The Battle of Szárhegy: 300 Székely warriors vs. 3,000 Tatars, 1658

Székely soldier from the 17th century (by Somogyi Győző)

It happened in Transylvania on 6 September 1658: a handful of Hungarian Székely border-guard warriors did their job well. Namely, to defend the people of Transylvania, let them be Hungarians, Romanians, or Saxons. It had been their duty since the 9th century A.D. Now, every 15th Hungarian is a Székely and in order to learn more about them, read my article here:

This time, they defeated the huge Tatar-Moldavian army at Gyergyószárhegy, in the Pass of the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. The Pass was not far from Gyergyószárhegy (Lazarea) where you can visit a wonderful Renaissance fortified palace:


Szárhegy (Photo: Octavian Manescu)

We know about the unfortunate Polish campaign of Prince Rákóczi György II of Transylvania but his insistence to keep his throne after the loss of the entire Transylvanian army has just made things worse. The soldiers were taken to Crimea where they were waiting for their ransom and there was neither money nor time to raise a new army inside the borders of Transylvania.

The Ottomans punished Prince Rákóczi’s disobedience with repeated attacks for years which devastated the almost defenseless Principality. The rich “Fairy Garden” of the late Prince Bethlen Gábor was open to the enemy. The Crimean Tatars with their Moldavian allies decided to take advantage of the situation. In fact, the main income of Crimean Tatars came from the slave trade, and seeing that the entire Transylvanian army had been captured, they thought they would make an easy job.

Crimean Tatars from the 17th century

Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed ordered Pasha Ali to assault the country with his army. Desperately, Prince Rákóczi summoned the Székely border-guard warriors to his flag so the Székelyföld aka Szeklerland, the homeland of the Székelys was left undefended. At this time, the estimated number of Székely soldiers was about 20,000 men in the 17th century.

You can read more about Prince Rákóczi’s fights in 1658 here:

It was Lázár István who was the siege lord of Gyergyószárhegy. He obeyed the Prince and took his men to him from the whole Gyergyószék area. While they were fighting against the Turks around the capital of the country, Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), 3,000 Moldavian (Romanian) and Tatar soldiers broke into the Székelyföld through the Tölgyesi Pass of the Carpathians.

The parts of Transylvania

They were burning and plundering the Gyergyó Basin, destroying the villages of Gyergyóditró and Gyergyóremete. Their next target was Gyergyószárhegy: the locals from the Gyergyó Basin were escaping towards this fortified place.

the Renaissance walls of Gyergyószárhegy (Photo: Ruggyanta)

There was a certain scribe called Gábor who took command over the thronged fugitives and organized the defense. There were just 300 people, many of them women, children, and aged men. Nevertheless, the Székelys defeated the enemy that outnumbered them ten to one. 

The battle includes legendary elements that may not be true. Allegedly, the defenders sent out two beautiful Székely women on horseback to lure the Tatars into the marshland next to Szárhegy. They were called Puskás Klára and Mezei Erzsébet.

a Székely girl in our days

 In the meantime, the others put jars on sticks, posting them on the top of the hill. The Tatars who got into the marshland thought of them as soldiers in helmets and got frightened: but behold, the legs of their horses got stuck in further jars that were hidden in the swamp. The Székelys (old men and women) attacked them, armed with grass-cutters and hoes, cutting the confused enemy to pieces. Even hot paprika was involved, according to the legend. Legend adds, that one of the Székely women, Puskás Klára, having fought the battle, gave birth to a healthy boy who was given the name „Győző” (Victor) because of the victory.

Yet, it is a fact that 1,750 Crimean Tatars and Moldavians (Romanians) fell in the slaughter while the Székelys lost only 15 people.
The villagers, led by Scribe Gábor, the lucky Székely “Leonidas” buried 500 of the enemy in a mound now called Tatárdomb (Tatar-mound). The rest of the corpses were eaten up by the ravens and wolves, as the locals claim.

a Székely flag from the 17th century

The Székelys erected a monument in 1908 at the mound to commemorate the battle.
This memorial text was written on it:
“Three hundred Székelys defeated here three thousand Tatars who broke into Transylvania from Moldova. The Székelys were led by a scribe called Gábor and they were victorious; the Tatars are buried under this mound. Let it remind us that the burning love of the Homeland enables us to overcome an enemy that is ten times stronger than us.”

the monument at Szárhegy (Photo: Németh György)

Source: Szibler Gábor 

(Photo: Németh György)

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