Monday, August 17, 2015

Székelys - Szecklers

The Székelys, sometimes also referred to as Szeklers (Hungarian: székelyek, Romanian: Secui, German: Szekler, Latin: Siculi), are a subgroup of the Hungarian people living mostly in the Székely Land. A significant population descending from the Székelys of Bukovina lives in Tolna and Baranya counties in Hungary and in certain districts of Vojvodina, Serbia.

The Székely light cavalry fit perfectly into the medieval Hungarian military forces, supplementing the army of armoured knights. They were especially effective against nomadic invaders from the East, using similar fighting methods and strategies. One of their first recorded military victories is from the 1280s, when Székelys of the Aranyos Seat attacked and partly destroyed the Tatar troops returning to Moldova packed with loot. But Székelys were not only defending Transylvania, they took part in campaigns abroad, too.

In 1499, when armed clashes with the Ottoman Empire and its vassal states became regular, a diploma issued by King Vladislaus II (II. Ulászló) reaffirmed the conditions under which the Székelys provided military services:

    "When the King personally leads his army towards the East, against Moldova, each one of the Székely cavalrymen and infantrymen are required to be under arms, go before the Royal Army and wait for the battle abroad for 15 days on their own expense. Also, on the way back, they shall go behind the Royal Army. When His Majesty sends his personal deputy to the East, half of the Székelys should accompany him as described."

In a similar way, half of the Székelys supported the king during his campaigns against Wallachia and 1/5 of them if the army was only led by a deputy. Common Székelys did not participate personally in wars with Western and Northern countries; however, they were obliged to hire mercenaries and send them in battle under the leadership of Székely captains. As a result of their military services, Székelys had equal rights to the Hungarian nobles. They were exempted from paying taxes and, when visiting the feudal noble counties, even the poorest of them were treated as free people. As the diploma of King Vladislaus II explains: "Therefore the Székelys, as nobles by rights granted by glorious Hungarian Kings of the past, are exempt from any tax or other duties, and are free." Following an old tradition, every landed household gave an ox as a present to the king when he was crowned, when he got married, and when a child was born in the royal family.


Western-style mailed cavalry formed the core of Hungarian armies. Yet the employment of steppe peoples- the Pechenegs, Szeklers, and Cumans-as auxiliary light cavalry gave Hungarian armies a distinctive, hybrid character and a tactical edge. The advantages of tactical combination of heavy cavalry and horse archers were displayed with decisive results at the battle of Dtirnkrut (Marchfield) in 1278, when the Hungarian armoured cavalry and their Cuman auxiliaries played an important part in Emperor Rudolf’s momentous victory. This hybrid military system was further developed under Louis the Great. His Italian adventures in the 1340S and 1350S were pursued with armies composed of 'lances', each of which consisted of a heavily armoured man-at-arms and a group of lightly equipped horse archers. In the later fifteenth century, it was light cavalry (the original 'hussars') who provided the rapid reaction forces which backed-up Hungary's southern frontier fortifications and launched raids (portycik) into Ottoman territory So dominant was light cavalry in King Matthias Corvinus's army that the capabilities and limitations of these troops effectively determined the way in which that army fought.


Michael the Brave (1593-1601), prince of Wallachia and then of the three Romanian principalities, was one of the most prominent personalities in Romanian military. Michael transferred economic and political power to the great boyars, a move that hurt the peasants' social and economic conditions. In that context, emerged in Wallachia at the end of the 15th century, the armies of Michael the Brave were heterogeneous, comprising, besides Wallachians and Moldavians, Polish riders with shields, hussars, Hungarians from Transylvania, Szecklers, Kazakhs, Serbians, Albanians, Greeks, and Bulgarian mercenaries. Michael the Brave's military force consisted of both a permanent army and a temporary one. 

The pan-Romanian front started to take shape in the winter of 1594-1595 when the Romanian rulers were practically fighting against the Ottoman Empire within the Holy League, the major anti-Ottoman coalition led by the Hapsburg emperor Rudolph II. However, when 100,000 Ottomans led by Sinan Pasha invaded Wallachia, Michael had, besides his 16,000 people, only one Transylvanian army corps of 7,000 people, most of them Szeklers who were led by Albert Kiraly. The victory in Călugăreni on Neajlov-Arges, on 13 August 1595 won renown, but the counteroffensive of the Romanian principalities' forces gathered in Rucăr was even more well-known and efficient from a military standpoint. It led to the defeat of the Ottoman troops in the town of Giurgiu while they were on their way back over the Danube after having temporarily conquered the cities of Bucharest and Târgovişte. 

After the Ottoman threat decreased, the prince of Transylvania, cardinal Andrei Bathory, with the support of Poland started threatening the rule of Michael the Brave in Wallachia. This is why the Wallachian prince made a preventive strike, crossing the mountains and defeating the Transylvanian army in Şelimbăr in 1599. This was, as the Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga says, the first battle Michael the Brave fought on open terrain against an army used to fighting according to Western custom. The same threat was posed by Ieremia Movilă in Moldavia, who was serving the Polish interests; this incited Michael to start a military campaign east of the Carpathians. After that action he was entitled to call himself, in May 1600, ``by the grace of God, prince of Wallachia, Transylvania, and all Moldavia.'' Romanian historians have not yet agreed on the true reasons for Michael the Brave's unifying the three principalities. Historical, ethnic, and religious arguments proved that it may have been only a strategic-military action, a typical medieval territorial expansion, or a military step toward a much larger political project.

Poland, which had lost its influence in Moldavia, the emperor Rudolph II of Transylvania, and the Hungarian nobles opposed this unexpected situation and could not accept falling under the authority of a Wallachian prince who imposed his own nobles. These leaders were also hostile to Michael's attempts to rebuild his authority as prince of all three Romanian principalities. This common attitude aided the Hungarian nobles in Transylvania, who were led by general Gheorghe Basta, in defeating Michael in the village of Mirăslău on 16 September 1600. Near the Wallachian border, Michael was defeated again by the Moldavian and Polish forces led by Jan Zamosky. Under these unpleasant circumstances, Michael was forced to ask for Rudolph II's support at the Imperial Court in Prague. 

The Hapsburg emperor negotiated a reconciliation between Prince Michael and General Basta. That reconciliation led to the defeat of Sigismund Bathory on 3 August in a battle in Gorăslău. After that victory, Michael succeeded only in entering Cluj, Transylvania's major town. After only five days, on 9 August 1601, he was murdered at the orders of General Basta in the camp in Campia Turzii.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Night Attack Of Targoviste

The Battle of Targoviste was fought on the night of June 17, 1462 between the armies of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II and Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. Better known as “Vlad the Impaler” or “Dracula,” the real Vlad was a hardened veteran of the long Ottoman conquest of the Balkans. Mehmed demanded a jizya, or tax on non-Muslims, from many bordering states, but Vlad refused to pay. In 1460, the Hungarian regent Michael Szilagyi (Vlad’s main ally against the Ottomans) was captured by the Turks and sawed in half.
When Mehmed’s forces crossed the Danube and began pressing young boys into military service, Vlad responded by capturing Turkish soldiers and impaling them. Mehmed attempted to trick Vlad into an ambush, but the Wallachians surrounded and massacred his force of 1,000 cavalry. By 1462, Vlad was engaging in outright ethnic cleansing—by his own estimate, his forces slaughtered over 23,000 Muslim civilians and sympathizers. In response, Mehmed invaded Wallachia with at least 150,000 men. Vlad could only field around 30,000.
Vlad began a scorched-earth campaign, retreating while burning crops, poisoning water supplies, and diverting small rivers to create marshlands. He even sent civilians infected with syphilis, leprosy, and bubonic plague into the Turkish ranks.
In 1462 Vlad Dracula of Wallachia wrote a letter to King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary describing how he had killed precisely '23,884 Turks and Bulgarians in all, not including those who were burned in their houses and whose heads were not presented for our officials'. The raids are also described in the later German accounts of Vlad Dracula's life. These are often exaggerated, but the description of the Danube campaign cannot be very far from the truth, because he:
ordered that all these men, together with their maidens, should be slaughtered with swords and spears, like cabbage ... Dracula had all of Bulgaria burned down, and he impaled all of the people that he captured. There were 25,000 of them, to say nothing of those who perished in the fires.
When the Ottomans advanced on Wallachia Vlad Dracula realised that he could not face the Ottoman Army in open field combat, so he decided to retreat covered by a scorched earth policy, after which he would launch guerrilla raids on the Turks. This inevitably caused great suffering to the population when Vlad burned fields and destroyed villages in his own territory so as to deny supplies to the enemy. Wells were poisoned and lifestock slaughtered. 'Thus', wrote Dukas, 'after having crossed the Danube and advanced for seven days, Mehmet II found no man, nor any significant animal, and nothing to eat or drink.' The Turkish chronicler Tursun Beg described how:
the front ranks of the army reported that there was not a drop of water to quench their thirst. All the carts and animals came to a halt. The heat of the sun was so great that you could cook kebabs on the mail shirts of the ghazis.
Soon the guerrilla raids began, with stragglers being either beheaded or impaled. On the night of 17 June 1462, when the Turks were well on their way to Tirgoviste (Targoviste), Vlad the Impaler launched a daring night attack on the Sultan's camp. Chalkondylas tells us how:
At first there was a lot of terror in the camp because people thought that a new foreign army had come and attacked them. Scared out of their wits by this attack, they considered themselves to be lost as it was being made using torchlight and the sounding of horns to indicate the place to assault.
When Vlad launched a surprise night attack with 7,000 to 10,000 cavalry. The attack caused chaos in the Ottoman ranks (historians differ on the numbers killed, but many of the casualties were inflicted by confused Turkish units attacking each other). By dawn they had regrouped and pursued Vlad’s forces toward Targoviste. Thousands may have been slain, but the raid failed in its primary purpose of killing Mehmet the Conqueror himself because his loyal Janissaries rallied. The raiders were driven off and disappeared into the darkness. A few days later the Ottoman Army drew near to Tirgoviste. It had been prepared for a siege like any other medieval town, but with one unique addition. As Chalkondylas relates, Mehmet:
saw men impaled. The Emperor's army came across a field with stakes, about two miles long and half a mile wide. And there were large stakes upon which he could see the impeded bodies of men, women and children, about 20,000 of them ... There were babies clinging to their mothers on the stakes, and the birds had made nests in their breasts.
The sight of the famous 'forest of the impaled' persuaded Mehmet the Conqueror, a man who was well used to the horrors of war, to pull back from Tirgoviste.