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
Their target was the Kingdom of Hungary, a fragile land rife with internal chaos - a
nation ripe for the picking.
Welcome to our video on the Battle of Mohacs, one of the most
significant clashes in the history of Europe.
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It had been the ambition of the Ottomans to conquer the heartlands of Europe ever since
Sultan Mehmed II.
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, the Hungarians
would receive little to no aid against this pending Turkish invasion.
Suleyman’s reign began with the conquest of the Hungarian controlled city of Belgrade
With the fall of Rhodes in 1522 he was able to refocus his resources back onto mainland
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.
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 anyways.
In order for the Ottomans to strike at Habsburg territory like the French wished, they would
need to first go through Hungary.
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.
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 had 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
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 accomplished was to incite the peasants into full-scale
revolt, resulting in a war that would ravage all Hungary.
The rebellion was brutally put down by the Voivode of Transylvania, John Zapolya,
and over 70,000 peasants would be captured and
tortured in the aftermath.
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
Varying sources put the total numbers of this force between 50,000 to 100,000.
It was made up of labourers, cavalry and elite Janissaries
alongside 300 cannon.
The Ottomans embarked upon an 80-day march up the Balkans, during which torrential rains
flooded the Danube river, making maintaining of supply lines difficult.
Nevertheless, through the iron discipline of the vizier Ibrahim, the
Ottomans reached Belgrade.
From Belgrade, Suleyman sent Ibrahim ahead to capture the fortress of Petrovaradin.
Ottoman sappers detonated mines beneath the walls,
and the Janissaries charged in, taking the fortress
while only losing 25 men.
The bulk of the Ottoman 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 Hungarians, Croatians and Bohemians, with
a core of men-at-arms and armoured knights.
Much like Suleyman, King Louis knew the importance of the mouth of the river Drava,
and ordered his deputy, Stefan Bathory to lead a vanguard there, and defend it at all
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
King Louis himself led the second line, surrounded by 1,000 of his personal
armoured cavalry, and the troops of his
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.
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 sipahis.
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
A crescendo of Hungarian artillery fired across the battlefield.
The right wing of the Hungarian first line charged the
The Rumelian cavalry were not prepared for the assault, and the heavily
armoured Hungarian footmen broke through the first two lines of the Ottoman defense,
and fought their way towards the Ottoman’s third line.
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.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian left wing stabbed at the center of the disordered Ottoman
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.
As the Hungarians came within range of the Ottoman wagon fortress, a volley of guns and
artillery inflicted heavy damage upon the first line.
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, after two hours of
fighting, the Ottoman 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.
From here, the Ottoman army advanced on both flanks to finish off the remaining foes.
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 seperate 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 had attempted to flee.
In the chaos, his horse had thrown him into the flooded Csele brook, and
his heavy armour 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.
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.
When none came, he advanced to the city of Buda, taking it with almost no resistance.
While Suleyman ordered the city to be spared, sources
claim that his army looted and burned it anyways.
The victorious Ottoman army then withdrew back to Constantinople, carrying with
them the spoils of war.
After the battle, the mortified Hungarian nobles were so divided and panicked, 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.
But perhaps the most significant legacy of this defining engagement is the
effect it has on the national conscience of the Hungarian people, who to this day when
faced with bad fortune, utter the words: “More was
lost at Mohacs.”
We have recorded a podcast on the early structure and administration of the Ottoman empire as
an addendum to this video and you can listen to it via the link in the description or the
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