Defending and Administering the Frontier

The case of Ottoman Hungary

Authored by: Gábor Ágoston

The Ottoman World

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  December  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415444927
eBook ISBN: 9780203142851
Adobe ISBN: 9781136498954


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On 29 August 1526, at the battle of Mohács in south-western Hungary, Sultan Süleyman’s army of 60,000 to 70,000 men annihilated the badly organized and obsolete Hungarian royal army of 25,000 to 30,000 men. The battle of Mohács proved one of the most important events in European history of the early sixteenth century, since it led to the direct confrontation of the Ottomans and Habsburgs, the two superpowers of the time in East-Central Europe. King Louis II (1516–26) of Hungary and Bohemia, along with most of the magnates and prelates of Hungary, perished in the battle. Although the sultan had withdrawn from Hungary by the autumn of 1526, his victory and the death of the childless Louis II led to major geopolitical upheaval in the region. Hungary was at the time an elective monarchy, and the competing Hungarian noble factions could not agree on a successor to Louis II. They thus elected two kings: János (John) Szapolyai (r. 1526–40), Hungary’s richest aristocrat and royal governor (vajda) of Transylvania, and Ferdinand of Habsburg (r. 1526–64), archduke of Austria and younger brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1519–56). Szapolyai controlled the eastern parts of Hungary – with Ottoman military assistance – while Ferdinand ruled the country’s northern and western parts. Süleyman secured Ottoman influence over Hungary by stationing troops in southern Hungary and by supporting Szapolyai militarily against his Habsburg rival. When Szapolyai’s death (17 or 21 July 1540) and Ferdinand’s military campaigns (October 1540 and May–August 1541) to annex Szapolyai’s realms upset the military balance between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, Süleyman occupied central Hungary and its capital city, Buda (29 August 1541), which controlled the Danubian waterways leading to Central Europe. 1 Buda became the centre of a newly established Ottoman province, the beylerbeyilik or vilayet of Budin, which remained the central Ottoman province in Hungary until it was reconquered by the Habsburgs in 1686. Ferdinand’s attempt in 1542 to expel the Ottomans from Buda ended in humiliation, and lack of adequate commitment of Habsburg resources in the 1540s turned the country into the main continental battleground between the two major empires of the age, the Ottomans and the Habsburgs.

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