Battle of the Sajo, 27 April 1241 (Hungary)

Battle of the Sajo, 27 April 1241 (Hungary)

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The Mongol Warrior, Stephen Turnbull, Osprey, 2003, 64 pages. Written by the leading expert on this period of Asian warfare in the West Dr Stephen Turnbull. The Mongols were one of the best armies in History and often misunderstood by people in the west, this book goes a long way to shedding some light on them [see more]


The Mongols ravage eastern Hungary and Transylvania and gain access to all central Europe
The victory over a Hungarian army led by King Béla IV at Muhi on the Sajó River gave the Mongols access to all of Central Europe. Genghis Khan died in 1227, but his son and successor, Ogatai Khan, continued Mongol expansion. The Mongols conquered Korea in 1231 and defeated the Chin Empire during 1231�. In 1235 in the course of a conference with Mongol leaders, Ogatai outlined a plan of expansion in four areas: China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe.

The offensive against Eastern Europe began in 1236�, when Ogatai sent 130,000 Mongols into the region. Batu Khan had nominal command, but Subotai exercised real command. Subotai defeated the Bulgars and then led his army across the frozen Volga River in December 1237. In the course of their winter campaign the Mongols destroyed the northern Russian principalities, culminating in the defeat and death of Grand Prince Yuri II of Vladimir in the Battle of the Sil River on March 4, 1237. At the same time, Mongol forces to the south entered the Ukraine, where they reorganized and reequipped their forces.

During the next two years Subotai consolidated Mongol control over eastern and southern Russia. While the states of Central and Western Europe knew little about Mongol conquests or intentions, the Mongols gathered accurate intelligence about the political situation to their west. Subotai began the offensive in November 1240 with 150,000 men, again campaigning in winter to achieve maximum mobility on horseback in the marshlands and across frozen rivers. When Kiev rejected surrender demands, Subotai captured it on December 6.

Leaving behind 30,000 men to control the conquered territory and maintain his lines of communication, Subotai invaded Central Europe with 120,000 men. The Mongols moved on four axes. Kaidu, grandson of Ogatai, commanded the northern flank Batu and Subotai had charge of the two central forces and Kadan, son of Ogatai, protected the southern flank. The two middle forces were to pass through the central Carpathians into Transylvania and then meet at Pest, on the east bank of the Danube.

Kaidu meanwhile moved into Silesia, defeating a Polish army under King Boleslav V at Kraków (Cracow) on March 3, 1241. To meet Kaidu, Prince Henry of Silesia put together a mixed force of some 40,000 Silesians, Germans, Poles, and Teutonic Knights. King Wenceslas of Bohemia marched north with 50,000 men to join them. However, Kaidu struck before the two opposing forces could join. In the hard-fought Battle of Legnica (known as the Battle of Liegnitz in German and also called the Battle of Wahlstatt) on April 9, 1241, Kaidu smashed Prince Henry’s army. Kaidu then halted, having achieved his aims of devastating North-Central Europe and preventing its armies from moving south.

The Mongol southern advance had gone well. In mid-April the Mongols secured Transylvania, and Kadan drove north through the Iron Gates to join Subotai. On March 12, 1241, Hungarian king Béla IV, informed of the Mongol advance, called a conference of nobles at Buda, on the west bank of the Danube, to discuss how to meet the threat. On March 15 the conferees learned that the Mongol advance guard had already arrived at Pest, just opposite Buda.

Sure that the Pest defenses could hold the attackers, Béla IV gathered some 100,000 men over the next two weeks. At the beginning of April he set out from Pest to meet the invaders, confident that he had sufficient strength to defeat them. The Mongols withdrew before Béla’s cautious advance. Late on April 10 about 100 miles northeast of Pest, the Hungarians encountered and defeated a weak Mongol force defending a bridge at Muhi on the Sajó River, a tributary of the Tisza. Béla IV then established a strong bridgehead on the east bank of the Sajó and camped for the night with the bulk of his force on the west bank in a strong defensive position of wagons chained together.

The Mongols attacked the Hungarians before dawn on April 11, 1241, striking the bridgehead with arrows and with stones hurled by catapults, followed closely by an infantry assault. The defenders fought fiercely, and the Hungarians sortied from the main camp to their aid.

They soon discovered that the attack was only a feint. Subotai had led 30,000 men across the river some distance south of the bridge, and this force now came in from the south and rear of the Hungarians. The Hungarians found themselves packed in a small space and devastated by Mongol arrows, stones, and burning naptha. King Béla IV managed to escape with some of his men to the north toward Pozsony (Bratislava). Although Mongol losses in the battle were heavy, the Hungarian force was virtually destroyed. It suffered between 40,000 and 70,000 dead, including much of the Magyar nobility.

With this Hungarian defeat, only the Danube River prevented a further Mongol advance. The Mongols held Eastern Europe from the Dnieper to the Oder and from the Baltic to the Danube. In a campaign lasting only four months, they had destroyed Christian forces numbering many times their own. Following the victory, the Mongols ravaged all eastern Hungary and Transylvania. With a majority of its settlements having been destroyed and a large portion of the population slain during the Mongol occupation, which lasted until 1242, the Hungarian state had to be completely reconstituted.

ReferencesAllsen, Thomas. Mongol Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Grousaset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970. Nicolle, David. The Mongol Warlords: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Hulegu, Tamerlane. London: Brookhampton, 1998.

1. Tours (10 October 732)

Would the Umayyad Caliphate have gone on to conquer Europe if its army hadn’t been defeated at Tours?

Known as Ma’arakat Balat ash-Shuhada (Battle of the Palace of Martyrs) in Arabic, the Battle of Tours saw Charles Martel’s Frankish army defeat a large Umayyad force led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi.

Given the invading Islamic Army’s confident march from the Iberian Peninsula into Gaul, Tours was a significant victory for Christian Europe. Indeed, some historians have contended that the Umayyad Caliphate would have gone on to conquer Europe had Charles Martel’s army not succeeded in halting their march.

Battle of the Sajo, 27 April 1241 (Hungary) - History

Ever since Genghis Khan ordered his generals to scout westwards in 1223, conflict with Europe was inevitable. Those raids in the early 1220s were short-lived, and Genghis soon turned his eye back to lands closer to home, but it paved the way for a later invasion. In 1235, Ögedei Khan, Genghis Khan's successor, ordered Batu Khan to conquer Russia. By 1241, they had done so the 6000 km between Mongolia and Eastern Europe were under Mongol control. It took just 6 years to capture more land than the Roman Empire did in centuries of sustained warfare. This campaign split into 5 armies in their way into Europe, only 2 of which were present at the Battle of Mohi.

A Mongol army is sighted outside Hungary's capital, Pest. They have travelled over 6000 km from their homeland and have already defeated numerous armies. They continue pillaging the surrounding area.

King Béla forbade his men from attacking the invading force, as the Hungarian army was still unprepared. Even so, Frederick, Duke of Austria, engaged a minor raiding party and won. This made Béla look like a coward because of his unwillingness to attack.

As the Hungarian army move in to engage, the Mongols retreat. The Europeans pursue their enemies for 7 days, enduring countless Mongol archer attacks. On the 10th April, the Hungarian force reaches the Sajó bridge. They set up camp around 7 miles south, erecting wagon defences to deter an attack.

Warned of a night attack by a runaway slave, a European force arrives at the bridge. They find the Mongol vanguard in the midst of crossing. Their crossbows prove very effective and many Mongols die. The victorious unit leave men to defend the bridge in case of another crossing.

The Mongols are forced to modify their plans. Sejban is sent north with a small force to cross another bridge and attack the bridge defenders from the rear. Likewise, Subutai travels south to create a temporary bridge and cross there. At the central bridge, the crossing is helped by the utilisation of stone throwers. With the arrival of Sejban and his troops, the bridge defenders are forced to retreat to their camp.

Out of the camp sallied an army to face the foreign threat. What came next was bloody, tough and hard-fought. With the Europeans outnumbering the invaders, it was very close. There were several times when the Mongol army was only saved by an opportune artillery barrage. In the end, it was Subutai, who had been delayed bridge-building, who was able to strike the enemy in the back and win the battle. However, enough made it back to the camp for Batu to still consider retreating.

Sustained bombardments from stone and gunpowder and the ineffectuality of their repeated attempts to sally forth meant that the Hungarian morale was exceedingly low. Stuck inside the camp and terrified of the onslaught of projectiles, many were trampled to death by their own comrades.

Finally, the broken soldiers decided to flee. They made a final push through a gap in the Mongol line. This was a calculated strategy men are more easily killed when running than when backed into a corner. King Béla was one of the very few who survived.

With the Hungarian army totally wiped out, there was nothing to stop the Mongol horde. They decimated Hungary and raided into neighbouring countries. Between 15-25% of the population was slain and almost all urban centres destroyed. In Europe, the news brought a wave of panic which gripped the continent for years to come.


In 1223, the expanding Mongol Empire defeated an allied Cuman army at the Kalka river. The defeated Cumans retreated towards Hungary. Hungary had continuously tried to convert the Cumans to Christianity and expand its influence over the Cuman tribes for the past few decades. The Hungarian King Béla IV even began to use the title "King of Cumania." When the Cuman refugees (c. 40,000 people) sought [[political asylum|asylum in his kingdom, it seemed that at least a portion of the Cumans had accepted Hungarian rule. The Mongols considered the Cumans to be their slaves, saw Hungary as a rival, and the Cuman migration to Hungary as a casus belli. In their ultimatum they also blamed Hungary for missing envoys.

The Mongolian threat approached Hungary during a time of political turmoil. Traditionally, the base of royal power consisted of the vast estates owned as royal property. Under Andrew II, the donations of land by the crown reached a new peak. Whole counties were donated. After Béla IV inherited his father's throne he began to re-confiscate Andrew’s donations and to execute or expel his advisers. He also denied the lord's right of personal hearings and accepted only written petitions to his chancellery. He even had the chairs of the council chamber taken away in order to force everybody to stand in his presence. His actions caused great disaffection among the lords. The newly arrived Cumans gave the king a better position (and increased prestige among Church circles for converting them) but also caused a lot of problems. The nomadic Cumans seemed unable to live together with the settled Hungarians and the lords were shocked that the king supported the Cumans in quarrels between the two.

Subetei and the European Expedition

The European expedition was to be a major Mongol effort, comparable in scope to the war against China. It was to become a catastrophe of monumental proportions for medieval East Europeans, who were confronted with devastating wars and serious social disruption. Nominal command was to be exercised by Batu, because this was the part of the world he had inherited from Chinggis. The actual commander was the aging, but still brilliant, Subetei [Subutai, Subetai, Subotai, Tsubotai, Tsubetei, Tsubatai]. He was probably the most gifted of all Mongol generals, after Chinggis himself, and he had been one of the commanders of the momentous reconnaissance that had swept through southern Russia fifteen years earlier.

The Bulghars were defeated in 1236, and in December 1237 Subetei and Batu led an army of 600,000 across the frozen Volga River. The Mongols spread destruction and death through Russia. Moscow, Vladimir, and other northern Russian principalities were destroyed before summer 1238. Subetei then turned south to the steppe region around the Don, to allow his army to rest, to regain strength, and to prepare for new advances. Apparently his timetable was delayed for a year by a dispute between Batu and other royal princes commanding various hordes. Nonetheless, this additional time gave Subetei an opportunity to accumulate still further information about central and western Europe from his spies.

In November 1240, after the rivers and marshes of what, in modern times, is the Ukraine had frozen enough to take the weight of cavalry, the Mongol army crossed the Dnieper River. On December 6, it conquered Kiev, the seat of the grand prince and the Metropolitan See of Rus'. Subetei continued westward, his army advancing, typically, on a broad front in three major columns.

To the north was the horde of Kaidu Khan, three tumen strong, protecting the right flank of the main body. Kaidu swept through Lithuania and Poland on March 18 he destroyed the Polish army at Cracow. He detached a tumen to raid along the Baltic coast and with the remainder headed westward into Silesia. On April 9, 1241, at Liegnitz (Legnica, in Poland), the more disciplined Mongol army decisively defeated a numerically superior combined European army in a bitterly contested battle.

Meanwhile, a horde of three tumen under Kadan, another son of Ogedei, protected the southern flank and advanced through Transylvania, into the Danube Valley, and into Hungary. In midApril Kadan and Kaidu joined the main body--under Batu--in central Hungary.

Batu led the central force across the Carpathian Mountains in early April 1241, lured the army of King Bela IV of Hungary into battle at the Sajo River on April 11, and annihilated it. The Mongols then seized Pest, and they spent the rest of the year consolidating their control of Hungary east of the Danube River.

Late in 1241, the Mongols were ready to move again. In December the army crossed the frozen Danube. Scouting parties raided into northern Italy toward Venice and Treviso, and up the Danube toward Vienna. But suddenly the advance halted. Word had come, by way of the incredibly swift Mongol messenger service, that Ogedei had died on December 11.

The yasaq explicitly provided that after the death of the ruler all offspring of the house of Chinggis Khan, wherever they might be, must return to Mongolia to take part in the election of the new khan. From the outskirts of Vienna and Venice, the tumen countermarched, never to reappear. They moved through Dalmatia and Serbia, then eastward where they virtually destroyed the kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria before crossing the lower Danube. They evacuated Hungary for lack of sufficient pasture and moved into the south Russian steppe. Advances into India also ceased.

Ugrin Csák, Archbishop of Kalocsa

Ugrin (I) was born into the Újlak branch of the gens Csák as the son of ispán Bás I. His brothers were Bás II and Pós I, who served as master of the treasury. [2] Ugrin was first mentioned by contemporary records in 1217, when he was appointed royal chancellor. In that capacity, he participated in the Fifth Crusade, where accompanied Andrew II to the Holy Land. Formerly Ugrin also took part in the coronation of king Andrew II.

During Ugrin's archiepiscopate, the great hospital in Kalocsa was founded, and the Diocese of Syrmia was established in 1229. During his tenure, the wars against the Patarenes in Bosnia broke out, and, more especially after the establishment of the See of Syrmia, these wars against the Patarenes and other unbelievers were the chief occupation of the archbishops.

Ugrin, Matthias Rátót, archbishop of Esztergom and three other bishops died leading troops against the Mongolo-Tatar army under Batu Khan and Subutai as it attacked the Hungarian camp several hours after crossing the Sajó River. [3]

  1. ^ Richard Gabriel, Subotai the Valiant (Westport, CT: Prager, 2004), 122-124 David Morgan, The Mongols (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 138-139 Michael C. Paul, "Secular Power and the Archbishops of Novgorod Before the Muscovite Conquest," Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8, No. 2 (Spr. 2007), 240.
  2. ^ Engel: Genealógia (Genus Csák 8., Újlak branch)
  3. ^ János Zsolt Pintér: Tatárok és magyarok (1241-1242). In.: Hadtörténelmi Közlemények. Vol. 118, Issue 3. pp. 672-683., Sept. 2005

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1 Answer 1

Battle of Mohi might be what you are looking for. It's not a perfect fit but that's the closest I could find.

It was fought on 11th April 1241 between Kingdom of Hungary and Golden Horde. The Battle itself was in fact three sub-battles packed into one, all fought in one day.

Fight at the Sajó bridge - Midnight

Duke Coloman of Slavonia, brother to King Bela IV of Hungary, reached the Sajó bridge to defend it against a possible Mongol attack at midnight as per the intel provided by an escaped Ruthenian slave.

When they reached the river, they found the Mongol vanguard tasked by Batu Khan to capture the bridge and secure the crossing for their main force. The Hungarians caught the Mongols mid-crossing and the battle started. Mongols were caught unaware and their famous horse archers were crippled given the dark and the fact that they were trapped on a narrow bridge, negating their advantage in mobility. The entire vanguard was destroyed and The Hungarians returned to their camp at 0200 HRS after leaving a small detachment to guard the bridge, implying that the fight must have lasted only for half an hour given that The Hungarians were back at their camp within two Hours. Take the time needed to ride back to the camp and to deploy a guard detachment and 30 mins seems like more than reasonable estimate for the duration of battle.

In case you're wondering why would the Duke leave the bridge so weakly held, see my question here.

Main Battle - Morning

At 0400 HRS, Batu Khan attacked The Hungarians at bridge and forced them to retreat. Mongols had now secured their crossing. Retreating Hungarians reached their camp while the Mongols finished the crossing at 0800 HRS.

The survivors from the bridge woke the sleepers at the camp and The Hungarians prepared to meet the Mongols.

The Hungarians outnumbered the Mongols but Subutai was not in the field yet. The Mongols were sore beset within two hours of fighting and as The Hungarians were preparing for another charge to force the Mongols to withdraw, Subutai appeared with his men and attacked The Hungarian rear flank. The Hungarians panicked, sensing that Subutai could encircle them and fled to their fortified encampment. Batu wanted to withdraw for the day given the heavy losses suffered by them but Subutai refused to listen to him and Batu grudgingly consented to resumption of the attack.

Siege of The Hungarian Camp - Afternoon

Situation within The Hungarian camp was becoming dire. The morale was low and they were confined to their camp with Mongols all around them. They tried to sally forth and open a safe passage in the siege lines but they failed everytime. Duke of Slavonia, King's brother, personally tried another sally but he too failed.

Mongols deliberately left a gap in their siege lines, to allow The Hungarians to flee as fleeing soldiers were easier to kill. Many Hungarian soldiers took advantage of the gap, unwary of the trap and were slaughtered down to the last man.

King Bela soon fled with his brother as well but the Duke took so grievous injuries that he died soon after. The battle was over and The Hungarian force was virtually wiped out.

How Poles and Hungarians Turned Back the Mongol Horde and Saved Europe

In the midst of worries about the Wuhan coronavirus, it is worth remembering that the scholarly consensus has long been that the Black Plague reached the Mediterranean in 1347 because of the Mongol invasion of Crimea. The Mongol Empire and its derivative kingdoms were, themselves, considered plagues at the time. Some modern historians celebrate Mongol religious tolerance — historian Jack Weatherford has called its capital city Karakorum “the most religiously open and tolerant city in the world at that time” [1] — but the rest of the world, whether Muslim, Christian, or Hindu, viewed the Mongols as devils.

Arguably the worst Mongol savagery was in 1258, when Hulagu Khan and his Ilkhanate Empire (along with allies from the Christian states of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, the Kingdom of Georgia, and the Principality of Antioch) destroyed Baghdad, thus ending the so-called “Islamic Golden Age.” The Mongols raped and pillaged for days, destroyed the city’s libraries and universities, and murdered at least 3,000 of the city’s notables. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was far worse for the Muslim world than the Crusades Muslims flourished in the Crusader states after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099.

The Mongols did not spare Europe. The horsemen from Central Asia invaded at a time when the formerly great state of Kievan Rus’ was fractured. On May 31, 1223, a Mongol army of approximately 20,000 defeated an alliance of Russian princes at the Battle of Kalka River, when the principalities and duchies were already exhausted after years of civil war.

Battle of the Kalka River

Mongols then raided and laid siege to all the major settlements in Russia and Ukraine. In 1237, a Mongol army burned Moscow to the ground. Three years later, Mongols took Kiev, thus conquering all Kievan Rus’ territory [2]. The “Tatar yoke” of Russia lasted until 1480, and is often invoked to explain why Russia is so culturally different from the rest of Europe. Mongol occupation may have frozen Russia in time and kept it from developing along Western European lines.

Then in 1241, the Mongols invaded the Kingdom of Hungary. The Hungarians and their allies should have had an advantage. King Bela IV had military support from his subjects in Transylvania, the Kingdom of Croatia, the Duchy of Austria, and several Catholic military orders, such as the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights. The Cumans, a Turkic people originally from the area north of the Black Sea, moved into Hungary because of heavy Mongol taxation and agreed to serve them, and with good reason — Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, invaded Hungary with the intent of exterminating the Cumans [3].

The decisive engagement was the Battle of Mohi in April 1241. By mid-March, 50,000 Mongol soldiers had crossed the Carpathian Mountains into Hungary, and the battle began near the Sajo River on April 11th. Subutai Khan surprised the Hungarians by using catapults to launch not only stones but ordinance that was new to Europeans: balls of flaming tar and Chinese exploding shells. By seven that morning, the Mongols had already routed the Hungarians and their allies. However, the day seemed to turn when the Mongols began retreating. This was the famous Mongol tactic of feigned retreat, and after forcing the pursuing Europeans into a funnel, Subtai’s men cut them down. Between 40,000 and 60,000 Hungarian, Croatian, and Austrian soldiers died in the battle [4].

Burial site where the Battle of Mohi took place. [Credit Image: Sebastian.mrozek via Wikimedia]

Two days before the Battle of Mohi, the Mongols had crushed a Christian army of Polish, German, Moravian, and Templar soldiers at the Battle of Legnica. Contemporaries considered these two defeats akin to a “biblical plague” [5]. But luck spared both the Polish and Hungarian Kingdoms from Mongol subjugation — in 1242, dynastic infighting in Central Asia led to the “Golden Horde” leaving the area, despite their impressive victories.

However, the Mongols returned in 1259, when Generals Berke Khan and Burundai Khan, and an army of approximately 20,000 Mongol cavalrymen and 10,000 Ruthenian foot soldiers invaded Poland once again. Booty was the primary object of this invasion, but it was also part of a plan to punish Poland for giving shelter to Prince Daniel of Galicia-Volhynia (modern-day Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and Slovakia), who had declared independence from the Golden Horde in 1253.

Burundai Khan forced Daniel into exile in Poland. Mongols crowned Daniel’s brother Vasilko and his son Leo/Lev as the new rulers of Galicia and Volhynia, and destroyed the fortifications Daniel had built in Ruthenia (western Ukraine). The Khan’s army then marched into Poland, sacked every settlement along the Vistula River, and laid siege to the city of Sandomierz. On the fourth day of the siege, the city’s citizens sought refuge in a church but were slaughtered along with 48 Dominican monks. Burundai’s army later invaded Lithuania and raided the Teutonic Knights in Prussia. They made off with booty and slaves before returning to Russia to fight yet another dynastic civil war.

After that, Central Europe was spared Mongol wrath until 1285. Three years earlier, the Cuman Turks in the Kingdom of Hungary had revolted against King Ladislaus IV because of tensions between the pagan Cumans and the Christian Hungarians. The king defeated the Cumans at Lake Hod in 1282, but the survivors fled into the lands of the Golden Horde, where they then persuaded Nogai Khan to invade Hungary.

From the Chronicum Pictum in Hungary’s National Library. The dismounted Mongols, with captured women, are on the left, the Hungarians, with one saved woman, on the right.

The second Mongol invasion of Hungary was much smaller than the first. Nogai’s army attacked the settlements along the Danube River for loot, not for conquest. Because the Cumans told Nogai about Ladislaus’s poor relations with his barons, Nogai probably thought he could easily defeat the Hungarians. He was wrong. First, the Polish Duke Leszek II kept King Leo I of Galicia-Volhynia from invading Hungary as part of the Golden Horde’s coalition. Nogai and Talabuga Khan managed to reach Buda and Pest, but their attacks failed because they did not bring siege equipment. Also, during the 1240s, Hungary had increased its number of baronies. This meant Nogai and Talabuga constantly ran into small defensive forces recruited from individual Hungarian counties. These militias were tough and durable, and one from Sáros County defeated Nogai’s troops and sent many severed heads to King Ladislaus. The king’s army then chased the defeated Mongols all the way into the Carpathian Mountains, where they were trapped by bad weather and harassed by a peasant insurgency.

When Nogai and Talabuga invaded Poland a third time in late 1287, they were defeated by a combined Polish-Hungarian force led by Duke Leszek. Regardless, Nogai’s Golden Horde still continued to raid Europe in the following years, and in the 1290s, his army forced Serbia to accept vassalage. They converted to Islam in the 14th century, and Mongol raids became infused with the fervor of jihad. The Golden Horde, which had an alliance with the Byzantine Empire thanks to Toqta Khan’s marriage to an illegitimate Byzantine princess, became the preeminent power in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. Despite the alliance, Mongol armies raided Byzantine territory several times in the 1300s, and in a final Mongol invasion of Poland in the 1340s, forced King Casimir III the Great to become a vassal.

Ultimately, the 14h century saw Mongol power wain in Europe and Asia. Constant infighting led to a fractured empire. Some states fared better than others. The Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty in China and Mongolia was replaced by the non-Mongol Han Ming Dynasty in 1368. The Turco-Mongol and Muslim Ilkhanate collapsed in the 1350s after being ravaged by the Black Death and several internal rebellions. The Golden Horde limped all the way into the early 16th century in Russia, but successive Muscovite princes managed to win back Mongol territory slowly but surely.

While the victories of the Hungarians and Poles in the 13th century did not stop the growth of Mongol power in Eastern Europe, they did check Mongol expansion into Central Europe. Much like the later heroism of King John III Sobieski against the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683, the Poles and Hungarians proved their might as Christian warriors against a foreign force. They did the same many times, especially during the subsequent lengthy wars against the Ottoman Turks. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the brave knights and foot soldiers who defended Central Europe and the West from the Golden Horde.

[1]: Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004): 135.

[2]: Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond (Two Volumes), edited by Timothy C. Dowling (Santa Barbara, Denver & Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2015): 979.

[3]: William Urban, The Teutonic Knights: A Military History (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Frontline, 2018): 37.

[4]: Jason Cummins, History’s Great Untold Stories: Obscure Events of Lasting Importance (Millers Point NSW: Murdoch Books Australia, 2006): 44.

[5]: William Urban. The Teutonic Knights: A Military History, Greenhill Books, 2006, p. 39.

The Battle of Mohi - How the Mongols Conquered the Kingdom of Hungary

Fought on April 11, 1241, the Battle of Mohi (also known as the Battle of Sajó River) was the culmination of the Mongol attacks on the Kingdom of Hungary. Led by Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, and commanded by Subutai, the Mongols defeated the Hungarians and quickly overran the country, burning down the city of Pest and taking control of the Hungarian plain. The ruler of Hungary, King Bela IV, narrowly escaped. The battle was part of the much larger Mongol invasion of Europe that saw victories over Vulga Bulgaria, Cumania, and Kievan Rus. It was also part of a two-pronged invasion into eastern Europe that included Mongol victory over fragmented Poland at the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241.

In 1223, as the Mongols began their expansion into Europe, they defeated a coalition of Rus forces that included the Cumans, at the Battle of the Kalka River. The Cumans fled, eventually being allowed to resettle in the Kingdom of Hungary. The Mongols considered the Cumans their slaves and were angered when King Bela IV refused to give them up. But, despite Mongol intimidation, and their continued expansion into Central Europe, hardly anyone in Hungary considered the Mongols a serious threat to their security.

As the Mongols reached the Kingdom of Hungary, they split their forces into three, sending Kaidu Khan north toward Poland, and Kadan Khan south toward Transylvania, while Batu Khan and Subatai controlled the main forces. Batu and Subatai then began their march toward central Hungary defeating numerous small contingents along the way. Meanwhile, the Hungarians set up their defenses just south of Mohi at the Sajó River. The main Mongol force reached the eastern banks of the Sajó River on April 10, 1241. That night, they attempted to cross the narrow bridge but were forced back by Hungarian crossbowmen. The Hungarians, thinking they had won a major victory, returned to camp to celebrate, leaving only minor numbers to defend the bridge.

Early in the morning of April 11, the Mongols attempted to cross the bridge again, this time supported by stone-throwing catapults. The catapults forced the Hungarian defenders back, allowing throngs of Mongolian forces to cross. Meanwhile, unknown to the Hungarians, Subutai led a force of 30,000 soldiers south of the main assault to a point where they eventually crossed the river using an emergency makeshift bridge. The Hungarians brought their entire force out from camp to engage the main Mongol forces. At first, they were successful, pinning the Mongols against the river. However, after a delay, Subutai attacked the Hungarians from the south and rear and forced them to retreat to their camp. The Mongols pursued and then surrounded the camp, intentionally leaving an open lane for their enemy to retreat. When the Hungarians made their retreat through the opening, they were annihilated by Mongol forces.

The Mongols continued from Mohi to Pest where they burned the city to the ground. They then moved into the lowland areas, devastating the Great Hungarian Plain. It is estimated that in the Battle of Mohi, the Hungarians lost 60,000 soldiers while in the aftermath one-quarter of the Hungarian population was killed. The Mongols, however, did not remain long in Hungary. Months later, after the death of Ogedei Khan, the Mongol leaders were recalled to Karakorum, the Mongol capital, to select a new leader. After the withdrawal of Mongol forces, King Bela IV returned to fortify and rebuild his country, eventually earning him the nickname “the second founder of Hungary.”

The Sky Worshipers by F.M. Deemyad is a historical novel that brings history to life, sharing with readers events like the Battle of Mohi from the perspective of those who lived it. Below is an excerpt from the novel—a journal entry by Krisztina, one of the captive princesses who felt compassion for the lands and people conquered by her captors, the Mongols.

Easter brought with it a solar eclipse the likes of which had not been seen in many years in Hungary. The Magyars perceived the covering of the sun as an omen portending the horrors that would lie ahead. Overnight a layer of ice had sugarcoated the otherwise dirt roads and alleys of Napnyugta or Sunset Street. Candles were lit in the houses and cottages as the pale sun began to melt on the horizon.

The imminent war was on everyone’s mind. Not a war in some distant land, but right where it threatened the tranquility of Napnyugta. It crept its way into conversations, it cast a shadow of gloom on otherwise happy faces, and it made well-prepared meals distasteful. The inhabitants could smell the stench of the dreaded six-letter word haboru (war) in every corner of their country that seemed to be shrinking in size with the passage of each day, as the shadow of the invading aliens loomed larger.

“Stop crying for God’s sake. You are spoiling our dinner. It is a sin to be ungrateful before God’s bounty. We have food on our table, a roof over our heads, and a fire burning in the hearth to keep us warm,” the man said, frustrated.

It was too late, however the mother’s contagious tears had already afflicted little Natalia and droplets of it were forming pools by her plate of goulash.

“I cannot help it,” her mother said looking utterly miserable. “Aurelian is our only son. He is old enough to be married and to have a family of his own, not to be dragged to that slaughterhouse.”

“It’s not a slaughterhouse. It’s the war front, and he has a duty toward his country,” The man countered.

“Well, the country hasn’t done enough for me to repay it with my son’s blood,” the mother retorted like a tigress protecting her young.

“Calm down, my pet. Why do you always assume the worst? Not all who go to war get killed or injured. He could return a hero and marry a girl of his… or your dreams,” he said, apparently unable to hold back the sarcasm.

He then added more gently, “You remember when at barely twelve he came down with a bad case of pox. You were about to lose your mind over the matter. But he survived with only a few pockmarks on his skin which to me makes him more handsome than ever.”

His reassuring talk brought a faint smile to her lips, but the trepidation lingered on her face.

The defeat of the Polish army in the Battle of Legnica had had its effect on the psyche of the Hungarians. The rhythmic sounds of approaching Mongol hordes and their victory chants of urra sent waves of terror throughout the Continent.

Inhabitants of cities subconsciously realized that like a deadly game of chance there would be those who would be spared and those who would suffer. When looking at one another’s faces, the Magyars wondered who was marked to die by the hands of destiny and who was to be spared the pangs of death. It appeared as if everyone felt watched, bared, void of protection, vulnerable like slugs unable to find their shells. Under such circumstances, no one can dream of a future minds become stagnant, ideas wither souls feel empty, social life becomes extinct.

Terror not yet materialized shattered nerves, paralyzed otherwise fighting men and brought daily activities to a halt. Agriculture suffered, industry stood still, craftsmen no longer cared to pursue their trade, men were inclined to remain indoors, trust among them vanished, culture languished, and religion became the rope to which people clung for solace in hopes of an intervention by Providence.

Why Didn't the Mongols Go Further?

The Mongols had destroyed all resistance in Eastern Europe. Their path west was clear and their enemies were weakened by crusades and internal conflicts. So why didn’t the Mongols go further? The answer to this isn’t clear. History hasn’t left us a definitive answer to this particular problem. That being said, there are a number of explanations that historians have posited over the years. I will briefly summarise the leading theories here. [4]

1. Ögedei Khan’s Death – Tribal tradition dictated that all Mongols return home to appoint new ruler. Furthermore, there were several princes on the campaign that might have wanted to make their claim.

2. The Changing Climate – Recent climate studies based on tree rings in Hungary show that the area underwent a cold, wet period in 1241-2. This change in conditions would have made cavalry less mobile, as well as reducing pasture for the Mongol horses to graze.

3. Fortifications – Europe contained thousands of castles and walled towns. With spies already deep within enemy territory, the Mongols would have known the extent of this problem, and may have wished to avoid it.

4. It Wasn’t Very Profitable – Despite Europe’s immense wealth in later centuries, in the 13th century it was comparatively poor. It is very conceivable that the Mongols may have preferred to attack more wealthy countries such as the Song Dynasty in China, something they did do during the next 2 decades.

5. Bad Terrain – At the time, Europe was made up of mostly forest, with relatively few open areas compared to today. As the Mongols were almost entirely cavalry, the thought of venturing into wooded areas must have been unpleasant.

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  1. Strahan

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  4. Deron

    I fully share her point of view. I think this is a great idea. Fully agree with her.

  5. Tygolar

    Not a bad site, I found a bunch of necessary information

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