Hungarian-Turkish Wars (1437–1526)

The battle of Mohács in 1526. Hungarian National Museum, Budapest

Series of wars between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, beginning with the Ottoman occupation of Serbia (1438–1439) and ending with the collapse of Hungary in the Hungarian Civil Wars (1526–1547). The failure of Hungarian king Albrecht’s crusade in 1437 introduced a new phase of the Ottoman wars of European expansion in the Balkans, which were now waged up to and across the borders of Hungary. To support deposed Serbian despot George Brankoviæ, Hungarian general János Hunyadi counterattacked into Wallachia in 1442. In the winter of 1443–1444 Hunyadi invaded Bulgaria, forcing Sultan Murad II to agree to the restoration of Serbia to Brankoviæ. Assured by the pope that promises made to infidels need not be honored, Hungarian King Ulászlo I broke the peace and launched another crusade in 1444. The crusading army was cut off and destroyed by Murad at Varna, where Ulászlo was killed. Hunyadi escaped but was defeated again at Kosovo Polje in 1448. A continuing succession crisis left Hungary too weak to intervene in the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (1453). Hunyadi gathered sufficient forces to break the siege of Belgrade (1456), but the Hungarians were unable after his death to prevent the Ottoman conquest of Serbia (1457–1458).

Though Hunyadi’s campaigns against the Ottomans ultimately failed to recover any territory, they did revitalize and provide leadership for the resistance of the Balkan peoples fighting against the Turks, encouraging Skander Beg (George Kastriota) to renounce Ottoman suzerainty and launch the Albanian-Turkish wars for independence.

In 1463 Mehmed II invaded and occupied Bosnia, prompting a winter counterattack by Hunyadi’s son, Matthias Corvinus, who recaptured the strategic fortress of Jajce. From 1464–1466 the Hungarians and Ottomans fought ineffectually in Bosnia, eventually dividing the kingdom between themselves.

Subsequently, Matthias focused on strengthening the line of fortresses established by King Sigismund along the southern borders of Transylvania and Slavonia through Bosnia to the Adriatic while the Ottomans consolidated their Balkan conquests. The following 50 years were marked by repeated border incursions and raids from both sides, over time weakening the fortress system. A large raid by Ali Beg of Smederevo in 1479 was followed by a campaign by Matthias into Wallachia, Serbia, and eastern Bosnia in 1480, capturing Srebrenica and briefly restoring the frontier defenses.

After Matthias’s death, the Hungarians successfully repulsed an attack on Belgrade in 1494,but by the first decades of the sixteenth century Ottoman raiders were penetrating deeper into the frontier zone and inflicting defeats on Hungarian counterattacks inside Croatia and Hungary, notably at Sinj (1508), Knin (1511), and Dubica (1520). The recurrent raids devastated the frontier regions, leaving the fortresses isolated and unsupported in the deserted land. Srebrenica was recaptured by the Ottomans in 1512, completing the Turkish conquest of Bosnia. The border defenses were fatally breached with the capture of Belgrade by Süleyman I in 1521 and the fall of Orsova and Knin the following year.

With the lower Danube firmly in his control, Süleyman invaded Hungary in force, defeating the Hungarian army in the Battle of Mohács (1526), at which King Louis II was killed. Louis’s death marked the end of the medieval Hungarian kingdom, which was subsequently divided among the Ottomans, Austrian Habsburgs, and the dependent principality of Transylvania.

References and further reading:Sugar, Peter. Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule: 1389–1814. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977. Szakály, Ferenc.“Phases of Turco-Hungarian Warfare before the Battle of Mohács.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 33 (1979): 65–111.

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