24 August 1717 The massacre in Szék, Transylvania

The attack against Transylvania in 1717 (Magyar História)
Now, let us talk about the last large Crimean Tatar raid (or campaign) that caused so much suffering in Transylvania. It began on 22 August 1717 and the worst day took place on 24 August when the Tatars killed 90% of Szék (Sic, Secken), a small Hungarian town, only 100 people survived the bloodshed. The local people commemorate this event every year ever since on Saint Bertalan day, 24 August. After the tragedy, the Hungarian inhabitants changed their folk dresses and wore only black and red colors until this very day.
Hungarian attire from Szék (Photo: Izabella Szuromi)
There are many Hungarians living in Transylvania, their largest group is the Székely people. Originally, the Hungarians in Szék were not Székely. However, after the massacre in 1717, many new settlers came from Székely Land, and from Hungary, too. You can read more about the Hungarian Székelys on my page:
A Hungarian Székely girl in traditional folk attire
Here is a slow folksong from Szék, a soldier’s song, enjoy it:
A few words must be said about the historical situation. The Kingdom of Hungary was “liberated” from the Turks and the War of Independence led by Prince Rákóczi II Ferenc was put down in 1711. However, the Turks were still powerful and the Ottoman Empire was able to keep some territories of the Hungarian Kingdom after the disadvantageous Treaty of Karlóca, 1699.
Prince Rákóczi II Ferenc in 1712 (by Mányoki Ádám)
After the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi (1704-1711), the Habsburgs joined forces with the Venetians in 1716 and attacked the Ottoman Empire. It was Prince Eugene of Savoy who led the Imperial army and after many victories, defeated the enemy at Pétervárad (Petrovaradin), then he took the remaining Turkish lands near Temesvár (Timisoara) back between 1716-18. Moreover, the Austrians occupied the northern Balkanian parts of the Ottomans and Wallachia. It must be mentioned that at this time, one-third of the Habsburgs` army consisted of Hungarian troops in these wars. After the reinforcing Ottoman army was defeated, Belgrade aka Nándorfehérvár also fell, and Pasha Mustapha gave it up in August.
The new war between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans stirred the Hungarian rebels into motion, the ones who had been in Poland. Rákóczi traveled from France to the Ottoman Empire to pave the way for the new uprising, relying on Turkish help. Rákóczi’s generals, Bercsényi Miklós and Esterházy Antal were in Poland, they began to recruit troops. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
Count Bercsényi Miklós (1665-1725)

In the beginning, the Sublime Porte didn’t think much of the Hungarian rebel “kuruc” troops’ activity but things changed after the Ottomans were defeated at Pétervárad (Petrovaradin). They became interested in supporting Rákóczi to distract the Habsburgs’ attention. The Imperial troops were fighting in the area of the Lower Danube so the Ottomans planned to attack them from behind, from the direction of Moldova. They included Bercsényi and Esterházy in their plans, too.

Many people blamed Count Esterházy Antal (1676-1722) for the last Tatar raid on Hungary
The envoys of Esterházy arrived in Transylvania during the spring of 1717 and tried to instigate the population to rise against the Habsburgs. Although many people remembered Prince Rákóczi liked the idea, the noblemen seemed to have been satisfied with the result of the Peace of Szatmár and the decisions of the Diet of Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) that settled the war between the rebels and the Habsburgs.
Sultan Ahmed III (ruled 1703-1730)
Sultan Ahmed III gave an order to the Pasha of Hotin on 9 July 1717 to attack Hungary, together with his Crimean Tatar, Moldavian, and Hungarian “kuruc” allies who were led by Esterházy. Soon, Prince Eugene of Savoy was informed about the eastern moves of the Turks so he ordered Chief Comes Károlyi Sándor of Szatmár to organize the defense in Transylvania. Károlyi began to organize it with the help of Bagossy László (a former colonel of Prince Rákóczi) and with Chief Comes Sztojka László of Máramaros. They blocked the passes of the Carpathian Mountains with barriers, flooded the creeks, and sent spies to find out the enemy’s moves.
Károlyi Sándor (1668-1743)
However, the allied Crimean Tatar / Turk / Polish / Cossack / Moldavian / Hungarian “kuruc” army got around the fortified mountain passes of Máramaros (Maramureș) on 22 August 1717, and they broke into Transylvania through the passes of Borgó (or Radna). Esterházy had no more than 50 Hungarians, though. At that time, the Turk commander has not received information about the Ottoman defeat at Belgrade (Nándorfehérfár) taking place six days before.
Transylvania (by Somogyi Győző)
Unfortunately, the small rebel unit of Hungarians could not control the Tatars who began looting and burning. They plundered all the way in the land, they even destroyed the mansion of Károlyi at Salánk: the Hungarian soldiers of Bihar County were too few to resist them. On top of that, Prince Eugene of Savoy didn’t allow the Hungarian noblemen to take up arms: he refused to summon the “noble resurrection” in fear of a new freedom fight so the Cossacks and the Tatars were freely looting and destroying Transylvania for a prolonged time. To make things worse, the local countrymen were not precautions enough and they didn’t leave their homes: perhaps they thought that the rebels of Rákóczi would be coming. After pillaging the lands around Beszterce, the Tatars attacked the town of Szék and killed 90% of the population. When the peasants in the area received news about the Tatar raids, especially the news of the massacre at Szék, they began to organize themselves as it had been usual among the Székely Borderguards for centuries.
A Cossack rider (by Somogyi Győző)
When the Tatars were already riding into East Hungary, the Habsburgs grudgingly let the Hungarians fight against them. Soon, Esterházy was informed about the Ottomans’ defeat at Belgrad so he and the Voivode of Moldova left Transylvania in a hurry. Seeing this, the local Székelys began to assault the smaller units of the Tatars, annihilating them one by one. The Hajdú soldiers of Colonel Bagossy were on the Tatars’ heels. The warriors of Huszt castle ambushed the Tatars on 1 September, and then 50 men of Bagossy joined them on the following day, crushing a Tatár unit. They freed 3,000 Christian captives at that time.
A Tatar archer (by Somogyi Győző)
The Crimeans suffered an even more humiliating defeat on the morning of 4 September at the Sztrimuna Pass of the Carpathian Mountains: near the village of Borsa, 300 soldiers and the local peasants attacked a contingent of 12,000 Tatars. They cut down half of them, and a further 2,000 Tatars died while fleeing because a landslide caught them. Many Hungarian captives died in this particularly bloody fight and many captives were dragged away by the fleeing enemy. Still, 7,000 captives were set free by the Székelys and the Hajdú soldiers. They also took 9,000 horses.
Common Székely soldiers (by Somogyi Győző)
 Sadly, Northern Transylvania had been devastated by this time. This last “Mongolian Invasion” of Hungary has largely contributed to the profound ethnic change of Northern Transylvania. As for Szék, there were no more German Saxons alive, and the first Wallachian settlers appeared there in this period in larger numbers. Only 100 people survived the massacre, and the town was just slowly re-populated by Hungarian people from other areas of Transylvania.
Soldiers from Moldova (by Somogyi Győző)
The Ottoman Sublime Porte signed a peace with the Habsburgs in Pozsaverác in 1718. Emperor Charles III could get hold of north Serbia, Oltenia (the western part of Wallachia up to the Olt River). The Treaty included a point that the Turks would not support the Hungarian rebels anymore and would settle the “kuruc” immigrants far away from the Hungarian borders. It was why Prince Rákóczi, Bercsényi, and Esterházy had to move to Rodosto where the prince died in 1735. As for the last and the greatest Mongolian (Crimean) Tatar invasion in Hungary, it was beaten back by the heroic efforts of the local peasants rather than the help of the Habsburgs. Later only a few smaller raids occurred in Transylvania. Fortunately, many Székelys and Saxons could survive these attacks in their fortified churches.
The Saxon fortified church of Berethalom / Birthälm / Biertan (by Somogyi Győző)

Sources: partly from Szibler Gábor and from Magyar História:


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