Battle of Călugăreni (1595)

Wallachian victory at Battle of Călugăreni (1595)

Wallachian Army

After the battle of Mohacs (1526), most of Hungary fell into Turkish hands, but Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia (today making up Roumania) were left as semi-independent states in a ‘no-man’s-land’ between Turks, Poles and Austrians. Wallachia was generally a Turkish satellite, but 20 standards of Wallachians served in the Polish forces, and their princes or Voivodes sometimes fought the Turks – Michael the Brave winning a notable victory over them at Călugăreni (1595). Wallachian armies of this period were entirely of cavalry, mainly nobles, lightly equipped, with spear, shield, sabre and often bow, occasionally replaced with pistols. A Polish source says they were very brave, but great looters!

At Călugăreni the Wallachians had the aid of Cossack and Transylvanian contingents. The Princes of Transylvania fought for and against most of their neighbours at one time or another and were involved in the early stages of the 30 Years’ War. Unusually for the area, the Transylvanian nobility got on fairly well with the peasantry (apart from Count Dracula, I presume) so that their army included infantry as well as the traditional levy of mobile cavalry. After 1606, the Princes established landless wanderers – ‘Haiduks’ – on holdings along the Turkish frontier, on military service terms like the Austrian ‘Grenzers’.

Opposition to the Ottomans was constant, but the majority of princes were realists. Aware that their countries were too weak to challenge Ottoman supremacy directly, they looked for support to Po- land, the Habsburg empire, and Russia. Theirs was the classic strategy of playing powerful neighbors off against one another, thereby securing independence. One of the high points of this delicate game was the reign of Michael the Brave of Walachia (ruled 1593-1601), who allied himself with the Habsburgs and won several significant victories over Ottoman armies, notably at Călugăreni in 1595. He also brought Moldavia and the principality of Transylvania under his rule for a brief time, but his enemies prevailed, and the Ottomans regained their predominance over the principalities.

Wallachian offensive

Michael led an army of mounted Wallachians south across the Danube River into Ottoman- held Bulgaria in January 1595. The swift- moving column systematically captured a string of Ottoman strongholds along the Danube, including Rusciuc, Silistra, Nicopolis and Chilia. These gains greatly worried the Ottomans because it threatened their supply line along the Lower Danube.

In the meantime, Transylvanian Voivode Sigismund Bathory sought to establish his authority, with Rudolf’s approval, over the voivodes of Wallachia and Moldavia. Transylvania historically was part of Hungary, but its ruler often oversaw regional matters on behalf of the Habsburg emperor.

Voivode Aaron of Moldavia dutifully arrived in the Transylvanian capital of Alba Iulia. Bathory imprisoned and poisoned Aaron so that he could install one of his own officials, Stefan Razvan, as ruler of Moldavia. Bathory also summoned Michael, but the Wallachian was busy campaigning against the Ottomans, so he sent a group of Wallachian boyars (aristocratic landowners) to act on his behalf. They signed an agreement whereby Michael became Bathory’s vassal.

Michael expected a large Ottoman army to invade Wallachia to restore the disrupted supply line to the war zone in northern Hungary. The Ottomans needed to secure the corridor in order to safely move troops, siege guns, ammunition and food stores to the battlefront in Hungary. The Ottomans also wanted to secure Wallachia because they relied on it for grain and horses for their armies.

Sinan Pasha invaded Wallachia in the summer of 1595 with 115,000 troops for the purpose of securing the Ottoman supply corridor along the Lower Danube. To oppose him, Michael had 22,000 Wallachian, Székely and Cossack troops. The native Wallachians and the Cossacks fought mounted, whereas the Székelys fought on foot.

Michael deployed his troops in a strong position on marshy ground behind the Neajlov River, south of the village of Călugăreni, to impede the Ottoman akinji and sipahi horsemen. As they advanced against the Wallachians on 25 August, the troops of the Ottoman vanguard ran into stiff resistance while crossing a bridge over the Neajlov.

Once the Ottomans had secured a foothold on the north side of the Neajlov, the janissaries went to work constructing makeshift causeways and bridges through the marshes using logs and planks. When his entire army was on hand, Sinan Pasha attempted a double envelopment with his skilled horsemen.

The Turks never managed to achieve their double envelopment because Michael moved to seize the initiative. He dispatched a portion of his cavalry on a wide flanking move in which it assailed the Ottoman flank and rear. While the cavalry was moving into position, Michael led a spirited attack on the Ottoman centre, wading into the enemy ranks swinging his double-bladed axe. The Ottomans fell back in the face of the fearsome counterattack. The victorious Wallachians seized 15 guns and captured the green banner of the prophet as a trophy.

Unable to further resist the much larger Ottoman army and wanting to avoid destruction, Michael withdrew north across the Wallachian plain to the safety of the primeval woods of the Transylvanian Alps. Sinan Pasha retook the fortress of Giurgiu and then occupied Targoviste and Bucharest.

Using captured Ottoman guns to support his men, Michael defeated the Ottomans at Targoviste in 1595.

Michael requested troops from Bathory, who duly came to his aid. At the head of a 40,000-strong Wallachian-Transylvanian army Michael recaptured Targoviste on 18 October. Instead of attacking Michael, Sinan Pasha retreated towards the Danube for fear that Michael would cut his supply line. Michael’s troops attacked the Ottomans at Giurgiu on 27 October. The Ottomans, who were withdrawing to the south bank of the Danube over a bridge of boats, had to fight a desperate rearguard action to protect their crossing. Sinan Pasha sacrificed his rearguard in order to get the main body safely across.

Wallachian Cavalryman c. 1575

The original occupants of what is now known as Romania called themselves Vlachs (not to be confused with a similar word used in Serbia and Bulgaria for cattle-raisers), and formed three independent states: Wallachia about 1324, Moldavia in 1359 and Transylvania at the beginning of the fifteenth century. First they were vassals of Hungary, later battlegrounds for the interests of Hungary, Poland, Austria and Turkey. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Turks appeared on the borders of Wallachia, which finally fell under their rule in 1526, after the Battle of Mohacs. Prince Vlad Tepes the Impaler (1418-56) (also known as Count Dracula) gained notoriety through his cruelty in the struggle against the Turks, and it was from him that the Turks learned to impale their prisoners on stakes without killing them at once, a skill they were later to use extensively. After the Turkish occupation, the Vlachs shared the fate of all occupied peoples. The local feudal lords (bospodars) often rose against the Turks, and took to the mountains and woods with their armed bands.

In equipment and appearance, the Vlachs were similar to the Hungarians and Russians; they wore large fur capes decorated with feathers, and sported the characteristic long, rounded beards. After their victory over the Turks at Călugăreni in 1595, Vlach armies became almost completely cavalry forces. Several contemporary engravings by de Bruyn, made between 1575 and 1581, help us to reconstruct the appearance of the Wallachian cavalrymen.

They belonged, for the most part, to a type of light cavalry (calarasi), who acquired much of their equipment and equestrian skills from the Ottomans. Besides training their horses to walk, trot and gallop, the Vlachs taught them to walk like camels, moving both legs on one side at the same time. Today one can find horses walking that way, but it is considered a bad trait.

From the end of the sixteenth century, Wallachians served as mercenary horsemen to both the Ottoman Empire and its enemies – Poland, Hungary and Russia. They were organized in squadrons (sotnia, from the Russian word for 100) of about one hundred men. At one time there were 20 sotnias in Polish service in the Ukraine, and one of the frequent motifs on their flags was a bull’s head. Like the Ottomans, they refused to use firearms for a long time; their main weapons were spear, sabre and composite bow. For protection, they wore mail shirts and used a light round shield.

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