Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars


Photo: David Sallay

The castle of Eger (Erlau in German) is in north Hungary. As it is, after long hesitation I added it to the Ottoman Occupied Lands because after a heroic period it was taken by the Ottomans, after all. Eger was guarding the roads toward the mining cities in the west of Upper Hungary and to the east, to the great city of Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau). Look at the animation video of the Pazirik Kft that shows us the construction of Eger before 1552:

Photo: H. Szabó Sándor

The city was already a bishop center in Saint Istvan’s age in 1009. Its stone castle was built after the year 1248. The famous wine production dates back to the 14th century, however, red wine was produced only later. During the Ottoman wars, the warriors drank white wine, unlike what the legend says. (Note, I use the Oriental name order for Hungarian names where family names come first.)

Enjoy this trailer:

The famous siege of Eger in 1552

In the autumn of 1552, Captain Dobó István and his 2200 soldiers were successful in defending the fortress and northern Hungary from the expanding Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army was led by Kara Achmed Pasha and numbered 35-40,000 men from the Rumelian army (and an Anatolian contingent) and the troops of Ahmed Pasha from Buda. The Ottomans had 16 zarbuzans (very large siege cannons) as well as 150 medium and smaller pieces of artillery and a fleet of two thousand camels, which proved to be highly useful in the collection and transportation of wood to the site used for the construction of temporary siege platforms.

The defenders had 6 large and about a dozen smaller cannons and about 300 trench guns with ample supplies of ammunition. During the siege, Dobó’s officer Bornemissza Gergely devised primitive but lethal grenades and powder keg-sized bombs to use against the attackers as well as a water-mill wheel packed with gunpowder which he rolled into the Ottoman ranks. His secret lay in the gunpowder not simply exploding but sparking even more fire. He loaded these weapons with oil, sulfur, and flint in order to shower the enemy with burning missiles.

Eger in 1595 (by Pazirik Ltd.)

The Ottomans had expected an easy victory, but the bravery of the castle’s defenders, as well as Dobó’s inspired leadership, resisted and repulsed repeated Ottoman assaults. Even after the storage tower containing 24 metric tons of black gunpowder exploded and caused extensive structural damage, the invaders still could not find a way into the castle compound. The defenders’ losses amounted to about one-third of their ranks, including those killed and permanently maimed in combat.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

There was significant in-fighting between the two Ottoman leaders, Pasha Ali and Pasha Ahmed. Ahmed was the senior and contributed twice as many troops to the united army, but Ali showed more strategic talent and proved his skill in artillery, heavily damaging the castle walls with his battery of just four large siege guns.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

During the siege, the Ottoman army ran out of gunpowder and cannonballs (which were carved out of marble) at least twice, limiting Ahmed’s use of heavy artillery for a week or more. The end of autumn arrived earlier than usual with heavy rain and freezing nighttime temperatures. Reduced rice rations and allegations of corruption among the officers caused discontent among the Ottoman troops. After 39 days of bloody, brutal, and intense fighting the Ottoman Army withdrew, beaten, and humiliated.

The tombstone of Dobó István (photo: Thaler Tamás)

Despite the failure at Eger, the Ottomans had no reason to lament the campaign of 1552, for they had taken Veszprém, Temesvár, Szolnok, and Lippa as well as some twenty-five Hungarian strongholds. Despite the difference in troop numbers, Eger’s strong walls and the high morale of its defenders allowed the fortress to withstand five major assaults and continuous cannon fire (excluding the ones stuck in the walls of the stronghold, almost 12,000 cannonballs landed inside the fortress before the siege ended).

The Women of Eger (by Székely Bertalan)

The women of Eger had also been taking their sizable part in fighting on the walls and their heroism has become legendary. (It was all the more humiliating for the Muslims.) The point was, that Dobó István and his soldiers successfully defended the fortress and it was the first time the Turks had been defeated after the Battle of Mohács in 1526. The famous Hungarian poet, Balassi Bálint also served here for a few years beginning in April 1578. After the victory, Dobó and his officers resigned, in order to protest King Ferdinand’s refusal to contribute any material help to the defense.

Eger castle
Photo: Imre Lánczi

The first writer of note to draw on the story was the Hungarian Renaissance poet and musician Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén (c. 1510–1556), whose account may have come partly from eyewitnesses. The siege can also be read in English because in the 19th century there was a Hungarian writer, Gárdonyi Géza, who wrote his novel, „Eclipse of the Crescent Moon”. 

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

Bornemissza Gergely was appointed to take over command of the fortress. He was later ambushed, captured, and hanged by the Ottomans. The fortress of Eger remained defiant of Ottoman attacks until 1596 when 7,000 defenders, mostly foreign mercenaries, capitulated to the Ottoman forces personally commanded by the Sultan, Mehmed III. The town remained in Ottoman hands for 91 years. The minaret, which was built at the end of the 17th century, preserves the memory of this period. Among all the buildings of this type, the minaret of Eger is found at the northernmost point of the former Ottoman Empire.

Photo: Kocsis Kadosa

During the Turkish occupation, Eger became the seat of a vilayet which is an Ottoman domain including several sanjaks. Churches were converted into mosques, the castle rebuilt, and other structures erected, including public baths and minarets. It was the northernmost city of the Ottoman Empire where one could see a minaret. The Ottoman warriors of Eger castle gained a formidable reputation in the area. 

Photo: Pudelek

The retaking of Eger castle in 1687

The „peaceful” period ended in the 1680s. After the unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683, the troops of the Holy League have been forcing the Ottoman conquerors out of the country step by step. Vác and Pest were liberated in 1684 and the inhabitants of Eger began to flee. The Imperial generals thought of surrounding Eger in the next year but the Chief General, Duke Charles of Lotharingia dismissed the plan. The castle was strong and it was far away from the main logistic lines (the Danube River) which made the situation of the besiegers difficult. Also, the possibility of a reinforcing Ottoman army had to be taken into consideration.
Charles V, Duke of Lorraine
The Chief General ordered his generals Peter Mercy, Donat Heissler, and Antonio Caraffa to surround Eger and Szolnok castles. The troops of Mercy and Heissler burned the Palisade Castle of Heves on 16-17 October 1685. On the next day, the three generals were joined by the soldiers of Petneházy Dávid and together they took Szolnok back. Right after this, Mercy marched near Eger Castle but he burned only a part of its city.
Eger in 1596
The taking of Eger Castle was planned in 1686 as well. Mercy and Caraffa didn`t cease to keep an eye on the biggest fort on the slope of the Bükk Mountain. The Imperials had all the peasants deported from the surrounding villages and banned everybody to sell or transport food into the castle of Eger. Yet, the Turks of Szeged city succeeded in carrying 400 wagons of supplies into the fort in July.
Hearing of this, Caraffa and Heissler approached the castle with 1,500 Hungarian Hussars and 1,000 German cavalrymen. These Hussars of Petneházy snared the defenders of the castle into a trap. The Turks were led to a valley nearby where they were surrounded and attacked. The Begler Bey of Eger, Pasha Oszmán fell there along with his 140 men, and 40 soldiers were captured. This was how the new Pasha, Rusztem was appointed.
Petneházy Dávid on the painting of Benczúr Gyula (1896)
After the taking of Buda Castle, the Imperial troops quickly gained ground in the Trans-Danubian Region and in the Great Plains of Hungary. As a result of this, Eger was cut off from the Ottoman Empire`s inner territories. Not being able to keep Hatvan Castle, its Turkish garrison set it on fire in the middle of September and all the inhabitants moved with them to Eger. You can read the details of how Buda was taken here:
There was again a debate among the Imperial generals about the plans in 1687 as Duke Charles of Lotharingia thought it would be more important to march against Belgrade aka Nándorfehérvár rather than besieging several forts like Eger. Nevertheless, he ordered General Caraffa to go and surround this important castle.
General Antonio Caraffa

Caraffa launched his troops from Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) at the beginning of April towards Eger which had been already watched by Hungarian light cavalry units in order to block the way of any wagons that might be carrying food into it. Lieutenant-colonel Count Giovanni Battista Doria was appointed as the leader of the army blockading the fort. His first troops arrived in June and they approached Eger from the south. Doria`s headquarters was located in the village of Maklár and he established his camp on a small hill that overlooked the city from the south.

Eger 1687
Eger 1687
The Hungarian troops of the Mining Town District were led by Vice-General Koháry István, who made camp in the western hills. That hill is now called „Hajdúhegy” (Hajdú-hill). The Hajdú soldiers and Hussars of Captain Gombos Imre trenched themselves in the north. (Now that part of the city of called „Sánc” aka „trench”.) Trenches were made on Almagyar Hill which overlooked the castle.
Eger 1687
The task of the soldiers in them was to repel the Turks if they sallied from the castle. The Ottomans did try to break out several times, it was such an occasion when Koháry`s right arm was hit by a bullet of a rifle when he was leading his men to push the Turks back into the castle. This injury has caused permanent paralysis of his arm. The lower part of his arm had to be amputated and he almost died of the injury, he had to be carried to Vienna. Later, he was the first Hungarian nobleman who began to use a special stamp seal with his signature etched in it.
Koháry István
In the meantime, the defenders were running out of food, the Pasha kept sending his secret letters to his supervisors, begging for supplies. As winter was approaching, all the inhabitants and the soldiers were starving. More and more of them died. Knowing their plight, Caraffa told Rusztem to surrender but he received no answer. Caraffa wrote him a letter again in November in which he acknowledged their valiant resistance but he described the overall situation of the Ottoman Empire, suggesting that there is no hope to get help. He demanded their surrender. Many would have accepted it but the fanatic soldiers decided not to give in. More and more soldiers deserted the castle and fled to the enemy. Bey Ali, the commander of the Ispahies paid a visit to the Imperial camp so as to start negotiations with Doria.
Eger in the 17th century
As Caraffa knew of the cruel conditions in the castle, he attempted to persuade the Pasha again. This time, the Pasha was considering the offer but demanded better conditions. He wanted to have the guarantee of the Habsburg monarch. Caraffa didn`t even want to hear of this. At last, the envoys of Pasha Rusztem came into the camp on 28 November to come to terms with Doria and the agreement was signed on 2 December. According to the document, the defenders were allowed to keep their weapons and were free to leave the castle. They were to be given armed safe-conduct until they could reach Temesvár Castle.
This cannon has recently been found in Eger, supposedly from 1687
Emperor Leopold was to confirm the agreement with his signature. As Caraffa was against the idea of involving the Emperor, he was in the negotiation in person. Caraffa sent his trusted man, the famous military engineer Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli to have a secret meeting with Pasha Rusztem in order to modify the agreement which was ready on 14 December. It was more precisely written than the previous one. As for the inhabitants, anyone was allowed to stay or leave except they could not bring away any military equipment from the castle.
Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli
The two military commanders ensured each other of their friendship. The Turks came out on 17 December. The Imperials gave them 250 wagons and escorted them to Várad Castle. Yet, many of the inhabitants and the soldiers decided to stay, later they became Christians. Eger had been in Ottoman hands for 91 years. According to the report of Castellain Buttler János sent to Vienna in 1700, the fort was not in good condition. As there was no money to rebuild it, it was decided to pull the whole castle down. The outer castle was diminished in 1702 but the inner castle has survived. There were only 413 houses in the area within the town walls which were habitable and most of these were occupied by leftover Turkish families. 
Episcopal Palace (Photo: Antissimo)

In the 1960s a famous film was made about this siege in Hungary but I have heard fake news that they are working on a new version in Hollywood now. I doubt there will be a new movie soon. Eger has become an emblem of national defense, a symbol of patriotic heroism, and the superiority of a national army over an unmotivated foreign mercenary force.

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Looking at the pictures taken in 2020-2021, there are still many things to complete in Eger Castle. Here are more photos of Eger castle, the first two sets were taken by Lánczi Imre and Ádám Attila in 2020-2021: