Monday, August 17, 2015

Székelys - Szecklers

The Székelys, sometimes also referred to as Szeklers (Hungarian: székelyek, Romanian: Secui, German: Szekler, Latin: Siculi), are a subgroup of the Hungarian people living mostly in the Székely Land. A significant population descending from the Székelys of Bukovina lives in Tolna and Baranya counties in Hungary and in certain districts of Vojvodina, Serbia.

The Székely light cavalry fit perfectly into the medieval Hungarian military forces, supplementing the army of armoured knights. They were especially effective against nomadic invaders from the East, using similar fighting methods and strategies. One of their first recorded military victories is from the 1280s, when Székelys of the Aranyos Seat attacked and partly destroyed the Tatar troops returning to Moldova packed with loot. But Székelys were not only defending Transylvania, they took part in campaigns abroad, too.

In 1499, when armed clashes with the Ottoman Empire and its vassal states became regular, a diploma issued by King Vladislaus II (II. Ulászló) reaffirmed the conditions under which the Székelys provided military services:

    "When the King personally leads his army towards the East, against Moldova, each one of the Székely cavalrymen and infantrymen are required to be under arms, go before the Royal Army and wait for the battle abroad for 15 days on their own expense. Also, on the way back, they shall go behind the Royal Army. When His Majesty sends his personal deputy to the East, half of the Székelys should accompany him as described."

In a similar way, half of the Székelys supported the king during his campaigns against Wallachia and 1/5 of them if the army was only led by a deputy. Common Székelys did not participate personally in wars with Western and Northern countries; however, they were obliged to hire mercenaries and send them in battle under the leadership of Székely captains. As a result of their military services, Székelys had equal rights to the Hungarian nobles. They were exempted from paying taxes and, when visiting the feudal noble counties, even the poorest of them were treated as free people. As the diploma of King Vladislaus II explains: "Therefore the Székelys, as nobles by rights granted by glorious Hungarian Kings of the past, are exempt from any tax or other duties, and are free." Following an old tradition, every landed household gave an ox as a present to the king when he was crowned, when he got married, and when a child was born in the royal family.


Western-style mailed cavalry formed the core of Hungarian armies. Yet the employment of steppe peoples- the Pechenegs, Szeklers, and Cumans-as auxiliary light cavalry gave Hungarian armies a distinctive, hybrid character and a tactical edge. The advantages of tactical combination of heavy cavalry and horse archers were displayed with decisive results at the battle of Dtirnkrut (Marchfield) in 1278, when the Hungarian armoured cavalry and their Cuman auxiliaries played an important part in Emperor Rudolf’s momentous victory. This hybrid military system was further developed under Louis the Great. His Italian adventures in the 1340S and 1350S were pursued with armies composed of 'lances', each of which consisted of a heavily armoured man-at-arms and a group of lightly equipped horse archers. In the later fifteenth century, it was light cavalry (the original 'hussars') who provided the rapid reaction forces which backed-up Hungary's southern frontier fortifications and launched raids (portycik) into Ottoman territory So dominant was light cavalry in King Matthias Corvinus's army that the capabilities and limitations of these troops effectively determined the way in which that army fought.


Michael the Brave (1593-1601), prince of Wallachia and then of the three Romanian principalities, was one of the most prominent personalities in Romanian military. Michael transferred economic and political power to the great boyars, a move that hurt the peasants' social and economic conditions. In that context, emerged in Wallachia at the end of the 15th century, the armies of Michael the Brave were heterogeneous, comprising, besides Wallachians and Moldavians, Polish riders with shields, hussars, Hungarians from Transylvania, Szecklers, Kazakhs, Serbians, Albanians, Greeks, and Bulgarian mercenaries. Michael the Brave's military force consisted of both a permanent army and a temporary one. 

The pan-Romanian front started to take shape in the winter of 1594-1595 when the Romanian rulers were practically fighting against the Ottoman Empire within the Holy League, the major anti-Ottoman coalition led by the Hapsburg emperor Rudolph II. However, when 100,000 Ottomans led by Sinan Pasha invaded Wallachia, Michael had, besides his 16,000 people, only one Transylvanian army corps of 7,000 people, most of them Szeklers who were led by Albert Kiraly. The victory in Călugăreni on Neajlov-Arges, on 13 August 1595 won renown, but the counteroffensive of the Romanian principalities' forces gathered in Rucăr was even more well-known and efficient from a military standpoint. It led to the defeat of the Ottoman troops in the town of Giurgiu while they were on their way back over the Danube after having temporarily conquered the cities of Bucharest and Târgovişte. 

After the Ottoman threat decreased, the prince of Transylvania, cardinal Andrei Bathory, with the support of Poland started threatening the rule of Michael the Brave in Wallachia. This is why the Wallachian prince made a preventive strike, crossing the mountains and defeating the Transylvanian army in Şelimbăr in 1599. This was, as the Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga says, the first battle Michael the Brave fought on open terrain against an army used to fighting according to Western custom. The same threat was posed by Ieremia Movilă in Moldavia, who was serving the Polish interests; this incited Michael to start a military campaign east of the Carpathians. After that action he was entitled to call himself, in May 1600, ``by the grace of God, prince of Wallachia, Transylvania, and all Moldavia.'' Romanian historians have not yet agreed on the true reasons for Michael the Brave's unifying the three principalities. Historical, ethnic, and religious arguments proved that it may have been only a strategic-military action, a typical medieval territorial expansion, or a military step toward a much larger political project.

Poland, which had lost its influence in Moldavia, the emperor Rudolph II of Transylvania, and the Hungarian nobles opposed this unexpected situation and could not accept falling under the authority of a Wallachian prince who imposed his own nobles. These leaders were also hostile to Michael's attempts to rebuild his authority as prince of all three Romanian principalities. This common attitude aided the Hungarian nobles in Transylvania, who were led by general Gheorghe Basta, in defeating Michael in the village of Mirăslău on 16 September 1600. Near the Wallachian border, Michael was defeated again by the Moldavian and Polish forces led by Jan Zamosky. Under these unpleasant circumstances, Michael was forced to ask for Rudolph II's support at the Imperial Court in Prague. 

The Hapsburg emperor negotiated a reconciliation between Prince Michael and General Basta. That reconciliation led to the defeat of Sigismund Bathory on 3 August in a battle in Gorăslău. After that victory, Michael succeeded only in entering Cluj, Transylvania's major town. After only five days, on 9 August 1601, he was murdered at the orders of General Basta in the camp in Campia Turzii.

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