Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

The Long War, Part Two / the radius of the war

The Ottoman Empire was large and it was far away

Why were most of the Turk-Hungarian fights taking place at the end of the summer or in the autumn? The 15-Year War was not an exception, either. The Turks came earlier only in 1594 in the middle of the summer and as a result of this, the Grand Vizier`s army was able to take Győr and Pápa. The reason behind the late campaigns was the radius of the operations. The Ottoman army could set out only in the spring when the horses could find fresh grass and it was at the end of April or the first part of May.

Sometimes other things made their situation more difficult, like the death of the sultan in the spring of 1595 and the fights for power in the Sublime Port between the pashas. Having set out, the army needed at least 2.5-3 months to get to Buda from Istambul. In the most optimal case, they could arrive at the end of July, or at the beginning of August.

The Ottoman Army on the march, 1566

In addition to this, it took one or two more weeks to reach the target of the campaign from Buda. As a result of this, the total time for military action was only two months until the end of October. 

The Day of Kászim, 26 October

When it comes to Ottoman campaigns against Hungary, it is important to mention a very important habit of the Ottomans. The 26th of October is known in Islam as the Kasim-günü or the Day of St Demeter in the Christian calendar. It was an important day for the Turkish army to mark the end of the war, as the Janissaries and mercenaries of Porta had to start their winter quarters by then.

This was particularly important in Hungary, where the long distance meant that the Ottoman army could not reach the theatre of operations until late in the summer and, because of the Day of Kászim, could only fight for two and a half months at most.

The resistance of a single fortress could therefore limit the effectiveness of the Ottoman army, forcing it to stall for several weeks. This was the reason why the Ottoman army only managed to reach Vienna twice (1529, 1683) and captured Győr (1594) when they had replenished their mercenaries near Hungary and left early in their campaign. They (also) abandoned the siege of Eger in 1552 for the same reason. More about Győr Castle: 

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/kingdom-of-hungary/gyor-castle/

At the same time, the Ottoman command took more and more steps to extend the period of operation. This happened for the first time during the Fifteen Years’ War. Looking at the events of each year, we can see that operations were often extended into the first half of November, although this sometimes led to rebellions by the Janissaries. For example, in 1596 the decisive day of the battle of Mezőkeresztes fell on 26 October, but the following year the battle of Vác-Verőce was fought in the first half of November.

In 1601 the army of the Grand Vizier Ibrahim, who had returned from Székesfehérvár castle in vain, even tried to relieve Kanizsa castle, but the janissaries at Babócsa castle revolted and they had to return to Istanbul. Nevertheless, the relief of Kanizsa failed.

Thus, the Day of Kászim may have done much to help hold Hungarian fortresses and territories, but in some cases, the important day was ignored and the period of operations was extended.

Other factors

Besides, we haven`t taken the bad weather and the rain into account which could slow the advancing army very much, sometimes for weeks. So they had one-and-a-half or two months to take castles. Their result had been greatly dependent on the fact of how long the forts were able to hold out as well as the field activity of the Christian armies just like the fact who attacked first.

The Ottomans mainly used camels, donkeys, and sheep to carry their burden

In case the Christians were able to react soon, they could take back one or two castles so the Ottoman army had to go in pains to take them back, this way having been delayed to reach the original target. Unfortunately, the Western mercenaries who came as reinforcement could reach the gathering camp of Magyaróvár only by the middle of the summer so they had not much time left, either. They could only react to the Ottoman moves most of the time.

Győr Castle

Yet, in case of arriving in Hungary too late, they allowed the Christians to take some important forts like Esztergom in 1595 or Székesfehérvár in 1601. (Or at least besieging one as it happened at Buda in 1602.)
All in all, the radius of the operation has limited the duration of the campaign and as a result of this, the Ottomans have failed in conquering even bigger parts of our homeland.

Hungary in 1568

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