Hungarian defenders in Belgrade (1456) part of the Ottoman Wars in Europe
| Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Croatia
|Commanders and leaders|
| King of Hungary
Voivode of Wallachia
Voivode of Moldavia
|~20,000–60,000||Capable of raising 100,000 men|
The Ottoman–Hungarian Wars were a series of battles between the Ottoman Empire and the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. Following the Byzantine Civil War, the Ottoman capture of Gallipoli and the decisive Battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman Empire seemed poised to conquer the whole of the Balkans. However, the Ottoman invasion of Serbia drove Hungary to war against the Ottomans, competing for the vassalship of the states of Serbia, Wallachia and Moldavia.
Initial Hungarian success culminated in the Crusade of Varna, though without significant outside support the Hungarians were defeated. Nonetheless the Ottomans suffered more defeats at Belgrade, even after the conquest of Constantinople. In particular, the infamous Vlad the Impaler who, with limited Hungarian help, resisted Ottoman rule until the Ottomans placed his brother, a man less feared and less hated by the populace, on the throne of Wallachia. Ottoman success was once again halted at Moldavia due to Hungarian intervention, but the Turks finally succeeded when Moldavia and then Belgrade fell to Bayezid II and Suleiman the Magnificent, respectively. In 1526 the Ottomans crushed the Hungarian army at Mohács with King Louis II of Hungary perishing along with 14,000 of his foot soldiers. Following this defeat, the eastern region of the Kingdom of Hungary (mainly Transylvania) became an Ottoman tributary state, constantly engaged in civil war with Royal Hungary. The war continued with the Habsburgs now asserting primacy in the conflict with Suleiman and his successors. The northern and western parts of Hungary managed to remain free from Ottoman rule, but the Kingdom of Hungary, the most powerful state east of Vienna under Matthias II, was now divided and at constant war with the Turks.
- 1 Background
- 2 Balkan and Turkish wars of Louis the Great
- 3 Timur and the Ottoman Interregnum
- 4 Campaigns of Murad II, 1421–1451
- 5 Campaigns of John Hunyadi
- 6 Turkish wars of Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490)
- 7 Wallachian and Moldavian wars
- 8 Bayezid II, 1481–1512
- 9 Campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520–1566
- 10 References
In the century after the death of Osman I in 1326, Ottoman rule began to extend over the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. The important city of Thessaloniki was captured from the Venetians in 1387, and the Turkish victory at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 effectively marked the end of Serbian power in the region, paving the way for Ottoman expansion into the rest of Europe.
Balkan and Turkish wars of Louis the Great
Louis and his 80,000 strong army repelled the Serbian Dušan's armies in the duchies of Mačva and principality of Travunia in 1349. When Czar Dušan broke into Bosnian territory he was defeated by Bosnian Stjepan II with the assistance of Louis' troops, and when Dušan made a second attempt he was decisively beaten by Louis in 1354. The two monarchs signed a peace agreement in 1355.
His latter campaigns in the Balkans were aimed not so much at conquest and subjugation as at drawing the Serbs, Bosnians, Wallachians and Bulgarians into the fold of the Roman Catholic faith and at forming a united front against the Turks. It was relatively easy to subdue the Balkan Orthodox countries by arms, but to convert them was a different matter. Despite Louis' efforts, the peoples of the Balkans remained faithful to the Eastern Orthodox Church and their attitude toward Hungary remained ambiguous. Louis annexed Moldavia in 1352 and established a vassal principality there, before conquering Vidin in 1365. The rulers of Serbia, Walachia, Moldavia, and Bulgaria became his vassals. They regarded powerful Hungary as a potential menace to their national identity. For this reason, Hungary could never regard the Serbs and Wallachians as reliable allies in subsequent wars against the Turks.
In the spring of 1365, Louis headed a campaign against the Bulgarian Tsardom of Vidin and its ruler Ivan Sratsimir. He seized the city of Vidin on 2 May 1365; the region was under Hungarian rule until 1369.
In 1366 Byzantine Emperor John V visited Hungary to beg for help against the Ottoman Turks, who were in increasing conflict with the Balkan vassal states. Louis defeated the Turks when Hungarian and Turkish troops clashed for the first time in history at Nicapoli in 1366. He defeated the Turkish army in Wallachia in 1374.
The Battle of Nicopolis (25 September 1396) is thought to be the first large-scale encounter between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, where a broad alliance of Christian monarchs and the Knights Hospitaller were defeated by a numerically superior Turkish army (the Ottomans had also enlisted the support of their new vassal, the Serbian Despotate).
Timur and the Ottoman Interregnum
Despite these successes the Ottomans were dealt a major setback when at Ankara in 1402 Timur of the Chagatai Khanate captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid the Thunderbolt (so named for the speed of his crushing victories against his Christian opponents, most notably at Nicopolis). After a decade of internecine battles, Mehmed I emerged victorious and reestablished the Ottoman Empire, although under the suzerainty of the Byzantine Emperor.
Campaigns of Murad II, 1421–1451
Murad II, the successor to Mehmed I, proved to be a man of far greater military skills then his peaceful predecessor. In 1422, no longer professing suzerainty to the Byzantines, he laid siege to Constantinople, which narrowly avoided becoming an Ottoman conquest.
With Byzantium no longer a threat, Murad II began his war against his Christian opponents, attacking Macedonia and capturing Thessalonika from the Venetians in 1430. Between 1435 and 1436 the Ottomans made a show of strength in Albania, but the country survived due to intervention from the Kingdom of Hungary, whose borders now neared those of the Ottoman Empire.
Campaigns of John Hunyadi
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2012)|
In the 1440s and 1450s, the Hungarian military leader John Hunyadi became the key architect of campaigns against the Ottoman Empire. In 1441 he scored a pitched battle victory at Semendria over Ishak Bey. The following year, he annihilated an Ottoman force invading Transylvania at Sibiu. Following this victory, Wallachia again accepted the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Hungary. With the help of knights from western Europe, Hunyadi succeeded in capturing Nis on November 3, 1443, defeating another Turkish army as they crossed the Balkan Mountains and then taking another victory on Christmas Day. Because supplies for the Crusader army were low, Hunyadi concluded a ten-year peace treaty with Murad II, presumably on Hunyadi's terms, for it was the triumphant Hungarian that entered Buda in February 1444. Ten years was the maximum time permitted by Islamic law for a treaty with an "infidel". The peace was short lived, as Cardinal Julian Cesarini incited the Hungarians to break the treaty and attack the Turks once more. However, much of the Crusader armies' strength had been reduced due to the loss (by defection) of Serbia, Albania and the Byzantine Empire.
Battle of Varna
The Crusader army attacked across the Danube. Murad, upon hearing of the Christian breach of the treaty, is said to have mounted the broken treaty on his standard and said the words, "Christ, if you are God as your followers claim, punish them for their perfidy". The two armies met on November 10, 1444 near Varna in eastern Bulgaria. Accounts vary as to how many troops were present but the Crusaders may have been 30,000 strong whilst the Ottoman forces were two to three times larger. Nonetheless, Hunyadi's successful defense wagons held the line until King Ladislas led a charge to his death against the Turkish lines. His head was mounted on a spear where all the defeated Crusaders could see it. Few Crusaders survived the battle, although Hunyadi did escape with his life.
The Hungarians recovered their strength after Varna and Hunyadi was able to lead another expedition down the Danube. Turkish counter-attacks saw this "crusade" driven back. After Murad dealt with the Greeks at the Peloponesse and others who had fought him at Varna, he turned his attention to Albania, whose leader, once an Ottoman hostage, was now a popular resistance leader. Hunyadi could not refuse an offer to fight the Turks and in 1448 an army of some 24,000 Hungarians marched south into Serbia. At the Second Battle of Kosovo Murad scored another victory against the Hungarians. This time, Hunyadi had had enough and was unable to campaign against the Ottoman Sultan. Murad II passed on his powers to his successor, Mehmed II. Thanks to such victories, the Ottoman forces were able to capture Constantinople in 1453 with only the Italians offering minimal support to the Byzantines.
Battle of Belgrade (1456)
Meanwhile, the Ottoman issue had again become acute, and, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it seemed natural that Sultan Mehmed II was rallying his resources to subjugate Hungary. His immediate objective was Nándorfehérvár (today Belgrade). Nándorfehérvár was a major castle-fortress, and a gatekeeper of south Hungary. The fall of this stronghold would have opened a clear way to the heart of Central Europe. Hunyadi arrived at the Siege of Belgrade at the end of 1455, after settling differences with his domestic enemies. At his own expense, he restocked the supplies and arms of the fortress, leaving in it a strong garrison under the command of his brother-in-law Mihály Szilágyi and his own eldest son László Hunyadi. He proceeded to form a relief army, and assembled a fleet of two hundred ships. His main ally was the Franciscan friar, Giovanni da Capistrano, whose fiery oratory drew a large crusade made up mostly of peasants. Although relatively ill-armed (most were armed with farm equipment, such as scythes and pitchforks) they flocked to Hunyadi and his small corps of seasoned mercenaries and cavalry.
On July 14, 1456 the flotilla assembled by Hunyadi destroyed the Ottoman fleet. On July 21, Szilágyi's forces in the fortress repulsed a fierce assault by the Rumelian army, and Hunyadi pursued the retreating forces into their camp, taking advantage of the Turkish army's confused flight from the city. After fierce but brief fighting, the camp was captured, and Mehmet raised the siege and returned to Constantinople. With his flight began a 70 year period of relative peace on Hungary's southeastern border.
However, plague broke out in Hunyadi's camp three weeks after the lifting of the siege, and he died on August 11. He was buried inside the (Roman Catholic) Cathedral of Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvár), next to his younger brother John. Sultan Mehmet II paid him tribute: "Although he was my enemy I feel grief over his death, because the world has never seen such a man."
During the battle, Pope Callixtus III had ordered the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon, as a call for believers to pray for the defenders of Belgrade. However, in many countries (like England and the Spanish kingdoms), news of the victory arrived before the order, and the ringing of the church bells at noon thus transformed into a commemoration of the victory. The pope never withdrew the order, and many Catholic and older Protestant churches still ring the noon bell to this day.
Turkish wars of Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490)
Hunyadi's son Matthias Corvinus was crowned king in Buda in 1458 at the age of 15. In 1471 Matthias renewed the Serbian Despotate in south Hungary under Vuk Grgurević for the protection of the borders against the Ottomans. In 1479 an Ottoman army, on its return home from ravaging Transylvania, was annihilated at Szászváros (modern Orăştie, 13 October 1479) in the Battle of Breadfield. The following year Matthias recaptured Jajce, drove the Ottomans from northern Serbia and instituted two new military banats, Jajce and Srebernik, from reconquered Bosnian territory.
In 1480 an Ottoman fleet seized Otranto in the Kingdom of Naples. At the earnest solicitation of the pope Matthias sent the Hungarian general, Balázs Magyar, to recover the fortress, which surrendered on 10 May 1481. Again in 1488, Matthias took Ancona under his protection for a while, occupying it with a Hungarian garrison.
Wallachian and Moldavian wars
Vlad the Impaler and war with Wallachia, 1456–1475
Mehmed II's post-Constantinople troubles escalated further when the Balkan principality of Wallachia under Count Vlad III Dracul rebelled against the Ottoman Empire and declared the King of Hungary as his suzerain. The main drive for these actions was Vlad's return to his homeland after being in exile as a hostage of the Ottoman sultan. In 1461, five years after his return, Vlad initiated war with the Turks when he impaled the Turkish ambassadors demanding tribute from him and took the fortress of Giurgiu. Vlad then began a bloody assault across the Danube to the Black Sea, destroying as many of the ports as he could to prevent Ottoman naval attacks. Ottoman attempts to subdue Vlad militarily proved a failure, but his cruelty, which had terrorized his enemies, proved to be his undoing. When Mehmed offered the populace the choice of Vlad or his brother Radu, the populace chose Radu and soon Vlad was again an exile on the run. An attempt to return a few years afterwards ended in his death in battle.
Stephen the Great and war against Moldavia, 1475–1476
Mehmed's army seems to have spent itself in Wallachia for the campaign against the Moldavians was shorter and yielded poorer results. In 1475 Mehmed ordered an invasion of Moldavia. Again, the Ottomans often took possession of the field but Moldavian hit-and-run tactics proved effective against the Turks. Poor roads further slowed the Ottomans until Stephen the Great was able to concentrate his forces at Vaslui. An Ottoman offensive was held in check and then finally driven from the field on 10 January 1475.
The Ottomans returned in 1476, this time assisted by their allies from Crimea, the Tartars and their newly conquered Vassal of Wallachia. Stephen knew that he did not have the resources to defend his people and evacuated them to the mountains. After a failed attack on the Ottoman vanguard Stephen seemed on the brink of defeat when King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary offered assistance. The Ottomans withdrew when the Hungarians began moving in and fighting did not resume until 1484.
Bayezid II, 1481–1512
The early reign of Bayezid II included a small civil war against his brother Jem, who escaped to the west. There European leaders entertained ideas of installing a pro-Western sultan while sending a crusade to the Balkans. Consequently, Bayezid did not incite any serious wars with his Christian opponents until his brother's death in 1495. In the meantime Bayezid signed a ten-year peace with Hungary in 1484, although this did not prevent a defeat of an Ottoman army at Villach in 1493. Between 1484 and 1486 Bayezid campaigned annually against Moldavia in an attempt to subdue it and link up with Crimea, his Muslim vassal and ally. Despite two defeats in 1485 and 1486 Moldavia was subjugated. As Bayezid's reign drew to a close he was entangled in a civil war between his sons Ahmed and Selim. Eventually Selim took the throne in 1512 and for the next eight years continued minor conquests in the west, although his main achievement was the conquest of the Mamluke Sultanate. It would be Selim's successor, Suleiman who would continue the war against Hungary.
Campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520–1566
Suleiman the Magnificent resumed the war against Hungary by attacking the city of Belgrade, the same settlement that had defied Mehmed II over half a century ago. Despite strong resistance, the city fell to Suleiman. In 1522 Suleiman took his army to a strategically successful siege of Rhodes, allowing the Knights Hospital to evacuate for the fort.
Battle of Mohács
When Suleiman launched an invasion in 1526 the Grand Vizier constructed a great bridge ahead of the Sultan allowing his army to march into Hungary. Despite eighty days of marching and taking five days to cross the Danube River, the Ottomans met no resistance from the Hungarians. The original plan of Hungarian King Louis II had been to send a vanguard to hold the Danube where the Ottomans were expected to cross, yet the nobles of the Kingdom refused to follow the King's deputy in battle, claiming that they did so out of zealous allegiance to the King (and would therefore only follow him). Consequently, when King Louis II took the field his army of 26,000 men seemed to be doomed to fail against the Ottomans' 100,000. At Mohács the plains of Hungary allowed the heavier Christian knights to launch an effective charge. As the Hungarian knights brushed aside first the Akinjis and then the Sipahis, the Ottoman cavalry regrouped and flanked the knights. However, the Sultan placed his Janissaries and cannon chained up as an effective last line of defense. The Hungarian cavalry took serious casualties from the skilfully handled Turkish artillery. With the cavalry annihilated, the infantry suffered immense casualties as the weight of numbers of the Ottomans and their skill in battle took their toll. When Suleiman the Magnificent found the body of the dead Louis II he is said to have been disappointed at cutting down the youth, who had no heirs.
Aftermath of Mohács
John Zápolya, who had been instructed by Louis II to raid the enemy's supply lines, arrived at the battle too late and fled the scene. Suleiman, however, was not ready to annex the Kingdom completely into the Ottoman realm and so Zápolya was installed as the vassal King of Hungary. Meanwhile, at the Diet of Bratislava Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was declared King of Hungary. The surviving nobles of Hungary now had to choose between pledging allegiance to a native vassal of Suleiman and a Christian "foreigner".
After Zapolya's death
Zápolya would rule Hungary until his death in 1540. Following his demise, Hungary was split into three parts. The north-west (present-day Slovakia, western Transdanubia and Burgenland, western Croatia and parts of north-eastern present-day Hungary) remained under Habsburg rule; although initially independent, later it became a part of the Habsburg Monarchy under the informal name Royal Hungary. The Habsburg Emperors would from then on be also crowned as Kings of Hungary.
The eastern part of the kingdom (Partium and Transylvania) became at first an independent principality, but gradually was brought under Turkish rule as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. The remaining central area (most of present-day Hungary), including the capital of Buda, became a province of the Ottoman Empire.
- The Kingdom ceased to exist as a de facto sovereign country after Mohacs but the Habsburg rulers remained the legitimate sovereign Kings of Hungary after the Diet of Bratislava
- Grant, R.G. (2005). Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley. p. 122. The Hungarians, with Vlad the Impaler had some 30,000 men whilst at Mohacs there was roughly 20,000 men
- In 1521, The Hungarian Royal army had an initial strength of 60,000
- Ion Grumeza: The Roots of Balkanization: Eastern Europe C.E. 500-1500, University Press of America, 2010 
- Божилов, Иван (1994). "Иван Срацимир, цар във Видин (1352–1353 — 1396)". Фамилията на Асеневци (1186–1460). Генеалогия и просопография (in Bulgarian). София: Българска академия на науките. pp. 202–203. ISBN 954-430-264-6. OCLC 38087158.
- Történelmi világatlasz [Historical Worldmaps] (Map). 1 : 10.000.000. Kartográfiai Vállalat. 1991. p. 112. § V. ISBN 963-351-696-X.
- Fenyvesi, László (1990). Mátyás Király fekete serege [The Black Army of King Matthias]. Hadtörténelem fiataknak (in Hungarian). Budapest, Hungary: Zrínyi Katonai Kiadó. ISBN 978-9633270172.
- Sources such as this Stephen, Turnbull (2003). The Ottoman Empire 1326–1699. New York: Osprey. p. 46. support this number, other suggest a smaller number of 60,000