Battle of Szigetvár

Battle of Szigetvár

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Szigetvár

partof=the Ottoman-Habsburg wars|date= 6 August, 1566 – 8 September, 1566
place=Szigetvár, Hungary
result=Ottoman Phyrric victory
commander1=Nikola Zrinski (Miklós Zrinyi)
commander2=Suleiman the Magnificent †,
Sokollu Mehmet Paşa
strength1=2,300 Croats and Hungarians, 600 able-bodied men by the end of the siege [Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey, 2003. 57 ]
strength2=Unknown (possibly 100,000 men?) [The following Reference: "Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey, 2003. 55" states that he was "at the head of one of the largest armies he had ever commanded" - previous campaigns had troops numbering over 100,000 so 100,000 is a minimum estimate here.]
casualties1= Entire garrison wiped out in a final sortie
casualties2= Heavy; Suleiman dies during siege of natural causes.

The Battle of Szigetvár ( _hr. Sigetska Bitka, _tr. Zigetvar Savaşı) was a siege of the small fort located in Szigetvár, Hungary between 6 August and 8 September 1566, fought between the defending forces of the Habsburg Monarchy under the leadership of Croatian ban Nikola Šubić Zrinski ( _hu. Zrínyi Miklós) and the invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the nominal command of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

The battle is perhaps famous today, in Hungary, for inspiring the Hungarian-language epic "Szigeti veszedelem", written by Zrinyi's great-grandson; at the time, its importance was considered such that Cardinal Richelieu was reported to have called it "the battle that saved civilization." [ [] Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers, Item 548456 ]

Preparations for the campaign

The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was 72 years old [Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey, 2003. 55 ] , had reigned for 46 years and had been in command of 12 military campaigns so far during this reign. He had not commanded a military campaign for the last 11 years. He had taken command at this, his 13th [Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey, 2003. 55 ] , campaign at the insistence of his Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, who was the real operational commander of the Ottoman forces. The Ottoman forces had started off from Istanbul on 1st May 1566 with a spectacular procession. The Sultan was not able to use his horse and was carried in a covered horse carriage all the way from Istanbul. The Ottoman army had arrived at the site of castle of Szigetvár on the 6th August 1566. The big war tent of the Sultan was erected on the Similehov hill. The Sultan had to stay at his tent during the whole of siege and had to get verbal reports of the progress of the siege from his Grand Vizier, who was in real charge of the operations. [N. Sakaoğlu, Bu Mülkün Sultanları (Sultans of this Realm), Oğlak, 1999. p.140-141]

The siege

Zrinski built up a force of around 2300 warriors prior to the siege, consisting of his own personal forces and those of his friends and allies. The defenders were majority Croatian, with a significant Hungarian contingent represented in both the men-at-arms and the leadership. The siege began in August of 1566, and the fortress defenders were able to repel the Ottomans until sometime in September. Despite being undermanned and greatly outnumbered, the defenders were sent no reinforcements by the imperial army from Vienna.

After many days of exhausting and bloody struggle, the defenders retreated into the Old City; with the majority of the defenders already dead, this was their last stand. The Turks tried to lure Zrinski into submission, offering him rule over all of Croatia (of course, under their sovereignty) but to no avail, Zrinski saying "...nobody will point his finger on my children in contempt.citequote"

While the siege was still continuing Suleiman the Magnificent died before daybreak on Saturday, 7th September. The death appears to have been of natural causes, though the stress and fatigue of the difficult siege certainly played a role. The Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha decided to keep the news secret so that it would not ruin morale at the end of the siege. It is said that the Sultan's physician was strangled to ensure that news of his death would not spread. Several contemporary accounts, such as the ones used later by Zrinyi for his epic, account Suleiman's death to Zrinski's hand [Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey, 2003. 55 ]

The final battle

The next day the final battle was conducted. The castle of Szigetvár was burnt down to ruined walls by mining and burning huge heaps of woods put around it at all corners. In the morning, September the 7th, the all-out attack by the Turks began: fireballs, "Greek fire", concentrated cannonade, fusillade. Soon, the last Croat-Hungarian stronghold within Szigetvár was set ablaze. The entire Turkish army swarmed against the Old City, drumming and yelling, "..their flags darkening the skies.citequote" Reportedly, Zrinski prepared for the last charge, addressing his brothers-in-arms:

"..Let us go out from this burning place into the open and stand up to our enemies. Who dies - he will be with God. Who dies not - his name will be honoured. I will go first, and what I do, you do. And God is my witness - I will never leave you, my brothers and knights!citequote"

The defender Zrinski wearing a silk robe, carrying a hanging golden key on his breast and wearing a hat with a crane aigrette, started an exit in force from the castle at the head of 600 of his troops. He was heavily wounded at his chest and his head by Ottoman bullets [Turnbull, Stephen. The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699. New York: Osprey, 2003. 55 ] . Thus, at the end, the heroic obstinate commander, who survived a siege lasting 36 days, his dead body was beheaded by a sword lying on an Ottoman cannon [N. Sakaoğlu, Bu Mülkün Sultanları (Sultans of this Realm), Oğlak, 1999 p.141] . The Turks took the fort and effectively won the battle. Only seven defenders managed to get through Turkish lines.


One disputed view by a historian asserts that before leading the final sortie by the garrison, Zrinsky ordered a fuse lit to the powder magazine. After cutting down the last of the defenders, the Turkish besiegers poured into the fortress. Hundreds perished when the magazine exploded [Dupuy, p 501] . This, however, is not corroborated by any of the Ottoman chroniclers.

Only four surviving defenders were later ransomed from the Turks. One of them was Gašpar Alapić, Zrinski's nephew who would become a ban himself and crush the Croatian and Slovenian peasant revolt. Another was Franjo (Ferenc) Črnko, Zrinski's chamberlain, who later wrote the only first-hand report of the siege. His detailed report, published in Croatian, German and Latin, includes a poignant description of Zrinski's last hours before the final sortie.

The battle is believed to have delayed the Ottoman push for Vienna that year. It is obvious that the long journey and the siege had a detrimental effect on the old Sultan's health [cite book|last=Stephen|first=Turnbull|title=The Ottoman Empire 1326 - 1699|location=New York|publisher=Osprey|year=2003|pages=p. 57, states "no doubt the immense strain of the current campaign had contributed to this most unwelcome event..."] and his subsequent death meant that any advances were postponed; the Grand Vizier had to turn back with the army to the Ottoman capital, Istanbul and deal with the succession of the new Sultan, Selim II.

Depictions in culture

The battle was immortalized in the epic poem The Peril of Sziget ("Szigeti veszedelem" in Hungarian) (1664) by Zrinski's great-grandson, Nikola Zrinski, also a ban of Croatia. This was one of the first such epics in the Hungarian language. Arguably the best work of Ivan Zajc is the opera "Nikola Šubić Zrinski" where the battle is depicted and sung about ("U boj, u boj"). Hungarian comics artist, Endre Sarlós made a 90 page European-style comic album, by the title "Szigetvár ostroma" ("The siege of Szigetvár"). The comics' approach is neutral, based on historical facts (as seen by non-Ottoman sources) and detailed research rather than the Hungarian epic poem.


* Dupuy, R. Ernest and Dupuy, Trevor. "The Encyclopedia of Military History." New York: Harper & Row, 1970. ISBN 0-06-011139-9
* N. Sakaoğlu, "Bu Mülkün Sultanları (Sultans of this Realm)", Oğlak, 1999.


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