Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Pasha Arszlán (Oroszlán) of Buda castle

Pasha Arszlán was called Oroszlán pasa by the Hungarians, the word Oroszlán stands for “lion”. He came from a renegade south-Slavic family, the Serbian Malkovics family who became Malkoçoğlu. He was the son of Jahjapasazáde Mehmed, the third Pasha of Buda. Arszlán is thought to be the nephew of Kücsük (Malkoçoğlu) Bali who was the previous pasha of Buda between February 1542 and May 1543. He is related to the famous Jahja pasha who used to be the Begler Bey of the Anatolian and the Rumelian troops during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II and Sultan Bejezid II. It is also believed that his brother (or cousin) was Dervis bey of Pécs.
Pécs, the mosque built in the 16th century (Photo: Pudelek)
Arszlán was definitely a warlike soldier whose bravery was accepted even by Hungarian historians. However, according to Istvánffy Miklós, a contemporary historian (1538-1615), he was a drunkard and opium addict. By all means, he used to be quite active in attacking the forts of the Hungarian Borderland. Read more about the “Turks” of Hungary who were in fact, Albanians and south-Slavic people in 96% according to the Ottoman payrolls:
The Sultan appointed him as Bey of Pozsega in 1537 when he delivered some good news to Istanbul: Johann Katzianer was defeated at Eszék-Gorján, and it pleased the ears of the Sultan. When his father was appointed as pasha of Buda in 1543, his family moved to the north. It must have been the reason why he became the commander of Hatvan castle. Arszlán became the bey of Fehérvár (Székesfehérvár) in 1552 and took part in the campaign of Pasha Hádi Ali of Buda against the castles of Nógrád and Hont County.
Székesfehérvár, 1543
It was his task to take the small fortification of Bussatornya (today it is called Alsózellő, in Slovakia) with his 600 men but he could not accomplish it. The defenders surrendered only when Arszlán had his cannons brought there and shot the tower to shreds. The bey acknowledged their bravery and let the Hungarian warriors go unhurt. Read more about the heroes of Bussa here:
Bussa: the abandoned site of the small castle
Later, Arszlán was one of the main commanders of the Ottomans in the Battle of Palást. He led the vanguard when they clashed with the army of Erasmus Teuffel. He may have met Thury György in this battle for the first time. You can read more about this battle on my page:
He distinguished himself with his bravery at the siege of Eger castle in the same year. He was also a good artilleryman: his cannons shot the castle of Eger from the town, bombarding the bishopric palace, the Föld (Earth)- and the Tömlöc (Dungeon) Bastions. When the last general attack was launched on 13 October 1552, his vice commander fell during the fight, and his nicely ornamented flag was taken by the defenders. As we know well, they failed to take Eger castle and it somewhat spoiled the overall success of the campaign.
Eger Castle
Arszlán tried to take Csobánc castle in 1554 but he failed in doing so. During the summer of the following year, he sent a letter to the villagers around Fehérvár castle in which he was demanding them (in a pretty threatening manner) to come to Fehérvár castle and work on its constructions. Then, he participated in the campaign of Pasha Tojgun of Buda where they targeted the Hungarian castles of Somogy County. Shortly after this, he attempted to take Pápa castle with an ambush. During one of the nights after 23 October, he and his troops appeared before the castle of Pápa but the guards sounded the alarm and they could repel the attackers. Later that year, he was sent to Szendrő castle, and from there he had to serve in Szilisztra.
Szendrő (Smederovo) castle
As the bey of Fehérvár, Arszlán “visited” (attacked) Palota castle in October 1554, and he managed to take away the horses from the so-called “Hussar castle”. (The Hussar castles developed in the 16th century in the Hungarian Borderland because the light cavalrymen were regularly patrolling the area and they needed a spacy outer castle next to the stone castle where they could keep their horses. They were practical because they allowed the Hussars to get quick access in and out.) It was not a small thing that Arszlán could steal the Hussars’ horses. We know about this incident from the letter of Thury György who was serving the Podmaniczky family at that time.

We find him in Lippa at the beginning of 1557, then he was sent to Pécs in September 1557. He hardly arrived there when the Hungarian Borderland warriors attacked Pécs on 28 September: they could get into the town and set it on fire. In revenge for this, Arszlán gathered the warriors of the nearby sanjak districts to Pécs during the spring of the next year, his goal was to lead them against Szigetvár castle. His attack against Szigetvár was sabotaged by an unexpected and unprecedented incident. Arszlán was not too popular among his fellow Ottoman beys.
Szigetvár in the 16th century (Picture: Pazirik Ltd.)
Mehmed bey of Veszprém castle and Veli bey of Hatvan castle were his enemies. They dressed their soldiers in the clothes of Hungarian Hajdú soldiers and ambushed Arszlán when he was crossing the forest of Hard in May 1558. Many soldiers of Arszlán were cut down, and he received 8-9 severe wounds but one of his Janissaries saved his life. The two attacking beys were later captured and punished. You can read more about this case here:
After this time, Arszlán bey was reinforcing his city but he could not remain in peace for a very long time. As it was, we find Mehmed bey in Pécs in the summer of 1559, as the new commander of the city. Arszlán was appointed as the leader of Pozsega. The next time his name occurred in 1561 when Zrínyi Miklós aka Subic Zrinski, the new captain of Szigetvár castle defeated him at Szentmiklós at the Dráva river. Then, Arszlán became the sanjak bey of Szendrő castle, and he was the substitute commander of the Elayet of Buda for a half year beginning from the summer of 1564. Pasha Iszkander was supposed to be the new leader of Buda but he never arrived at his headquarters.
Pest and Buda in 1526
Finally, Arszlán gained the highest rank on 12 May 1565 when the Sultan appointed him as the Pasha of Buda. (My note: the Pasha of Buda was the second or the third highest rank in the Ottoman empire at that time.) Arszlán did not waste his time, he began the reinforcement of Buda castle at once. He was the one who had a wall built around the gunpowder mill of Buda. It was the year when he officially introduced the Hungarian language as the language of diplomacy between the Ottoman  Empire and the Hungarians Kingdom. (I do not think the Habsburgs were particularly grateful for this.)
Buda, at end of the 16th century
However, he could not enjoy his new position for too long because his greatest supporter, Grand Vizier Semiz Ali was removed from his office at the beginning of 1566. The new Grand Vizier, Pasha Szokollu Mehmed did not like Arszlán very much.
This year, in 1566 the aged Sultan Suleiman launched his last campaign against Hungary. He ordered the Pasha of Buda to take all the necessary actions before his arrival. Arszlán jumped at the opportunity and wanted to show his worthiness by taking Pápa castle before Suleiman’s main army would get there. His men took Ajnácskő castle with an ambush on 24 April, and as it was located on the other side of the Hungarian Kingdom, the Habsburg military council concentrated its forces there. His diversion seemed to be successful, so his troops could appear suddenly before the walls of Palota castle on 5 June, as taking Palota was essential to reach Pápa.
Palota castle
The soldiers of Captain Thury György were stubbornly resisting and the Christian reinforcing army arrived on 15 June. Arszlán did not take the risk of a battle and withdrew his troops. Seeing this, the Hungarian army took heart and launched a counter-attack. They succeeded in liberating Veszprém, Tata. Gesztes, and Vitány castles. You can read more about the fight on my page, from the viewpoint of Captain Thury György:
The Ottoman army marching towards Szigetvár
As for Arszlán, he had to pay with his head for the failure. When he arrived at the camp of the Sultan at Harsány, the Sultan did not even want to see him. Instead, he was executed before the tent of the Grand Vizier at the time of the noon prayer on 3 August. The Grand Vizier had his own nephew, Szokollu Musztafa appointed as Pasha of Buda.
Execution on an Ottoman illustration
It is also believed that Arszlán was a seasoned old fox, a proper match and enemy of the famous Captain Thury György in spite of his reputation as an opium addict and drunkard who had lost his common sense because of wine. Yet, he must have been a worthy enemy of Thury György, we can find many similar things in their lives. All in all, Arszlán pasha was considered part of the Valiant Order and kept the unwritten laws of the Borderland warriors, and it is just right that we commemorate him as well.
Here is more about the Valiant Order:
Sources: Szibler Gábor and Budai László

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