Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Horses of Battle

Hungarian Hussar horses

The following writing is a summary of the article of Béres Sándor from the Rubicon Magazine (1/2020), with a few explanations coming from me. All the thanks should go to him.

The Hungarian cavalry

The success and the survival of the Hungarians are due to the fact that they could blend the western and the eastern military tactics and use them effectively. Let us not forget that the Hungarians’ ancestors were nomadic people, all renowned horsemen. 

According to Béres Sándor, the Hungarian cavalry had been applying different tactics against the western and against the eastern enemies right from the 11th century A.D.

Often, the same cavalry units were used as light cavalry units in the western area, lurking the German heavy cavalry into a trap; while the same units acted as heavy cavalry and were smashing the light cavalry of the Turks in the south and in the east. They were kind of in-between in size and other features compared to the western and eastern horses.

a Hungarian Hussar, 16th century

It was not because of different armor; it was because of the horses. Hungarian horses were smaller, tougher and faster than German horses while they were bigger and heavier than Turk horses. We can read in Italian chronicles from the 14th century that Hungarian horses were given forage when they were taken to the east while they could graze on grass when they were brought to the west. 

Impact and stamina

When it comes to a duel or a mass-cavalry charge, the heavier horse is always an advantage. The impact can decide the fight. On the other hand, it was important to make the enemy tired. When their horses were not able to move but our horses were not that much exhausted, the victory was ours. Hungarian Hussar units usually were wearing the heavy German cavalry out while the same Hussars were saving the Hungarian heavy cavalry units from getting too tired when they fought against the Turks.

the earliest drawing of a Hungarian Hussar, 15th century

Hussars were taking over the task of the heavy cavalry beginning from the first clashes that preluded the battle until the chase after the eventual victory. As we can see, the strength of the horses defined military tactics, depending always on the enemy horses’ strength. 

a western horseman

As for the initial clashes, both the Hungarians and the Turks used different units. In the Ottoman army, these riders were called “csarkadzsi”. They were given better horses and their weapons were equally good for close combat and long-range fighting. They had bows and arrows and short-shafted spears called “kelevéz” in the Hungarian language (“dzsirit” in Turk): a short, 90 cm long throwing spear that could penetrate armor if it was thrown from the saddle because the speed of the horse got added to its impact. Both Hungarians and Turks used them, the horsemen carried several of them:

Ottoman throwing spears, 17th century

These cavalry units that started the battle consisted of small groups of riders. Thus, they were able to move rapidly and could seize or explore the strategic places of the battlefield. They were excellent in covering the moves of the main army and in distracting attention as the Turks did it in the Battle of Mohács in 1526.

You can view the video of the battle of Mohács here, with English subtitles:

Ottoman riders

Hit and run

Bows and arrows were used primarily against each other’s horses. A horse could not be killed by a single arrow, though. It was not easy to kill a man with an arrow, either. However, the “kelevéz” or “dzsirit” could pierce a plate armor or kill a horse at the first throw. The use of the throwing spear required lots of practice because these lighter cavalrymen could easily be defeated if they missed their target. Note, Hungarians had brought this weapon from the steppes and were masters of it, just like the Turks.

Hungarian “kelevéz” (replicas)

Two more parts are told about these tactics, check them out here: and here:

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