Battle of Vaslui 1475

No serious Hungaro-Ottoman clash took place during the ten years following the Bosnian war of 1464, despite the fact that it was during this same period, between 1463 and 1479, that Venice fought her bloodiest war against the Ottoman empire – a war in which the republic counted Matthias among its allies. Yet the southern frontier of Hungary was so calm during these years that even the usual Turkish incursions disappear from the sources for a while; and when they reappear they are directed not against the kingdom of Hungary, but against the Empire and Venice. In 1469 Ottoman troops, coming from Bosnia, devastated Carniola and Carinthia for the first time, and the domains of the Habsburgs suffered ten further attacks before 1490. The Ottoman marauders also appeared frequently in the Venetian provinces of Istria and Friuli. In order to reach their goal, the Turkish contingents had to cross Croatia and Slavonia, both belonging to the Hungarian crown. It was conspicuous that these territories were, as a rule, spared, and it was therefore not entirely without reason that Matthias was accused of colluding with the Ottomans under the veil of his bellicose rhetoric. In 1465 and 1468 Ottoman envoys arrived in Hungary. Although their offers were officially rejected, it seems probable that a secret peace treaty was signed on the first occasion, which was then regularly prolonged until 1473. The emperor seems to have been correct in his suspicion that in return for the peace Matthias allowed Ottoman troops to pass through his lands on their way to the Austrian provinces.

After a long period of peace Hungaro-Ottoman relations apparently began to deteriorate. Having won a decisive victory over the Akkoyunlu sultan, Uzun Hasan, Sultan Mehmed unexpectedly refused to prolong the peace at the end of 1473. It must have been as a consequence of this refusal that in the beginning of 1474 Ali, bey of Smederevo, carried out an incursion into Hungary that was much more audacious than any that had previously been mounted. Having marched deep into the heart of the kingdom, he set fire to the town of Oradea on 8 February and withdrew unscathed from the country, carrying away 16,000 prisoners. Matthias’s reaction was to ally himself with his former enemy, Stephen, prince of Moldavia, to whom he sent auxiliary troops under the command of Blaise Magyar, voivode of Transylvania. In January 1475 the Christian army annihilated that of the beylerbey of Rumelia at the battle of Vaslui in Moldavia.

VASLUI, 10 JANUARY 1475

The only question about the Ottoman Turkish invasions by the mid-fifteenth century was how far north or west in Europe they would go. The Turks had already conquered the Byzantine Empire and much of the Balkans; they showed no stopping. No kingdom was more active against the Turks than Moldavia. From 1457 to 1504 Moldavia was ruled by the charismatic prince (voivod) Stephen the Great, whose rise to power coincided with the last 22 years of the reign of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444–1446, 1451–1481). During Stephen’s reign the Moldavian state fought against Hungarians, Poles, and the Ottomans, who were vying to dominate the principality. The Hungarians were repulsed in 1467, and the Ottomans were defeated at Vaslui in present-day Romania in 1475. Though Stephen the Great suffered a defeat at the hands of the Ottomans at Valea Albă the following year, in 1476, the Moldavian state continued to increase in size, capturing the port of Kilia on the Danube and expanding its influence into Wallachia.

The conflict between Moldavia and the Ottoman Empire, which was centered on the control of Wallachia, continued until Vlad IV Tepeș (the Impaler) acknowledged Ottoman and Hungarian suzerainty and was recognized as the prince of Wallachia A large army of Moldavians, led by their king, Stephen III, faced an even larger army of Turks under Hadân Suleiman Pasha, the Beylerbey of Rumelia outside of Visuli. The Moldavians attacked with gunpowder artillery, handguns and bows, then launched their cavalry at the Turks, who were having difficulty seeing what was happening through the cold January fog. The Ottomans remained confused, until they fled or surrendered. The latter were impaled, with only the commanders being preserved. However, the defeat was far from decisive as the Turks would return the next year.

Not content with this victory, Matthias led his troops against the castle of Šabac, on the southern bank of the River Sava, and captured it on 15 February 1476 after a six-week siege. Šabac was a simple wooden fortress, constructed by the Ottomans a few years before. Its occupation was by no means an outstanding victory, but Hungarian propaganda proved very skillful in making it appear as such. The siege of Šabac even gave birth to a Hungarian heroic epic, which is in fact the first of this genre to have survived. Matthias also considered attacking the much more impressive castle of Smederevo, and constructed wooden fortresses in the vicinity, but the sultan appeared swiftly and destroyed them before the king could make up his mind. Mehmed also tried to force Moldavia to obedience in the summer of 1476, but Prince Stephen avoided battle and the sultan left empty-handed. Peace was then temporarily restored, and in his letter to Mehmed in 1478, Matthias could once again refer to their ‘mutual peace and friendship’.

The last series of Hungaro-Ottoman clashes in Matthias’s lifetime took place between 1479 and 1481. In 1479 Transylvania and the southern part of Transdanubia, which had hitherto been spared by the marauders, were attacked simultaneously; but on 13 October near Orăştie the army that was devastating Transylvania was destroyed by Voivode Stephen Bátori and Paul Kinizsi, count of Timis¸. In 1480 Croatia was pillaged by the Turks whilst returning from Styria. Matthias retaliated by sending Kinizsi to ravage Serbia, while he himself invaded Bosnia in November and marched as far as Sarajevo. The sultan’s counter-attack was prevented by his death in 1481. His successor, Bayezid II, was much less bellicose. In October 1483, after a series of minor conflicts, he made peace with the Hungarian king for five years, which was prolonged in 1488 for a further two years. This did not prevent him from bringing the Moldavians to heel, however. In 1484 he took the two southern strongholds of the principality, Kilija and Belgorod (Akkerman), and thereafter Prince Stephen was forced to pay a symbolic annual tax to the sultan.

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