse?

Read the last part of the series, the details of the Battle of Várna:

If you like my writings, please  feel free to support me with a coffee here:

This article contains Amazon ads. By purchasing through these links, you can help my work at no added cost to you. Thank you!

The campaigns of Hunyadi János