The Battle of Varna
Compiled by: Syed Muhammad Bokreta
The Battle of Varna took place on November the 10th of the year 1444 near Varna in eastern Bulgaria, in this battle the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Murad II defeated the Polish and Hungarian armies under Wladislaus III of Poland (Władysław III Warneñczyk in Polish) and Janos Hunyadi; therefore, after a failed expedition in 1441/1442 against Belgrade, the Ottoman Sultan Murad II signed a ten-year truce with Hungary, after having made a peace with the Karaman Emirate in Anatolia in August 1444, he resigned the throne to his 12-year-old son Mohamed II or Mehmet II.
Despite the signing of this peace treaty, Hungary in a blatantly treacherous act went on to co-operate with Venice and the pope Eugenius IV to organize a new crusader army, therefore breaking the truce that was signed with Murad II on this news Murad was recalled to the throne by his son ,although Murad initially refused this summoning persistently on the grounds that he was not the sultan anymore, he was outwitted by his son who on the news of his refusal wrote to him: “If you are the sultan, lead your armies; but if I am the sultan, I hereby order you to come and lead my armies.”
It is worth recalling that Murad then had no choice but to reclaim the throne, the Sultan (1403-1451) who was the son and successor of Muhammad I to the throne of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, in a war with Venice he seized (1430) Salonica, thus proving Ottoman naval power, and invaded Greece, and in the north Murad fought the resistance led by John Hunyadi. Murad sought to retire from public life on several occasions, but each time was recalled by the pressure of events.
A mixed Christian coalition army consisting mainly of Hungarian and of Polish forces, but with detachments of Czechs, papal knights, Bosnians, Croatians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians and Ruthenians, met with a strong and well-disciplined force of Ottoman Turks. The Hungarians were ill-equipped, and promised support from Walachia , Albania and Constantinople did not arrive, they had also promises from Venetians that their fleet would not allow Turkish army to cross the Bosphorus.
On the 10th of November 1444, the two armies faced off on a plain bordered on one side by a lake and the other by hills occupied by the Ottomans. The Ottomans attacked first, sending Ottoman light cavalry against the Hungarians and Croats, who initially buckled before being rescued by neighbouring Christian units who drove the attacking Ottoman forces off, the Hungarians pursued the retreating Ottomans but were suddenly swallowed up by the Ottoman infantry, though again they were rescued by neighbouring Christian forces.
At that precise time, the Ottoman cavalry struck the exposed line of the Christians which was left open by those fighting in the Ottoman line on its right flank and the Christian army began to waver, Italian mercenaries broke and ran for the lake where they were cut down by the pursuing Ottoman forces during which the papal legate Cesarini is believed to have perished.
The Christian left flank repulsed several attacks from Ottoman forces in the meantime, and with these successive victories the Christian forces began to recover their confidence, at this crucial point the Christians realized that the Ottoman Sultan, by his proximity, was suddenly left fairly exposed with only some untrained peasant standing between him and his enemies. Hunyadi led an attack against the Ottoman centre which broke, putting many Ottoman forces to flight and he pursued them for some kilometres away from the main battlefield.
Realizing the danger, the Sultan’s Janissaries rallied around their ruler and when the two forces met and clashed again, it looked initially as if the weight of the Christian assault would win the day but the Ottoman’s forces fought so bravely to save their Sultan, soon, to the universal horror of all the Christian forces, the King, Wladyslaw, was surrounded by Janissaries and instead of taking the Sultan as his prisoner he himself was cut down. By this point Hunyadi had arrived back on the battlefield and he led several charges against the group of Janissaries but to no avail.
King Wladyslaw of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary was dead, at 20 years of age Seeing their sovereign cut down, the Christian forces broke and fled the battlefield in disarray, though the Ottoman forces who had received quite a tough beating that day and suffered according to some sources between 20-30,000 deaths in the battle, did not pursue the fleeing Christian forces, as such the battle of Varna was over, upon an overwhelming victory of the Muslim Ottoman Forces against the Christian coalition.
Thorough and inspiring history lessons are to be in full manifestation within the records of the famous letter written to the Pope as a brief description of the Battle of Varna in 1444, excerpts from it read as follows: “ For there perished at Varna the king, our most illustrious prince and leader, and the venerable father, the Lord-Legate, Julian, whose character was virtuous and solid, our defeat was not caused by our weakness, or the superior bravery of the Turks, but it was divine justice which administered the defeat to us for we were ill equipped and almost unarmed; the barbarians won the day because of our sins. Therefore, recognising rather the weight of our guilt than that of our wounds, we have a firm hope that the One who administered the defeat as revenge for our sins will give a remedy to those who hope, and will move the mind of Your Holiness to strengthen the unbroken but bent power of the Christian people”.
: Densusianu, Nic, ed. Documente Privitóre La Istoria Romanilor Bucharest: Socecu and Teclu, 1890. Volume I, Part 2, 715-717. Cited in Alfred J. Bannan and Achilles Edelenyi. Documentary History of Europe Eastern. New York : Twayne Publishers, 1970. 71-74].
The brilliant Ottoman victory at Varna in 1444 had guaranteed a continued Ottoman presence in the Balkans, which gave them a springboard into the heart of Central Europe, as Constantinople was to be conquered nine years later and to be re-named Istanbul by Murad II ‘son Mohamed Al Fatih the then 21 years old on the 29th of May 1453.
The conquest of Istanbul that took place nine years later from the date of this battle had indeed a great impact on the Ottoman Empire as well as on the Muslim World to the degree that some Historians demarcate the end of the Middle Ages with the City’s Conquest, and surely it has enabled the Ottoman Muslims to take dynamic and efficient roles in shaping International politics much to the European Christendom’s chagrin.