• A. Jorge Aguilera López

Account of the Battle of Szikszó (Hungary, 1588)

Hungary's history is tremendously rich and interesting, full of remarkable events and generally –and unfortunately– largely ignored. One of these events is the barely known battle of Szikszó when Hungarian pro-Habsburg troops defeated a much larger Ottoman force in 1588.

Woodcut depicting the Battle of Szikszó [Stadtbibliothek, Erlangen (Germany)]

Before going into these facts, let us briefly locate ourselves in time and space. The powerful Ottoman Empire –completely established in the Balkans– brought down the kingdom of Hungary in 1526 after the fateful battle of Mohács, where not only thousands of soldiers perished, but also the young King Louis II along with much of the nobility. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent annexed much of Hungary, thus getting rid of the "buffer state" that safeguarded the heart of Europe from the Ottoman advance. The unoccupied provinces, known as "Royal Hungary", were divided between two suitors: the noble John Zápolya who proclaimed himself king and became a vassal of the sultan; and the Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, who was indeed crowned king. Ferdinand was not only the youngest brother –and at that time– successor to Emperor Charles V, but was the brother-in-law of the deceased King Louis II, being married to his sister and heir Anne of Bohemia and Hungary.

With the fall of Hungary, the already present "Turkish fear" increased enormously, especially in Italy and the German lands. They were right on to be afraid. In 1529 a very large Ottoman army led by the Sultan himself besieged Vienna and "miraculously" resisted. It was thanks to the good work of the defenders, but above all due to the advanced of the season: the cold, the floods and the diseases forced the Turkish army to withdraw. Despite the fact that Vienna had been spared, the threat did not end. Albeit in a highly variable intensity, the "Little War in Hungary" lasted for decades, exhausting the contenders. Finally, it was agreed in 1568 –among other things– a temporary ceasefire, the creation of a military frontier and the annual payment of 30000 ducats to the sultan [1]. Despite the fact that the truce was renewed on several occasions, the incursions and skirmishes were continuous and it is in this context where the battle of Szikszó takes place.

I have barely found accessible information about it in that languages I know. I suppose there should more information in Hungarian, German or Turkish. However, I found this document in Spanish that relates what happened on that 8th of October of 1588. I transcribe the entire document for you, adapting it to current grammar and criteria. I have not been able to correctly identify all the names of the people and places that the document mentions. For this reason, I will keep the originals by putting the correct or current form of the name in square brackets [ ], replacing them with the correct one in its successive mentions.

From Cassovia [Košice, Slovakia] to October 9, 1588.
From Sixa [Szikszó] and Sendreo [Szendrő], we have had strange news and they have also been sent to me by sir Alberto Raybintz [Albert Raibicz], who both he and his horse have come very badly injured from Ginz [2] from a confrontation that they have had with the Turks. And now the nephew of sir Racotzi [Zsigmond Rákóczi] has come here, who says that: the enemies came at five o'clock in the afternoon at sunset, with a good crowd of people towards Szikszó to burn that place, placing at a league of there, another [squadron] undercover and [another] at the rear. It is believed that they were up to 10,000 men. Little by little all three squadrons came towards the said Szikszó and began to set it on fire.
Ours [soldiers] who were near [in Eger, I suppose], also organised themselves by squadrons and attacked the enemy in the following way. The hussars (Hungarian horsemen) were the first and were supported by the arquebusiers of Gelb [?] and Rotroquel [?], and then followed by the German reiters [heavy cavalry], who did so valiantly, passing several times against the enemy squadrons, breaking and destroying them. After that sir Rákóczi came with his hussars, and sir Homenay Itsrvan [Homonnai Drugeth István] with the arquebusiers of Szendrő. Always following one squadron after the other and were attacking the enemies with great courage. The said reiters and arquebusiers on foot suffered a lot, because they were killed more than any other group. The said sir Homonnai and some of his soldiers were captured and handcuffed by the enemies, and they also hunted sir Rákóczi.
For a long time it was not known in which side the victory was going to be on, until a rear fresh of our troops attacked, gathering around 400 of our soldiers who were scattered. They charged so hard to the Turks that they completely disorganized them, turning their backs. Sir Homonnai and the other soldiers were set free and the Turks began to flee without knowing where, because it was night already, and so many of them were captured. From this skirmish, up to 600 Turks heads have been found in the place, without [counting] those who will get caught today. Up to 28 reiters and some arquebusiers have also been found [dead] [and] there are many wounded, and among the hussars were also some [wounded/dead].
Let's hope for more news and greater certainty. Praise God for everything. The sir de Rossel [?] has sent some people [to hunt] the Turks who have been scattered. A gentleman has been sent to Szikszó from whom we expect more information about what have happened. All our people is gathering around in Szikszó with sir Rákóczi.

The Turks were estimated to be about 11000 while the Hungarians were about 2500 men. The success of this victory was used by the Habsburgs as an excuse to stop paying the sultan's annual "honorary gift", prompting the Ottomans to threaten open warfare [3]. The account that I have transcribed for you is anonymous and is out of context from the rest of documents from the same folder. Therefore, without further information, I do not know the origin of the author. Maybe it was a translation into Spanish from German, Italian or Latin. Although, due to the type of document, the structure and the use of the language, I think it was a Spanish author and maybe a military man stationed in the area. Due to the strong dynastic and political ties between the Habsburgs in Madrid and Vienna, it was not unusual to find troops or at least Hispanic officers and adventurers in those latitudes. The best-known case of this period being that of the maestre de campo Bernardo de Aldana and the Tercio of Hungary.

[1] With the latter, the emperor technically became a tributary of the sultan, for this reason and to avoid this humiliation, the tribute was named annual "honorary gift".

[2] At first I thought it was referring to Kőszeg (Güns in German), but after checking via Google Maps how far it is, I preferred to discard it. I encourage you to identify / locate this and all other names xD.

[3] Hungarian Wikipedia (thanks Google Translator):

Tags: #Hungary #Turkey #OttomanEmpire #Habsburg #Croatia #Transylvania #battle #16th

  • Aguilera López, A. J. (2020) "Account of the Battle of Szikszó (Hungary, 1588)", in Rowing through History [online].

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