The Long War, Part One / the new Borderland

We cannot talk about the 15-Year-War without sparing a few words on the Borderland Zone. I have already written about the famous Borderland Castle System of the Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia that was nearly 1,000-mile-long. Here is my previous article about it:

As we have seen, the Southern Borderland System, built out by King Sigismund and King Matthias Corvinus in the 15th century, has fallen after the Ottomans took Buda in 1541. Here is a map of this previous double chain of castles, indicating only the bigger forts:

The construction of the new Borderland Castle System could begin in earnest only after the Truce of Edirne (Drinápoly), 1568. Many important Frontier Castles had been already taken by the Ottomans by this time: Esztergom, Székesfehérvár, Szigetvár, and Gyula. Here is more about Esztergom and Gyula:


Esztergom cstle (Photo: Gabor Bejo artbejo)


Gyula castle (Photo: enpe-Indafoto)


At the same time, there were several smaller stone forts in the Ottomans’ hands, standing on hilltops, along with many palisade-clay forts on the open fields, belonging to the above mentioned bigger castles. From there, the Turks tried to block the raids of the Hungarian Borderland-warriors and sent out their own raiding parties as well. It was the usual hit-and-run warfare of the Valiant Order of the Borderland. As the contemporary saying went “a castle can be defended only on the field”. You can read more about these special “last knights of Europe” here:

The Military Council of the Habsburgs had to build out a similar chain of castles in front of the Turkish Borderland Castle System. Note, we are talking about TWO lines of castles and fortified places, an outstandingly long structure of the late Middle Ages in Europe, and a unique military frontier that was functioning for the longest period in its age. Here are the opposing Ottoman castles on the map:

The castles held by the Ottomans

Finally, it was General Lazarus von Schwendi`s suggestion which was accepted in the Council in 1577 whereas the Council decided to take a defensive strategy instead of an offensive one. You can read more about this valiant general here:

Lazarus von Schwendi

Soon, they began to reinforce Kanizsa Castle which was opposite Szigetvár while they tried to fortify Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky) and Komárom to oppose Esztergom. Constructions were going on in Eger and Győr, just like in other remaining forts. They have built out a multi-level castle system to block the expansion of the Ottoman Empire: 

1. The main forts were:

Kanizsa, Győr, Érsekújvár, Komárom, Eger, Kassa (Kosice), Varasd, Károlyváros, Szatmár (Satu Mare). These were also usually the seats of the Chief Captaincies, they were well-built out and had a minimum of 1,000 men in them. The captains of the western forts were mostly German officers who were better trusted by the Habsburgs than the Hungarians. Their main task was to hold the castle for at least one or one-and-a-half months until the reinforcement would arrive. Let us remark here that traditionally there were two captains appointed at the same time, they were supposed to work together but sometimes “two captains sank the ship”.

2. The secondary castles were:

Pápa, Léva, Babócsa, Tata, Veszprém, Palota. They were supposed to aid the main fort of the region and to hold out for a few weeks against the besiegers. Their job was also to slow down the advancing troops of the enemy. The number of their garrison was between 100-500 soldiers. The extent of their walls` condition was ranging from bad to acceptable. We know that many underpaid hussars in them had to raid the Turks to get food. Capturing Ottoman officers for ransom was part of their main income. You can read more about the Castle of Babócsa here:

3. The third-class forts were the smaller ones like:

Sárvár, Szécsény, Egerszeg, Körmend, Kiskomárom, etc. They were mainly fortified by a wooden palisade and clay, they had about 100 guards in them but this number went naturally higher during a siege. Their main task was to control the raiding parties and aid the bigger castles. Unlike most of the previously listed forts, these were mainly owned not by the king but by the local landlords. These castles were capable of defending themselves only for a few days if a raiding enemy attacked them without artillery.

4. The smallest castles:

They were the tiny palisades, guard houses, and the so-called “haversack-castles”. Note, that these stand-alone stone towers were called “haversack-castles” because there was no kitchen in them and the guards rotated each other every week, bringing food for a week in their haversack. Here is the famous “haversack castle” of Korpona:

Korpona’s haversack castle (Photo: Ladin)

You can read a story about the “haversack-castle” of Korpona in my book, available here:

33 Castles, Battles, Legends

“33 Castles, Battles, Legends”

These small fortified places were Újudvar, Kacorlak, Pölöske, Rum, Csákány, Őriszentpéter, Szentgotthárd, and so on. Their task was to observe the raiding parties and the moves of the enemy and report them. In the case of a siege, the defenders withdrew behind the stronger walls of the nearby town or main castle. There were only a few guards in them, a maximum of a dozen warriors.

The Captiancies of the Borderland

The Captiancies in 1572

The Military Council established several Borderland Capticiancies which were led by mostly foreign military commanders. These were the Croatian, the Vend, the Kanizsai, and the Győri and the Kassai Capticiancy, and the last one was the Mining Towns Captaciancy. As for the soldiers, the military units sent by the noblemen of the counties were led by those Hungarian Chief Captains who were born in the Kingdom of Hungary. They organized them mostly from their local centers which were owned by their families.

The Bán (Duke) was the ancient rank given to the leader of the Captaincy of Croatia. Also, there were the Trans-Danubian Chief Capticiancy and the Lower and the Upper Hungary Chief Captaciancy, supervising the smaller captaincies below them. The Lower and the Upper Hungary Capticiancy were often handled together with the leadership of the Borderland Castles at large and Hungarian noblemen were appointed as their leaders. There were Hungarian or Croatian noblemen commanding the Captaincy of Kanizsa like György Zrínyi. Here is more about Kanizsa Castle:

Kanizsa Castle

The main route of the Turk attacks against Vienna led via Győr so they posted always foreign chief officers to the forts along the Rába River. The Castle of Komárom has always been right under the direct authority of the Habsburg Military Council of the Court and was separated from the rest of the chief captaincies.

On the other hand, let’s see how the Ottomans organized their newly conquered lands. As a whole, the Ottoman Occupied Lands of Hungary were led by the Pasha of Buda, the second-highest rank, right under the Grand Vizier of the Empire.  Other lands, like the Temesköz Area (near Temesvár / Timisoara) and a few Trans-Tisza River Area counties, belonged to the Pasha of Temesvár.

The occupied parts of Slavonia were given to the Pasha of Bosnia to rule. The so-called “pashaliks” or “vilayets / elayets” were administrative units that were organized into several “sanjak” areas; a “sanjak” approximately covered the area of a previous Hungarian county. They were led by Sandjak Beys. These sanjaks were organized around the more important castles like Pécs, Szigetvár, Koppány, Székesfehérvár, Esztergom, Fülek, Szécsény, Hatvan, Szolnok, etc. They tried to turn Szigetvár Castle into a Vilajet in the 1590s but this attempt failed after a few years. Its role was taken over rather by Kanizsa Castle after 1600 when it was taken by the Turks. Kanizsa became a Pashalik (Vilayet) just like Eger Castle after 1596.

Hungary in the 1590s

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