Ottoman Empire

Battle of Mohacs 1526 – Ottoman Wars

Battle of Mohacs 1526 – Ottoman Wars. By 1522, the great Christian fortress of Rhodes had been taken, and the Ottomans had regained dominance in the Mediterranean Sea, so all their resources could now be redirected towards the mainland. Their target was the Kingdom of Hungary, a fragile land rife with internal chaos – a nation ripe for the picking. Suleyman I knew that the Kingdom of Hungary was the door that would lead them into the core of Christendom, and with the current political climate in Europe.

Suleyman’s reign began with the conquest of the Hungarian-controlled city of Belgrade in 1521. With the fall of Rhodes in 1522 he was able to refocus his resources back onto mainland Europe. Europe was a divided continent whose great powers were locked in perpetual feuds. Among these were the Kingdom of France, and the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the Charles V of the famous Habsburg dynasty. These states were too engaged in a struggle over control of Italy to pay mind to the Muslim empire at their doorstep.

The Hungarian Kingdom

This was something the Ottomans intended to exploit to their advantage. In 1525, the Habsburgs of Spain and Germany crushed a French army at Pavia and captured the French King, Francis I. Francis was forced to make territorial concessions to the Habsburgs and relinquish his claims to Italy. And out of desperation, France began looking for an ally to aid in their struggle against the Habsburgs. Francis turned to the Ottomans.

He implored Suleyman for an alliance and pleaded for him to attack the Habsburgs. This sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Suleyman was delighted at the prospect, for an alliance with France increased his legitimacy as a European Emperor, and gave him a pretext to carry out an invasion he had planned on leading anyway. This new alliance gave Suleyman extra incentive to finish what he’d started in 1521 and begin rallying his army for an invasion of the Hungarian Kingdom.

Battle of Mohacs

It is here we should turn the clock back a bit to explain the state of Hungary leading up to the Ottoman invasion. Since 1490, the country has been stuck in a downward spiral. King Vladislaus II was an ineffective king who sought to placate his nobility by selling almost all his Royal Estates to them but succeeded only in empowering the Hungarian magnates to take advantage of his weakness. Centralized power declined, and the standing army of Hungary was disbanded by the lords, eager to increase their own profits.

Things only became worse in 1514, when a man at arms named György Dózsa formed a peasant Crusade of 40,000 farmers, originally intended to attack the Ottomans. During harvest season, the Hungarian nobles tried to force the peasants to return to their homes and harassed their families to coerce them to do so. All that was accomplished was to incite the peasants into full-scale revolt, resulting in a war that would ravage all of Hungary. The rebellion was brutally put down by the Voivode of Transylvania, John Zapolya, and over 70,000 peasants were captured and tortured in the aftermath.

History of Sultan Suleyman

The young King Louis II ascended to the Hungarian throne in 1516, and over time realized the threat the Ottomans posed to his realm’s existence. His pleas for unity fell upon deaf ears, for the peasants, lords, and royal house of Hungary all had enmity for one another. The land was divided, and vulnerable. On the 23rd of April, 1526, Sultan Suleyman I left Constantinople at the head of a massive army, accompanied by his most trusted vizier Ibrahim Pasha.

Varying sources put the total numbers of this force between 50,000 to 100,000. It was made up of laborers, cavalry, and elite Janissaries alongside 300 cannons. The Ottomans embarked upon an 80-day march up the Balkans, during which torrential rains flooded the Danube River, making maintaining supply lines difficult. Nevertheless, through the iron discipline of the vizier Ibrahim, the Ottomans reached Belgrade.

The Hungarians Army

Ottoman Empire sappers detonated mines beneath the walls, and the Janissaries charged in, taking the fortress while only losing 25 men. The bulk of the Ottoman Empire army joined the strike force and moved on. Suleyman knew that the best place for the Hungarians to make a stand was the mouth of the River Drava below the town of Osijek, and so he diverted his army towards it. The town of Ilok fell on August 8th with little resistance.

When Suleyman and his army arrived where the Drava met the Danube, he expected to come face to face with a huge Hungarian host but instead was surprised to find that no enemy was there. King Louis II had mustered an army of around 25,000 men in the town of Tolna. It was made up of Hungarians, Croatians and Bohemians, with a core of men-at-arms and armored knights. Much like Suleyman, and ordered his deputy, Stefan Bathory to lead a vanguard there and defend it at all costs.

Ottoman Empire

However, the nobles refused to submit to Bathory’s command, declaring they would follow only the King himself. The vanguard plan was abandoned, and the Hungarian King instead led his quarreling army to a field just outside a little riverside hamlet known as Mohacs, where they awaited their enemy. On August 26th, the Ottoman host reached Mohacs, and the two armies came face to face. The Hungarians had set up a camp between the river Borza and Mohacs proper.

They stood in two lines, the first line being made up of 10,000 infantrymen divided into two wings, supplemented by divisions of mounted knights. King Louis himself led the second line, surrounded by 1,000 of his personal armored cavalry, and the troops of his noblemen. Meanwhile, the Ottomans had managed to advance themselves into a position well protected by woods and ridges and set up an encampment there. Suleyman ordered his troops in a tiered defense, made up of three lines.

About Ibrahim Pasha

The first two lines were made up of 30,000 Rumelian and Anatolian cavalry, supplemented by 4000 Janissaries and 150 cannons. They were led by Ibrahim Pasha. The third line was led by Sultan Suleyman himself and was made up of 15,000 Janissaries and spahis. They guarded the bulk of the Ottoman artillery, which was protected by a circle of wagons. Lightly armed Akinji horsemen occupied the left flank, close to the Hungarian line, and a rearguard of heavy cavalry and footmen remained back in the encampment in reserve.

On August the 29th, fighting began. The Hungarians were the first to strike, and commenced their assault at 3:00 in the afternoon, knowing the Muslims in Suleyman’s army would be occupied with their afternoon prayer. A crescendo of Hungarian artillery fired across the battlefield. The right-wing of the Hungarian first line charged the Ottomans. The Rumelian cavalry was not prepared for the assault, and the heavily armored Hungarian footmen broke through the first two lines of the Ottoman defense and fought their way toward the Ottoman’s third line.

Ottoman Wars

Inspired by this initial success, the second line of Hungarian mounted knights charged into battle, joining the fierce melee at the fringes and encircling the Rumelian cavalry from the outside, pushing them back towards their camp. The Hungarians fought bravely, breaking through to the Sultan’s position, who was now in danger of being cut down. However, this success was unsustainable. Soon after, the Janissaries formed ranks around their Sultan.

And charged the Hungarian knights, overwhelming them with superior numbers and martial discipline. The tide had begun to turn, and after two hours of fighting, the Ottoman Empire reserves back at camp had finally rallied onto the battlefield and joined the Ottoman lines. Meanwhile, the Rumelian cavalry began to regroup. With Vizier Ibrahim at the head, the Ottomans launched a fierce counterattack, pushing the Knights in the second line back towards their camp.

The Battle at Mohacs

The Rumelian cavalry encircled the knights from behind, while the Janissaries and reserves overwhelmed what remained of the footmen. The Hungarians were utterly swarmed by overwhelming Ottoman numbers, surrounded in separate little pockets, and massacred. The battle had ended in a great victory for Suleyman, and a complete disaster for the Hungarians. When the battle seemed lost, King Louis attempted to flee.

In the chaos, his horse had thrown him into the flooded Csele brook, and his heavy armor had dragged him to a watery grave. The Battle at Mohacs was an abject disaster for the Hungarian Kingdom, whose government was now effectively annihilated. While sources vary, it is generally accepted that anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 Hungarian soldiers were slaughtered in the initial battle, with thousands being taken prisoner and beheaded the next day. The Ottomans only lost between 1000 to 2000 men.

The Holy Roman Emperor

Suleyman could not believe he’d destroyed the entire Hungarian army so quickly; he had expected more out of a Kingdom that was once a formidable and powerful foe. He kept his forces stationed at Mohacs for a few days after the battle, expecting more enemy forces to arrive. While Suleyman ordered the city to be spared, sources claim that his army looted and burned it anyway victorious Ottoman Empire army then withdrew back to Constantinople, carrying with them the spoils of war.

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After the battle, the mortified Hungarian nobles were so divided and panicked, that they elected two new Kings simultaneously. One was Ferdinand I of Austria- brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the other was John Zapolya. With the support of the Habsburgs, Ferdinand took advantage of the ensuing power vacuum and seized Hungarian territory in Bohemia, and the northwestern part of Hungary proper. Meanwhile, Zapolya endeared himself to Suleyman, agreeing to vassalize under the Ottomans, who became the suzerains of his realm in Transylvania.

The Battle of Mohacs marked the end of Hungarian independence, with all of its former territory now under Habsburg or Turkish dominion. For Suleyman, the victory had not created a springboard for the invasion of Europe as he had hoped, but instead formed a borderland between the Ottomans and the Holy Roman Empire that set the stage for centuries of Habsburg – Ottoman warfare.

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