Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

1521: the fall of Szabács, Zimony, and Nándorfehérvár castles

These forts were the gates of Hungary, King Matthias Corvinus used to say that in case of losing them, nothing could stop the Ottoman Turks to invade the whole kingdom. Thirty-one years after his death, these castles were lost and the road to Mohács was paved. However, we should pay tribute to the fallen heroes who tried to defend these forts until their last breath: let us tell their story and learn the names of Heroes: Logodi Simon, Thorma András, and Oláh Balázs. (Note,  I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

Hungarian-Ottoman border at the beginning of the 16th century

Many important forts of Hungary’s southern Borderland were seized during the great campaign of Sultan Suleiman in 1521, fortresses like Szabács (Шабац / Šabac), Zimony (Земун / Zemun), and Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade). Suleiman’s army was so big that it enabled him to lay siege on two important castles at the same time.

The southern double line of castles in King Matthias’ age

The siege of Szabács

While the Anatolian army besieged Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade), the Rumelian army went to besiege Szabács castle: there were only a couple of hundred Hungarian and Serbian defenders while the Rumelian Begler-Bey, Ahmed, had 25,000 men. Most of them were soldiers from the Balkans and just a small part of them were Turks. According to the habit of the Valiant Order, there were two captains in the castle, Bán (Duke) Logodi Simon, and Bán Torma András decided to fight until the last man and they made their soldier swear the same oath.

Szabács castle

The siege began on 20 June and soon, the outer castle was so damaged that it became beyond save. The defenders got stuck into the inner castle and during the bloody fight, their number was reduced to 70. In the end, they have run out of all their gunpowder, their cannons and guns became silent. They could have escaped towards the Száva River but they chose to make a heroic last stand. The final assault of the Turks was launched on 7 July. The surviving members of the garrison were getting ready for their last battle on the market of the castle. They all died a heroic death in the following cruel fight.

Szabács (Photo: NMNj)

Sultan Suleiman arrived at the last moment so he was able to see the fall of the castle. The Rumelian Army had suffered great losses during the siege of Szabács. It was a nice example of the valiant sacrifice of Hungarian and Serbian soldiers. We can see similar examples of self-sacrifice in the cases of Drégely and Szigetvár Castle only later in 1552 and 1566. After the fall of Szabács, the Rumelian army joined the Anatolian army at Nándorfehérvár. You can read more about the history of Szabács here:

The fall of Zimony, and Nándorfehérvár

Oláh Balázs used to be the one who held the defense of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in his hands during the siege in 1521 because the two Báns (Dukes) Héderváry Ferenc and the child Török Bálint had left the fort. As a result of this, the task of the defense went to the two vice-Báns, Oláh Balázs and Móré Mihály.

Nándorfehérvár in 1521

Grand Vizier Pasha Piri Mehmed arrived at Nándorfehérvár at the beginning of July but the real siege began in earnest only after the taking of Szabács Castle in the middle of the month. By the end of July, Sultan Suleiman has also arrived from Szabács (Sabac) castle. Nándorfehérvár castle has been surrounded by all sides by this time. You can read the history of Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade here:

The number of the defenders was 700 men and the Hungarians were supported by the Serbian inhabitants of the city, along with a unit of boaters on the Danube River. Unfortunately, they had not enough gunpowder, artillery nor food in the fort. They could hope for only the arrival of King Lajos (Louis) II`s reinforcement but everybody knew that the castle would fall by the time the reinforcement could come together at all.

Nándorfehérvár / Belgrade

The defenders were able to beat back the attacks of Pasha Piri. They harassed the Ottoman artillery by charging out: they nailed in the cannons and once they got hold of some heavy siege cannons as well. They were digging anti-mines to prevent the Turks` attempts to blow the walls up by their mines. When the neighboring Zimony Castle fell, the Turks could bombard the walls from the side of the Danube River but the defenders repaired the breaches again and again. Their morale was also growing by an by because they repelled the assaults of the Pasha repeatedly.

The Turks besieged Nándorfehérvár

But the Sultan arrived on 31 July. He sent Pasha Ahmed to take up positions from the Zimony-side of the besieged castle. Ahmed soon took the so-called Cigány (Gypsy) Island which was immediately near the walls and could shot the weaker walls from close range. Thus, he could decrease the efficiency of the defenders because they had to pay attention to a longer part of the walls. In spite of this, the Janissaries suffered huge losses during the assault on 2 August when they were beaten back again.

Although the Turks could explode two mines and were able to ruin the city wall on the following day, their assault has been repelled again. The Turks launched an overall attack from all sides against the city on 8 August and the defenders could not stop them. The Ottomans took the city and were able to bombard the so-called „water-castle” which fell on that evening. After this, the defenders were desperately fighting them from the inner castle and forced the Janissaries to withdraw with bloody heads.

Zimony (1608) was opposite to Nándorfehérvár

The Sultan gave his order to carry out a systematic siege against the inner castle and the walls were being shot for days and the mines were getting ready. A woman escaped from the castle on 15 August and she betrayed the number of the defenders to the Turks so they launched an attack on the next day. Although the soldiers of Pasha Piri and Pasha Mustafa withdrew, the men of Pasha Ahmed could penetrate as far as the marketplace of the castle and they were pushed out from there only after huge bloodshed.

Nándorfehérvár (Photo: Mickey Mystique)

The situation in the castle was getting worse and they had no water nor food; one of the vice-captains (Móré Mihály) deserted the castle and betrayed the weaknesses of the defenders to the Turks. There was a woman who fled from the castle and she betrayed the number of the defenders to the enemy on 15 August so the Ottomans launched an attack on the next day. The soldiers of Pasha Piri and Mustapha were beaten back but the Janissaries of Achmed could reach the market square. The defenders could force them out from there only by severe losses. The situation became desperate when the defenders ran out of food and water.


In the meantime, the Hungarian Palatine and his army had come into the Szerémség (Sirmium) Area but didn`t dare to engage in battle with the army of the Sultan. Hearing of this, the Sultan demanded Oláh Balázs surrender the castle on 25 August. The Captain has refused it. Then, he could face the next assault only with his remaining 400 warriors and he has managed to beat the Janissaries out of the castle again on 26 August. The next day, the Turks had a mine exploded under the Kőles tower, breaking a long and huge breach.

Belgrade / Nándorfehérvár today (Photo: Ainars Bruvelis)

The coming assault could have not been stopped, Captain Oláh got wounded and he withdrew with his surviving 72, mostly injured soldiers into the inner palace, along with the remaining Serbian inhabitants. This last Turk attack was beaten back only by the heroism of Káldi Miklós who cut off the head of a Turkish Bey. You can read more about Káldi here:

Oláh, running out of gunpowder and food, had to agree to negotiate. Suleiman offered him that he could leave unharmed.
He received the heroic captain and his soldiers on 29 August and offered them to join the Sultan’s army. Having received their denial, the Turks had them transported to the opposite bank of the Danube. There, the soldiers of the Bosnian Bey Báli attacked them and slaughtered almost every one of them. The sultan had the Serbian inhabitants re-settled in Istanbul. In the picture: Sultan Suleiman was executing captives of war at Nándorfehérvár in 1521:

All in all, the heroic defenders of these castles were able to prevent Sultan Suleiman from continuing his campaign against Hungary during that year. Their blood gained precious time. The next Ottoman onslaught was repelled in 1523 in the Battle of Szávaszentdemeter. You can read about that battle here:

Source: Szibler Gábor

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