It's late 16th century.
After decisively defeating Safavid Persia,
the Ottoman Empire turns its' war machine towards Europe.
Although officially at peace for nearly three decades, conflict has been brewing for years
along the unstable Ottoman-Austrian border.
Both sides keep looking for pretexts to launch frequent, sometimes large scale raids into enemy territory.
By 1591 clashes intensify along the Bosnian-Croatian border.
And things finally come to a head in the summer of 1593.
The war begins on July 29th.
Although officially it was the Ottomans who declared war against Austria,
both empires are in fact itching for a fight to extend
their control over the Trans-danubian and Carpathian regions.
Numerous military operations mark the first years of the war, mainly for control over
crucial fortresses along the Danube, with Ottomans maintaining firm dominance on the
strategic level, poised to attack Vienna from the Western Transdanubian sector,
that they firmly control.
But the old Austrian capital is spared when the attack is postponed because of the death
of Sultan Murad III, and the accession of Mehmed III to the throne.
Another setback for the Ottomans is the unstable situation in the Carpathians, created by harsh
economic pressures imposed by the central government.
Namely, because of expensive wars with Persia and Austria
Ottoman Empire needs vast sums to maintain it's dominance in the Middle East and Europe.
In addition, its' army needs modernizing to keep pace with European powers.
But because of the collapse of the timar system, the expensive modernization has to be financed
from the palace coffers.
Consequently, Ottomans impose heavy taxes in many parts of the Empire, including the
For much of the 16th century, Wallachia and Moldavia, although nominally autonomous, are
in reality oppressed Ottoman provinces.
Their voivodes serve as mere tax officials for the Sultan.
In the Ottoman legal system, such vassal states were referred to as "tax farms".
However, this higher taxation isn't felt as hard in Transylvania.
In the 16th century it is the richest and most urbanised of the three principalities,
with a thriving manufacturing sector.
Strategically it's in the outer reaches of the empire, protected by the Carpathian mountains
and many fortified cities.
Transylvanian voivodes traditionally use this strategic position to bargain for lower taxes
and better terms overall.
In contrast, Wallachia and Moldavia are less developed.
Their weaker economies are mainly structured around agriculture and cattle breeding.
Furthermore, in exchange for being allowed to rule as vassals of the Sultan, their voivodes
agree to tear down existing stone fortifications and are forbidden from building new ones,
leaving their countries exposed to the Ottomans, who occupy fortified positions along the Danube,
from where they can exert control over the two principalities, impose much heavier taxes,
and launch frequent devastating akinji raids.
What's worse, Turkish population begins settling in Valahian territory, building communities
and mosques, thereby violating the treaty of Nicopolis that prohibits this by the vassal
status of Valahia.
Powerless to resist, Valahian and Moldavian nobility in turn opresses their own people
throughout the 16th century, as they try to appease the Sultan, lest they be replaced
by a pretender more capable of meeting the high taxation quotas.
Economies of the two Danubian principalities are further strained, as they are obliged
to sell grain, cattle and other produce to the Ottoman Empire at below market prices,
and even this exploitation is overextended because of long and expensive wars, as well
as the ongoing modernisation of the army.
Motivated by these harsh conditions, the three princes, Sigismund Bathory, Aaron the Tyrant,
and Mihai the Brave, join the Holy League.
And, they promise each other to revolt on the same day, November 13th 1594
Of the three princes, Mihai will soon come to the fore as a military leader.
Born on January 15th 1558, Mihai is the son of the former Voivode of Valahia, Patrascu
the Good and Theodora Cantacuzino.
On his father's side he traces his roots back to Vlad Dracul, the father of Vlad the Impaler,
who in turn is Mihai's great-great-great-uncle.
And, through his grandmother he is the great-great-grandsom of Stefan the Great of Moldavia.
On his mother's side he belongs to the Byzantine Cantacuzino family.
The prestigious family claims descendancy from the Byzantine Emperor
John VI Cantacuzenus.
Little is known about Mihai's upbringing, but in his 20's he became one of the wealthiest
people in Wallachian history, holding vast estates in Oltenia, personally owning more than 200 villages.
He marries a wealthy Oltenian widow with whom he has one, possibly two sons, and a daughter.
By the age of 35 he rises to political prominence, occupying several honorable positions in the
state, before eventually becomming the Ban of Craiova in 1593.
Fearing Mihai's growing power, Prince Alexander III, the Bad, forces him to swear in front
of other boyars that he is not of princely descent.
By publicly humiliating Mihai like this, Alexander hopes to remove him as a potential rival to the throne.
This, however, does not settle the issue.
Mihai borrows from Turkish money lenders in Wallachia and flees the country, fearing assassination.
He travels to Constantinople, where he uses his political connections, but more importantly
his Cantacuzino ancestry to secure even larger loans and persuade Sultan Murad III to back
him in his bid to the Wallachian throne.
But Mihai has no intention of paying off his debts.
Upon returning he uses the borrowed money to gain support from the boyars and is elected
Prince of Wallachia on October 11th 1593.
Confronted with harsh terms imposed by the Ottomans, he makes a clean break with the past
Intent on taking Wallachia in a new direction, he will make a series of controversial decisions
for which he will be remembered as a heroic leader by some, and as a treacherous tyrant
He replaces high ranking officials with loyal supporters, mainly from his power base in Oltenia.
And' after nearly 70 years of Princes and boyars who were compliant towards the Ottomans,
Mihai's Wallachia will fight for its' independence.
The Holy League promises to support the Wallachian revolt, knowing that it could open a second
front against the Ottomans.
So with his position at home consolidated and the alliances in place, Mihai decides
it is time to act.
Pretending he wishes to settle financial debts, he invites Turkish creditors and in an act
of clear provocation, massacres them together with their large escort of soldiers.
With around 8,000 troops at his disposal, Mihai then personally leads a swift attack
on the key Danube crossing at Giurgiu.
The town is taken and plundered but the siege of the island fortress guarding the river-crossing
fails, as troops, ammunition and provisions are sent from the Ottoman side.
Mihai returns to Bucharest after learning from his spies that a conspiracy against him
is launched by adherents to the Turks, accompanied by a contingent of troops.
He sets up an ambush for them, capturing and executing all of the conspirators.
Determined to prevent similar future inroads into Wallachia, Mihai marches east, intent on
clearing bridges and Ottoman garrisons on either side of the Danube.
He successfully besieges important Ottoman fortifications and raids numerous towns and
villages in the Lower Danube area, leaving utter destruction in his wake, before returning
back across the river.
Further upstream, Mihai defeats the Ottomans again and takes the fortified town of Silistra,
before reducing it to ashes, along with the surronding countryside.
Destruction of important border fortifications in quick succession causes great concern in Constantinople.
The Sultan dispatches an army from the south under Mustafa Pasha, and redirects a strong
Tatar contingent from the Hungarian front to enter Wallachia from the west.
The Tatars advance quickly towards the reported position of the Wallachian army.
Little do they know that Mihai received word of their movement.
He secretly sends a small force west to set up an ambush, while maintaining an appearance
that his entire army is encamped just north of Giurgiu.
Expecting to encounter Mihai further east, the Tatars fall straight into a trap while
marching in a loose formation, losing nearly half of their troops.
Mihai subsequently intercepts them and wipes out their army, preventing them from linking
up with Ottoman forces approaching from the south.
Meanwhile, Mustafa Pasha crosses the Danube to confront the Wallachian prince.
Aware of the enemy's numerical superiority, Mihai reacts quickly.
Just four days after defeating the Tatars he leads a daring night attack into the Ottoman
camp and routs Musfata's army, forcing them into a disorganised retreat.
He defeats the Ottomans in a pitched battle, killing general Mustafa.
Mihai then embarks on a campaign of pillage and destruction.
Wallachian troops show no mercy, storming several fortified cities, leaving countless towns
and villages in ruins, with the civilian population suffering the most.
Another Ottoman general, Hasan Pasha, takes over Mustafa's retreating army and attaches
it to his own contingent.
Mihai gives battle and completely destroys Hasan's army, killing the Ottoman general,
along with the Crimean Khan's son that was accompanying him.
Mihai then retreats back to Wallachia with a vast plunder.
He comes to the aid of Aaron the Tyrant in attacking Braila, Kylia and other Ottoman positions.
With the Lower Danube area and the Danube delta secured, supply lines to the Ottoman
army in Hungary are virtually cut, which significantly slows their otherwise successful campaign
against the Holy League.
Mihai's renews his attack, devastating parts of northern Bulgaria, pushing deep into Ottoman territory.
At one point he reaches within one day's march from Constantinople itself, before turning
back after assistance from the Holy League fails to materialize.
Many in the Ottoman capital begin refering to Mihai as "king" and even "emperor", spreading
rumors that he might take the capital at any moment.
In order to tackle possible dissent, Ottoman authorities in Constantinople respond by expelling
any non-muslims who lived in the city for less than 5 years.
Mihai's fame spreads across the continent.
Many warriors, sell-swords and mercenary companies flock to join him.
Ottoman scholar Selanik Mustafa writes of the great destruction: "All of our sanjaks
are captured. We are ruined."
The urgency of the situation is such that Sinan Pasha himself, the great mastermind
behind the successful campaign against the Austrians, is recalled from Hungary to organise
a counter-attack on Wallachia.
But Mihai has reasons to worry.
While his campaign was certainly successful, having personally led his troops in battle
he saw first hand that the Wallachian army is obsolete and in a deplorable state.
Aside from contingents of Cossacks and Szekely mercenaries, Wallachian troops are poorly equipped.
There is a general shortage of horses, weapons, carriages, tents, and even food supplies,
water and fodder.
Furthermore there is a problem with discipline and basic training among the troops.
At night, passwords would be called out loud in the camps.
Wallachian troops would view foreign mercenaries with suspicion, sometimes encamping separately
and refusing to cooperate with them.
Mihai realises that he needs a professional army of mercenaries if he is to have any chance
at stopping the efficient Ottoman war machine.
But paying salaries for thousands of mercenaries and equipping them with firearms is extremely expensive.
So expensive that the entire state of Wallachia cannot afford it.
Nevertheless, Mihai puts the already weak Wallachian economy under stress in order to
secure the necessary funding.
He imposes much higher taxes on his subjects than the Ottomans did previously.
In addition he introduces a law that ties peasants to their landlords' estates, in an
attempt to avoid financial instability, thus effectively enforcing servitude upon his people.
He takes away the liberties of countless free villages, turning them into dependent communities.
Some communities attempt to buy their freedom and, ironically, the constant need for funds
to pay for his mercenary army forces Mihai to accept the bribes, thereby invalidating
his own laws.
Needless to say, the high taxes, opressive laws and corruption quickly make him very unpopular
But Mihai considers these measures necessary.
Furthermore he expands the alliance with Sigismund, effectively becoming his vassal in exchange
for substantial military support.
The terms imposed by Sigismund are much worse than those Wallachia had with the Ottomans before the war.
Mihai's reasoning is that he needs military support now, and he would have agreed to any terms.
With his numbers bolstered to around 15,000 Mihai takes up position the Danube.
Across the river the Ottomans are amassing 100,000 combat and non-combat troops, intent
on fully incorporating Valahia into the empire.
Operations to cross the river begin in July, but Mihai's guerilla tactics delay their advance
by a whole month, before he is forced to retreat when Ottomans manage to establish a bridgehead.
Mihai stops his army and makes a stand near Calugareni...
It's early morning.
Mihai's camp is in a narrow valley, less than 2km wide.
Hills and thick forest surround the Wallachian position on two sides.
Numerous streams flow down into the Neajlov river, forming a largely impassable swamp.
A single road goes across a bridge through the swamp, connecting Giurgiu and Bucharest.
Knowing that the Wallachian army is somewhere in the valley, Sinan dispatches scouts to
find fords across the swamp and stops his column so the rest of his troops can catch up.
The aggressive Mihai goes on the offensive, wanting to engage the Ottomans while only
a part of their army is present.
Sinan shores up his ranks and readies the men, just in time.
The momentum of the charge initially pushes the Ottoman line back, but Mihai surprisingly
begins a fighting retreat towards the bridge soon after.
He keeps the Ottomans committed, giving more and more ground, forcing Sinan to send more
troops to prevent the vanguard from being separated from the rest of the army.
The retreat slows at a chokepoint near the bridge.
Mihai's mercenaries inflict heavy losses on the enemy,
while they continue to pull back across the river.
But the Ottoman vanguard is just as eager to press the advantage.
As Sinan himself comes closer to the bridge, the Wallachian army on the other side comes into view
The enemy lured him into an ambush.
Mihai's cannons open fire from the other side of the river.
Ottoman troops are forced to march across the field under a constant barrage, while
the vanguard's advance grounds to a crawl as they too are being bombarded.
Seeing that some of his men are wavering, Sinan personally rallies the troops.
With their general urging them forward, Ottomans push the enemy back.
Mihai responds by ordering more troops to descend on the crossing to hold the line.
The deafening noise of the fighting drowns out orders from captains on either side.
Meanwhile, Sinan's scouts return with good news.
The way through the swamp is treacherous, but possible.
The Ottoman general siezes the opportunity to envelop the enemy.
He sends one contingent south of the bridge and orders another to find a way through the
swamp and attack Mihai's right flank.
At the bridge, sparring between the two armies continues, as neither side is able to break
Mihai receives reports that an Ottoman contingent is attempting an encirclement from the south.
Aware that he doesn't have the numbers to fight an open battle, Mihai reforms his left flank.
He fires all of his cannons towards the approaching Ottoman cavalry.
With the Valahian line supported by artillery, Sinan's right wing abandons the attack while
under heavy bombardment.
At the bridge, the fighting also dies down as the exhausted troops disengage to catch
Meanwhile, Ottoman left wing is unable to find a way through the dense swamp.
Around noon Sinan launches a full scale offensive, ordering Janissaries
to attack the bridge and both flanks to envelop the enemy.
Initially it seems like the fighting near the bridge will be a repeat of the stalemate from earlier in the day.
But Sinan orders trees to be cut down and placed over the swampy river around the bridge.
Janissaries take advantage of the wider crossing and gain the upper hand.
Meanwhile, some of the Ottoman artillery finally catches up.
Sinan orders most of the artillery to support his cavalry on the right flank.
Another two hours of fighting pass.
Exausted, the Valahian line is on the verge of collapse.
Fearing a rout, Mihai orders an organised retreat, abandoning 10 of his cannons to the enemy
The Ottomans soon give up their pursuit as their troops are just as
exhausted after fighting for hours in the mid-day summer heat.
The afternoon wears on and a thick fog descends on the valley.
Sinan proceeds to send troops across the river.
Mihai knows he must act.
A few hours later he orders a general attack, realising that if the entire Ottoman army
crosses, he will have no chance of defeating them.
He puts his best troops in the front.
Sends a contingent of mounted scouts through the woods on his left.
And places the reserves in the second line, positioning most of them on his right flank,
anticipating an Ottoman envelopment from the west.
Sinan is at first unable to see the enemy approaching, but news of the attack soon reaches him.
Out from the fog come Mihai's first line of mercenaries.
In a sustained attack the Valahians try to push the Ottomans back towards the bridge.
But Sinan's troops prove their mettle and manage to hold the line.
Aware that it is only a matter of time before the momentum of the Valahian attack withers
away, Mihai puts his life on the line, attempting to reinvigorate the men.
He gathers his personal retinue and charges to the forefront of the fighting, throwing
himself into the enemy line, cutting down several Janissaries in a matter of seconds.
This brave act has an immediate impact on the morale of his troops.
The Valahian army pushes forward, as if under a spell.
Albert Kiraly positions the two cannons under his command and fires at the Ottoman soldiers
near the bridge.
To the east, having weaved their way the woods they know well, Mihai's scouts finally emerge
and charge the enemy's right flank.
For the first time, the Ottomans are on the back foot.
Seeing that his men are losing heart, Sinan personally rides across the bridge to rally his men.
His presence momentarily slows the Valahian advance, but not before Mihai manages to recapture
his 10 cannons.
A barrage is unleashed on the mass of Ottoman soldiers, at almost point-blank range.
Meanwhile, Kiraly fires his cannons at the Ottoman right flank.
Pressed against the Janissaries and taking heavy losses, Sinan's cavalry on the right
routs, with Mihai's scouts pursuing them across the river.
Sinan joins the fighting himself and orders an all-out charge.
Ottoman troops rally around their brave general.
An intense battle ensues, as neither side is willing to give in.
In the melee, Sinan is thrown from his horse into the muddy river.
His troops panic, believing that their general perished in the battle.
Some take flight across the bridge, while others risk wading through the dangerous swamp,
desperate to cross the river.
Amidst the chaotic fighting, it is some time before Sinan is helped back onto his horse.
He reprimands his men for running away, hurdling insults at them, demanding that they stand fight.
But it is too late.
What little troops remain committed won't be able to check the Valahian advance.
He orders a general retreat.
Mihai doesn't give chase, still threatened by the Ottoman left flank.
But before the day ends, they too will be routed from the field.
The battle lasted for about 16 hours.
Wallachian losses are fairly llight.
Of the 15,000 troops under his command, Mihai lost about 1,000 men, most of whom fell in
the final charge.
Meanwhile, Sinan wasn't able to bring his full force to bear, and of the 30 - 40,000
troops that participated in the battle, between 10 and 15,000 perished.
4 pashas and 7 sanjak begs fell in battle.
Much of the artillery and treasure from the camp were lost to the enemy.
But Mihai didn't enjoy his victory for long.
Vastly outnumbered he realises that he cannot continue a full-scale war against the Ottomans.
And on the very night after the battle he retreats north into the mountains where he
waits for reinforcements from Sigismund and the Holy League.
Meanwhile, Sinan marches further into Wallachia.
He occupies Bucharest, Targoviste and other major cities, and begins instating the full
apparatus of the Ottoman administration, preparing Wallachia for annexation into the Empire.
But the story doesn't end here...