Treaty of Zsitvatorok Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The treaty between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, which ended the Fifteen Years’ War fought in Hungary and Transylvania, laid the groundwork for the constitutional rights and self-administration of the restored Hungarian Estates, and revived the long-vacant office of Palatine. In addition, virtual freedom of religion was guaranteed throughout the kingdom and principality.

Summary of Event

Upon the death of Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566), the sprawling medieval kingdom of Hungary Hungary consisted of three parts: southern and southwestern Hungary, ruled from Buda, was part of the Ottoman Empire; the principality of Transylvania, ruled from Gyulafehérvár (now Alba Iuria, Romania), was an Ottoman vassal; and the north, with its capital at Pozsony (now Bratislava), was under Habsburg, rule as Royal Hungary, for which the emperor paid an annual tribute to the sultan. Frontiers remained porous, and there was periodic raiding from both sides. All these lands suffered severely from the ravages of war, depopulation, enslavement, famine, plague, and starvation. [kw]Treaty of Zsitvatorok (Nov. 11, 1606) [kw]Zsitvatorok, Treaty of (Nov. 11, 1606) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 11, 1606: Treaty of Zsitvatorok[0440] Government and politics;Nov. 11, 1606: Treaty of Zsitvatorok[0440] Hungary;Nov. 11, 1606: Treaty of Zsitvatorok[0440] Slovakia;Nov. 11, 1606: Treaty of Zsitvatorok[0440] Zsitvatorok, Treaty of (1606)

Such was the background to the Fifteen Years’ War Fifteen Years’ War (1591-1606) , which began in 1591 and lasted until the Treaty of Zsitvatorok in 1606. From 1591, frontier incidents intensified, but expanded to all-out war when the aged Ottoman Ottoman Empire;Holy Roman Emperor and grand vizier Koca Sinan Paşa Koca Sinan Paşa , conscious of a loss of momentum under the feeble rule of Murad III Murad III and sensing danger on the northern frontier, took the field in person in 1593. This danger came not from the somnolent and increasingly erratic emperor Rudolf II Rudolf II (Holy Roman Emperor) but from the sadistic prince of Transylvania Transylvania , Sigismund Báthory, Báthory, Sigismund who regarded as his religious mission the end of his subordination to Constantinople. Báthory’s stance implied an alliance with the Habsburgs, something previous princes of Transylvania had avoided. With Gyulafehérvár equal distance from Constantinople and Vienna, it made sense to the rulers of Transylvania to balance each powerful neighbor against the other.

By 1594, Sinan Paşa had captured Györ, the gateway to Vienna. Sensing a renewed threat to the heart of Christendom, Pope Clement VIII Clement VIII launched a Holy League and provided funds for Rudolf to lead a grand alliance against the Turks. Meanwhile, in his initial advance into Hungary, Sinan Paşa summoned Báthory as the sultan’s vassal to support him, but Báthory failed to appear, despite the urging of the pro-Ottoman faction among the Transylvanian nobility. Sinan Paşa unleashed the Crimean Tatars on Transylvania, and Báthory abdicated in 1593, only to reappear in 1594 and stage against the pro-Ottoman faction a bloodbath horrible enough to silence opposition.

For the moment, Báthory had a loyal lieutenant in a distant kinsman, István Bocskay, Bocskay, István whom he sent to Prague to conclude an agreement with Rudolf (January 28, 1595). Báthory would recognize Rudolf as king of Hungary, while Rudolf would recognize Báthory and his descendants as hereditary princes of Transylvania, an agreement to be sealed by marriage with a Habsburg princess. The marriage was a disaster, as Báthory proved to be impotent, further imperiling his fragile sanity. He therefore threw himself into frenetic military action. Transylvanian forces, under the command of Bocskay, expelled the Ottomans from Transylvania, pursued them as far as Bucharest in Walachia, and won a victory over Sinan Paşa at Giurgiu on the lower Danube. To the west, imperial forces retook Visegrád, Vác, and Esztergom.

These victories were momentary successes. A new sultan, Mehmed III Mehmed III , took the field, the first sultan to do so since Süleyman the Magnificent, and advanced to Eger, where the Ottomans had been repulsed in 1552. On October 13, 1595, the great fortress surrendered to the sultan’s forces. A powerful imperial army was approaching and Mehmed’s forces engaged it at Mezö Kerésztés. The Ottoman army, perhaps 100,000 strong, although wearied by its long march and the Siege of Eger, threw itself upon the entrenched imperial position, and there followed a punishing three days of one of the bloodiest battles of the century. The fabled reputation of the Janissary corps was upheld, and Mezö Kerésztés Mezö Kerésztés, Battle of (1595) came to be regarded as one of the greatest Ottoman victories. However, the Turks were too exhausted to press home the advantage, although for the remaining decade, the military edge lay mainly with them.

Meanwhile, Báthory, utterly unpredictable, traveled with Bocskay to Prague in January of 1597 to negotiate with Rudolf a divorce, his abdication in return for an annuity and two duchies in Silesia, and the promise of a cardinal’s hat. In April, 1598, imperial commissioners took over Transylvania on behalf of the emperor. These arrangements were most unpopular in the principality, where the pro-Ottoman faction reasserted itself. Rudolf, however, faced with resistance, subjected Transylvania to the tender mercies of a brutal Transylvanian mercenary, Giörgio Basta Basta, Giörgio (1550-1607), and the unhappy country was exposed to a savage pacification.

This was Bocskay’s moment. He was one of the most remarkable men of the age, and without him the Treaty of Zsitvatorok might never have happened. Born in 1557 in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca, Romania) and a Protestant, he had served Báthory loyally until that prince’s erratic behavior became impossible to condone. Despite, however, Bocskay’s former friendly relations with the Habsburgs, Rudolf’s commissioners dismissed him from command of the army in 1598, and in October, 1604, they sought to seize him and confiscate his estates on the grounds that he had been in communication with the leader of the pro-Ottoman faction, Gabriel Bethlen Bethlen, Gabriel , who was later prince of Transylvania.

The attempt to seize Bocskay was part of a vicious policy pursued by Rudolf’s agents to harass and dispossess the greater Hungarian nobility in the interests of fiscal gain, thereby alienating the class the Habsburgs should have been conciliating. Bocskay, however, had previously recruited a private army of ruthless freebooters known as hajdus Hajdus , in some ways resembling the Ukrainian Cossacks, whom he had recruited for just such a day. The hajdus dispersed the imperial forces and marched on Kassa (Košice, Slovakia), where Bocskay, as their leader, made a ceremonial entry on November 11, 1604. He was greeted by Bethlen, who presented him with a sword of office and a farman (sultanic degree) from Ahmed I Ahmed I , appointing him prince of Transylvania.

Much of the Hungarian nobility joined Bocskay, imperial garrisons were expelled, and by autumn he was said to have commanded forty thousand men. On February 21, 1605, the Transylvanian diet elected Bocskay their prince, and on April 20, the Hungarian diet, meeting at Szerém (Syrmia, Croatia), named him prince of Hungary. In Constantinople, Ahmed I appointed him king, and on November 11, 1605, the grand vizier, Lala Mehmed, brought Bocskay a jewel-encrusted crown. However, Bocskay was a cautious man, and while he accepted the crown as a personal gift, he hesitated to alienate the Habsburgs by accepting the office.

By this time, the war had dragged on for more than a decade, with both sides exhausted. Archduke Matthias Matthias (Holy Roman Emperor) of Austria, devious and ambitious, was bent on supplanting his brother, the near-insane Rudolf, and sought to woo the Hungarian nobility. Representatives of the latter came to Vienna in 1606 to negotiate the settlement, which made possible the Treaty of Zsitvatorok and finally brought to an end the Fifteen Years’ War. With Bocskay as mediator, Ahmed I agreed that a single payment of 200,000 thalers from the emperor should replace the annual tribute. Significant for the future, Rudolf’s title as emperor received official Ottoman recognition, the first time a sultan had ever recognized an infidel ruler as a near equal. Territorially, the frontiers remained much as they had been in 1591, except that the Ottomans retained Eger and Nagykanizsa. Shortly afterward, Bocskay died mysteriously in Kassa (December 29, 1606), said to have been poisoned on Matthias’s orders, and on November 16, 1608, Matthias himself was crowned king of Hungary in Pozsony.


The Fifteen Years’ War, with its immense loss of life and devastation, marked a historical turning point. In the course of the war, the Ottomans modified their practice of annual expeditions from Constantinople in favor of leaving garrisons permanently in the country, with disastrous consequences for its inhabitants. Vast areas were depopulated, many villages were permanently abandoned, and agricultural land reverted to pastoralism. The central Hungarian lands and Transylvania suffered most from the incessant campaigning, whereas those border regions inhabited by Slovaks, Romanians, and Serbs were much less affected. This had important consequences for future patterns of settlement and demographic growth.

As for the treaty itself, in the words of Denis Sinor in his History of Hungary (1959), the Ottomans, whose resources were less threadbare than those of their opponents, and “though [they were] still redoubtable, had to recognize, . . . that their enemies must be treated with a modicum of consideration.”

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Finkel, C. The Administration of Warfare: The Ottoman Military Campaigns in Hungary, 1693-1606. Vienna, Austria: VWGO, 1988. A detailed account from the Ottoman perspective.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greene, Molly. A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. Greene explores the Crete of the time of the Ottoman conquest and after.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Makkai, Laszlo, and Zoltan Szasz. History of Transylvania. Vol. 2. Toronto: Hungarian Research Institute of Canada, 2002. A detailed account of the Ottoman presence in Transylvania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500-1700. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999. A penetrating study of tactics, logistics, and military psychology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. A detailed survey of Ottoman history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sinor, Denis. History of Hungary. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1959. An excellent summary of the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sugar, Peter F. Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977. An authoritative account of Ottoman involvement in the Balkans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sugar, Peter F, ed. A History of Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. A thoughtful presentation of the war in a broader setting.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wheatcroft, Andrew. Infidels: A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam. New York: Random House, 2004. Examines the continuing religious conflicts between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Paşa; Bohdan Khmelnytsky; Kösem Sultan; Leopold I; Murad IV; Mustafa I. Zsitvatorok, Treaty of (1606)

Categories: History