Battle of Mohács Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Battle of Mohács destroyed the unified Hungarian nation, helped to establish the Ottomans as a major power in Europe, and opened Hungary to Habsburg and Ottoman domination.

Summary of Event

On April 23, 1526, Süleyman the Magnificent began marching westward from Belgrade to invade Hungary with almost 100,000 men. Professional soldiers—Janissaries (infantry) and sipahis (cavalry)—made up about half of his total force. The remainder consisted of irregular infantry (azabs) and cavalry (akinjis) to be recompensed by the spoils of war. Artillery consisted of between 150 and 200 guns. He was well prepared, having constructed bridges across the Danubian tributaries Sava and Drava in advance. Mohács, Battle of (1526) Süleyman the Magnificent John (1487-1540) Ferdinand I (1503-1564) Louis II (1506-1526) Charles V (1500-1558) Süleyman the Magnificent Louis II (king of Hungary) Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Emperor) Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) John I (king of Hungary, r. 1526-1540) Tomori, Pál Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Emperor)

In contrast, the Hungarian border fortresses were inadequately staffed and in a poor state of maintenance. The king’s professional army had been disbanded and many of the king’s vassals had allowed their forces to decline. As a consequence, the border fortresses and troops were unable to effectively delay Ottoman advance until the king’s men, feudal levies, and allies could be fully mobilized. Furthermore, King Louis II did not command the wholehearted support of his people. He was married to Archduke Ferdinand’s sister, Maria, and he and his nobles made up a Catholic party supporting the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Charles, however, was embroiled in Protestant-Catholic conflict within the empire and with French opposition and gave little support to the Hungarians in spite of their repeated pleas for help.

John Zápolya, governor and effective ruler of Transylvania, represented Calvinist interests and the interests of the lower nobles. Finally, the peasantry had been disarmed and held in strict serfdom Serfdom following the uprising of 1514 (the Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt) Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt (1514)[Hungarian Peasants Revolt (1514)] . As a consequence, many peasants viewed the Ottomans as liberators.

Louis moved south from Buda leading an army of only four thousand men to a rallying point at the plain of Mohács on the right bank of the Danube River. Here he was joined by reinforcements, including some Germans, Poles, and Bohemians, bringing his total force to about twenty-five thousand men with about eighty-five artillery pieces. The imperial Diet at Speyar, in the face of Protestant reluctance to support the Catholic emperor, voted too late to send reinforcements.

At Mohács, Archbishop Pál Tomori, governor in charge of the southern border, and most of the magnates, principal Hungarian nobles, advised Louis to withdraw northward to the fortress of Buda. There he could expect to join forces with Zápolya and his army, which was then a few days’ march north on the left bank of the Danube and advancing to reinforce Louis. In addition, a contingent of Bohemians had just entered northern Hungary on their way to join Louis. A slow withdrawal also would lengthen Ottoman supply lines, exposing them to flank attack. The more rash nobles, motivated by antagonism to Zápolya, however, advised an immediate attack, so about twenty-five thousand Hungarians led by Louis launched a heavy cavalry charge against the center of the far larger Ottoman army.

The Ottoman center, monitored by azabs and akinjis, was crushed, but they inflicted substantial casualties during their retreat toward the concealed main line of Ottoman defense. In this way, the Hungarian cavalry was drawn away from supporting Hungarian infantry and artillery and found themselves confronted with massed Ottoman artillery backed by the Janissary corps. Heavy artillery fire decimated the Hungarian cavalry. At this point, the Ottoman flanks advanced to surround the Hungarians, and Süleyman’s sipahis overran the Hungarian foot soldiers and artillery. The Hungarian army was essentially annihilated, suffering twenty-four thousand casualties, including Louis, who fell under his horse and was drowned attempting to flee.

The Ottomans also slaughtered two thousand prisoners and sent many women and children to Constantinople as slaves. Twenty-eight principal barons, five hundred other nobles, and seven bishops, almost the entire royal governing leadership, also were killed, leaving only Zápolya’s Protestant party and army to maintain the Hungarian state. Mohács was burned and the akinjis were unloosed to pillage the countryside.

Zápolya and his army arrived at the Danube the day after the battle, but, informed of the results of the battle, withdrew. The advancing Bohemian reinforcements also turned back, and organized resistance ceased. Süleyman continued to Buda, arriving September 10, where he destroyed the city, except the royal palace, where he took temporary residence. The great Corvinus Library, the royal treasury, and the two trophy cannons, taken from Sultan Mehmed II when he was thrown back at Belgrade, all were removed to Constantinople.

After considering the condition of his army and his probable inability to control the countryside during the oncoming winter, Süleyman decided to withdraw rather than to occupy the country. He bridged the Danube, crossed to Pesth, burned the city, and returned home, laying waste to the left bank of the river.

Louis’s death left the throne of Hungary vacant because he was the last of his line. Archduke Ferdinand, brother of Emperor Charles V, claimed the Crown on the strength of an agreement with Louis, which made him heir to the throne in the event that Louis died without a male heir. This agreement, however, violated a law requiring the king to be a Hungarian. Thus, a diet composed of Hungarian nobles belonging to the nationalist faction elected Zápolya king, and he entered Budapest to be crowned King John I.

A few weeks later, another, smaller diet of pro-Habsburg magnates rallied around the widowed Queen Mary and elected Archduke Ferdinand as king. Ferdinand’s troops defeated John in the ensuing civil war, driving him into exile in Poland. From exile, John sought Ottoman aid. Süleyman then recognized John in 1528, and promised military assistance without requiring tribute. Ottoman troops reentered Hungary in 1529, quickly defeated Ferdinand’s troops, and again occupied Buda. Thereafter, an Ottoman detachment remained in Buda, and John became an Ottoman vassal. Ferdinand, however, managed to retain the western margin of Hungary, “Royal Hungary,” where he also ruled as king of Hungary. After John’s death in 1540, however, Süleyman annexed his part of Hungary, placing a pasha at Buda, but left Transylvania as a vassal state.

Significance

The Battle of Mohács led to the tripartite subdivision of Hungary into Royal Hungary on the west, the pashalik of Buda in the core of the country, and the principality of Transylvania (later annexed to the Ottoman Empire). The divisions persisted, with many modifications, until the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, when Hungary came under the control of the Habsburgs.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ahmed, S. Z. The Zenith of an Empire: The Glory of Suleiman the Magnificent and the Law Giver. Trumbull, Conn.: Weatherhill, 2001. Biography of Süleyman, emphasizing the creative and dynamic aspects of his rule and his empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fregosi, Paul. Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests from the Seventh to the Twenty-First Centuries. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998. The Battle of Mohács is discussed in this study of Islamic wars in the West.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goffman, Daniel. The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A reconsideration of the Ottoman Empire, arguing that it should be understood as part of Renaissance Europe rather than as a “world apart,” isolated and exotic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: William Morrow, 1977. Includes an account of the Battle of Mohács, its antecedents, and its consequences, within a comprehensive history of the Ottoman Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kubinyi, Andras. “The Battle of Szavaszentdemeter-Nagyolaszi, 1523: Ottoman Advance and Hungarian Defence on the Eve of Mohacs.” In Ottomans, Hungarians, and Habsburgs in Central Europe: The Military Confines in the Era of Ottoman Conquest, edited by Géza Dávid and Pál Fodor. Boston: Brill, 2000. A study of a significant precursor battle to Mohács, analyzing the military strategies employed and comparing them to those of the decisive conflict that would occur three years later.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kunt, Metin, and Christine Woodhead, eds. Süleyman the Magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World. New York: Longman, 1995. Anthology covering the genesis of the Ottoman Empire, the policies and problems faced by the empire in the sixteenth century, and Süleyman’s reign in the context of those problems.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lukinch, Imre. A History of Hungary in Biographical Sketches. Translated by Catherine Dallas. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1937. Includes an account of the politics surrounding the Battle of Mohács.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pamlényi, Ervin, ed. A History of Hungary. Translated by Lálszló Bores, Isván Farkas, Gyula Gulayás, and Eva Róna. Revised by Margaret Morris and Richard Alton. London: Collet’, 1975. Discusses the political and economic context of Mohács from a communist point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sugar, Peter F., Péter Hának, and Frank Tibor, eds. A History of Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Includes essays on events leading to the Battle of Mohács and on the partition of Hungary into Royal Hungary, Ottoman Hungary, and the principality of Transylvania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wheatcraft, Andrew. The Ottomans. New York: Viking, 1993. Includes a fairly detailed account of the Battle of Mohács.

1454-1481: Rise of the Ottoman Empire

Aug. 17, 1477: Foundation of the Habsburg Dynasty

1478-1482: Albanian-Turkish Wars End

1481-1512: Reign of Bayezid II and Ottoman Civil Wars

16th cent.: Proliferation of Firearms

1514: Hungarian Peasants’ Revolt

1555-1556: Charles V Abdicates

1589: Second Janissary Revolt in Constantinople

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