1 March 1552 the Peril of Szeged and the Battle of Dorozsma

Find Szeged on the old map
During the Ottoman campaign in Hungary in 1551, several Borderland castles along the Maros River were taken by the Turks. The castles of Becse and Becskerek were among them, but the Hungarians managed to repulse them at the castle of Temesvár after a few days of fierce siege. Then Pasha Szokollu Mehmed called off the campaign and withdrew his troops at the end of October, after which the troops of the Hungarian Kingdom and Transylvania launched a counter-attack and recaptured Lippa Castle and some smaller fortresses around the Maros River region. (Please note that I am using the Oriental name order for Hungarians, where surnames come first).
Brother György Martinuzzi
In this period of the Dual Kingship of Hungary, Brother György (Juraj Utješenić alias Martinuzzi György), Archbishop of Esztergom, and Governor of Transylvania, prepared a great campaign against the Ottomans, which he planned to launch in the spring of 1552. He expected to send his troops against the Turks before the main Ottoman army arrived there. The castle of Szeged played an important role in his plans. If he could take back Szeged before the Ottomans arrived there, the attacking enemy would be in a more difficult position to advance. The Ottoman army would have been in a disadvantageous situation between the Tisza and Maros rivers. Sadly, his plans were in vain as he was assassinated by General Castaldo on the orders of King Ferdinand of Habsburg in December 1551.
The assassination of Brother György on 17 December 1551
Sultan Suleiman was very angry about the failures in Temesvár and Lippa. He was angered by the rapid construction of the Szolnok castle and was not happy that Brother György had ceded Transylvania to the Habsburgs before his death.
He had to know that Castaldo’s army was unpaid – the mercenaries had plundered all the settlements in a 10-mile radius around Temesvár, for example. The Turks were also informed that the Hajdú soldiers of Tóth Mihály, the former chief magistrate of Szeged, were up to no good, openly plotting to take Szeged from the Ottomans. Szeged in Hungarian hands could have prevented the Ottomans from reaching Szolnok and Eger. In fact, Tóth went to Giovanni Battista Castaldo, who was the commander of the Transylvanian army of the Habsburgs. Tóth persuaded him to join the campaign against Szeged. Castaldo sent an order to General Bernardo de Aldana to join as well.
Giovanni Battista di Castaldo
The Spanish general Aldana started the preparations in January and called a military council in Arad. According to the chronicler Istvánffy: “Aldana met there Tóth, Bakics Péter and Dersffy István, Dóczy Miklós and Horváth Ferenc alias Nagy, and there was Alonso Perez from Temesvár, a Spaniard by origin, but a brave and renowned leader of the Hungarian hussars. As for the Germans, there was Adam Oppersdorff from Silesia with his 300 armored horsemen. Aldana had a military council and as they agreed on everything, they decided to try their luck and seize such a great opportunity. After setting the day, they decided that Tóth Mihály would take the lead with his own infantry, and the other units would follow.
Istvánffy Miklós (1575)
Istvánffy mentioned that Tóth Mihály and his fellow captain Nagy Ambrus had 5,000 Hajdú soldiers that he had “gathered and kept in readiness” for the attack. Forgách, another chronicler, wrote the same thing: “Mihály and his helpers, who knew about the attack, had recruited 5,000 infantrymen from the peasants, the so-called Hajdús: the best men of the people, who were the most excellent in physical strength and speed, and who could best endure fatigue and hunger, thirst, cold or heat”. At the same time, Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén (a minstrel and historian) simply described them as “peasant soldiers”.
Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén (18th century painting)
During this time, Pasha Kászim ordered the local peasants to swear allegiance to the Ottomans. As a result, the local people fled the area. In February, the pasha brought reinforcements to the area of Becse and Becskerek. Soon a large number of Hajdú soldiers from Nyírség and Debrecen gathered at the Gyula Castle, hoping to plunder Szeged. However, all the mercenaries and the local nobles shared their problems about the lack of food and money.
Szeged during the Ottoman occupation
The campaign was delayed, the Christians thought that there were 700 Turkish guards in Szeged, but in fact, there were only 345 there in February, under the sword of Sandjak Bey Mikhaloglu Khidr. The Christian king appointed Bernardo Aldana and Bakics Péter to lead the troops. Their plan was based on the cooperation of the citizens of Szeged. They went to the castle of Arad and were divided into two armies.
Hungarian Hajdú soldiers
The first one was commanded by Tóth Mihály. He had 600 Hajdú infantrymen and 240 Hajdú horsemen, while Nagy Ambrus had 560 infantrymen and 110 horsemen. The second army was led by Alonso Perez, there were 300 German heavy cavalry under the command of Oppersdorf, 200 Spanish musketeers, and 100 Hungarian hussars. There were another 600 Hungarian hussars under the command of Bakics Péter, Nagy Horváth Ferenc, Dersffy István and Dóczy Miklós. The total number of the two armies was 3,710 men. According to other sources, there were 5,000 soldiers. Read more about the Hajdú soldiers here:


Hungarian Hajdú soldiers (by Somogyi Győző)

The first army left for Becskerek on February 14 to confuse the Turks. They arrived in Óbesenyő on February 17th and were joined by 700 peasants. The second army reached Szeged at night on February 19, where the armed locals were waiting for them. They helped them to safely cross the Tisza River. They carried 400 picked men on boats to the palisade fort of Szeged, unnoticed by the Turkish guards. The ice of the moat helped them to climb the walls quickly. They slaughtered the guards and opened the gate, letting the Christian troops into the city.

Szeged in the Turkish age
All the Turks were killed and the Hajdús began to plunder the houses of the rich merchants. Bey Mikhaloglu-Khidr alias Héder got out of his bed in a shirt, but his few men were killed after a short fight. His son was captured. He and the rest of the Turks could barely escape into the stone fort. They pulled up the drawbridge in front of the pursuers, although the Hajdús tried to prevent it with their wild attack. According to Istvánffy, “the Hajdús attacked the gate with such ferocity and boldness that seven of them managed to enter the castle, but they were captured and beheaded.”
Lots of hook-guns had been piled up in the 15th century in the Hungarian castles
The guards of the inner castle awoke and opened dense artillery fire on the Hajdús to cover their fleeing comrades. However, many Turks (about 450) could not get in, they ran towards the Tisza River, but the Hajdús cut them down, taking only 150 prisoners. (The sources seem a bit confusing because only 345 “registered” Ottoman soldiers were listed in Szeged, but let us not forget that many marauders called “martalóc” (irregular raiders) were usually in the Ottoman garrisons).
Ottoman Deli riders
Despite the cannonade and rifle fire, the Hajdús did not retreat from the wall but began to cut the outer palisade cover of the wall with their battle axes, but they could not break through the strong brick wall behind it. Then they tried to climb the walls with ladders, but the Turks defended themselves bravely and repelled their attack, killing many of them. So they went back to the city and continued to loot the houses of the Turks, then the houses of the rich citizens of Szeged. They were undisciplined and their officers led the looting. They also did not guard the Turks. Seeing this, the Turks made a counterattack, Istvánffy says: “Bey Háder also regained his courage and opened the gate, he went out with some armed men. He drove the Hajdús out of the trenches and saved his castle”.
a German cannon, 16th century, the Hajdús had just one or two of them
The Hungarians could do nothing without siege equipment. They piled up the Turkish corpses in two large heaps and returned to their favorite pastime, plundering the Jewish and Turkish citizens of Szeged. They took a lot of money from the local Jews who were employed by the Ottomans as tax collectors. The Jewish tax collectors also “rented” some taxes from the Ottomans as a second income, as was common in the Ottoman-occupied lands.
Gold coin of Sultan Suleiman, 1520
Istvánffy: “The Hajdús took many soldiers’ horses, gold and silver goblets, a huge amount of precious silk, carmine, and wool clothes…, they found many flocks of sheep, horses and cattle, which they drove away”. Istvánffy emphasizes how greedily the Hajdús drank the best wines they found in the cellars and what they did with the captured women. Forgách adds that the Sultan’s tax was also discovered and mentions that all the Hajdús who were there got rich.
Lots of coins were hidden before the Turks and unearthed 500 years later…
The Hajdús launched a second attack on the castle on February 21, but it was repulsed. As the besiegers had only one or two cannons, they just drank and did nothing. They repeated the attack on February 22, but it was also repulsed by Bey Mikhaloglu Khidr. Military discipline disappeared in the besiegers’ camp and Captain Bakics asked Aldana in his letters to send food and soldiers to prevent the Hajdús from going home. The discipline was so bad that the Hajdús did not guard the castle properly. As a result, a Serbian soldier was able to sneak out of the castle, a man named Damján, who ran to the Pasha of Buda for help. He was even able to return to the castle from Buda with the good news that reinforcements were on their way!
Pasha Ali of Buda
The Hajdús, having plundered the Turks and the Jews, began to hunt the Protestant Hungarians. There was a Protestant priest named Abádi Benedek, a personal enemy of Captain Tóth because the Turk Bey Mikhaloglu-Khidr of Szeged had allowed him to preach there. Tóth had the priest expelled.
Aldana’s army was only in Makó, marching very slowly towards Szeged on February 25th. The Turks acted faster. It was the Serbian envoy, Damján’s message why Pasha Hádim Ali of Buda took action and set out to relieve Szeged. According to a Spanish source, he had 5,800 soldiers, but at first, he had just over 2,500 men. He had with him the troops of the castles of Székesfehérvár, Hatvan, and Esztergom. He put the infantrymen on fast wagons and hurried to Szeged. The main strength of the Ottoman army was the janissaries and their rifles, but they brought 12 scorpion cannons which fired 3-pound balls. During his march, he called Rusztem the Bey of Szendrő Castle, who gathered all the Ottoman troops on his way and joined Ali with his Sipahi horsemen in a forced march.
Western mercenary in Hungary
There was an irregular unit of Serbian “martalóc” (plundering) soldiers who also rushed to Hádim Ali, led by Pasha Kászim, supported by his 800 Sipahi. At Martonos they met the 400 Hajdús of Nagy Bálint and Török Péter sent by Aldana. They defeated and dispersed the marauders on February 27. According to Tinódi, “much damage was done to the Serbs there”. (Note that according to Ottoman payrolls, 92% of their soldiers in the occupied lands of Hungary were of Serbian, Albanian, or other South Slavic descent).
Pasha Kászim lost his horse and was wounded, but managed to escape, unlike most of his men. The Hungarians rode on the 400 captured Turkish horses, put the heads of the fallen enemy on two wagons, and rode triumphantly to Szeged. Aldana considered them as poor quality soldiers and sent them to raid and patrol the area.
Hajdú soldiers
Aldana arrived in Szeged only on February 28th. He had 180 Spanish, 90 Hungarian, 60 German infantrymen, and 1,000 Hungarian hussars, the latter led by the Spaniard Alonso Perez de Sayavedra. The troops from Gyula also arrived with 160 horsemen and 700 infantrymen, bringing two light cannons. Aldana tried to stop the confusion, dug siege trenches around Szeged, and rescued the surviving Christian citizens. The two cannons began to “bombard” the walls, in vain.
Christian troops, 16th century

Seeing the situation well enough, Castaldo sent a letter to Aldana urging him not to wait for the Ottoman reinforcements and to end the siege. However, Aldana still hoped that the Christian reinforcements would arrive faster than Hadim Ali’s troops. According to the list drawn up on March 1, he had a total of 5,556 soldiers. Hajdús: 2,160 infantrymen, 350 horsemen, and 700 unarmed peasants. Royal troops: 2,346 men, mainly hussars, but there were also musket men. It was the day when the Turkish reinforcements arrived.

Hádim Ali stopped at Dorozsma, and his infantrymen got out of the wagons and were deployed in battle order. He had 800 janissaries, 5,000 horsemen, and 12 cannons. Some Hungarian shepherds ran to inform the undisciplined Christian army. By this time Aldana and Bakics were together and they had already evacuated most of the citizens of Szeged. However, the merry, drinking Christians were surprised and got caught between him and the troops of Bey Mikhaloglu-Khidr of Szeged Castle. In addition, there was no bridge over the Tisza, so the Christians could not withdraw their troops.
A war-wagon

Pasha Ali placed his riflemen and 800 spearmen (janissaries) in the first line of battle, led by himself. It was a defensive position. The cavalry (1,500 horsemen) was placed on both sides of the first line. Most of the cavalry was on the right wing and the rest, mixed with infantry, on the left. The cannons were placed in front of the battle line. The second line consisted of Serbian irregular infantry (marauders) and peasants. Both sides of the army, as well as the rear, were covered with wagons. The wagons were guarded by janissaries armed with muskets.

Turkish muskets
Aldana and Bakics could deploy only 3,500 men, as the rest of them raided the area. Many Hajdús were still drinking in the city. The Christians were unprepared for the battle, some of the officers were “taking a bath”. The Hajdús did not want to obey and Aldana’s horse collapsed right after leaving the town. It was a bad omen. The Turks in the castle started to shoot at the Hajdús intensively so that some of the drunkards finally joined the army.
Three Hungarian soldiers carrying muskets c.1591-3
Aldana and his armored Spanish and German cavalry took a position in the center with his Spanish infantry. The Germans were led by Johann Opperstorf. Bakics Péter and his horsemen were on the left wing with some of the Hajdús, while the rest of the Hajdús were on the right wing. The Hajdú soldiers were right behind them, under the command of Tóth Mihály and Nagy Ambrus. They placed their two cannons in front of them. There were 300 warriors in the second line, while the light cavalry was in the third line. The horsemen were led by Alfonso Pérez, whose task was to drive the Ottomans back from the castle.
Ottoman infantrymen
Then the Christians launched an attack against the Turks. Immediately, the Ottomans fired their muskets and cannons and wreaked havoc. Bakics begged Aldana to attack before the hussars fled. The Spanish commander followed his advice. Aldana’s attack was so successful that he even managed to capture the pasha’s flag. The Hajdús of the right wing were able to defeat their opponents, but after scattering the enemy, the cavalry of Bakics and Opperstorf ran into the killing fire of the Janissaries who were on the wagons: the Hussars were stopped by the volley. It was not very adventurous for the Christians that after breaking the enemy’s resistance they immediately started looting. The Turks successfully regrouped around the Pasha and launched a counterattack.
Turkish firearm from the 17th century
After a while, the two armies became separated and retreated. The Christians attacked again and killed many Ottoman warriors. They seemed to have the upper hand, but Ali’s cannons devastated their lines. A cannonball broke the imperial flag and it fell. The Christians lost faith and the Turks attacked them, breaking their lines. The hussars of Pérez fled first, then all the Christian horsemen ran and left the Hajdú infantrymen on the battlefield.
The Hajdús fled to the city and were caught between two fires. The Ottomans attacked from the castle and after a fierce battle the Hajdús were driven out of the town, many of them died in the Tisza river and the rest were slaughtered. Tóth Mihály could escape with only 20 of his men by swimming across the river. Ali’s army was also exhausted, so they did not pursue the runners but took revenge on the Hajdús.
Three imperial soldiers, 1593

Aldana and Opperstorf escaped. Aldana sent the surviving troops to the ferry of the Tisza river and they crossed the water. Then they ran towards the castles of Lippa and Szolnok. Bakics, Dersffy, and the other hussar officers swam across the river with reeds and bundles of wood. Meanwhile, a Hussar unit led by Captain Horváth Bertalan returned from the countryside and ran into the Pasha’s army. His troops were defeated and the captain barely managed to escape and reach the ferry.

A Hungarian Hussar, 16th century

There was another Christian unit that happened to arrive after the battle: they had defeated the army of Pasha Kászim of Becskerek and were now approaching Szeged. They soon learned of the disaster that had befallen the army of Aldana and Bakics, but the Hajdú soldiers demanded to attack the Turks. However, the enemy surrounded them from all sides and almost all of them were slaughtered, including one of their commanders, Török Péter.

A Sipahi vs. Hussar duel at Szigetvár, Hungary (by Thury Toportyánok)
Although the Turks lost many soldiers, they gained all the booty that the Hajdús had diligently collected… According to the Ottoman historian Dzselálzáde:
“The swords were like wrestlers, they cut the infidels to the ground, whose blood flowed in streams. The spears and lances, as if they were doctors, cut the veins of the unbelievers, and the blood of the enemy flowed like the Nile. The army of Islam was triumphant and the army of the enemy was crushed.”
Ottoman Sipahies
While the Hungarian and the foreign cavalry were decimated, nearly 5,000 Hajdús were killed. Castaldo blamed Aldana for the defeat, claiming that his cowardice and idleness contributed greatly to the outcome. However, the actions of the undisciplined Hajdú warriors must also be added. It was their fault that the reinforcing Ottoman army was able to arrive and defeat them.
The siege of Temesvár in 1552
Pasha Ali had the noses of the dead Hajdús cut off and sent them to the Sultan along with 40 flags and some high-born prisoners of war, which made Sultan Suleiman very happy. The rest of the inhabitants of Szeged were slaughtered and the town burned down. All in all, the attempt to take Szeged turned out to be an advantage for the enemy, helping them to make the Ottoman weapons more successful in the fateful year of 1552. In fact, the capture of this key fortress gave the Ottomans a huge advantage in their coming successful campaign, when they were able to take the castles of Temesvár and Szolnok as well.
The Battle of Szeged (Dorozsma) by Bánlaky

Source: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós

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