Ottoman–Hungarian Wars

Ottoman–Hungarian Wars
Ottoman-Hungarian Wars
Part of the Ottoman Wars in Europe
Battle of Nandorfehervar.jpg
Battle of Nándorfehérvár (now Belgrade, Serbia), Anachronistic Hungarian painting from the 19th century. In the middle Giovanni da Capistrano with the cross in his hand.
Date 1366 to 1526+[1]
Location Balkans and Kingdom of Hungary
Result partway Ottoman victory, Hungarian Kingdom partitioned
Hungarian allies:
Croatia Kingdom of Croatia
Serbia Serbian Despotate
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Hungary King of Hungary Ottoman Empire Ottoman Sultan
~20,000[2] - 60,000 [3] Capable of raising 100,000 men

The Ottoman-Hungarian War refers to 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, with the former having interests in the Balkans and competing for the vassalship of the Balkan states of Serbia, Bulgaria, 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 was the infamous Vlad the Impaler who with limited Hungarian help resisted Ottoman rule until the Ottomans were able to place 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 emerged triumphant at last 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) ceased as an independent power and served as 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 the 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 I, was now divided and at constant war with the Turks.



In the century after the death of Osman I, 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.

The Battle of Nicopolis is thought to be the first significant 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).

Balkan and Turkish wars of Louis the Great

Louis I of Hungary (King: 1342-1382)

In 1344 Wallachia and Moldavia became Louis's vassal.[4]

Louis with his ernomous 80.000 strong army repelled the Serbian Dušan's armies in vojvodine of Mačva and principality of Travunia in 1349. when Czar Dusan broke into Bosnian territory he was defeated by Bosnian Stjepan II with the assistance of King Louis' troops, and when Dušan made a second attempt he was decisively beaten by his luckier rival, King Louis the Great himself, in 1354.[5] The two monarchs signed the 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 looming Turkish menace. In 1366 John V Byzantine Emperor visited Hungary to beg for help against Turks. It was relatively easy to subdue Balkanian Orthodox countries by arms, but to convert them was a different matter. Despite Lajos' 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 her subsequent wars against the Turks. The Ottoman Turks confronted the Balkan vassal states ever more often. Louis defeated the Turks when Hungarian and Turkish troops clashed for the first time in history at Nicapoli in 1366. The Hungarian Chapel in the Cathedral at Aachen was built to commemorate this victory. He defeated the Turkish army in Wallachia in 1374.

In the spring of 1365, Louis I 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.[6]

Timur and the Ottoman Interregnum

Despite these successes the Ottomans would have to start all over from near-scratch when in 1402 Timur of the Chagatai Khanate captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid the Thunderbolt at Ankara, so named for the speed of his crushing victories against his Christian opponents, most notably at Nicopolis.

Campaigns of Murad II, 1421 - 1451

The Ottoman Empire seemed to have collapsed after 1402 but Murad II, the successor to Mehmed I proved to be a man of far greater ghazi skills then his peaceful predecessor whose appreciation of Byzantine assistance even made him go so far as to accept the Byzantine Emperor as his suzerain. Such an arrangement was out of all proportion to the powers of the two Empires, and in 1422 Murad II demonstrated how much of a "suzerain" the Emperor was to the Sultan when Constantinople narrowly escaped an Ottoman conquest

With Byzantium neutralized and terrified in servitude as a vassal, Murad II began his holy 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 total knock out when the Kingdom of Hungary, whose borders now neared those of the Ottoman realm intervened.

Campaigns of John Hunyadi

He received tempting offers from Pope Eugene IV, represented by the Legate Julian Cesarini, from Đurađ Branković, despot of Serbia, and George Kastrioti, prince of Albania, to resume the war and realize his ideal of driving the Ottomans from Europe. All the preparations had been made when Murad's envoys arrived in the royal camp at Szeged and offered a ten years' truce on advantageous terms. Branković bribed Hunyadi -he gave him his vast estates in Hungary- to support the acceptance of the peace. Cardinal Julian Cesarini found a traitorous solution. The king swore that he would never give up the crusade, so all future peace and oath was automatically invalid. After this Hungary accepted the Sultan's offer and Hunyadi in Władysław's name swore on the Gospels to observe them.

Battle of Varna Murad II was unable to stop Hunyadi from calling in reinforcements from Western Europe. Few knights came, but those that did assisted 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. Christmas or not, supplies for the Crusader army were low and Hunyadi concluded a 10-year peace treaty with Murad II, presumably on his terms for it was triumphant Hungarian that entered Buda in February of 1444. 10 years was the maximum time permitted by Islamic law for a treaty with an "infidel". Unfortunately for the Hungarians, no such time limit existed in the minds of the Papal legate, for if it did it would have been a very small one - Cardinal Cesarini incited the Hungarians to break the treaty and attack the Turks once more. It was a foolish move, for much of the Crusader armies' strength had been reduced due to the loss (by defection) of Serbia, Albania and the Byzantine Empire. Fanciful ideas had been discussed of Greeks making diversionary attacks in the Peloponnese. Even the recapture of Jerusalem was entertained.

The Crusader army attacked across the Danube. Sultan Murad II, 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". Accounts vary as to how many troops were present but the Crusaders may have been 30,000 whilst the Ottomans between two to three times larger. Nonetheless Hunyadi's successful defense wagons held the line until King Ladislas led a foolish glory-motivated charge to his death against the Turkish lines. His head was mounted on a spear and all the defeated Christians could see it, most likely before their death, for very few survived the battle. It was somewhat consoling for to the Hungarians that John Hunyadi lived to fight and win another day.

After Varna The Hungarians recovered their strength after Varna and John Hunyadi was able lead another expedition down the Danube. Turkish counter-attacks saw this "crusade" driven back. After Murad dealt with the Greeks at the Peloponesse and other traitors who fought him at Varna, he turned his attention to Albania, whose leader was once one of many Ottoman hostages 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 able to offer minimal yet much-needed support.

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 in order to subjugate Hungary. His immediate objective was Nándorfehérvár (today Belgrade). Nándorfehérvár was a major castle-fortress, and a gate keeper 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 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."

The Noon Bell Pope Callixtus III 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 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 Popes didn't withdraw the order, and Catholic (and the older Protestant) churches still ring the noon bell in the Christian world to this day.

Mehmed II (1451 - 1481) and fall of Constantinople

Mehmed conquered Constantinople in 1453. (Main article: Fall of Constantinople April 2, 1453 – May 29, 1453 ) With Constantinople under his belt and a great euphoria from the conquest, Mehmet II began making preparations for his next campaign against Belgrade. The city was a triple-walled fortress but was poorly manned. Nonetheless when Mehmed II tried to take the city, not only was he repulsed but a furious and suicidal counter-attack launched by the inexperienced and fanatical civilians drove the Turks from the field. Even so the Ottomans were able to campaign with greater success elsewhere. The Duchy of Athens, Trebizond and Albania was brought beneath the Sultan's boot in 1456, 1461 and 1468. Of equally great importance was the death of John Hunyadi to the Plague, depriving the Hungarians one of their most heroic generals.

Turkish wars of Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490)

Military actions of Matthias Corvinus and the Black Army[7] [8]

Matthias Corvinus was John Hunyadi's son. The 15 years old boy was crowned in Buda in 1458. In 1471 Matthias renewed the Serbian Despotate in south Hungary under Vuk Grgurević for the protection of the borders against the Ottomans. In 1479 a huge Ottoman army, on its return home from ravaging Transylvania, was annihilated at Szászváros (modern Orăştie, 13 October 1479) in the so-called Battle of Breadfield. The following year Matthias recaptured Jajce, drove the Ottomans from northern Serbia and instituted two new military banats, Jajce and Srebernik, out from reconquered Bosnian territory.

In 1480, when a Ottoman fleet seized Otranto in the Kingdom of Naples, at the earnest solicitation of the pope he sent the Hungarian general, Balázs Magyar, to recover the fortress, which surrendered to him 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 & war with Wallachia, 1456 - 1475 Mehmed II's post-Constantinople troubles escalated further when the Balkan principality of Wallachia under Count Vlad 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. Five years after his return from exile, Vlad initiated war with the Turks when in 1461 he impaled the Turkish ambassadors demanding tribute from him and took the fortress of Giurgiu. Vlad then began leading a bloody assault across the Danube to the Black sea, destroying as much of the ports as he could lay his hands on to prevent Ottoman naval attacks. Ottoman attempts to subdue Vlad militarily proved a failure but his cruelty, which had given him the edge of striking terror into the hearts of his enemies proved to be his undoing. When Mehmed offered the populace the choice of Radu, Vlad's brother or the Impaler himself, the populace knew who to choose and soon Vlad was once again an exile on the run. An attempt to return a few years afterwards ended in his death in battle.

Stephen the Great & 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 still. In 1475 Mehmed ordered an invasion of Moldavia. Again, the Ottomans often took possession of the field but Moldavian hit & run tactics proved effective against the Turks. Poor roads slowed the Ottomans further still until Stephen 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 against the Sultan. The Ottomans withdrew when the Hungarians began moving in and fighting did not resume until 1484.

Bayezid II, 1481 - 1512

Bayezid's early reign was cursed with a small civil war against his brother Jem, who escaped to the west. There European leaders entertained ideas of installing a pro-Western Sultan whilst Crusading their way to the Balkans. Consequently Bayezid II 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 8 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.

Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520 - 1566

Suleiman 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 reminiscent heroic 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.

Mohács: the Fall of the Kingdom

When Suleiman launched an invasion in 1526 the Grand vizier was able to construct a great bridge ahead of the Sultan allowing his army to march into Hungary. Despite 80 days of marching and taking 5 days to cross the Danube River the Ottomans met no resistance against the Hungarians. The original plan set out by King Louis II was 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[9]. At Mohacs 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 John Zapolyai 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 a native vassal of Suleiman and a Christian "foreigner" to pledge allegiance to.

Suleiman's victory at Mohacs is considered a great and decisive battle for the Ottomans. However, even though the Kingdom of Hungary was knocked out of the war Austria now took on the Ottoman enemy. This is not to say that Austria alone could bear the full might of the Ottoman Empire, nor was Ottoman rule in most of Hungary seriously contested beyond the city of Buda.

After John Szapolya's death (1540) 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.

Nonetheless Mohacs simply enlarged the borders of the Ottoman realm thereby increasing exposure to attack, bringing the empire into later conflict with Poland, Russia, the Cossacks and the Habsburgs.


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Grant, R.G. (2005). Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat. London: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 122.  The Hungarians, with Vlad the Impaler had some 30,000 men whilst at Mohacs there was roughly 20,000 men
  3. ^ The Royal army for Mohacs had an initial strength of 60,000 before disease and desertion decimated it
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Божилов, Иван (1994). "Иван Срацимир, цар във Видин (1352–1353 — 1396)" (in Bulgarian). Фамилията на Асеневци (1186–1460). Генеалогия и просопография. София: Българска академия на науките. pp. 202–203. ISBN 9544302646. OCLC 38087158. 
  7. ^ Kartográfiai Vállalat (1991). "[Historical Worldmaps]". Történelmi világatlasz (Map). 1 : 10.000.000. p. 112, section V. ISBN 963-351-696-X-CM. 
  8. ^ Fenyvesi, László (1990) (in Hungarian). Mátyás Király fekete serege [The Black Army of King Matthias]. Hadtörténelem fiataknak. Budapest, Hungary: Zrínyi Katonai Kiadó. ISBN 9633260170. 
  9. ^ Sources such as this Stephen, Turnbull (2003). The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey. pp. 46.  support this number, other suggest a smaller number of 60,000


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