Hungarian military, before Mohács, 1526
The general description of the Hungarian military forces in the first decades of the 16th century
Let me share with you the article of Szilárd Vadász who made this summary from the works of András Kubinyi András, Sándor Takáts, and János Kalmár.
„The Hungarian armed forces before the Battle of Mohács, 1526:
According to the traditions, the army has been developed in the feudal system, the financial and political situation, under the threat of the constant Ottoman peril.
There were two kinds of military structures:
The soldiers in the Borderland castles and the troops of the landlords (bandieras) were obliged to send to the king in case of war.
Yet, these categories were not always separated as there were bandieras of the king and of the officeholder lords who were almost permanently staying on the endangered parts of the border, mostly facing the Ottomans.
As for the 7,000 castle warriors, they were one of the largest numbers of soldiers in Europe who were constantly kept in readiness,
Especially in the southern counties, the majority of riders have been (light) hussars by this time. The laws obliged the lords to keep lightly armed horsemen in their bandieras.
These Hussars were not regarded as armored riders but they were far from being unprotected in the battle. They had helmets and chain-mails and the specially shaped hussar-shield. Their primary weapon was a long lance, the so-called „lance with a flag”. They had their traditional Hungarian bows and arrows or the smaller but faster Turkish bows. The weapons of close combat were the sword, the saber, the „fokos” a battle-ax, the pick-ax, or mace. The sabers were either heavy Hungarian ones or lighter Turkish-shaped ones.
They could use a long, pointed sword (estoch) and pick-ax against armored opponents. These weapons were developed to pierce armor so they were not as effective against the Turk light cavalry.
They didn’t use rifles and the use of handguns came into habit only in the 1570s.
All the riders were noblemen – not just because of the high price of horses and the equipment but also because they would not have admitted non-noble soldiers. Later, we can witness that many people were enobled by the ruler to fill up their numbers.
The permanently employed guards of the castles consisted of the so-called „drabants”. They were armed with a sword, shield, spear, or ax. Many of them had rifles by then.
These infantrymen served on boats or land, mainly on the southern part of the Danube and along the Száva River. Most of them had been guarding Nándorfehérvár Castle (Belgrade) until the fall of Szabács and Nándorfehérvár in 1521. Their boat was a narrow vessel, a military boat designed for rivers which were very effective in Hungary. Part of these soldiers had come from privileged peasants who were cultivating their lands around the Borderland castles in time of peace.
The Field armies:
They were recruited for a given campaign to fight battles on the battlefields. They consisted of bandieras, peasant soldiers, and mercenaries. Among the Hungarian infantrymen, some troops had rifles and other units who were equipped „by Hungarian fashion” with a battle-ax (fokos), ax, shield, while there were Hungarian units that were equipped „by German fashion” with spears and lances.
Foreign mercenaries were often hired as well, as the leaders knew that we had excellent horsemen but we needed good quality infantrymen. They were mostly Polish, Czech or Moravian, German troops. The Polish and Czech soldiers were good at fighting from battle-wagons while the German Landsknechts were masters of pike and shot warfare of Italy and Germany.
The hajdú soldiers appeared around the beginning of the 16th century. Traditionally speaking, they had been either Slavic or Hungarian cattle herders who were guarding the huge herds from the Hungarian fields to the German and Italian markets. It was a dangerous trade that toughened them. These herders sometimes went to serve as soldiers, they were cheap and proved to be very good ones. By the 17th century, almost all Hungarian infantrymen were called „hajdú”, even the castle warriors.
The cavalry of the bandieras and the peasant soldiers
According to the laws, a landlord had to supply one heavily armored rider after 36 peasant houses, and in the southern counties, they had to supply one light hussar after 20 peasant houses. The royal treasury usually gave a part of the money to the counties which were coming from the special military tax to help them to raise these soldiers.
As for the bandieras, they were kept by higher-ranking officers and clergymen who took them to the king in case of war.
The king’s bandiera consisted of 1,000 riders while the Comes of Temes County and the Bans (Dukes) along with the Voivode of Transylvania had to keep a certain number of soldiers always in readiness, from their own income.
There were heavy and light cavalrymen. The armored knights were dressed in full plate armor and they have reached the summit of their development by the 16th century. Wearing armor was not hindering the rider in battle but gave such protection that many of them have no longer used shields. Yet, the price of the armor the horses were too high so not too many of the heavy cavalry must have been strictly „heavy”.
It was King Matthias who first established the artillery units in his army. By the 16th century, the cannons have almost entirely taken the place of the stone-throwing machines. There were three main kinds of cannons:
1. castle-defense cannons; 2. siege cannons; 3. field cannons;
We can talk about cannons, howitzers, and mortars. The cannon had a long barrel, its length 20-40 times longer than its bore. It fires iron, bronze, or stone balls, its range is long.
The howitzer has a short barrel, 10 times longer than its bore. It needs a small amount of gunpowder to send its ball in a high arch to ruin castle walls and bastions.
The mortar has a very short barrel with a very wide bore and it is used for destroying buildings behind covers.
These cannons were cast of bronze or wrought together by iron straps. According to the inventories, the borderland castles were quite well supplied with artillery but we do not know much about the number of field cannons.”
In the pictures, there are the drawings of Győző Somogyi. (Some of the soldiers are from a bit later period, after Mohács…But all of the pictures are based on historical sources.)
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