Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars



The city of Szikszó is a market town in Borsod County, Hungary. It is just 17 kilometers to the East of Miskolc. The first mention of the settlement is from 1280 when King László IV issued three documents from there. The next king who visited the place and issued a document was King Károly Róbert in 1307. The area was owned by the Aba family at this time.  King Zsigmond inherited it from them in 1391. He gave it to his wife, Queen Mária, just as with the castle of Diósgyőr. Szikszó was regarded as a “royal” city which meant it enjoyed various liberties and privileges.

The COA of Szikszó (Picture: Kaboldy)

The Gothic church and its 170-centimeter thick stone walls were built during this flourishing period of the town. Stones of previous churches were used for the construction of the new one, although the covering stone of the arched roof was completed only in 1500. We can see a stone in the northern part of the church which commemorates the victory of 1588 when Count Rákóczi Zsigmond, later Prince of Transylvania defeated the Turks at Szikszó. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

Prince Rákóczi Zsigmond (1544?-1608)

By the end of the 16th century, the settlement was surrounded by an earthen wall with five bastions at each corner of the pentangular structure. Szikszó was part of the chain of castles of the Hungarian Borderland against the Ottoman Empire. Szikszó developed quickly due to its location as it was on the trade route between Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) and Krakow. The wine production in the area was quite considerable. The lords of the city came from the Perényi family and the inhabitants converted to Protestantism in the 16th century and took the Gothic church for the Reformed faith.

Szikszó, Reformed church (Photo: Civertan)

While Szikszó lay on the Borderland it officially belonged to Royal Hungary.  However, the Pasha of Buda often made the town pay taxes to the Ottoman Empire as well. When the taxes failed to arrive in Buda, the Ottoman units always showed up at Szikszó. The first large conflict took place on 13 October 1558 when Bey Velican of Fülek Castle sacked and burned the city. When Bey Velican was on the way home with the booty, the Borderland warriors of Bebek György and Telekessy Imre ambushed him at the Sajó River and defeated his army. Although we know that the city began to pay its taxes more regularly to the Turks in 1564, the Ottoman threat did not cease to exist. There were Turkish looters in 1566, and 1567 as well as in 1573 and 1577. During such occasions the inhabitants found shelter behind the wall of the church, shooting the enemy from its tower.


The Second Battle of Szikszó on 10 November 1577

The Ottomans wanted to get hold of the wealthy market town of Szikszó by all means. The second major clash took place on 10 November 1577 when Bey Ferhát of Fülek Castle attacked the city right in the middle of the Sunday morning service interrupting the Reformed pastor’s preaching. Ferhát was a Hungarian renegade, and he perfectly knew the importance of the Saint Martin Day Fair. It was the reason why he timed their surprise attack when this famous city fair took place with lots of traders from all over the country. The attackers (1,200 infantrymen and 800 cavalrymen) traveled at night to get there unnoticed and surrounded the town in the dawn.

The comet in Prague in 1577

They managed to break through the low stone fence of the church, slaughtered 27 burghers outright, and wounded many others in the cemetery around the church.  However, the Protestant denomination was stubbornly holding the building of the large Gothic church. They shot many assaulters from the tower, and the noble-born Turk warrior, Deli Deberhan was among them. We can conclude from this fact that the Hungarians either visited the church with their weapons or there had to be an armory in the church. The fighting and looting were going on all day long and were not yet finished even into the late hours of the night when the sky was lit by the famous comet of 1577. 

The fight at Szikszó

The Turks took more than 200 captives (other sources say 1,000 people), and many of them were noble ladies and wealthy merchants. They could not get home quickly because of the lots of booties so they had to spend the night in a nearby village. When Bey Ferhát was returning home on the following day he was again beaten at the same place, at the ford of the Sajó River at Sajószentpéter or at Vadna. Prépostváry had set out from Kassa when he received the news, with his Hussars and the yellow-uniformed German riders and infantrymen, fewer than 400 men in all. They set a trap for the Turks who were leaving for home and were waiting in full armor and readiness for a half day for them. Prépostváry even sent two Hussars to lure them.

A panther hide (“kacagány”) on the back of the Hussar, 1596

Finally, the Ottomans, loaded with booty appeared at 4 PM at the village called Kasza, and seeing the two Hussars, began to chase them. The Hungarian riders (the so-called “bait”) led them to the site where the rest of the Hungarians and Germans were hiding. Although the Ottomans had a lot more soldiers, the Borderland warriors of Szendrő Castle, led by Chief Captain Claudius Roussel and Captain Rákóczi Zsigmond and the Hussars of Geszti Ferenc and Prépostváry Bálint from Kassa, the Hungarians defeated the enemy by the evening.

Peter Roussel, died in 1577, and his grandson, Claudius erected this tombstone in Kassa (Picture: Corbulo-pise)

While only three Hussars were killed in the unit of Prépostváry, they slew 400 or 500 Ottoman warriors, and captured 250 soldiers, there were four officers among them: Hussein “alajbey” who was wounded on his head and hand, two Aghas, and the officer of the Pasha of Buda. The Hungarians lost 14 horses, and 20 horses got injured. At the same time, they could capture 600 Ottoman horses. The Hussars of Szendrő lost nobody, and the yellow-coated German riders had just one dead. We know, that the local Hungarian peasants joined in the slaughter and killed many of the Ottoman captives, and robbed and hid lots of booties. (It is assumed that the Turks had looted them before.)

Ottoman Deli riders

The Bey of Fülef got heavily wounded but managed to escape with a help of a Hungarian renegade “pribék” called Csákány Kelemen, the guide of the Turks. He took the Bey to Ajnácskő castle where the wounds were attended. The Hungarians gained seven flags and several light cannons, too. They could free almost all the captured noblewomen. Allegedly, there were more than 1,000 captives (not including those who were tied to the wagons) who were saved from the slave market. The Hussars chased the enemy until midnight, under the light of the comet. 

Ajnácskő castle’s ruins Photo: Civertan

According to the judge of Rimaszombat who happened to be in Fülek castle when the Bey of Fülef returned after 11 November with his eleven riders, he witnessed the following: the Bey asked the guards in the gate about how many other Turks had returned from the battle. They replied that nobody had come home. Hearing this, the Bey ran into his room, threw himself to the floor, and began to weep bitterly. He did not want to see anybody for three days. 

Fülek in 1593

In addition to the Ottomans’ plight, the Hussars of Eger also appeared at killed a further 400 men of the fleeing enemy. According to the Venetian envoy, everybody was praising the Hungarians’ success in Vienna. The inhabitants of Szikszó built a hedge palisade with a moat around their city in 1586 against the looting marauders and the Turks, turning the old church into a heavily fortified building at the same time.

Szikszó (Photo: Civertan)

The Ottomans did not learn from the previous defeats so they kept trying to take Szikszó. The third and the biggest battle of Szikszó was in 1588 when an 11,000 men strong Ottoman army attacked the city, a more numerous army than ever before.  However, Captain Rákóczi Zsigmond of Eger Castle defeated them with his 2,000 Hussars and 400-500 German infantrymen. Several hundred Hungarian and German soldiers died in this battle while the Turks lost more than 2,000 men. You can read the detailed description of this battle in my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”.

Unfortunately, the Ottomans defeated the warriors of Eger at Szikszó in the summer of 1592. The Ottoman warriors of the Sandjak centers of Gyula, Jenő, Hatvan, Fülek, and Szolnok joined forces and attacked Szikszó to take revenge for the defeats suffered before. We have a detailed source of the battle from the letter of Captain Prépostváry Bálint of Eger castle. He wrote that the Ottoman cavalry heavily outnumbered the Hussars who quickly turned and fled. Many Hungarian officers were captured, and a few Hussars died. As it had happened before, the fleeing cavalry abandoned the infantrymen. They stood and fought hard, though. When they ran out of gunpowder, they put aside the rifles and fought with sabers. 

A Hungarian Hajdú infantryman

The Ottomans had to deploy cannons to break them. According to Prépostváry, 226 of them fell. It was at the beginning of the battle that the son of the infamous Sásvár Bey lost his life. The Hungarians succeeded to take his head home to Eger where it was put on the rampart. However, the Ottomans also suffered large casualties while fighting for hours against the steadfast infantry. As for the captives, Zay András was among them but he was freed in the same year’s autumn. But Balázsdeák, a famous officer, had to spend five years in prison. He was exchanged for Hassan, the bey of Koppány, with the help of Pálffy Miklós in 1597. There was a priest who was also captured, his name was Hetei Pál. The next battle of Szikszó took place in 1679 when Prince Thököly Imre of Transylvania was victorious over the Imperial troops.

The Battle of Szikszó, 1588

The Burghers joined the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc II in 1703. Three years later General Rabutin set the whole town on fire in revenge for that. Following another major fire in 1852, the city declined and became a rather large village. Yet, if you ask them, the locals of Szikszó can show you the place called “Törökhalom” (Turkish pile) where the fallen soldiers of the famous battle of 1588 sleep together in their mass-grave, Hungarians and Turkish, side by side with Germans.

Szikszó (from the Ungarische Chronica, Kassel) around 1600 (Source: Hagyomány és Múltidéző)

Sources: Szibler Gábor, Szerecz Miklós, Takáts Sándor and Csiffáry Gergely: Az egri végváriak tevékenysége 1548-1596 között. In: Veres Gábor (szerk.): Agria. Az egri Dobó István Vármúzeum Évkönyve. XLVI. Eger, 2010.

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Here are a few more pictures of Szikszó: