The Battle of Szávaszentdemeter, 6-7 August 1523
While telling you this story, I would like to rely on the thoughts of a Hungarian historian, Szerecz Miklós about the victorious Battle of Szávaszentdemeter: he compared the Turks’ attack to “wolves sneaking in the garden” („lupum proclamare”). Yes, the Ottoman raids intensified after 1521 and the “wolves” were threatening distant lands that had been in peace since the Mongolian invasion of 1241-1242.
However, in this battle, a superior Ottoman army was humiliated and beaten unit by unit, not much before the disastrous Battle of Mohács in 1526. Many people think that the Hungarians suffered a defeat at Mohács because they wanted to apply the same tactic that they had used at Szávaszentdemeter.
Right away, we have three historians’ opinion: Szerecz Miklós is calling our attention to the study of Csorba Dávid which is about an eastern tale or Turkish tradition appearing in the Chronicle of Hungary written by the Renaissance historian Szerémi György (1490-1538). Csorba emphasizes that Szerémi had been biased enough against General Tomori Pál (the commander of the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohács in 1526) and said we should scrutinize Szerémi`s text carefully because he was not always telling the truth. Yet, sometimes there are some very interesting elements of eastern tradition which were mentioned regarding the Battle of Szávaszentdemeter in 1523.
Szerémi tells us the events by recalling the conflict between Pasha Ferhád (the son-in-law of Sultan Selim the „Savage”, the brother-in-law of the young Sultan Suleiman I) and Bey Bali who was in charge of Szendrő (Smederovo) and Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) Castles. According to Csorba, the story goes on from here like a Turkish tale.
It was Bey (Jahja Pasha-záde) Bali who warned Pasha Ferhát who was about to set out against the Southern Borderland of Hungary, by telling him: „Indeed, my lord, it is scary to go there because there are evil wolves who will eat up the Turks.”
Csorba mentions here that the wolf is always the symbol of the savage opponent and war. Yet, he says this animal can be seen also in the coat of arms of the Tomori family.
We also know that the two opponents, Tomori and Bali knew each other quite well. Bali had been even thinking about making a „brother-friendly alliance” with the Hungarian commander. (Bali used to be a man of Bosnian origin.)
Having taken Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in 1521, the soft belly of the kingdom was open to Ottoman raids. The Ottomans in 1523 set out to take Rednek Castle, with altogether 12,000 soldiers. It was the ad-hoc collected army of Tomori’s Hussar captain, Bárdi István who hurried to stop them.
Pasha Ferhád, the leader of Bosnia, sent Bey Bali as the vanguard of his army. In the first clash, it was Bali who won the fight and the Hungarians withdrew into the vineyards on the bank of the Száva River to take cover there. Yet, it appears to have been only a classical military trick and the Hungarians might have been snaring the Turks after them.
Pasha Ferhád became over-enthusiastic because of the initial success of Bey Bali and walked into the trap of the Hungarians and has suffered a major defeat. According to some sources, he fell in the battle but the Chronicle of Szerémi says he was hiding in the vineyard and the soldiers of Bey Bali found him just three days later, half-dead of fear.
The more reliable Ottoman sources say that Ferhád was executed in Istanbul because of the failure of the Battle of Szávaszentdemeter which coincides with the name-day of Farkas (Wolf) in the Hungarian calendar.
Csorba mentions the „Tales of the 1,000 nights” where Seherezade tells the tale how the wolf and the fox got allied against the man (149th and 150th tales):
„The fox, having been exhausted of the cruelty and anger of his overlord, the wolf, all the more because he was ceaselessly intervented the rights of the foxes, tried to get rid of the power of the wolf as a revenge against his pride and cheekiness. The fox offered his alliance to the wolf against the man (Ibn Adam) but the wolf was so conceited that beat the fox, then sent him forward as a vanguard The wolf ordered him to report immediately if he met any prey. Upon arriving into a vineyard, the fox noticed a trap and went back to the wolf, saying: „The weather is fine today and all animals are happy because the owner of the winery is dead.” Saying so, he led the wolf to the trap who fell into it. Then, they began to bargain and the wolf listened three tales of the fox, about the ungratefulness, stupidity and finally, the howling of the wolf has called the attention of the master of the vineyard.
In the Chronicle of Szerémi György, Pasha Ferhád was scolding Bey Bali just before the battle like this: „Where are those wolves whom you had mentioned to me, you rogue?” Actually, he did not notice the Hungarians who had withdrawn into the vineyards. The answer was: „When the lion sets out to hunt, the wolf runs away from him…”
Dávid Csorba also mentions the name-giver of Pasha Ferhád (of Albanian origin) who was a hero of the Ottoman tradition according to Alisir Neváni (1441-1501) in the story of Ferhád and Sirin.
Why did the Bosnian commander set out to the Száva River? According to Szerémi, Pasha Ferhád kept on swearing that he would retake the booty and will take revenge on the Hungarians. (Previously, the Hungarians had taken 400 horses and captured many Turkish warriors.) The Sultan got happy for these words and they were merry-making for three days, then the Sultan authorized Ferhád to set out on the campaign. Ferhád ordered the beys along the border (including Bali): „Get ready and come with me to the field of Szerém where the Hungarians and the Turks had had a battle before.” Bali answered: „My Lord, verily, it is scary to go there because there are evil wolves who will eat up the Turks.” The Bosnian Pasha began to scold the bey like that: „Come with me and show me those wolves, let me see them!”
Bey Bali immediately set out with his 500 riders. They crossed the Száva River and made camp near the agricultural town of Szávademeter. It was the place where Bey Bali sent a Serbian messenger to Pál Tomori „to get ready because the Omnipotent God is going to send them a great booty again because they are the righteous ones. New Turks are coming to the battle from overseas. There are 1,500 cavalrymen and they were sent here with rich attire and supplies.” Tomori was glad and gave a rich gift to the messenger. When the Christian army set out, they „looked like Angels”. All of them were seasoned and experienced hussars of the Borderland. (My remark: did they have wings attached? Perhaps that was why they looked like angels.)
After a week, Pasha Ferhád found no trace of the Hungarians and addressed Bey Bali like this (by Szerémi):
„Where are those wolves whom you had mentioned me, you rogue who has got womanish? They used to frighten you but do not be afraid now.” Bali replied: „If it is the will of Your Highness, I can go and find them and get the news to Your Highness.”
Ferhád remarked that he could not face the Sultan without scattering the Hungarians. „…when Ferhád left the camp, after five miles he has immediately noticed the army of the Christians (…) Bey Bali said to him: „Yet, my Lord, the wolves have arrived, look what you will do next?”
The Hungarians – some 300 footmen who had been hiding in the vineyards – withdrew after the first clash. Yet, they proved to be superior in the second clash when the rest of them joined the battle. Bali has fled to Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) and Pasha Ferhád has disappeared. No-one has heard of him for three days. The men of Bey Bali found him on the fourth day, all hungry and thirsty. „He got sick in Nándorfehérvár out of the fear from the wolves and died eight days later.” (A Turk source says he was executed because of the defeat.)
Here is more about Rednek Castle:
We know that Bárdi attacked the Turks at Rednek Castle and bet them in a three-day-long battle near Nagyolasz and Szávaszentdemeter. In a nutshell, he used the tactic of ambush and defeated the Turks while they were crossing the river, unit by unit. It was the same that Tomori wanted to carry out at Mohács but he had the wrong information and didn’t know that the entire Ottoman army had already crossed the river: it became a fatal mistake.
Bárdi lost 700 Serbian and Hungarians while the Turks many thousands (perhaps 7,000) and also lost their boats on the Száva River.
The victory was received in Buda with great joy: perhaps it was why the Hungarian soldiers thought before the Battle of Mohács (1526) that they could scatter a lot bigger Ottoman force…)
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