Second battle on the Kosovo field

From the last article (“Crusaders against the Ottoman Empire: the last campaign”) you learned about the tragic battle at Varna, which ended in the defeat of the Christian army. Many contemporaries (both Muslims and Christians) believed that the reason for the failure of the crusaders and the death of King Vladislav III of Poland and Hungary was the perjury of this monarch, who violated the peace treaty, the terms of which he promised to abide by putting his hand on the Gospel.

After the victory at Varna (1444), Sultan Murad II in 1446 devastated and ravaged the Peloponnese (Morea), then about 60 thousand people were taken into slavery.

But the talented Hungarian commander Janos Hunyadi was still alive.


Monument to Janos Hunyadi, Budapest

In 1448, he expelled Vlad III Tepes, who ascended the throne of Wallachia with Turkish help (the same one that became the prototype of Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s book), and was now preparing for another campaign against the Ottomans. Moreover, he had an ally in Albania – the passionary leader Giorgi Kastrioti.

They said that he alone personally killed three thousand Turks and that he could cut two opponents at once with one blow of his sword. Or – simultaneously cut off the head of a wild boar with one scimitar and the head of a bull with another. And the Ottomans called him “The Dragon of Albania”.

He is much better known under the nickname Skanderbeg. Skanderbeg’s helmet was adorned with the head of a goat – not a lion, an eagle, or, at worst, a wild buffalo. Tradition explains her appearance on the helmet as follows: in his youth, the hero was blocked by the Turks on the top of a barren mountain, but survived by feeding on the milk of a mountain goat he had tamed. This legend puts Skanderbeg on a par with the epic heroes of antiquity, referring the knowledgeable reader even to the myth of Zeus and the goat Amalfei who fed him.


Skanderbeg helmet and sword, art museum, Vienna

The life and fate of Skanderbeg will be described in the next article: from it you can find out how and why the hot Albanian guy got this “Nordic” nickname.

The new Pope Nicholas V, who tried to organize the next Crusade, also acted as an ally of Hunyadi and Skanderbeg.


Pope Nicholas V by Peter Paul Rubens

With the Crusade, nothing happened, but Hunyadi and Kastrioti decided to give another big battle to the Ottoman Empire. The great warrior of Albania was in a hurry to join the army of the great Hungarian commander, but they failed to meet.

Despot of Serbia Georgy Brankovic

From the article “Crusaders against the Ottoman Empire: the last campaign” you remember that in 1444 the despot of Serbia Georgy Brankovic refused to allow the crusaders to pass through their lands. He did the same now, banning Kastrioti from entering Serbia. Moreover, they say that he informed about the movement of the army of Hunyadi Sultan Murad II, who at that time was besieging the Albanian city of Kruja. As a result, the Albanian troops could not arrive on time, and on the Kosovo field Hunyadi saw not allies, but a Turkish army ready for battle. It was the actions of Georgy Brankovich that, possibly, predetermined the new defeat of the Christian army. Looking ahead, let’s say that Kastrioti, in revenge, then ravaged the possessions of the Serbian despot.

The Serbs, justifying George, often say that he defended the Orthodox faith: who closely collaborated with the papal legates and allied crusaders, cardinals Hunyadi, allegedly wanted Serbia to be Catholic.


Karol Lotz. John hunyadi

And Sultan Murad II was religiously tolerant, and the following words are attributed to him in a folk song:

“You have built a mosque and a church
Right next to each other
Who wants to go to the mosque
Who wants to go to the church opposite. “


Portrait of Sultan Murad II

On the eve of the battle

So, the Ottoman and Christian armies again, as in 1389, met in the Kosovo field.


Kosovo field

Kosovo Field (the name comes from the word “kos” – blackbird) is a narrow hilly plain located in an intermountain basin near the city of Pristina. Now it is located on the territory of the state of Kosovo, unrecognized by Serbia and a number of other countries.


Kosovo field on the map of the unrecognized state of Kosovo

The divergence of opinions about the forces of the parties in the Second Battle of the Kosovo Field is very large. Different authors define the size of the Ottoman army from 50 thousand to 400 thousand people, the Christian – from 24 thousand to 90 thousand people. They agree on one thing: the numerical superiority was on the side of the Ottomans. But at the same time, many report that never before has Hunyadi been able to assemble such a large and powerful army under his command. In addition to the Hungarians, it included Poles, Transylvanians, Vlachs, as well as hired German and Czech shooters from the “handguns” – “handguns”.
It should be said that in those years the Ottomans invariably executed all the mercenaries who were captured by them. On the one hand, this frightened off some of the candidates, but those who nevertheless decided to be recruited for the war with the Turks did not surrender and fought to the end.


Janos Hunyadi on the Hungarian stamp

According to legend, the leaders of the opposing sides exchanged the following messages:
Hunyadi wrote:

“I do not have as many warriors as you have, there are fewer of them, but they are all good warriors, staunch, loyal and courageous.”


Janos Hunyadi

The Sultan replied:

“I prefer to have a full quiver of common arrows than six or seven gold-plated arrows.”


Murad II, sultan of the Ottomans, Austrian National Library

Murad II did not “reinvent the wheel” and deployed his troops in the same way as in the battle of Varna. In the center he stood himself with the janissaries and artillery. The left flank was formally led by his son Mehmed, but in fact it was commanded by the Beylerbey of Rumelii Daiya Karadzha-bey. The striking force of this wing was heavy cavalry – sipahs (spahi). Akinji (light cavalry of the Ottomans) of the Rumelian bey Turakhan also turned out to be here.


Ottoman akinci at the Battle of Mohacs (1526), ​​Turkish miniature

On the right flank of the Ottoman army, units of the Anatolian cavalry were delivered – jabel, commanded by beylerbey Ozguroglu Isa-bey.

Hunyadi also placed his infantrymen (Germans and Czechs) in the center in front of Wagenburg, under whose protection they could retreat (they were also protected by large shields – paveses), and advanced cavalry units.

According to some reports, before the battle, Murad II turned to Hunyadi with a proposal for peace, but his conditions did not satisfy the Hungarian commander.

Second battle on the Kosovo field

This time the battle on the Kosovo field lasted three days – from 17 to 19 October 1448. Both sides acted extremely carefully, not risking being the first to attack the enemy. On October 17, Ottoman and Christian troops fired at each other and set up positions. In the afternoon, Hunyadi nevertheless conducted reconnaissance in force, sending his cavalry to attack the enemy’s flanks. These actions were unsuccessful.

On the same day, a “knightly duel” took place, the instigator of which was an unnamed Hungarian. His challenge was answered by the Ottoman warrior Elias, who managed to knock the enemy off his horse, but at the same time his saddle girth was torn and he could not continue the battle. The opponents returned to their positions, but the Ottomans considered their fighter the winner.

On the night of October 18, Hunyadi, on the advice of a defector, attacked the Ottoman camp, but this attempt was unsuccessful: the Janissaries, taken by surprise, quickly came to their senses and repulsed the attack.

The main events took place on 18 October. After several attacks, the Ottoman cavalry was able to press the right flank of the Christian army, and Turakhan’s cavalry even bypassed it. But the outcome of the battle was not yet decided – until the Wallachians wavered: the ruler Vladislav II Daneshti agreed to go over to the side of the enemy. However, even after this, the Hunyadi army fought until the evening, and did not leave their positions. But it was clear that victory would no longer be possible, and therefore in the evening of that day, Hunyadi began to prepare his troops for retreat.

On October 19, the last day of this battle, the Christian army began to retreat. It fell to the Germans and Czechs who had taken refuge in Wagenburg to cover the withdrawal of the main forces – and these soldiers, armed with handhelds, honestly fulfilled their duty: fighting fiercely, they inflicted great damage on the Ottomans and detained them.

The Ottomans recorded the first use of hand-tufts-tufts back in 1421, but until 1448 they remained “exotic” in the Turkish army. It was after the Second Battle of the Kosovo Field that Murad II gave the order to re-equip the Janissary corps. And in 1453, under the walls of Constantinople, the Byzantines saw the Janissaries already armed with firearms.

All Czech and German soldiers of Wagenburg were killed, but the losses of the rest of the army were extremely great – both in previous battles and during the retreat. Antonio Bonfini wrote that at that time there were more corpses in the Sitnitsa River than fish. And Mehmed Neshri reported:

“Mountains and rocks, fields and desert – everything was filled with the dead.”

Most authors agree that Christians lost about 17 thousand people, and many commanders died: Hungary lost most of the country’s upper nobility. Now this country was drained of blood, and there were almost no forces left to resist the Ottoman onslaught.

During the retreat, Hunyadi was detained by the despot of Serbia Georgy Brankovic, who released him only after receiving a ransom in the amount of 100 thousand ducats (Serbian historians insist that this was not a ransom, but compensation for the damage caused to their country by the army of Hunyadi).
The Volokhs’ betrayal did not go unpunished: Sultan Murad II did not trust them, and after the victory ordered the Rumeli akinji Turakhan-bey to kill about 6 thousand people. The rest were released after the ruler Vladislav II Daneshti agreed to pay tribute and supply soldiers on demand.

Janos Hunyadi will still fight the Turks: in 1454 he will drive back the troops of Sultan Mehmed II from the Danube fortress of Smederevo, and in 1456 he will defeat the river flotilla of the Turks and defeat the Ottoman army, which was besieging Belgrade (Nandorfehervar). During the battle for Belgrade, even Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror was wounded.


Janos Hunyadi in a medieval drawing

But in the same year, this commander died of the plague, and the ruler of Wallachia, Vlad III Tepes, gave a feast for the bishops and boyars on this occasion, at the end of which all the guests were put on stakes.

After the death of Janos Hunyadi, the ruler of Albania, Georgy Kastrioti, had no combat-ready allies. He continued to fight successfully, defeating one Ottoman army after another, but his heroic resistance was of a local nature and could not prevent Ottoman expansion. Already in 1453, 5 years after the Second Battle of Kosovo, Constantinople fell under the blows of the Ottomans, and this was not a victory for Murad II (who died, as we remember, in 1451), but his son Mehmed.

The fall of Constantinople was the beginning of the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, its “Golden Age”. Historians tend to believe that it was then, under Mehmed II, that the Ottoman state acquired the right to be called an empire. Since that time, for many decades, the Turkish fleet has dominated the Mediterranean Sea, having won many brilliant victories, which were described in a series of articles about the Ottoman admirals and pirates of the Maghreb.


Great pirates who became admirals of the Ottoman Empire: Khair ad-Din Barbarossa, Turgut-reis, Sinan Pasha

The land forces of the empire reached Vienna. And in the Balkans, over time, peoples professing Islam appeared: Albanians, Bosniaks, Pomaks, Gorans, Torbeshi, Sredchane.

In the next article we will talk about the great Albanian warrior Giorgi Kastrioti, better known as Skanderbeg, and his many years of war with the Ottomans.


Monument to Skanderbeg, Tirana

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