Ottoman Empire

Siege of Belgrade 1456-Targoviste-Otlukbeli 1473

Siege of Belgrade 1456-Targoviste-Otlukbeli 1473. After multiple failed attempts, the Ottomans finally took Constantinople in 1453 but still, their appetite for conquest was not sated. Meanwhile, more enemies both in the Christian and the Muslim worlds were eager to either stop them or test their mettle in the battle for supremacy, so Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror had to face rivals on multiple fronts. Almost immediately after the Fall of Constantinople Sultan Mehmed II moved his capital there.

As the ruler of Serbia, Đurađ Branković failed to pay tribute and assist in the Siege of Constantinople, Mehmed started a punitive campaign against him in 1454. He had a 30,000-strong army and met no resistance in Serbia. Soon the capital Smederevo was besieged. However, the old nemesis of the Ottomans, the Voivode of Transylvania, and the leader of the Hungarian armies John Hunyadi, was nearby with 30,000 troops and forced the Sultan to lift the siege.

Siege of Belgrade

Mehmed left his army in the area with orders to avoid battle and returned to Constantinople to gather more troops. Hunyadi united his forces with Đurađ and in October managed to coerce the Ottoman Empire forces into battle near Kruševac, where he earned a decisive victory. As no enemy troops opposed him now, Hunyadi moved into the Ottoman lands and sacked Vidin. He then returned to his base of operations in Belgrade.

Mehmed knew that he had to take Belgrade to consolidate his hold over the southern side of the Danube River. A new campaign was planned for the summer of 1456. It seems that this was known in Hungary as a crusade was called against the Ottomans, but internal strife prevented the Hungarians from starting their campaign. The forces of the Ottoman Sultan approached Belgrade in June. Belgrade was of crucial strategic importance as it was built at the location where the Danube and its tributary the Sava merged.

History of Sultan Mehmed

It defended the southern borders of Hungary and was one of the best defended fortresses in Europe with two sets of walls and a castle behind them. Belgrade had a 7,000-strong Serbo-Hungarian garrison commanded by Hunyadi’s son Laszlo and his brother-in-law Michael. Meanwhile, the Ottomans had anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 troops. Mehmed placed his Anatolian troops on the left and his European forces on the right while his guard was in the center.

The majority of his 300 cannons were on the right flank and his 200 ships moved to the north of the city to block off the Danube. The Ottomans started bombarding the walls on the 29th of June and although they did some damage, the siege was just starting. Hunyadi was recruiting new troops when he learned that Mehmed had besieged Belgrade. He was leading some 50,000 men but only 10,000 to 15,000 of those were professional with the rest being peasants joining the crusade.

The Ottoman Empire

The Hungarians also had a navy with 200 ships, and this fleet reached the area on July 14th. The Ottomans were either unaware of this threat or their boats were defending a large area as they were caught unprepared. Hunyadi’s navy sunk a number of heavy galleys and captured up to 30 smaller vessels. The blockade was raised and the Ottoman Empire Navy would become a non-factor in this siege. Hunyadi moved into the city with some of his troops and brought some food and supplies.

The Ottomans continued the siege. The artillery bombardment became more intense after the naval loss and on the 21st of July, parts of the walls were breached. The Sultan sent his Janissaries into the lower city. The defenders were pushed back from the gate. However, a fire that started in the area prevented more Ottoman Empire troops from entering. The Janissaries numbering 5,000 were trapped and had no other choice but to win.

Battle of Targoviste

They almost managed to take a tower on the second layer of city walls but the Serbian contingent defending this site repelled the attackers. Most of the Janissaries in the city were then killed. The siege took an unexpected turn on the next day. A group of poor Hungarian peasants decided to loot the Ottoman camp despite receiving no such order. Mehmed sent his light Sipahi cavalry to repel this group but as they were now within the camp, more and more of Hunyadi’s troops joined this improvised attack.

The Papal emissary, John of Capistrano, used the ships to move a few thousand warriors across the Sava River and attacked the left flank of the Ottoman Empire army. The Sultan’s troops were either demoralized or unprepared and started fleeing in panic. Even Mehmed himself with the remainder of his Janissaries failed to stabilize the situation. The Sultan was wounded and carried away, and the Ottomans eventually lost more than 20,000 men in this siege.

King of Bosnia

Hunyadi was eager to pursue the foe but soon an epidemic broke out in his camp. Thousands died among them Hunyadi himself. Still, this defeat and the failure to take Belgrade slowed down the Ottoman Empire’s advance into Europe for decades. Although the Ottomans were somewhat weakened, they still managed to destroy the Despotate of Serbia and forced the King of Bosnia to pay tribute. In 1460, they ended the Despotate of Morea and took direct control over most of Greece.

The Empire of Trebizond was next in line. Emperor David surrendered almost immediately after Trebizond was besieged and thus the Roman Empire ceased to exist in 1461. Back in Europe, the ruler of Wallachia Vlad III the Impaler refused to pay tribute, invaded Bulgaria, and killed more than 20,000 Turks. Enraged, Sultan Mehmed led a 100,000-strong army against Vlad in 1462.

The Empire of Trebizond

The Wallachians had around 30,000 troops and couldn’t fight a pitched battle against the Ottomans, so the campaign ended up being a series of skirmishes and ambushes. In the beginning, Vlad did his best to prevent the Ottoman Empire from landing at Vidin and his archers killed many foes. Forced to retreat, he then used scorched earth tactics. Eventually, the Ottomans camped near his capital Târgovişte. Vlad entered the Sultan’s camp in disguise to find Mehmed’s tent.

Late at night, half of his army attacks the camp from one side to draw the enemy’s attention while he leads the rest in a second attack. After killing a small group of defenders, Vlad attempted to assassinate the Sultan, but the Janissaries were able to stop the Wallachians. Vlad lost 5,000 men in this battle. While the Ottoman Empire’s losses were around 20,000, the odds were still against Vlad and he wasn’t able to do anything to prevent the razing of Brăila.

Emperor of Trebizond

The Ottomans then retreated. Vlad asked the son of John Hunyadi, Matthias, who was now the king of Hungary for help but was imprisoned. Mehmed failed to use that to his advantage as at this time the king of Bosnia Stephen II decided to stop paying his tribute. In 1463, Bosnia was occupied by the Ottomans and lost its independence. At this point, the situation in Anatolia was getting volatile. The Ottomans controlled most of the Anatolian Peninsula via their Turkic vassals.

But another Turkic dynasty, the Ak Koyunlu, was gaining strength to the east of the Ottomans and their mere existence made many Turkic Beyliks rebellious. The Ak Koyunlu Sultan, Uzun Hassan, was ambitious and married the daughter of the Emperor of Trebizond to gain an ally. He failed to help Trebizond in 1461 as he was fighting against the Timurids. But the fall of the empire was one more reason for animosity against Mehmed. Uzun Hassan needed a port that would allow him to trade with Europe.

The Great Seljuk Army

His best option was the territory of the Karamanids. In the late 1460s, both he and Mehmed attempted to place their candidates on the throne of this Beylik, and in 1471 Mehmed sent his forces to take control over the Beylik. Uzun Hassan entered an alliance with Venice. The Italian Republic promised him gunpowder-based weapons and support against the Ottomans. In 1472, the Venetian Navy attacked Izmir while 20,000 Ak Koyunlu troops attacked and raided the Karamanid territory.

The leader of the Ak Koyunlu sent a letter to the Ottoman Empire Court demanding Trebizond and the Karamanid lands but was refused. Meanwhile, the Venetian shipment of gunpowder weapons never reached Uzun Hassan’s troops as it was captured by the Ottoman Navy. This was crucial. Both sides were able to raise anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers, but the Ottomans had guns and artillery, while their enemies were a traditional Turkoman force not too different from the Seljuk army that fought in the area four centuries before.

Battle of Otlukbeli

Mehmed’s 20,000-strong vanguard finally came into contact with the Ak Koyunlu army on the 1st of August, 1473. The two sides were divided by the Euphrates. Uzun Hassan moved across the river and attacked the enemy. After a short skirmish, the Ak Koyunlu retreated and the Ottoman Empire cavalry followed them over the bridge. As soon as all the enemy cavalry was on the right side of the river, a small Ak Koyunlu unit destroyed the bridge and attacked the Ottomans from the rear.

At the same moment, the rest of Uzun Hassan’s warriors turned and charged. The Ottoman cavalry was shattered and they lost 5,000 troops. Uzun Hassan chased the Ottoman vanguard but failed to annihilate it. Ten days later, Mehmed arrived with the rest of his army. Both sides now had around 100,000 troops, who prepared for battle in a place called Otlukbeli. The Ottomans had their cavalry on the flanks with the Janissaries in the center while the Ak Koyunlu army consisted predominantly of light cavalry.

The Victory at Otlukbeli

It was divided into four big groups and one small one. This small group was sent to the West to prevent a possible Ottoman Empire retreat. The battle started with the Ottomans attacking with their right flank. Uzun Hassan’s forces stopped the enemy cavalry here while his own right attacked the Ottoman Empire. The battle was in balance until the Ak Koyunlu Sultan sent his reserves against the Ottoman Empire.

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The Sipahi in this area buckled under the pressure, but soon Mehmed reinforced his left by sending part of his Janissaries from the center. Uzun Hassan decided to use the fact that the Ottoman Empire’s center was now weakened and sent his entire central group forward. However, his cavalry was decimated by Ottoman Empire artillery and gunpowder units. The sources differ on what happened next. Some claim that Uzun Hassan retreated in panic.

Others assert that a horse was killed under him and his banner was lost, which caused a mass rout. But in any case, after the Ak Koyunlu center was destroyed, the Ottoman Empire center helped the flanks in their defense. The Ottomans won a clear victory and lost a few thousand men while the casualties for their foes were around 25,000. The victory at Otlukbeli cemented Ottoman rule over Anatolia, and no power would challenge them in the East for the next four decades. Nothing was stopping the Ottoman Sultans from attacking Europe yet again.

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