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The Battle of Szigetvár ( , ) was a siege of Szigeth Fortressmarker, which was off Suleiman's planned line of advance towards Vienna, fought from 6 August to 8 September 1566, between the defending forces of the Habsburg Monarchy under the leadership of Croatianmarker ban Nikola Šubić Zrinski ( ), and the invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the nominal command of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

After the battle, its importance was considered such that Cardinal Richelieu was reported to have called it "the battle that saved civilization." Today, in Hungarymarker and Croatiamarker, the battle is still famous, for inspiring the Hungarian epic poem Szigeti veszedelem, written by Zrinski's great-grandson Nikola VII Zrinski, and for inspiring the famous Croatian opera Nikola Šubić Zrinski by Ivan Zajc.


Preparations for the campaign

The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was 72 years old , 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, campaign at the insistence of his Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha /original family name in Croatian: Sokolović/, who was the real operational commander of the Ottoman forces. The Ottoman forces had started off from Istanbulmarker on May 1st, 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 Szigetvármarker on August 6th, 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.

The siege

Zrinski built up a force of around 2300 Croatian and Hungarian 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 Viennamarker.

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 Sultan tried to lure Zrinski into submission, ultimately offering him the whole of Croatia under Ottoman influence, if he would deliver over Szigeth. The Count scorned all answer to the insulting offer, and only fought with the greather desperation, when superadded to religious and national hate, there grew up within his breast the incitement of personal indignation.

While the siege was still continuing Suleiman the Magnificent died before daybreak on Saturday, September 7th. 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. Several contemporary accounts, such as the ones used later by Nikola VII Zrinski for his epic, account Suleiman's death to Zrinski's hand.

The final battle

Szigetvár campaign 1566, Tatars as avantgarde.
From Tarih-i Sultan Süleyman ("Zafarnâma"), History of Sultan Süleyman, Dublin, chester Beatty Library
The next day the final battle was conducted. The castle of Szigetvármarker 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 stronghold within Szigetvár was set ablaze. The entire Turkish army swarmed against the Old City, drumming and yelling, "..their flags darkening the skies. " 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! "

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. 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. The Turks took the fort and effectively won the battle. Only seven defenders managed to get through Turkish lines.


Nikola Šubić Zrinski, preparing for the final battle.
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. 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 (Alapy Gáspár in Hungarian), Zrinski's nephew, who later became a Croatian ban himself and was famous for having crushed the Croatian and Slovenian peasant revolt. Another survivor was Franjo Črnko (Ferenc in Hungarian), 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 Viennamarker that year. It is obvious that the long journey and the siege had a detrimental effect on the old Sultan's health 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 Croatian composer 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 comic album, by the title Szigetvár ostroma (The siege of Szigetvár). The comic's approach is neutral, based on historical facts (as seen by non-Ottoman sources) and detailed research rather than the Hungarian epic poem.

See also


  1. Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers, Item 548456. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  2. Turnbull (2003), p. 55
  3. N. Sakaoğlu, Bu Mülkün Sultanları (Sultans of this Realm), Oğlak, 1999. p.140-141
  4. Pardoe (1842), p. 84
  5. N. Sakaoğlu, Bu Mülkün Sultanları (Sultans of this Realm), Oğlak, 1999 p.141
  6. Dupuy, p 501


  • 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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