Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

The Hajdú warriors 

Hungarian Hajdú soldiers, around the end of the 16th century

The origin of these soldiers is debated: we, Hungarians say the Hajdú warriors were originally Hungarians because their name may have derived from the Hungarian word „hajtó” (herder). However, the Turks called the Hungarian infantrymen also „hajduck”. It also proves the word’s Hungarian origin as the letter “k” at the end of the word in the Hungarian grammar indicates the plural so “hajdúk” means “herders”. As for other nations, the Serbs, Croatians, Romanians, or Polish claim Hajdús were their countrymen. In my opinion, it is beside the question as we are talking about an age when religion and loyalty were more important than language. In Hungary, cavalrymen were called “Hussar” and infantrymen were called “Hajdú”. Mounted Hajdú soldiers did appear in the 17th century, though. After all, the Hajdú town district is located in Hungary which might solve the question. The Hajdú District roughly covered the area of Hajdú County:

Hajdú County was organized from the Hajdú district in 1876

As you can see, this area is located on a flatland stuck between Royal Hungary, the Transylvanian Principality, and the Ottoman Occupied Lands. A perfect place for Hajdú soldiers, like Cossacks living on nobody’s land. Yet, we have to distinguish Hajdú soldiers from two similar groups of soldiers: the Cossacks and the Martalóc (Marauder) soldiers. While there are many similarities with the Cossacks, the Hajdú people were almost all of them Protestants and only part of them were outcasts: many of them received „collective nobility” from the Transylvanian princes who settled them in the Hungarian Hajdú-towns. Also, they never offered their services to the Ottomans because they all had lost their previous properties and houses because of the gradual Ottoman onslaught.

As for the Martalóc soldiers, the origin of this Hungarian word is From Serbo-Croatian martòloz, from Ottoman Turkish ﻣﺎﺭﺗﻠﻮﺱ‎ (martolos, “Christian soldier in the Ottoman army”), from Greek αμαρτωλός (amartolós, “sinner”). They were the bad guys. They were not Protestants and offered their swords to the Ottomans as well as to the Hungarians or Croatians. We know that Captain Zrínyi Miklós aka Nicholas Zrinski used to hire them in the 1550s and he had more troubles with them than gain.

There were three kinds of Hajdú soldiers: the Hajdús „with a paper” were employed by towns, castles, noblemen, or by the Prince of Transylvania. In Royal Hungary there were about 6,000 of them, led by the Hajdú captains who were elected by them. We can speak of three kinds of Hajdú soldiers. There were „settled Hajdús” who lived in Hajdú-towns (in the Partium, between the Ottoman Occupied Lands and Transylvania and in the Trans-Tisza River Region) and enjoyed collective nobility in exchange for military service for the Prince of Transylvania. Finally, the stray „free Hajdú lads” who were just slightly better than villains and raided the land, regardless of who owned it. They sometimes sold their swords to generals like Heinrich von Dampierre who hired 2,500 of them during the 30-Year-War.

We know that entire areas and counties of Hungary became depopulated during the Ottoman conquest and the agricultural production became unsafe. As a result, the huge herds of grey cattle have become the source of living. Their herders were the seasoned Hajdú people who were hired by merchants. In this age, the Fuggers were the greatest businessmen in the cattle-trade and their Hajdú employees herded the countless animals to the western markets. The Ottomans allowed this trade, in exchange for a tax but the herders had to outsmart lots of other tax-collectors until they reached Vienna. (Later, the Fuggers became interested in the slave trade from North-Africa to the Americas.) Read more about Hungarian grey cattle here:

grey cattle herders

By the end of the 16th century, the Hajdú-question had to be solved because their ad-hoc organized raids sometimes caused more harm to the Christian armies than good. It was Prince Bocskai István who settled many Hajdús, recognizing their military value. After his death in 1606, it was Prince Rákóczi Zsigmond, then Prince Báthori Gábor of Transylvania who settled even more of them. Indeed, the power of the princes relied on the Hajdú troops when the Ottoman or Székely aid was not available. By the way, the previous privileges given to the Székely people were comparable to the Hajdú soldiers’. You can read more about the Székely border-guards of Transylvania on my page, too. As for Bocskai István, here is my article of how he had his Hajdús settled:

Let me quote the words of the Ottoman historian Ibrahim Pecsevi (1574, Pécs – 1649, Buda). He was the son of the famous and powerful Bosnian-Serbian Sokollu family and lived in the Ottoman Occupied Lands of the „Hungaries”. He wrote the followings about the Hungarian Hajdú soldiers:

„There is another trouble, namely that all the strong and young Rajah (My note: the Rayah were literally ‘members of the flock’, included Christians, Muslims, and Jews who were ‘shorn’ (i.e. taxed) to support the state and the associated ‘professional Ottoman’ class.) have gone and became Hajdú. This is the reason why we cannot travel from one palisade-castle to the other unless we have 500-600 guards with us. Moreover, they have ravaged all the towns and castles and have burned Zimony twice which is located opposite to Belgrade. They collected taxes from the mills of Belgrade and besieged the towns and castles between Buda and Belgrade, nobody could travel from one place to the other. I, myself had to tie my sword on my belt before going to bed in our house in Pécs. I slept with the rifle laid on my lap. In a word, the cause of the disaster on the frontier derived from the fact that the Raya had not been defended.”

Ibrahim Pecevi’s statue in Pécs, Hungary

There was another historian who wrote similar things about the Hajdú soldiers, he was the Hungarian Illésházy István. (Note, I am using the Eastern name order for Hungarian names.) He wrote about them in 1598 when giving his account of the 15-Year-War:

„In this period, the towns and the villages around Buda and Esztergom were abandoned and destroyed places, the folks had fled from there. The free (or stray) Hajdú people have come from these fugitives and from the unpaid Borderland guard warriors who had no pay at all: they were more than 3,000 of them just here, in Upper Hungary. They have made great damage to the Turks and have beaten them often. South of Buda, they have plundered towns and gained lots of spoils from the Turks. They went 20-25 miles to the south of Buda (my note: Hungarian miles were longer) and took the towns of Mohács, Szekszárd, and Topolya (my note: Tolna). When they were going home, the Turks attacked them but our soldiers utterly defeated them. They achieved this deed out of their own valiance, nobody paid them for this, it was done from their free will. They also destroyed many fortified palaces in Baranya and Somogy counties: after taking them from the Turks, they looted and burned them.”

The COA of Hajdúböszörmény town, a typical example of collective nobility COA

No wonder, that the Hajdú soldiers were nicknamed as the „Apostles of Death”: and their reputation was just as bad when they fought in the west European battlefields. As for the interesting hair-cut of the Hajdú soldiers, it was a typical fashion in Eastern Europe. It is thought to have derived from the Turks but the Hungarians wore it differently. Anyone could recognize a Hungarian hair-cut at the first glimpse, it was totally different from the Turk and the Cossack style.

Hungarian hair-style in the 16th-17th centuries

It is also gossiped, that the warriors grew this tuft of hair so as to make it easier to hold the severed head in the hand like in the COA of a Hajdú town, Hajdúnánás:

We know, that both the Ottoman sultan and the Habsburg king paid gold for such disgusting trophies. Heads were collected and regularly sent to the rulers. Sometimes just ears or noses were collected for saving the storage place. Even Captain John Smith (yes, the hero of Pocahontas) witnessed how the Nádasdy Hussars were collecting Turk heads in the southern region of Hungary. Allegedly, they took only the tuft of hair and the scalp for the above-mentioned reason. Was it John Smith who introduced the ugly habit of collecting scalps in North America? It might be a rather far-fetched idea and I personally doubt so. Yet, Captain John Smith used to fight against the Ottomans in Hungary, you can check it out here:


Hungarian-hair style (by Somogyi Győző)

Hungarian hair-style (by Somogyi Győző)

Turkish hair-style (by Somogyi Győző)


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