The most distinctive weapon of the hussars is the spear-like weapon known as the kopja, probably a word of South Slavic origin. At the end of the 15th century, a source recorded: ‘unam lanceam wlgo copia’ – (wlgo = vulgo), i.e. ‘a spear’, or ‘kopja’ in common parlance. At the beginning of the 16th century, a thin, rhomboid metal spike with an elongated spine was mounted on a wooden shaft about 4 meters long, which gradually tapered towards the tip.
The Hungarian National Museum owns the only intact kopja in Hungary, made at the beginning of the 17th century. The handle is made of pine wood and is 405 cm long. At 90 cm from the end of the handle, there is a pressed wooden ball, which was not carved out of the handle material but stretched over it. It was designed to hold the hand when thrusting.
The handle is decorated with green and red bands all around. The head is 16.5 cm long and the blade has a square section. The spout is 8.5 cm long. The spout is attached to the handle with a nail. Immediately below it, two triangular flags of red and green linen are riveted to the shaft. When held upright it is very light, but when held horizontally it is not easy to handle.
From the middle of the 16th century, the points of the lances were modified and the blades, with a rhomboid section, took on a long square shape that gradually tapered. The nozzle became shorter and conical. This is what Tinódi wrote about the kopja in his poem ‘The Bravery of Terek János of Enying’:
Its English translation is the next:
“While his good horse was being wiped by his master,
Until Kardos Józsa picked up his wood,
He broke his kopja in the Turk,
And the Turk took his iron from his shoulders.
And a hussar came up and tried to push him,
He jumped in fear, the kopja missed,
He cut two inches into the horse’s backside”.
„Míg jó lovát úrfi megtörölgeté,
Addég Kardos Józsa fáját felveté,
A terekben ő kopjáját eltöré,
Vasát vállából az terek kivevé.
Juta meg egy huszár, öklelni akará,
Félön szököllék, kopja héban jára,
Egyet terek szablyával hozzácsapa,
Az ló farán fél singit vágott vala.”
The tip of the head often broke off and remained in the opponent’s body, as Tinódi sang. The breaking of the pole was also common, as it had a maximum diameter of 4 cm. It was not for nothing that jousting was often called ‘kopja-breaking’.
The famous kopja wound of Baksa Márk
Baksaházi Baksa Márk (in some sources Marcus Baxam, Baksa Márkus, Baci György or Baxi Gergely, Gregor Baci, the Western European version of his name Baxa Márk; 16th-17th century) was a Hungarian soldier who became famous for his wound in 1598, which was immortalized in numerous works of art.
There are very few sources about the life and deeds of Baksa Márk. The first authentic report about him is that he was famously wounded during the siege of Győr Castle in 1598. According to the story, a Turkish soldier’s kopja pierced his skull, shattering his right eye and piercing his head. The point of the weapon protruded from the back of his head or neck, some sources say through the neck below his left ear.
Despite this, the soldier managed to survive his wound and later took part in other battles in the Fifteen Years’ War (1591/93-1606); chronicles say that he survived his wound for a year. The soldier’s wounds and endurance became known throughout Europe.
The formidable Hussar assault
At the beginning of the battle, the hussars launched a fierce charge with their kopjas pointed forward, and after using the weapon once, they took out another. The broken point and handle were a practical solution, keeping the horseman in the saddle.
General Basta praised the Kopjás Lancers but criticized the onslaught of tightly packed, wave-like units. Most of them, he said, had no contact with the enemy. He said that smaller units of up to 100 hussars should be formed, surrounding the enemy and attacking from all sides. You can read more about the strategy of the Hungarian cavalrymen here:
The kopja was therefore a disposable object, the replacement of which was particularly important for the military arsenal in Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau). Weapons were sent from Kassa to the outlying castles, where they were stored en masse, and during campaigns, they were transported by wagonload to the army. The shield makers in Kassa made the shields, perhaps because the disc shields and kopja poles were also made of pine.
In 1589 Bornemissza Imre, the captain of Tokaj Castle, ordered 100 kopjas for his castle for 28 forints 88 denarii, in 1613 Forgách Zsigmond, the chief captain of Upper Hungary, bought 168 kopjas for 55 forints 40 denarii and 44 kopjas for 7 forints 92 denarii. In 1642 in Sárospatak there were 42 ‘golden’ and 862 ‘rimaszombat’ kopjas, as well as 518 iron kopja tips, of which 326 were tinned against the weather. They were also made abroad, for example in Milan.
The word kopja was used regularly in the 17th century, and at the beginning of the century, the word kopja was the same as the Hungarian word for a soldier on horseback. From the middle of the century, however, the weapon was used less and less, and the poet and general Zrínyi Miklós criticized it. Its role was taken over by the “estoch” or “tőrkard” (a long sword used to pierce armor), and the number of firearms increased significantly. At the same time, during the Rákóczi War of Independence, the kopja reappeared in the hands of the cavalry and was used until the end of the war.
On the horse, the hussar would either attach his kopja to the stirrup in a metal holder or place it in a pouch attached to the saddle. He held the weapon with his right hand, so it was the first weapon used in battle.
Source: Nádasdy Ferenc Bandérium
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