Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

The fleet of King Matthias

A war-ship of King Matthias from 1486

According to the Italian sources cited by Professor Szendrei, the fleet of the king contained 330 boats altogether. There were 10,000 soldiers in service on them, not including the sailors. Let us see that part of the fleet which was mobilized against the Ottoman Turks:

“Among these soldiers, there were 1,700 armed with spears, and 1,200 wore armored infantry with wide shields while the rest had crossbows or bows. There were 16 very big galleys, each had 44 oars with 300 men-at-arms, four bombarders which threw 100-pound-balls, 100 cerbottana guns and 200 hand-guns (pisside manali) or as we call them rifles (hook-guns). There are three artillerymen at each cannon.

Above these 330 boats, there are 34 additional boats at Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) which are called ‘naszád’ (sloops?) in their language; each sloop had 18 oars and 18 soldiers with a rifle and two artillerymen. The nose of the sloop is very long and there is a ‘cerbottana’ or ‘pisside’ which they call ‘esfivize’ in their language. This cannon can cast a 40-pound-ball.

different caliber hook-guns

In this army, there are 8 bombards and ballistas or throwing machines as well as further 8 different machines and 4 large bombards that throw their missiles upward. These are commonly called mortars. Additionally, you can find in this army 20 large bombards which caliber is as big as a tub. They can throw 150-pound-weigh fiery balls. There are also other firearms.

When this fleet is approaching the bank, they are carrying wooden beams, poles, and chains which make them capable of building such a fortification on the bank within two hours which can hold 7-8,000 warriors inside who can cover the entire fleet from the mainland. This fort can be supplied with 40 bombarders and howitzers, “serpentins” while the fleet is being covered by further 16 strongly-equipped boats. These 16 boats were the “flag-ships” of the other boats.

a model of a sloop

“The number of oarsmen in this fleet is 2,600. There are further 2,000 soldiers with heavy rifles (hook-guns?) and 12,000 supplied with handguns “

“At the same time, the king’s fleet is being followed along the Danube River by 5,000 picked and very quick Serbian horsemen who can cover 10 Hungarian miles a day (1 Hungarian mile = 8,937 meters) that is 100 Italian miles; they can return during the next night. They can make huge harms to the enemy with their burning and gaining bounty.”

In the picture below, you can see the contemporary drawing of the siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in 1521, thirty-one years after the great king’s death:

The importance of Belgrade / Nándorfehérvár

No wonder, that King Matthias had a strong fleet: he learned the lesson from his father’s victory who saved the “gate to Hungary” in 1456 with the help of his own fleet. He knew that Nándorfehérvár aka Beograd used to be a strategic point at the confluence of the Danube and the Száva River. It had to be defended at all cost and the Turks did their best to seize it.

The Ottomans had tried to ambush it in 1440 in vain. It was only Sultan Suleiman who was able to take it in 1521, due to the financial anarchy of Hungary. The Turks could firmly hold it until 1688 and when they lost it, they retook it in 1690. It was only Prince Eugene of Savoy in 1717 who could take it back but the Turks regained it in 1739: the Christians could get hold of it only in 1789; however, it was given back to the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty that closed the war.

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Here is the previous article about King Matthias’ field army:

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