A Historical Tale about Varna Battle
Varna battle, which took place on November 10, 1444, was called the Memorable battle of nations by right. Memories of the tragic event and death of young Polish-Hungarian king Vladislav III Yagello are still alive in the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula and South-eastern Europe. It was the last crusade of the Middle Ages and a bleeding wreath to the strives for freedom of many nations at the beginning of the Ottoman invasions on the continent.
Pope Eugene IV gave his blessing to the anti-Ottoman campaign, reasonably hoping to enforce both Catholic and his own influence on the Balkans in such a way. To support the campaign, he gave one fifth of his incomes on arming an infantry detachment of crusader – knights and forming a fleet of 22 ships from Venice, Dubrownik and Burgundia in order to guard the Straits from the Asian Ottoman Empire.
The first campaign under the leadership of Transylvanian commander-in-chief John Hunyadi was successful in both military and political aspects – Nish, Pirot and Sofia were taken. Unfortunately winter came and the campaign was stopped because of hard weather conditions, ice-covered passages through the Balkan mountains and lack of food and fodder. The king was triumphantly welcome in Buda, but in Bulgarian lands the Turks went on devastating and burning the citadels and interning the population of villages that had helped the Christians.
Meantime, on 12 June, 1444, a beneficial peace treaty between sultan Murad II and king’s delegation was signed in Adrianople, according to which Serbia and Wallachia would remain independent, while Hungary would keep several strategic points. On 1, August the king ratified the treaty in Segedin. However, under the influence of Pope legate cardinal Juliano Chezarini, the king promulgated the second campaign against the Ottomans on August, 4 and on August, 10 ordered the new gathering of the army. A hurried preparation for a new war began.
The newly gathered crusade army of about 16 000 troopers and 2 000 battle carts (Hungarians, Poles, Czechs and Romanians from Transylvania) had to follow the previously marked route for marching. Instead of keeping to the shortest way from Belgrad to Tsarigrad, it would have gone down the Danube and through the eastern Bulgarian lands, along the Black Sea coast, it would have directed to the Straits for mutual actions with the united Christian fleet, consisting of West and Byzantine ships. The decision was taken due to some important reasons. First of all, Balkan roads were difficult, if not impassable, for an important part of Christian forces – Hus’s battle carts. Besides, behaviour of Serbian despot George Brankovich required caution and avoiding his lands.
Although the appointed date was September,1st, the army started in the second half of the month. Somewhere between 18 and 22 September it crossed the Danube near Orshov, and the carts – near Tournu Severin.
The route followed through Vidin and Nickopol, that were burned down, but, because of lack of time were not taken. Bulgarians from those villages set off with the king.
At Nickopol the army stayed camping to rest, when suddenly a new ally arrived – Wallachian ruler Vlad Dracula. He expressed his uncertainty in the future success, explaining it with a sparse army and rather a hard season. So Vlad insisted on leaders’ going back in order to gather more soldiers. Cardinal Chezarini thought his opinion was not sincere. Then Dracula helped the army with his men – 4 000 fast lightly armed troopers under his son’s command and 2 experienced guides, who knew Balkan passages well. The Wallachian ruler also gave the king 2 fast horses, wishing him a safe escape in case of great danger.
It was probably here that a detachment of Old-Russians from west Ukrainian lands, that were then a part of Poland, joined the army.
The army passed Oryakhovitsa (now Gorna Oryakhovitsa), Shumen, Novi Pazar. Lots of well-guarded Turkish garrisons were lying ahead. Vladislav sent them breves, appealing to surrender of their own free will: “You, who have taken control over the citadels of Shumen, Makhorach (Madara), Petresh, Varna, Kavarna, Galata and other citadels in Misia province without respect to Christian religion, and who keep in slavery and under yoke Christians – Greeks and Bulgarians, who in order to follow God’s law, have refused the Orthodox rituals and lately reverted to the alliance with western church under the rule of Pope Eugene IV, we advise you and order you to free the Christians, for whose freedom we have come here from our kingdoms of Poland and Hungary and, with God’s help, will go even further, to give to the hands of our soldiers everybody, who serves our God and Catholic Church, by surrendering to us and Catholic authorities the above-mentioned citadels and to leave for Galipoli and Asia, for your ancient settlement of Anadol… . If, after receiving the breve, you will still continue to disobey us, leading our troops successfully against you, we will order our soldiers to plunder and kill you. As I have given an oath … to attack you and your king Amurat with God’s help … and to chase you and fight you like our enemies and those of the whole Christian world.”
The campaign went through Madara, Provadia, Petrich (Petrich citadel at Razdelna), towards Varna. Citadels of Galata and Makropolis midway Evksinograd and Vinitsa, surrender the keys to citadel gates without a battle.
Meanwhile sultan Murad II learned about Vladislav’s march through scarcely populated Danube valley and managed to hire 40 000Asian warriors, and in complete secret to transfer the army across the Straits from Pera on board Genua ships, paying an enormous ransom in silver and gold.
In Eastern Thrace the sultan was joined by Roumelian troops and the Ottoman army headed to Varna field through Aitos passage.
On November, 9 king Vladislav’s army set up a camp at the citadel walls of Varna. A message came in the evening, claiming that a huge sultan army had set up in a better position at the feet of Frangen plateau. The majority of king’s military council were in favour of the battle in spite of the unfavourable conditions and John Hunyadi was appointed the commander. King’s anxiety was based on the fact that enemy’s army was three times bigger in number, there was no opportunity for manoeuvring on the flanks and lack of space for eventual escape, as there were the sea at the back of the army. The night was spent in preparation for the battle.
According to witnesses and historians, the Christian army was put in an arch shape from the lake to the locality of Planova. The right wing, which had no joint command, consisted of 5 detachments, or flags. Behind it another detachment and some Czech carts were left as a reserve.
Centre of the battle line consisted of 2 king’s flags under the personal command of the king himself and the reserve included Wallachian troopers, quick to manoeuvre, placed by Hunyadi.
The left wing consisted of 5 Hungarian flags under the command of Mickhai Silagi.
The battle line of the Turks consisted of several lines. The first one had two wings. The left wing was made of the Asian spahi ( Ottoman landlords) and timariot troopers. It was placed on Frangen hills’ slopes.
Right in front of it, with a front to the south, akandjiite and azebite occupied their positions with only one purpose – to attack the enemy first. The commander of this wing was Karadzha pasha.
The right wing, under the command of Daud pasha, consisted of Roumelian spahi and timariot troopers and was placed to the east of Kadakaoi farm, near the village of Topoli.
Closely behind the first line of both wings, up to 3 000 spahi were placed.
A janissary square of 10 000 people was lined in the centre between two hills – Murad hillock and Sandzhak hillock (modern Murad and Vladislav hillocks). They were responsible for sultan’s safety. Just behind it there was a camp with tents, provision carts and camels.
This was the way to surround the king’s army and to block all possible ways of escape on land.
The akandjiite from the left wing were the first to attack. Talotsi’s Christians repulsed some of them and began to chase them, followed by two other groups. It was a tactic mistake, that Anadol spahi from the left wing took advantage of by attacking the right wing of the mixed army, and stroke a deadly blow. The detachments rushed towards the sea in chaos and lots of Christians died in the moors.
At this critical moment John Hunyadi and the young king together with two king’s detachments and Wallachian troopers, began an attack against the Anadol spahi, engaged in robbery. The commanders defeated the Anadol wing and made it run, but the Wallachians went too far by passing by the janissary square and rushing into the enemy’s camp, they soon defeated it and left the battle field.
After the successful attack Hunyadi and the king returned to the centre, but enemy’s numerical superiority over the shattered king’s lines was enormous. So Hunyadi advised the king not to undertake any independent actions before his coming back and directed to the left wing, in the middle of a cruel battle with a changeable success. An avalanche attack of Hungarian hard-armed knights followed and the Turkish cavalry was completely disorganized. Panic obsessed the sultan’s army. Lots of Ottomans thought they had lost the battle. The success encouraged the young king and rushed into the battle with his personal guards of 500 knights against the 10 000 of sultan’s janissaries, without waiting for Hunyadi. The king’s attack was vigorous and thunderous. The king reached the last janissaries’ lines and sultan’s headquarters but was surrounded. Soon he had to meet the sultan face to face and to cross swords with him
Vladislav rushed to the sultan and, when he was very close, one of the janissaries killed his horse, threw the king on the ground and beheaded him in a stroke.
When the shattered Christian camp learned the news of king’s courageous death, panic obsessed people. Soldiers began to escape in chaos, in spite of Hunyadi’s attempts to organize a contra-attack in order to get hold of the body.
Crusaders’ retreat through Dobrudzha and Wallachia towards Hungary took several days. Many soldiers died, chased by the Turks.
About half the king’s army (approximately 10 000 soldiers) died on the battle field, and the enemy lost twice as many people.
The historians Shkorpil brothers.believed the king was buried in St.Panagia church, referring to H.Mergest’s words, a participant in the battle. According to other authors, Vladislav was not killed but estranged from the world after the battle.
In memory of the soldiers died on November,11, 1444, Bulgarians put the first wooden crosses, when still under the Yoke, in the centre of the battle field, right on the spot where the Polish-Hungarian king Vladislav III Yagello ( later called Varnenchik) died.
That was how the Varna battle was lost. Together with the loss faded the last hope of defeating the Turkish invasion in Europe. Only 250 years later the Poles managed to defeat the Turks’ power by the walls of Vienna, but Bulgaria was condemned to suffer under the Yoke for more than 4 centuries.