Tihany. This small, old-fashioned castle is a sacred place. We can find several fortifications, and ruins of churches on the Tihany Peninsula.  It is the earliest established Abbey in Hungary. It is the final resting place of a Hungarian king, András, and his son, Dávid.

Tihany Photo: Civertan

Tihany is located on the northern shore of Lake Balaton. The center of the district is the Benedictine Tihany Abbey, which was founded in 1055 AD by King András I, who is buried in the crypt. The founding charter of this abbey is the first extant record of the Hungarian language, preserved in Pannonhalma Benedictine Archabbey. 

The founding letter of the Abbey of Tihany

The castle had been in constant warfare against the Ottomans. When the Turks appeared in the region, the 50-mile-long Lake Balaton became an important fort of the Military Borderland. It was at this time that the monks left it for a safer cloister. Let us get to know the different parts of Tihany’s fort system.

The founding letter of the Abbey of Tihany

Tihany Óvár (Tihany Old Castle)

On the 214-meter-high hill called Óvár, there is the earthen rampart system with an oval layout. This is the most well-preserved and largest earthen castle in the Balaton region. A plateau is about 1 km long and 400 m wide, surrounded by a rampart of 1,100-1,200 meters. It was built at the end of the Bronze Age and in the early Iron Age around 3,000-3,500 AD.

Tihany in our days

The oval plateau is not protected by a rampart from the east, because there is a steep hillside overlooking Lake Balaton so it did not require special protection. The entrance to the earth castle could have been from the southwest. In the northern part of the earth castle, there is a U-shaped part divided by a rampart in the west-east direction, which is bordered by a ditch in the south. This separate part was apparently built later than the original rampart, and it is also much higher. The structure of the two ramparts is not completely identical. In wartime, it was a safe haven for the people of the area, and it was also the seat of a prince.

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

In the 1970s, Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Celtic and Avar artifacts and graves were found in the Old Castle. According to a survey in 1999,  Gyula Nováki raised the assumption that the inner, transverse rampart of the Upper Old Castle in its current form is not prehistoric, but part of an early Hungarian earthen castle. The material found during the excavation supported this assumption. Nováki assumes that the prehistoric rampart section was also strengthened during the Árpád era.

Tihany in the 11th century

 The Old Castle itself stands on a peninsula that was cut off from the mainland by a wide artificial channel, built by the Roman Emperor Galerius (203-311). It was flooded with water, turning the one-mile-long and half-mile-wide peninsula into an island. This channel was still in use in the 18th century, a drawbridge was built on it. There was an archeological excavation in 2022 when they unearthed a stone wall and the basement of a tower on the inner side of the channel, the tower used to guard the drawbridge. According to the sources, the channel and the stone wall were still used in the age of the Ottoman wars.

The main territory of the Old Castle is located on the top of a 600-foot-tall hill towering over the waves of the Balaton. On the peninsula, there was a large fish pond and a rich grain field, with a vineyard on the hillside. The terraced terrain had several earthen fortifications that provided excellent defenses to the peasants of the twelve villages that belonged to Tihany.

The history of the Abbey before the Ottoman age

King András I (in Chronica Hungarorum)

As we have already noted, the Abbey of Tihany was founded by King András I in 1055 AD, and it is under the protection of Saint Ányos. The construction began in 1053 but it was almost completed two years later because it was opened in 1055 when they read up the text of its Founding Letter. The first abbot of Tihany was called Lázár.

Tihany Photo: H.-Szabo-Sandor

We do not have many sources about the early period of the abbey and its castle. The second is a donation document that mentions it in 1090, and the next is from 1184. We know, that King András II needed money for his crusade so he took away from the abbey of Tihany a nice gold goblet, decorated with precious stones. As compensation, he gifted 1,000 pieces of rock salt to them. This business was confirmed after 1233. 

Tihany, crypt Photo: Mudrák Attila

Tihany is supposed to have survived the Mongolian invasion in 1241-42 because we can find its name among the lucky castles mentioned in a letter to the pope, these castles were defended against the invaders. They were: Fehérvár, Esztergom, Veszprém, Tihany, Győr, Pannonhalma, Moson, Sopron, Vasvár, Németújvár, Zala castle, and Léka. The abbey was able to pay 17 marks of silver for buying wineries and lands in 1243, which means they had not suffered much damage. (In the 13th century, a good horse cost 5-10 marks, a mark weighted 8 ounces of silver.) 

Tihany 11th century Drawing: Pazirik Kft.

The abbeys usually had the right to issue documents, the Abbey of Tihany was such a place, too. We know one from 1288, but a certain Abbot Ichk issued one in 1244. According to a letter written during the age of Abbot Pál in 1262, Tihany belonged under the authority of the Archbishop of Esztergom but they did not have to obey the Bishop of Veszprém.

Tihany 13th century Drawing: Pazirik Kft.

The Bull of Pope Clement IV mentioned Tihany in 1267: the pope confirmed the abbot’s ownership over his domains in the document. The document mentioned the castle of the abbey so it may have belonged to the priests and not to the king. According to this source, there were eastern hermits living in nearby caves. They lived at the Oroszkő (Russian stone), and they had come to Hungary with the Kievan wife of King András I in 1046. These eastern monks coexisted with the Benedictine monks for a long time.

Hermits’ rooms Photo: Nagy Zoltán

There were 130 free soldiers serving in the abbey in 1267, they were cavalrymen. However, King Béla IV ordered in December 1267 that the abbot could keep only 12 men in his military service. The king wanted to take away this privilege (i.e. military service) from the rest of the serving families. Finally, the king agreed that the men could keep their privileges, in exchange for a fee. They issued a document about it on (Balaton) Főkajár.

Tihany, the crypt of King andrás is being opened
Photo: Tihanyi Bencés Apátság

The archbishop of Esztergom sold the abbey of Tihany to the Bishop of Veszprém in 1276, and he received two villages in exchange for it. Thus, the abbey lost its independence and went under the authority of the Bishop of Veszprém. It was the period when the pavement of the abbey’s courtyard was rebuilt in the early Gothic style. 

Tihany, the crypt Photo: Pados Adrian

The Bishop of Veszprém wrote a letter of complaint to King András III in 1300 because Lőrinc, the son of Tapolcai Lőrinc, the castellan of Tihany and his men-at-arms plundered the village of Kál. It means that Tihany belonged to the king at that time. It remained the king’s property later as well because we know from a document of King Károly Róbert (1288-1342) that the king appointed Master László as the Comes of Tolna County. Master László used to be the castellan of Tihany, as we can learn from the letter. However, King Károly Róbert gave Tihany castle and the 9 villages belonging to it back to the abbey in 1327. 

Tihany; Interior of the Abbey

The castle did not remain in the abbot’s hand for long because it was given to the Hungarian queen in the first part of the 1340s. We know that its castellan was Magyar István in 1346, and Master András, son of Kilián followed him in 1349. Abbot György of Tihany tried to get the castle back by law in 1382 but it was in vain. Finally, King Lajos I of Hungary gave in to the persistent monk and issued a document in Visegrád on 8 June 1382 in which he returned several properties and domains to the abbey. 

Tihany 15th-century Drawing: Pazirik Kft.

 Regarding the castle, King Zsigmond of Luxembourg pledged it to Prodavizi István in exchange for 2,500 gold Forints. When the king paid the loan back in 1392, he reconfirmed the ownership of the abbey: this time, the abbot owned not only the 9 villages but the castle, too. This ownership lasted until the beginning of the Ottoman war.

Tihany Photo: Civertan

King Matthias Corvinus ordered the abbot of Tihany in 1460 to punish his soldiers who were plundering the property of the chapter of Veszprém in Nagyberény. The abbot had to pay for the damage as well. When King Matthias died in 1490, the soldiers of the usurper Emperor Habsburg Maximilian attacked the Trans-Danubian Region. On the orders of Bishop Vitéz János of Veszprém, the castles of Sümeg, Veszprém, and Tihany castles had to open their gates before the German mercenaries. It is interesting to note, that one of the monks of the abbey became a robber knight during the war in 1490-91. It is assumed that he held Zádorvár castle near Pécsely. However, General Kinizsi Pál scattered his men in 1491. 

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

According to a document issued in Tihany on 2 February 1495, the castellan was Hidegkuti Farkas Antal at that time. In 1515, King Ulászló made Perényi Imre the liege-lord of the abbey. The abbey was turned into a small fort in the 16th and 17th centuries: it was not a big one but it was not insignificant, either. It was an important part of the chain of castles of the Borderland along the bank of Lake Balaton. From the abbey, only the royal crypt survived the Ottoman wars. The church that you can see now, was rebuilt in the Baroque style in 1754.

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

The Csúcs Hill Tower in Tihany

There is a ruined tower on the Csúcs Hill of Tihany, its area is 15X15 meters. We can find traces of two moats on its slope, and it was surrounded by a wall. The stone tower was most likely a living tower during the Árpád Age because fragments of pottery from the 12th-13th century were found. This early structure must have been the predecessor of the castle of Tihany because that was built only in the 1330s. When the new castle was completed, this stone tower remained as an outpost because of its height. The tower was not there in the 17th century, though.

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

The Abbey during the Ottoman wars

During the Ottoman wars, the most important function of Tihany Castle was to repel the Turks crossing the lake. The castle had a small harbor where fishing boats and longboats equipped with hook-guns were waiting for the attack of the heathens when the lake was not frozen. There were four round bastions around the rectangular buildings of the old abbey that had a nice but undefendable tower that would collapse after a few cannon shots.

Tihany 16th-century Drawing: Pazirik Kft.

The walls were built of stone, but a few sections were fortified by earthen ramparts and a wooden palisade. The cannons and the old-fashioned hook guns on the round bastions were able to control the lake. To make the enemy’s task harder, another wooden palisade was guarding the stone walls reaching down to the water, and a thorny hedge went around the outer side of the moat. Only fifty-sixty soldiers served in Tihany. Half of them were Hussars who constantly patrolled the countryside when the weather allowed. The monks were all gone, and the Hussars kept their mounts in the church of the old abbey, while they stored the hay in the chapel.

The narrowest crossing place of Lake Balaton was at Tihany, and the Turks could attack at any time. In summer, they had to row less than two miles. They came from the small palisade castles of Endréd, Ságvár, or Segesd that lay on the other bank. The greatest threat came from Koppány castle, though. The Agha of Koppány commanded over 600 Asab warriors and 60 armored Sipahi cavalrymen.

Attacks came all the time, except for the winter when the lake was covered by three-foot thick ice that could support the weight of a whole army. Luckily, the Turks rarely crossed the ice because they were superstitiously afraid of the hidden cracks that could swallow those who did not know their location. This was when Hungarian counter-raids happened because they knew the frozen lake better. The locals were guiding the Hussars over the treacherous ice.

After 1526, Hungary was divided into two parts. As it turned out, Bishop Szalaházy Tamás of Veszprém and his servitor, Devecseri Choron András were on the side of King Habsburg Ferdinand but Tandalló János, the Abbot of Tihany was loyal to King Szapolyai János. General Choron of King Ferdinand occupied Veszprém castle and took Tihany as well in 1527. Sultan Suleiman was attacking Vienna in 1529 so King Szapolyai got hold of these castles again. However, after the unsuccessful siege of Vienna, the troops of Choron and szalaházy chased away King Szapolyai’s men from there. 

The soldiers of King Szapolyai ambushed Tihany, Sümeg, and Veszprém castles in November 1533, and managed to take them. Shortly after this, the soldiers of Tihany set out to Várpalota to defeat the men of a robber knight, Móré László who was loyal to none of the kings. After they scattered his men, they attacked Bishop Szalaházi of Veszprém who was on King Ferdinand’s side. Szalaházy was very angry and did not forget the assault.

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

The bishop’s army led by Choron András of Devecser and Nagy Ferenc returned a year later and besieged Tihany. After nine days of siege, the castellans, Szörényi Mihály, and Csemperdi Miklós ceded the castle in exchange for free conduct. The defenders were allowed to take away their properties and weapons but they had to pay 200 gold Forints. Choron left 24 cavalrymen and 16 infantrymen in Tihany as a garrison. They were paid from the abbey’s income. King Ferdinand appointed János, the underage son of Choron András as the commander of Tihany on 1 December 1539.

The photo of Tihany Castle on a satellite
Source: Szöllösi Gábor www.varlexikon.hu

During the Ottoman campaign of 1543, several castles fell to the enemy: Székesfehérvár, Siklós, Tata, Esztergom, including the bigger part of Tolna County. The attacks did not finish in 1544, and Endréd castle (Balatonendréd), opposite Tihany castle, also fell to the Turks. The Hungarians exploded the nearby Fehérkő castle to prevent the enemy from using it. 

Lake Balaton and Tihany in 1566

In response to the imminent threat, the Diet of 1546 decided that the king should take care of the castles of Tihany, Dombó, Kaposújvár, Somogyvár, Lak, and Sziget castles. The law made in 1547 decided that Tihany must be defended by 24 cavalrymen and 16 infantrymen. Vázsony castle got 6 riders and 10 infantrymen, and Döbrönte castle received only 5 Hussars. We know that there were 40 Hussars and 50 infantrymen in Tihany in 1550. 

Lake Balaton was part of the Borderland…

Despite the truce, the Turks of Székesfehérvár castle destroyed the whole Highlands of Lake Balaton in 1548. Veszprém fell to them in 1552. Then, 25 Hussars and 25 infantrymen were sent to Tihany as reinforcement. The Chapter of Veszprém ceded the tax of its 12 villages for the defense expenses of Tihany, it was altogether 200 gold Forints. At that time, there were about 150 defenders in Tihany. General Sforza Pallavicini said in 1552 that the main task of Tihany, Vázsonykő, and Leveld castles was to block the Ottomans’ crossing of the lake in case they attacked Tapolca castle. 

A map of Hungary from 1570: you can see the Trans-Danubian Region with Lake Balaton

Until 1554, the castellan of Tihany was Horváth Márk, then Takaró Mihály was in charge. Takaró found no cannons in the castle, and there were only 10 hook guns. The castle was also in very poor condition. The enemy attacked Csobánc and Tihany castles in 1554 but they were not successful. It is assumed, that the village called Apáti and its church were destroyed at that time, it used to be at the entrance of the Tihany peninsula. We also know that the Hussars of Tihany, Devecser, and Győr castles were lured into a trap near Paks by the Ottomans in October 1556, and 11 out of the 24 Hussars of Tihany perished there. You can read more about these fights on my page here:


Takaró Mihály, the castellan of Tihany attacked the palisade castle of Ságvár on 22 March 1557

Tihany castle was located in a quite vulnerable place, especially after the fall of Veszprém in 1552. The Turks were building several palisade castles on the southern bank of the lake as a basis for their further conquest. They reinforced the church of Ságvár, too. There were fewer than 10 guards in it so the tower of the church was rather an observation post. It was a dangerous outpost and the garrison of Tihany had to do something about it. Led by Takaró Mihály, a captain who came from the commoners, they crossed the ice of Lake Balaton during the early days of the spring in 1577. (Before 22 March.) They ambushed the small palisade of Ságvár.
Takaró had fortified Tihany castle from his own strength while the enemy was continuously threatening him, not giving a moment of peace. So in 1557, the Hussars of Tihany fought back. 
Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor
Unfortunately, the ambush was not a full success. They could not take the stone tower and they could not besiege it because they had no gunpowder. Also, the Turks’ reinforcement was due to arrive from the nearby palisade forts at any moment. The Hussars were able to pull down the palisade wall and damaged the tower. They captured one of the defenders, and the rest of the enemy suffered injuries because of the burning roof. The Hungarians left with some booty, though. We can read it in the letter of Captain Takaró:
„The other day I went to Ságvár palisade and about eight Turks were forced into it. I fought there for three hours and took the palisade. They ran into the tower when the walls fell. The tower was very high and strong, and I burned it until they all surrendered. In the end, they asked for a rope to pull down the burning roof. I ran out of gunpowder but I could not be late more. I could have gotten them, though. One of them jumped out of the tower, he is with me now.
The rest of the enemy remained there. From the stately home, we took nine horses and their attire, helmets, armor, saddles, and all kinds of military equipment. This is what I can write to Your Highness. My captive Tirk says the same as the renegade “pribék” says, namely the Ottomans are making a bridge at Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) but it is not known where their army might be. Behold, those seven Turks who survived the attack inside the tower, their hands and legs suffered injuries because of the fire, according to a judge from my village whom I sent there to investigate. The stately home has also been destroyed…”
Veszprém castle Photo: Mesüge
As for the men of Tihany, they were on a raid around Veszprém castle in April 1557, and they had a very good reason for it: they received no payment from the king, and they were starving. We know from the report of Matasin Ferenc, military commissioner that all of the soldiers in Tihany asked to leave the service because of the lack of pay. The Hungarian peasants sometimes hated them more than the Turks because of the looting. In April 1557, the peasants even murdered a soldier from Tihany, and then ran away. The Hussars took revenge on the murderers and plundered their houses. 
Nádasdy Tamás (1498-1562)
Nádasdy Tamás had to hire 21 infantrymen and send them to Tihany in June 1557. We know that they were on a raid in August, burning and looting the “Turk” lands in Somogy County near Endréd. Captain Takaró Mihány took his task seriously when it came to reinforcing his castle. In 1558, he gave an order to the peasants of Szentkirélyszabadja village to come and build the palisade walls of Tihany, even though they lived under Ottoman rule. No wonder, that they were afraid to obey and did not want to come. Takaró sent soldiers there who beat them up but it was in vain. Then, the captain ordered them to run away from the village the next morning. 
Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

The Military Council sent Bornemissza Ferenc to survey the reinforcement and construction work of Tihany. He wrote a detailed report. We can learn from it that Captain Takaró had done a good job because he had the run-down walls rebuilt from stone, and the whole work was about to be completed. The moat was widened, and a new wooden palisade was built. Takaró noted that two more bastions were still needed, and he asked for 100 gold Forints for the expenses. All in all, Bornemissza suggested that Tihany’s castle should be demolished instead of spending money on it, or perhaps the weak wall at the entrance of the peninsula (rather it was an island) should be strengthened. He added to his report, that there were more cavalrymen than infantrymen in the garrison. 

A Hungarian war boat (16th century)

Tihany on the Borderland

Curiously, the attack in 1557 against Ságvár was almost entirely repeated in July 1558 when the same happened to the small Turkish palisade. The ambush took place on 7 July, and we have Takaró’s letter in which he reported about it to Nádasdy Tamás. This time, he found just four Turks who were chased into the stone church but one of them was killed because Takaró beheaded him before he could follow his comrades. Note: in this age, 98% of the Ottoman soldiers in Hungary were not Turks but Serbs, Albanians, and other sons of south-Slavic nations. Read more about the Turks in Hungary here:


an Ottoman soldier

Takaró tried to break into the tower and was trying to do so for an hour, and his men shot the tower with muskets rapidly. He left Ságvár when he saw the Turks of Endréd castle coming to join the fight. Hastily, he took away whatever plunder he found, and put hay piles next to the tower to burn it down. At that time, another Turkish reinforcement was also coming, the warriors of Köröshegy palisade castle.

Captain Takaró took three Turk horses, tied them to his boats and they fled. The horses were swimming next to the boats while the Turks were shooting them from the bank. Takaró’s men answered the fire but none of his soldiers got killed. The Ottomans tried to take revenge in October and November 1558, the Turk soldiers of Veszprém and Fehérvár ambushed Tihany castle twice, with lots of infantrymen but they were repelled. 

a Hungarian Hussar reenactor

Takaró Mihály was removed from his office in January 1560 and the next captain became Gyulaffy László. Takaró Mihály was offended and wrote to Nádasdy Tamás “Your Highness should know in what a bad condition I found Tihany castle…Although I was a poor lad but I took my chances and built it up…Now, that the work is completed, it became popular…” Gyulaffy took over the castle on 24 April, it is assumed that he thought it would be a good business. Read more about Gyulaffy, the famous warrior of the Borderland:


Bey Hamza of Fehérvár castle decided to lead a raiding campaign in the Highland of Lake Balaton in 1561. We can read the next in the letter written by Thury György that he sent to Pápa castle to warn them: “Your Lordship should be aware ceaselessly because according to the talk of the people, the enemy wants to attack Tihany and Pápa castles…” The danger was not to be belittled, and Tihany was reinforced as we can read in the report of General Salm that he sent to Archduke Maximilian on 2 May 1561. 

Pápa castle in 1597

Gyulaffy László wanted to attack Polgárdi and later Veszprém castle before 26 May 1561, he had 400 infantrymen from Pápa castle to help him. As the plan for the assault was not a deep secret, the Turks were informed about it. Gyulaffy and his men went to Lovas where they broke up the wineries and got drunk.  The Turks ambushed them and killed 200 of them. Gyulaffy could barely flee to Tihany only with three Hussars. You can read more about Gyulaffy László here:


Gyulaffy László (by Somogyi Győző)

Captain Gyulaffy seemed to have learned from the lesson, and he led his infantrymen to Veszprém in 1566 where they exploded the castle’s southern gate. Then, they took back Veszprém castle in a fierce fight that lasted from 9 A.M. to 8 P.M. As a reward for the victory, the king appointed him to be the Captain of Veszprém on 1 September 19 but he could keep Tihany castle as well. The castellan of Tihany became Széchenyi Mihály.

Maximilian’s gold Forint from 1578

Unfortunately, there was tension between Széchenyi and Gyulaffy because they argued about the collection of taxes. Even the Emperor suspected that Gyulaffy had “evil plans” for Tihany castle. We do not know the details but Gyulaffy left the king’s service in 1567 and went to Transylvania. The next captain of Tihany was Jakusics Ferenc but we find Majthényi László in this post in 1569. He was instructed to improve the artillery equipment of the castle.

Imperial cannons, 16th century

Emperor Maximilian appointed Majláth Gábor as the captain of Tihany in 1571, and the ruler obliged him to carry out the following tasks: he had to maintain the number of the defenders; he had to keep the buildings of the castle in good condition; the peasants (subjects) could not be overtaxed, their previous customs and habits had to be accepted; he was forbidden to sell anything belonging to the castle; he was obliged to give the castle back to the monarch anytime; he had to stay in the castle all the time.

Hussar weapons and armor

According to an inventory from 1572, Tihany possessed 12 villages, altogether 76 homesteads. In April 1577, sixty warriors of the Turkish Segesd castle attacked Tihany because they came to know that the Hungarian soldiers were away. The attackers captured the eight soldiers they found in Tihany, then they set everything on fire. However, we can find Hungarian soldiers in Tihany soon, which means that the Turks had not left behind a garrison. 

Hungarian Hussars in the 16th century

The king appointed Zongor (Songor) János as the captain of Tihany who reported to the monarch about the sorrowful condition of the castle. The Military Council played with the idea of demolishing the small fort altogether but finally, Archduke Ernst von Österreich issued a sum of 55 gold Forints and 80 silver denarius for the most immediate repairs in January 1578.

the armor of an Ottoman Sipahi cavalryman

Captain Songor János of Tihany wrote a letter to the Chief Captain of Győr castle on 26 June 1577, reporting about the enemy’s palisade castles on the southern bank of Lake Balaton: “There are Endréd and Balatonkeszi, under the command of an Agha who has 40 Beslia riders and 83 infantrymen. There are two officers (“voivodes”) among them. If they come out, their full number is 140 men. They belong to the Bey of Simontornya castle. There are 40 Beslia riders and 40 infantrymen in Hídvég castle, under the command of an Agha. They are two miles away from us.

They also belong to Simontornya Castle…Opposite us, there is Koppány Palisade Castle, two miles from here. There are 60 Sipahi cavalrymen in it (noble Turks, my remark*) and the Bey of Koppány can come out with 500 cavalrymen and 80 infantrymen. He has two Agha officers. Karad palisade castle belongs to the same Bey, there are 24 soldiers. Also, there is Lak palisade which is under the command of this Bey, there are 60 riders with two Agha officers and 100 infantrymen.”

Ottoman Deli riders

We know from a report from 1578, that the conditions in Tihany were terrible. When the Chamber Commissioner arrived, the soldiers all asked to be released because they could no longer tolerate their insolvency and hunger. It is said that they were so poor that when they took turns on guard duty, one would take the other’s clothes to protect himself from the cold. Meanwhile, those who did their work on guard duty were left to “lurk naked” in their huts. Despite the pitiful conditions, according to an Ottoman source, the soldiers of Tihany ambushed the fair of (Sió)Fok in 1579 but they were repelled because the Turks of Endréd castle rode out against them and defeated them on the way home. We know that Emperor Rudolf appointed Flecha Máté, his court chaplain as the abbot of Tihany on 15 December 1579. 

Wathay Ferenc’s bust in Csesznek castle (Photo: Molnárné Biró Andrea)

Wathay Ferenc, the famous Borderland warrior, poet, and painter started his military career in Tihany castle in 1584. The next captain of the castle was Pisky István, he was appointed on 25 March 1585. Well, Captain Pisky wasn’t idle, two years later the local serfs were already working on the castle walls. At this time, according to Pisky’s account book, 10 villages belong to the castle. Aszófő, Örvényes, Szőlős, and Füred from Zala County, Szántó, Szamárd, Nagy- and Kis-Endréd, Csege, and Lullya from Somogy County, but these were in the territory occupied by the Turks. And Pisky strictly collected the tax of one forint a year, half of which was to be paid on St. George’s Day at the end of April, and the other half on St. Michael’s. In addition, the peasants also paid for the meadows and vineyards belonging to the castle, but they could also receive relief or pay taxes on crops. The revenue and the booty from raids were used to feed the soldiers because Vienna did not like to pay soldiers ‘monthly money’. 

The raid in 1587

Thirty-eight warriors of Tihany ambushed the palisade castle of Endréd around 27 July 1587. We know about this incident from the letter of Pasha Sinan, Beglerbey of Buda castle who complained to Archduke Ernst about it: “…again, it was Pisky István, Captain of Tihany who attacked Endréd, and burned it…” We know the details of how the warriors of Tihany shared their booty after this successful action in 1587, let us take a look into it.

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor
These 38 warriors (either on horseback or on foot) took part in this raid, and 36 warriors stayed in Tihany to defend it. They targeted Endréd castle but they were hunting for booty on the roads, hiding in the forest, too. When they returned home, 30 warriors received 68 silver Denarius per person but the bravest ones got even more rewards. János and Sípos Márton, the servants of Bornemissza János got one gold Forint and 36 silver Denarius in addition to the 68 Denarius. There was a clerk called András who got one Forint and 25 Denarius, and Szabó Miklós (the leader of ten soldiers) received one Forint and 50 Denarius.
Hungarian Denarius coins, 16th century
The warriors took captives, too: Bey Abdullah, the commander of Karád Palisade castle, and an officer called Gazanfer Odabasi. Gazanfer’s ransom was decided, it was a good horse. When Gazanfer paid it, the seven Hungarians who captured him divided the sum between each other. Thus, Borsos Simon (infantryman) got 4 Forints plus broadcloth worth 2 Forints, and cowhide worth 20 Denarius, not to mention some meat worth 36 Denarius (it was about 9 kilos). 
Ottoman horsemen
Another captive, a Turkish artillery officer of Endréd castle called Raham Topcsibasi was also ransomed: he paid 2 good horses, 2 panther hides, 100 gold Forints in cash, and cow meat worth 100 gold Forints (!). However, it is not clear if the coins were gold or not. At the same time, Huszai Odabasi was ransomed for 200 Forints in cash and the same amount given in cow meat; two horses with attire, and two panther hides. Finally, the Odabasi called Bayráth had to pay 100 Forints in cash and the same sum in cow meat. (We talk about salted or dried meat.) Also, he was forced to give a horse with attire and a panther hide. 
A panther hide (“kacagány”) on the back of the Hussar, 1596

More fights around Tihany

The importance of Tihany did not decrease. They sent from the arsenal of Veszprém castle to Tihany 78 new handguns, 100 cannonballs, and gunpowder in March 1588. Soon, the warriors set out against Endréd for the second time: Captain Huszár Péter of Pápa castle and Pisky István of Tihany ambushed it on 23 October 1588. They slew the entire Ottoman garrison and pulled down the small palisade fort.
A Hungarian commander in 1593, wearing a panther hide
The warriors of Tihany and Veszprém had a debate in 1588. The soldiers of Tihany took an important Ottoman prisoner, he was Ibrahim, an Odabasi officer. However, there was a Hussar from Veszprém castle called Fekete Mátyás who got hold of Ibrahim in a “very tricky way”. Then, the warriors of Veszprém considered him their prisoner. The Hussars of Tihany set out to get their prisoner back and there was an armed clash with the soldiers of Veszprém, at least five Hungarian warriors died. Yet, the bloodshed was in vain because Ibrahim became the “property” of the Chief Captain of the Trans-Danubian Region. 
The Gyulaffy Banderium’s members (reenactors) on horseback
In a letter of 1588, Pisky reported that he had also built ships to counterbalance the Turkish fleet at Siófok. Archduke Ernst gave an order in the summer of 1589 to transport two boats from Vienna to the castles of Veszprém and Tihany. Yet, the warriors did not cease their raids during the winter: the united army of the Hungarian Borderland castles of the northern bank of Lake Balaton crossed the frozen lake in February 1589. Their leader was Berenhidai Huszár Péter, and they attacked the castle called Bolondvár at Balatonszemes. However, the Ottoman garrison repelled their assault. More about Berenhidai’s life:
 Berenhidai Péter

Ibrahim’s letter of challenge to Pisky István

The “small war” was always raging along the 1,000-mile-long Borderland despite the truce between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. During these fights, Captain Pisky István of Tihany had a debate with Agha Ibrahim, a flag bearer of Endréd castle. Finally, they challenged each other to a duel that took place on the ice of Lake Balaton. However, Ibrahim did not show up at the agreed time because he had an excuse: he had three wives and all of them delivered a baby on that very day. In answer to this, Pisky called him a coward, and Ibrahim replied in a letter that became a very important source of the Hungarian language. 

Hungarian reenactors

As we know, Pisky István was at the head of the important castle of Tihany between 1585 and 1589. He was famous for his duels with the Turks. We have read how he participated in the raid and plundering of the Koppány castle in February 1587. Many complaints were made against him for his attacks on the Turkish strongholds in Somogy, and he was replaced in 1589. Whether the following letter contributed to this is not known.

The Gyulaffy Banderium’s members (reenactors) on horseback

Around July 27, 1587, the Tihany warriors raided the fortress of Balatonendréd and captured an “odabashi” named Gazanfer. He was released after paying a ransom, which included a horse. Pisky claimed that he had received it as a gift from Ibrahim Agha of Endréd, who was so poor that he did not have enough barley to keep a horse. Ibrahim, together with the Harambasasas of Csirum and Abdi, responded to this insult by challenging the captain of Tihany to a duel on the ice of Lake Balaton. First, the two Harambasasas, accompanied by the Turks from Simontornya, crossed the ice, but Pisky did not appear. However, according to the captain, the two Turkish officers were the ones who never came.

Hungarian reenactors (some of them in Turkish dress) at Simontornya, 2019

It was not easy to organize the duel. In the harsh winter of 1589, Captain Pisky waited for Agha Ibrahim of Endréd on the shore of Lake Balaton in Szántód, first under an elm tree and then on the ice of the lake. According to the records, they had had several drinking parties with each other before. Since the Agha did not leave his three wives behind (allegedly they gave birth at the same time), Captain Pisky got drunk and wrote a mocking letter to his drinking companion.  He spread the rumor about Ibrahim, whom he called “the old midwife”. Ibrahim was very angry about the message, which could have been even harsher for the Turkish soldier. It is a pity we do not have Pisky’s letter. Ibrahim sent his opponent perhaps the most humiliating letter of the time, replying in a similar tone, as can be read from a letter in the Veszprém archives:

“Letter from Ibrahim, flag-bearer of Balatonendréd to Pisky István, captain of the castle of Tihany.
Koppány, March 2, 1589.
Let this letter be given into the hands of the lying, imperfect, unbelieving, bestial son of a whore, Pisky István in Tihany.

You, false believer, unbeliever, beastly, evil son of a whore, vagabond of the land, your name is not Pisky István, but István the son of a Whore, it was, it is, let it be.

Thou infidel whore, beast, didst thou think that I went to Constantinople in fear of thee, beast, son of a whore, and therefore hast thou written such a letter after me? But beast, infidel son of a whore, if it was not on the ice, because you did not write it to me, and I did not know that it was on the ice; but now I understand what your will is. I am ready, you wicked son of a whore, and I was ready before, but you were not a man for it, you were a wicked son of a whore. So if you want to do it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, I am ready here if you want. I have sold the office of my Agha title to another, I fear neither a pasha nor a bey, not even a coming envoy, I believe God that he will not contradict it. But this is how we will do it, you beastly, infidel, wicked, beastly son of a harlot: let us go together to a combat field, and let no Hungarian soldier come to you, and let no Turkish soldier come to me, and let us go there with arms and teeth, until one man kills the other, and the other is put out of the world.

What you sent me (*a pig’s tail, my note), you infidel, beastly, evil son of a whore, I didn’t deserve, but your father did, and so did you; it seems you cut off your own tail and sent it here. Now your name is no longer Pisky István, but a pig with a curt tail. By this, it is known that you are a false, infidel, wicked son of a slut. You write in your letter that the Csirjum and the Abdi Harambasas would not have gone under the castle as long as the ice held. But bad dog, we can prove with the soldiers of Simontornya and the Hashan agha that they went there, but you dared not come out because you were not man enough.

You false, infidel dog, you also write that I had no barley to keep the horse, so I gave it to you. You know, beastly dog, that the horse was not mine, but was bought with money by poor Osabasa Kaszafer, for the ransom of his own head, and that is why he brought it to you. If you did not love the horse, why did you not keep it and send it home? Lying, infidel son of a whore! If there is a Csirák’s horse in my letter, you will have to wait for it from me, but if there is no Csirák’s horse in my letter, you will not ask for it from me. Even if it were in it, unclean dog, I would not give it to you until I had fought with you.

When you have seen this letter, thou infidel dog and wicked, thou beastly son of a whore, give me your choice as to what hour and where thou wilt have me fight; and I will go all the way.

God is with me. It was written in Koppány on March 2, 1589.
This is not your friend,
Ibrahim Agha, the standard bearer of the mighty Turkish emperor in Endréd”.

Hungarian reenactors

Finally, at the beginning of March, the two warriors met on the still very thick ice and fought with sabers from horseback. Pisky left one ear to complain about the duel, but he cut off Agha Ibrahim’s nose. Then they all went home to their castles and had a feast. Sadly, the half-eared brave captain of Tihany met a bad end. He was accused of robbing and murdering a tax collector and sentenced to death. He was executed in due time because it was the king’s money and it was not advisable to take it.

The role of Tihany after 1594

When Győr castle fell to the Turks in 1594, several garrisons abandoned their castles in the region, and the soldiers of Tihany did the same. According to the contemporary report of Gersei Pethő Gergely, the smaller castles’ defenders got so frightened that they left Bodonyhely, Pápa, Csesznek, Vázsony, and Tihany castles. Seeing their departure, the Ottomans took the castles and put garrisons in them. When Veszprém was taken back by the Christians in August 1598, the Turk garrison of Veszprém went to Tihany castle but they surrendered it a few days later to the Imperials. During the four years of Turk rule, no fortifications or buildings were built in Tihany. 

Tihany in 1687

There was a European traveler called Martin Zeiler who visited Tihany between 1630 and 1640. He wrote: “…Tihany is a small castle with 50-60 Christian guards in it. It is situated in a nice and high place, on the island of Lake Balaton, it has just one gate, and there are no farm buildings or a courtyard. … By the way, they have a ploughland on the island, there are lots of fish in the lake, and there is a nice vine hill nearby but it has been abandoned by the peasants.

A gunshot away there is a good spring well, and next to it there are old chambers carved into the cliff, rooms, kitchen, cellar, chapel, table, and bed… (the hermits had used them*). András, a Hungarian king liked to stay in this region, and he had a church built along with a chapel of marble pillars, he was buried there. His grave was covered with red marble stone up to knee-high. However, the church is presently used as a stable of horses, and they keep hay and straw in the chapel.”

Tihany 1667

Captain Karasics Mátyás of Tihany wrote a letter to Gorup Ferenc, the Provost of Veszprém at the end of 1650. He complained about the great damage done by bandits on both banks of Lake Balaton. These criminals must have been stray Hajdú soldiers. Karasics suggested that the guards of the castles should ambush them. 


The next piece of information is from 1654 when the warriors of Tihany sold an injured Ottoman prisoner of war to Chief Captain Csáky Ferenc of Veszprém, in exchange for 500 gold Forints. Unfortunately, the captive died soon in Veszprém but the soldiers did not want to give the money back. In answer to that, Csáky imprisoned those warriors of Tihany who had been involved in the business. 

Hungarian Hajdú soldiers (by Somogyi Győző)

The ambush at Tihany Castle, 22 August 1657

We can read the letter of Eszterházy János, Vice-Captain of Győr Castle, written three days after the military clash, addressed to General of the Trans-Danubian army, Batthyány Ádám:
„It was on the 22nd day of this present month that the Turks of Somogy and from the Borderland castles of (Lake) Balaton area joined forces, more than 200 men in four war boats had crossed (the lake) and got off at Tihany Castle on the land and they hid close to the castle, leaving behind 50 of them to guard the war boats.
Hungarian boaters (by Somogyi Győző)
When the men in Tihany discovered them, they joined forces with 30 lads from Veszprém who were in a nearby village, and then, at first, they fell on the Turks guarding the war boats. The enemy took on boats and fled on the water but they could kill a few of them.
When the rest of the heathens who were hiding on the mainland noticed it, they set out to help their mates but they ran headlong into our men. As they were not able to suffer the force, after a proper time of struggle, also fled. The Hajdú soldiers were on their backs, gaining the Turks’ flags, drums, and flutists, cutting down 25 of the enemy, capturing 85 of them alive with God’s help, including the renegades (“pribék”).
Hungarian war boat (by Somogyi Győző)
The rest of the Turks perished in water or blood. We lost seven who fell and got twenty wounded. I have wanted to make Your Lordship happy with this news of good luck, wishing that God may grant Your Lordship to make lots of heathen enemies flee, keeping Your Lordship (in good health) for the sake of our Homeland for a long time.” (Read the Hungarian archaic text at the end of the article before the Gallery.)
The area of Lake Balaton, 17th-century
As we can see, the raid launched by the Turks resulted in the victory of the warriors of Tihany and Veszprém castles.
In fact, the attackers have lost half of their unit (in dead and injured people) while the Hungarians lost only seven men and 20 wounded. Capturing 85 Turks was a significant gain. My note: because the Borderland warriors were usually unpaid or badly paid so they needed the income from the captives’ ransom.
Western mercenaries in Hungary (by Somogyi Győző)

Emperor Leopold issued an order in December 1671 and dismissed 8,000 Hungarian Borderland warriors from the royal castles. At that time, there were 11,000 soldiers on the king’s pay. Regarding Tihany castle, the number of the garrison of 70 guards was reduced to 45 men.

The lands occupied by the “kuruc” troops of Thököly (blue field)

The war against the Ottomans was renewed in 1683 when Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa set out to take Vienna with his 100,000 soldiers. We know, that the Turks could never have reached the walls of Vienna if Prince Thököly Imre had not made it possible by letting them go. Thököly wanted to balance the power between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs to achieve his goal of uniting Hungary. He sent a letter from Dárda to the Borderland warriors of the Trans-Danubian Region on 12 June 1683 in which he called them to join the anti-Habsburg “kuruc” troops. Read more about this age here:


Prince Thököly Imre of Upper Hungary and Transylvania (1657-1705)

In the meantime, the Austrian troops abandoned Hungary to the Turks and withdrew to Vienna. The Hungarian noblemen in the Trans-Danubian Region, including aristocrats like Batthyány Kristóf and Ádám, got into a grave situation, and they took the side of Thököly. Many Borderland castles like Veszprém, Tihany, Vázsony, Csobánc, Keszthely, Szigliget, and Tapolca opened their gates before Thököly. Thököly thought that the Turks could take Vienna and keep it temporarily, then they would withdraw just like they had done in the case of Buda castle in 1526. 

Tihany in 1822

We never know what would have happened because the army of Kara Mustafa received a serious defeat at Vienna, and the star of Thököly was declining. The rebel “kuruc”-Ottoman troops left the castles in the Lake Balaton area without a fight in September 1683. The name of the last captain of Tihany was Csornai Máté in 1700. 

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

When the Ottomans were driven out of the country, the Habsburgs did not allow the old owners to take their lands back unless they paid a high fee in exchange for the “liberation” of the land. The Benedictines could not pay this sum for Tihany to the king so Emperor Leopold gave the Abbey to Abbot Raymund von Regond of Altenburg in 1701. The Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma could buy Tihany back only in 1716.

Tihany castle Source: Szöllösi Gábor

According to the records of the Chief Captain of Győr castle, there were 10 cavalrymen and 45 infantrymen in Tihany castle in 1700 and 1701. Emperor Leopold issued an order in 1702, that aimed to demolish most of the Borderland castles in fear of a Hungarian uprising. The walls of Tihany castle were pulled down in that year, accordingly. The soldiers of the garrison settled in the village of Tihany, and they became the peasants of the Abbot. Thus, they lost their privileges. However, the soldiers rebelled against the new rule, occupied the Abbey, and chased away the Abbot in 1704. Two years later, they joined the rebelling “kuruc” forces at Füred, they served under the command of Bercsényi Miklós. 

Lavender fields in Tihany

 Source: Partly by Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós; Forum Hungaricum 

Here is the lettrer of Batthyány Ádám in Hungarian:

„Ez jelen való holnapnak 22-dik napján, az Somogybúl és Balaton melléki végházbúl együvé gyűlt törökök, kétszáznál többen négy sajkával általjöttek volt, és Tihannál kiszállván az szárazra, csak közel állottak bé az várhoz lesben, ötvent hagyván közzüllök meg az sajkák őrzésére.

Ezt midőn a’ tihaniak észben vették volna egy közel lévő faluban, akkoron megszállván harminc veszprémi legénnyel conjugálták magokat [összefogtak], s elsőben az sajka őrző törökökre ütöttek, melyeket csakhamar az víznek futamtattak, elejtvén bennek ennihányat.

Észben vévén pediglen ezt az szárazon leselkedő pogánság, midőn társaiknak segétségére indultak volna, egybe kapván az mieinkkel és nem szenvedhetvén az erőt, alkalmas ideig tartó ellenkezések után azok is megfutamodtak, kiknek mind hátokon volt az hajdúság, zászlóikat, dobjaikat, sípossát elnyervén, megokban huszonötöt vágtanak le és nyolcvanötöt adott Isten elevenen pribékekkel együtt rabul kezekben, a’ többi ki vízben, ki vérben veszett.

Az mieinkben heten estek, húszan sebesedtek meg. Ezen jó szerencsének híreivel akarám Nagyságodat örvendeztetnem, kívánván, hogy sok pogány ellenség confutióját [megfutamodását] engedje Isten Nagyságodnak érhetni [meg], megtartván Hazánkért sokáig.”

Hungarian reenactors in Eger castle

Here is the Hungarian letter of Ibrahim in 1589:

„Ibrahim, balatonendrédi zászlósaga levele Pisky István, tihanyi várkapitánynak
Koppány, 1589. március 2.
Adassék az hazug, tekéletlen, hitetlen, bestye kurvafiának, Pisky Istvánnak Tihonba, tulajdon kezibe.
Te, hamis hitető, hitetlen, bestye rossz kurvafi, eb, ország kóborlója, nem Pisky István, hanem Kurvafi István és kurvafia az te neved; az volt, az van is, az légyen.
Bestye, hitetlen kurvafi, talánd azt tudtad, hogy én Konstáncinápolyba mentem tetőled való féltemben, bestye kurvafia, azért utánom ilyen levelet írtál? De bestye, hitetlen kurvafi, ha az jégen nem lött, mert énnékem nem írtad, és énnékem tudtomra nem volt, hogy jégen köll megvíni; de immár most értem, mi az akaratod. Készen vagyok, bestye kurvafi, és ezelőtt is kész voltam, de te nem voltál ember hozzá, hanem rossz kurvafi voltál. Azért, ha holnap akarod, vagy holnapután akarod, én itt készen vagyok, valamikor te akarod.
Én az agaságot másnak eladtam, sem bégtől, sem basától nem tartok, ha követ jöjjön is, hiszem az Istent, hogy ellent nem tart róla. Hanem így víjonk, bestye, hitetlen, rossz, bestye kurvafi: egy korlátba ketten menjünk bé, sem tehozzád magyar vitézek ne mehessenek, sem énhozzám török vitézek ne jöhessenek, és ott fegyverrel lehet is, foggal lehet is mindaddig víjonk, hogy egyik az másikat kivégezze az világbúl.
Azmit énnékem köldtél, bestye, hitetlen, rossz kurvafi, nem érdemlém én azt, de az te aggott apád az volt, te is az vagy; te magad farkadat elmetszted és azt köldted ide. Immár az te neved nem Pisky István, hanem kurta disznó. Erről ismérszik meg, hogy hamis, hitetlen, rossz kurvafi vagy. Leveledbe írsz, hogy az Csirjum és az Abdi harambasa nem ment volna oda az vár alá, meddig az jég tartott. De rossz eb, mi azt megbizonyétjok simontornyai vitézekkel és az Hasszán agával, hogy ők odamentek, de te nem mertél kijönni, mert nem voltál ember hozzá.
Te hamis hitetlen eb, azt is írod, hogy nem volt árpám, mivel tartsam azt az lovat, azért odaádtam tenéked. Tudod, bestye eb, hogy az az ló nem enyim volt, hanem az szegín Kaszafer odabasa pénzen vette volt, az őmaga feje váltságaért, úgy vitte tenéked. Immár, ha az lovat nem szeretted, miérthogy őmagát meg nem tartottad, és az lovat haza nem köldted? Hazug, hitetlen kurvafi! És az én levelembe, ha az Csirák lova vagyon, tehát éntőlem megvárd, ha kedig Csirák lova az én hitlevelembe nincsen, tehát azt éntőlem ne kérd. Ha szintén benne volna is, tekéletlen eb, addig néked nem adnám, még véled meg nem vínám.
Ez levelet látván, te hitetlen eb és rossz, bestye kurvafi, énnékem választot ádj, mely órában és hol akarod, hogy megvíjonk; én is mindjárást elmégyek.
Isten vélem. Költ Koppánbúl, 2. Martii, Anno 1589.
Az te nem barátod,
Ibrahim aga, az hatalmas török császár zászlósagája Endrédbe.”
On the left: a Hungarian reenactor, dressed like a Turk (Tata)

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Here are a few pictures of Tihany and its fortifications: