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Army of John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus

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Recruitment and organization

John Hunyadi

Both Hunyadis utilized army which was a combination of mercenaries and feudal banderia (banners – Exercitus Banderialis). Occassionally the army would be supplemented by Exercitus Generalis – a general call to arms, which would basically mean everyone capable of bearing arms. This Exercitus Generalis may be the source of a media trope of feudal armies composed primarily of untrained, unequipped peasants – but in reality, such armies were an exception, not the rule. Exercitus Generalis itself was in existence since 14th century, but it was called for the last time in 1439. by king Albrecht. He gave up and dismissed people to their homes after two weeks. Primary way of recruiting troops was, since 1435., banderial system. Banderia – which could vary in strength from less than a hundred to more than a thousand men – were raised and maintained by the king, bishops and magnates. While this system theoretically allowed the kingdom to maintain large number of professional soldiers, in practice the owners of banderia were not motivated for war until they themselves were in danger. Banderial system thus was incapable of stopping the Ottoman expansion, and was only really effective in constant civil wars.

John Hunyadi had fought against Hussites as a youth, specifically under king Sigismund near Prag in 1420. and Visegrad in 1421. Hussites were citizens and peasants who rebelled against Church and high nobility. They were poorly equipped and could not withstand the impact of a charge of heavy cavalry. Therefore, they adopted approach of eastern nomads, using wagons to defend the camp. While these were ordinary peasant wagons, they later built specialized battlewagons with artillery. Near the enemy wagons would move in multiple columns, allowing them to quickly form a square when necessary. Women, children, cattle and horses would be placed in the middle of the camp, which wold be additionally fortified with earthen rampart if time allowed. Such a fort could only be attacked on foot. Many experienced commanders were left after the end of Hussite wars, and Hunyadi took them into his service.

Hunyadi utilized heavy infantry equipped with half-plate and polearms, and Czech and German mercenaries equipped with pavises and either crossbows or hand cannons. Light infantry was formed from poor peasants and citizens, and armed with composite bow and either a sabre or a sword; their task was to engage Turkish light infantry, retreating behind the wagons or heavy infantry as necessary. Main striking arm was heavy cavalry. For heavy cavalry Hunyadi utilized predominantly German or Italian mercenaries, who were organized into lances (Gleve). Each lance consisted of a knight, a less-armoured serjeant (also called a coustillier – one who finishes a defeated opponent) and one or more mounted crossbowmen. Crossbowmen supported their knight by loosing bolts at nearby enemies before retreating for a short time to reload the crossbow. This system did not exist in Croatian-Hungarian kingdom, hence the need for king Sigismund to explicitly order (in 1396.) that each knight has to bring two mounted crossbowmen (thus making two heavy/shock cavalrymen and two mounted crossbowmen per lance). Light cavalry protected other troops from Ottoman light missile cavalry (Akincis).

Hungarian-Croatian army was very cavalry-heavy. Kaiser und Konig Sigismund in his reforms in 1432. predicted raising 80 000 cavalry in whole country, of which 12 000 just in Croatia. At least a portion were light cavalry, armed with a sword, bow or crossbow, and a lance, and armoured either lightly or not at all. Considering the population of 4 000 000 would give military as 2% of population, it would appear that reforms did not predict raising any infantry at all. Sekeljs were nomads divided into 12 tribes giving 400 cavalrymen each – a total of 2 400 cavalry. This cavalry was equipped only with a bow, saber, lance and a shield. Saxons, which were settled in Transylvania, gave 1 600 soldiers to the king. Their equipment was much like that of Germans in the West, and their cities had advanced metalworking, armour and cannon production.

Hunyadi strained against the limits of feudal military organization. He started war against Ottomans with smaller armies composed of 10 000 – 15 000 mercenaries and his own soldiers. Core of this army were few thousand veterans who were highly reliable, motivated and determined. Feudal system had disadvantage in its inability to train large coherent forces: only individual banderia could really train together, but banderia themselves only came together in case of major conflict where multiple magnates came together. At best, 2 000 – 3 000 men could be formed into a coherent body of troops, much less than was the case with ancient Rome or else Byzantine Empire – or indeed Ottoman Empire, which had inherited Byzantine military model. As wars against Ottomans escalated, Hunyadi’s armies were larger, but he also climbed the state hierarchy. When he went to war in 1448., Hunyadi had to secure his position in the kingdom with several thousand loyal troops before leaving on campaign. And since he waged the war with army of the kingdom, and not just his private army, his nominal subordinates were often large magnates and other powerful nobility with its own interests. This might have been a reason why infantry – usually one of key elements of Hunyadi’s battle tactics – was mostly ignored at Varna and Kosovo, being few in number and likely structured for sieges as opposed to open battles.

Matthias Corvinus

General organization

Main innovation of the new king was the standing professional army. Armies he led were very cavalry-heavy. When it comes to banderial army, he introduced provincial banderies. These could be kept under arms for three months every year, and used both within and without the kingdom. Each noble had to give one soldier. Nobles themselves had to raise their banderies to defend the kingdom, but were not required to participate outside its borders.

Matthias had no problem raising medium to large armies for the time. Szilagy had 8 000 men in Belgrade in 1458. and attempted to help Serb despot Jelena. Matthias himself defeated an Ottoman army in Srijem large enough that 5 000 Turks died just trying to run away across Sava, after which Mihail Szilagy took 3 000 men from Kovin to Belgrade. Hungarian army of 3 000 was defeated near Kormend by Austrian troops 2 000 strong in 1459. In 1461. Matthias sent 4 000 cavalry and 1 200 infantry to help Albrecht.

By 1463. Matthias Corvinus already had a standing army of 5 000 infantry and 2 000 cavalry. He also requested nobles to raise one cavalryman per 10 houses – previous standard was one per 20 houses – thus giving (assuming family size of 5, as is standard assumption) army size as 2% of population. Prelates and barons had to send him 12 000 cavalry. If kingdom had population of 4 000 000 – 5 000 000, then Matthias’ army could have numbered 80 000 – 100 000 troops, similar to what Sigismund thought to raise (compare to 40 000 – 60 000 or 1,2% of population in 1454.). Such a number certainly could be reached if conquered Moravia and Sillesia as well as allied Moldavia and Wallachia were counted. Matthias Corvinus himself may have had up to 30 000 troops from his own estates. As noted, Matthias crossed Sava on 11th September 1464. with 17 000 cavalry, 6 000 infantry and 7 000 crusaders. This again shows cavalry-heavy nature of Hungarian armies in the time. In 1468. Matthias fielded an army of 22 000 men, 2 000 wagons and 50 cannons, and in 1469. took an army of 10 000 men. In 1474. he had 10 000 men and 900 war wagons in a field army, and later raised an army of 60 000 – 70 000 men and 100 ships. Black Army in 1487. had 20 000 cavalry and 8 000 infantry.

Standing army of king Matthias – the “Black Army” – originally had 6 000 mercenaries. Full army of kingdom included banderial troops as well as Moladvian and Wallachian dukes; thus an army overall could have been 148 000 – 163 000 according to some sources. Venetian ambassador specifically stated that the army had 3 000 battle(?) wagons, 30 bombards, 30 long cannons, 24 two-wheeled wagons with 2 cannons each, 12 great bombarding wagons with 6 cannons each, 8 wall-breaching bombards, 8 wall-destroyer machines and 10 great bombards. As for army, ambassador counted 6 000 heavy Silesian-Moravian cavalry, 10 000 infantrymen, 10 000 Hungarian heavy cavalry, 4 000 crossbowmen with pavises, 16 000 Szekely mounted archers, 16 000 Szekely footmen, 400 riflemen, 80 artillery masters, 10 000 soldiers of noblemen of Transylvania, 2 000 Wallachians of Transylvania, 12 000 soldiers of voivode of Transylvania, 20 000 infantrymen and artillerymen, 8 000 riders of Moldavia, 30 000 footmen. Total: 144 480 men, of which around 106 000 were of the kingdom. Army had heavy and light infantry (of which 20% had gunpowder weapons), heavy and light cavalry, artillery and navy. An Italian report places navy at 364 ships, with 2 600 sailors and 10 000 soldiers. Of these 10 000 soldiers, 1 700 were men-at-arms, 1 200 infantry with pavises, and remainder crossbowmen and handgunners. Among ships, 16 were galleys with four great bombards and 300 gunmen each. Of 364 vessels of the navy, there were 330 actual ships and additional 34 sloops at Belgrade. Each sloop had 18 oars and 18 soldiers with a rifle and two artillerymen. Bombards on large ships could fire a ball weighting 300 lbs. This military force required over a million florints per year, thus forcing Matthias to constantly ask for extraordinary taxes. But a lot of money was also spent on supporting the art, and in his time first printing works appeared in Hungary and Croatia.

Black Army

Black Army was the core of Matthias’ army. It was a standing army formed first from former Czech Hussites. It gained its nickname most likely from one of its commanders, “Black” John Haugwitz. While theories exist that soldiers of Black Army painted their armour black, this is unlikely – black armour did not appear in mass until 16th century. Images where armour does look black are likely ones which utilized silver-based silver colour, which due to oxidization would become black – this is also the reason why flag of Matthias Corvinus is sometimes shown with red-and-black instead of actual red-and-white colour pattern.

Standing army was required, as feudal army of the kingdom depended primarily on large magnates, which were – mildly put – unreliable. Hussites had utilized battle wagon tactics to counter otherwise nearly-unstoppable charge of feudal heavy cavalry. Combination of battle wagons and infantry armed with firearms and protected by pavises proved a powerful defensive tactic. John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus also formed light cavalry as a separate combat arm, significantly improving mobility and scouting capacity of the army, while also significantly reducing relative combat power of Ottomans whose tactics were based heavily on utilization of light cavalry.

Matthias Corvinus improved on his father’s model by forming regular logistical support and also regularly paying soldiers. In the end, Matthias’ standing army will reach strength of 30 000 men, 2 000 wagons, 100 cannons and 200 ships on Danube and Sava. This is almost the same as what entire Hungary was able to field for Battle of Mohacs in 1526. (25 000 – 30 000 soldiers, 5 000 carts and 85 cannons). And while original Black Army was made up of foreign mercenaries, by 1480. it consisted mainly of native troops. Among troops of Black Army, one in five carried harquebus, which was extremely high proportion of gunpowder small arms for the time.


John Hunyadi

Hunyadi’s army was comprised primarily of mercenaries. This heavily influenced his choice of an agressive, offensive strategy. Losses of mercenaries did no harm to kingdom itself, and by transferring war to enemy’s land, Hunyadi prevented them from harming his own kingdom. This also forced Ottomans to defend instead of attacking. Ottoman military was structured around jihad, and contained a significant number of soldiers with no lands or incomes, whose only “wages” were whatever they acquired in war. This meant that the Ottoman Empire depended on permanent consquest and expansion for proper functioning; yet Hunyadi turned the situation on its head. Hunyadi also used this strategy against Counts of Celje; only when he devastated Slovenia – then part of Holy Roman Empire – did they becalm themselves. Hunyadi likewise forced Friedrich III to abandon his designs on Hungary by devastating parts of Austria. His losses did no damage to the kingdom as his soldiers were mecenaries.

Matthias Corvinus

Matthias Corvinus likewise preferred to go on the offensive. In this however he was significantly constrained by his many enemies within the kingdoms. He was also too occupied by affairs of central Europe. Matthias failed to assist either Serbia of Stjepan Tomašević or Bosnia of Stjepan Tomaš. Only after the latter fell did he take serious steps for defense against Ottoman threat. This however was not wholly his fault. Friedrich III. Hapsburg was actively seeking crown of Hungary between 1459. and 1463., and again in 1474. and 1484. – 1490., as did Polish prince from 1472. to 1474. As early as February 1459., he made a declaration in which he called Friedrich a parasite who is seeking to exterminate Hungarians and their language; thus Matthias called people to arms – showing that a form of (ethnic?) nationalism existed at least this early. Matthias was also aware that resources of Hungarian-Croatian kingdom were limited, and sought to increase them by expanding his rule to Austrian lands.

His success however was in his ability to focus on one opponent at the time. When that was not possible, he was usually still able to keep his enemies divided, physically if not in war aims, and to defeat the weakest enemy first.

Weapons and equipment

Pavise Carriers (Clipeati)

Clipeati are well armoured infantry armed with a polearm and paired with a servant who carried a large pavise shield and equipped with light armour – or just a helmet – and likely armed with a long spear or pike for repelling cavalry attacks. Pavise shield was rather large. A pavise shield used by army of Matthias Corvinus cca 1485. was 115 cm tall, 61 cm wide and weighted 10 kg. This particular shield however was lost or destroyed during battles for Budapest in 1945. Shields could be larger – 125 cm and 11 – 12 kg.

Clipeati in Matthias’ service formed a solid shield wall which other elements of infantry could fight from. This might be tactic similar to that of Hussites, who used man portable mantlets to create a second line of defence within their Tabors.

Heavy Infantry (Armati)

Armati were heavy armoured infantry which fought alongside clipeati, and had same equipment. They could fight in support of / within battle wagons or behind clipeati. Armati were armed with two-handed weapons – two examples being a poleaxe (or, rather, polehammer) and a spear. Polehammer was a two-handed weapon with a warhammer head – specifically, a head which consisted of a hook for piercing plate, a long square spike for stabbing between plates, and a warhammer. Another common weapon was short (1,8 m) spear with a very long single-bladed hewing head – that is, spearhed designed for both stabbing and cutting. Backup weapons were a one-handed or hand-and-a-half longsword and a dagger.

Infantry armour was lighter and cheaper in make than that of heavy cavalry, as latter was expected to stop impact of heavy spear. Helmet was typically sallet without visor, with faceplate attached to breastplate. Because of this, soldier could easily open and close vision slot simply by raising and lowering his head. Infantrymen usually did not have leg armour: partly for greater mobility in close combat, partly perhaps for financial resouns, and partly because – in army of John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus at least – first ranks had their legs protected by pavise wall.

Some may have carried hand-held pavises. These shields were much smaller than “static” pavises used by crossbowmen for protection, perhaps around the size of a heater shield. Pavise of Matthias Corvinus shows two horizontal straps top and bottom, and loose strap in the middle. It is likely that soldier would use the shield with hand gripping one of the handles near ends, with large strap being then tightened over forearm.

Light infantry

Often mentioned, but their equipment is unknown. Crossbowmen were definitely counted among light infantry, as they are mentioned nowhere else. However, tactics as described above also indicate a significant presence of melee-armed light infantry.

Crossbowmen used pavise shields as a protection when reloading crossbows. These shields could be equipped with two straps and carried as a backpack, in which case crossbowman would reload crossbow with back turned towards the enemy before turning around. By time of Matthias Corvinus however much larger pavise shields were utilized, requiring a dedicated shield-bearer. Heavy crossbows with steel bows could reach distances greater than 300 meters (compare with 250 – 300 meter range for English longbow), and were drawn with mechanical devices. These crossbows could even pierce plate, as an example of a helmet pierced from both sides by a crossbow bolt shows. Windlass crossbows however were usually only used in forts, while in the field crossbows were loaded with one-handed teethed mechanism or else with “goat leg”. With such devices, rate of fire was around two bolts per minute. Light crossbows with wooden bows, often used by city militias, were drawn manually with two hands, and had range of 110 meters with heavy bolt and 130 meters with light bolt.

Pushkars used first firearms (whose name – pushka – used here comes from Slavic word “pušiti” – “to smoke”). But these early pushkas (handguns) were not effective weapons in open field battles and required protection, such as provided by a wagonburg. Matthias Corvinus had 2 000 pushkars in 1475. Pushkars also used pavise shields for protection in a manner similar to crossbowmen. Hand cannons were used as early as Hussite wars, and had lethal range of 50 meters. At distance of cca 10 meters, hand cannon’s ball could pierce even plate armour, something no other ranged infantry weapon could do unless it hit a weak spot. Hand cannons were also very easy to learn, and had rate of fire of 10 – 15 shots per hour.

Up until Hunyadi, archers were the mainstay of Hungarian infantry. They represented poorer elements of various levies, and tradition of mounted archery in Hungary made inevitable the appearance of foot archers as well. During Louis the Great foot archers carried sabres and composite bows. Janos Hunyadi relied on Transylvanian and Szekely foot archers.

In Black Army itself, every 4th soldier had a gun – with 8 000 infantry, this would suggest that all pushkars were part of the Black Army.


Saxons were a significant German population settled in Transylvania, whose migration there started in 1150. Largest settlement was around town of Sibiu (Hermannstadt), situated on one of few easily navigable routes through Carpathian mountains to the Black Sea. Thus it was a major trading town and defensive stronghold. Like Szekelis (see in cavalry section), Saxons were granted practical autonomy in exchange for special tax and military obligations. These obligations included supplying 500 warriors for internal defence and 100 warriors for foreign service. Aside from area around Sibiu, there were two more Saxon districts, centered around Brasov (also on a route through Carpathian mountains) and Kyralia – Rodna – Bistrita. These also enjoyed rights similar to those given to Sibiu. In 1430., Saxon military obligation was 1 600 men. Their troops were likely similar to those of Germany proper – knights, spearmen, crossbowmen, and in later period handgunners.

Mounted crossbowmen

Mounted crossbowmen were rarely used in the West, and so are not well represented in Western military literature. What mounted crossbowmen do appear in Western accounts are exclusively mounted infantry: that is, they used horses for transport but fought afoot. John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus however used them as part of their offensive cavalry arm. This employment is most similar to that of 10th century Byzantine missile cataphracts (which will be described in one of later articles), or later combined-arms units, where a wedge or column would be formed with heavy melee cavalry in outer ranks, and inner ranks formed of heavy missile cavalry. In combat, crossbowmen would likely “soften” enemy ranks with missile barrage before reloading and targeting enemy men-at-arms’ horses when close combat unfolded.

Heavy cavalry

Hungarian-Croatian heavy cavalry (nehec lovassag) of second half of 15th century was army’s primary striking force. It was recruited from major and middle nobility, as well as foreign mercenaries. Cavalry utilized gothic plate armour. Weak point of armour was helmet (sallet) which sat directly on top of head, and thus every strike fell directly on head (and neck). But it also had significant advantage in that it allowed easy head movement and thus easy visibility, and also impeded hearing much less than a fully enclosed helmet attached to armour. Armour for rider weighted 26 kg. Heavy lance was helped by arrest mounted on armour; this and deep saddle allowed rider to transfer much more of force (around 1 ton) to target.

Main weapon was heavy lance around 4 meters long. Only very rich warriors could afford full horse barding; much more common was armour for head only, which was not rare. Full barding had weight of 33 kg. With armoured rider and saddle horse will have carried around 140 kg, which meant that such a horse had to weight at least 560 kg. Heavy cavalry was main striking force, and Hungarian and Croatian armies of the time were both mostly cavalry. Hungary had major advantage in its horses, which were some of the best in Europe.

Hungarian knights were different from their Western counterparts in multiple ways. Emperor Sigismund made a specific order for the Nicopolis campaign of 1396 that Knights should be accompanied by two mounted archers, showing that they did not normally come with combat support group, unlike their Western counterparts. Hungarian nobles however were much superior to their Western counterparts in temperament. There are no examples of Hungarian heavy cavalry displaying the impetuous recklessness of their Western (especially French) counterparts, which is likely a consequence of Hungarian experience in fighting against horse archers (from Mongols to Turks).

Also present were mercenary knights from Hungary and Western Europe. These were disciplined professionals, and were organized in lances consisting of a knight and three to five less well equipped retainers. Hungarian mercenaries appear during Luis’ reign, with knights in King’s household recruiting 50 – 80 men-at-arms, and each man-at-arms also supplying a support group of 2 – 3 mounted crossbowmen. Mercenaries came mostly from southern Germany, Bohemia, Hungary itself and Balkans.

Light cavalry

As only rich nobility could afford full plate armour, many if not majority of cavalry were light cavalry. In order of battle, first rows consisted of heavy cavalry with progressively lighter cavalry as one moved towards the rear ranks. Typical equipment was light infantry spear serving as lance, sword, sallet helmet and shield. Armour could be mail, coat of plates, brigandine, gambeson, or nothing.

Light cavalry also employed missile weapons (bow and crossbow). Mounted crossbowmen were usually placed behind heavy cavalry and supported it with missile fire. Light horsemen also acted as skirmishers and counter-skirmishers, in order to clear away Turkish light cavalry (Akinji skirmishers in particular). These were mostly foreign specialists and mercenaries, or Tatars from within Hungary; native Hungarian cavalry appears to have been incapable of acting in this role. Light cavalry also harassed enemy flanks, lines of supply and reinforcements entering the battlefield.

Many light cavalrymen were from Wallachia and Moldavia, or else Transylvania – with Rumanian (Roman) refugees in particular being an important source of cavalry. Each heavy cavalryman had to bring two light cavalrymen for missile support.


Hussars were very numerous in Matthias’ service – according to some sources he could have raised 20 000 of them. Generally one Hussar was recruited for every 20 peasants. Hussars had originated after Serbia had fallen under Ottoman rule in 1427. With Turkish raiders and also bandits penetrating the borders, border districts recruited their own cavalry to counter them. Hussars were thus elemental in countering Turkish Akincis, be it their raids or in scouting role. By time of John Hunyadi’s Long Campaign, units of Rac horsemen played significant part in the campaign. Number of hussars rose dramatically after Serbia was formally absorbed into Ottoman Empire in 1459., sending a wave of refugees into Hungary.

Typical armament is heavy lance, sabre and half-circular shield, as well as recurve bow. Of protection, they often wore none, but could have a helmet and mail armour. Shield could also be so-called “Hungarian shield”. They acted as raiders, and during wars against Poland, they took cities of Poznanj and Crarow. Hussars also completely destroyed Polish logistics, which led to their adoption by Poles.


Szekelys were separate ethnic group from Magyars, possibly descendant from Huns, and were largest Hungarian speaking group in Transylvania. Szekely lands were largely ethnically homogenous, forming a block of some 12 000 square kilometers in south of Transylvania. Lands were divided into seven districts (szeks). As they were outside the Hungarian law, even Voivode of Transylvania had no authority inside their borders, and administration fell to the Count of Szeleky, who was also often Voivode of Transylvania as well. From 1462., two offices were combined on a permanent basis.

Szekely remained semi-nomadic people who lived from horse and cattle breeding, and were thus regarded as some of the finest light horsemen available to the King of Hungary. Their only obligation was to supply troops for military service, and their value as light horsemen allowed them to maintain their lifestyle. Szekely were divided into six tribes, of four branches each. Each branch was obligated to provide Hungarian Crown 100 horsemen for military service, for 2 400 horsemen total. This professional force was further supplemented by militia obliged to serve 30 days. This militia consisted of those that serve with three other mounted men, individual horsemen, and infantry.

Venetian reports however state that Matthias’ army of 1470. had 16 000 Szekely horsemen, which may indicate recruitment of Szekely mercenaries beyond traditional feudal obligations.


Bombardiers were specialists who manned bombards (cannons). Bombards were cannons with very short barrel. In second half of 15th century bombards were equipped with a wheeled carriage as well as primitive barrel elevation mechanism. When at position, cannon was protected by a wooden pallisade with a door which could be opened to allow firing. Range was 200 – 300 paces.

Battle Tactics

John Hunyadi

West had heavy cavalry – knights – unstoppable in a charge. Ottoman sipahis could not withstand their charge, and were thus usually placed behind the infantry. Ottoman infantry was placed in the center and deployed unusually deep. As feudal cavalry was usually not capable of cycling the charge (charge-retreat-charge), their charge would drown in the mass of infatry, rendering them static and easy prey for sipahis. Once knights were eliminated, Christian infantry was easily taken care of.

John Hunyadi solved this problem by utilizing a segmented battle line. Normal Western tactic of the time called for heavy cavalry to be placed in the front to deliver a charge all across the line, with infantry behind the cavalry to mop up. Results of such tactic when utilized against Ottomans were already described in the previous paragraph. Instead of doing this, Hunyadi placed infantry in the center. Flanks and the rear of the infantry were protected by battle wagons, and cavalry was placed on the flanks. This forced Ottomans to either be encircled or else face Western heavy cavalry with their own sipahis, either of which was a bad idea. When sipahis started to weaken, Hunyadi would support flank which made more progress with his own heavy cavalry reserve.

In 1443. – 1444., Ottoman army had little in terms of field artillery. This meant that they were incapable of effectively dealing with Hungarian Wagenburg tactics. In their first encounter with such force in September 1442., at Ialomita against Hunyadi, Ottoman army was decisively defeated as their cavalry could not penetrate wagons protecting Hunyadi’s flanks. In 1443., battle wagons again proved an insurmountable obstacle to Ottoman cavalry, and the only way to defeat them was by siege.

Matthias Corvinus

Matthias Corvinus also used tactics similar to John Hunyadi, and he took his father’s mercenaries into his service. It is precisely his father’s mercenaries that formed the core of Matthias’ standing army. However, tactics seem to have evolved with time, becoming more defensive.

In 1480., Matthias Corvinus described his army’s tactics as follows: “…some are light infantry, others heavily armoured, and some are clipeati, which receive double wage as they have servants. Also counted are experts gunners, but they are not as effective as other infantry; they are best behind pavises at beginning of the battle or during sieges. Our rule is that a fifth of infantry are pushkars [note: infantry armed with first matchlock muskets]. …We hold heavy infantry to be immovable wall, and they will die all to one at place they are standing on. If opportunity shows itself, light infantry will break out and attack, but if their attack loses momentum or if they are heavily pressed, they will retreat behind heavy infantry. …All infantrymen and pushkars are surrounded by armatis and clipeatis as a fort. Pavises seem as a fort, behind which light infantry is protected as if behind the walls, from which they attack in proper moment.”. This indicates tactics essentially same as those of Italian mercenary armies.

Another text, likely written also by Matthias, describes tactics of light infantry as such: “…Main task of both lines is protection of third line of pushkars and fourth line of light infantry armed with bows, spears and axes…”, “…during the attack they would approach enemy lines protected by fire of musketeers [note: likely pushkars, archers and crossbowmen], and once enemy attack had been broken, light infantry would come forth to hand-to-hand combat…”.

Thus tactics of infantry can be reconstructed in phases as follows:

  1. Clipeati are in first row (servant with shield and spear and clipeati). Behind them are crossbowmen or puskars, and in the rear heavy infantry.
  2. When enemy reaches range, shield-bearers and clipeati kneel. Crossbowmen (or puskars) fire over their heads, walking in circle much like 17th century musketeers: first row releases a salvo, and then goes to rear to reload, while second row steps forward to fire.
  3. Enemy has closed in; this means that crossbowmen pull back, and armati step forward to reinforce the defense of pavise wall.

At this point, cavalry would make a sortie to catch the enemy in the rear. Pavise wall might have been supplemented by battle wagons.

harci szekerek=war wagons; ágyúk= cannons; könnyű lov.= light cavalry; nehéz lov.= heavy cavalry; nehéz gyalogság = heavy infantry; könnyű gyalogság = light infantry, puskás gyalogság = infantry with rifles; poggyász szekerek = luggage wagons; the three dots = the line of armored infantry with shields;


As it can be seen, John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus had built up a highly professional, versatile and adaptible force capable of meeting any challenge – be it from Western feudal states or Ottoman Empire. It would not be amiss to consider Hungarian army between 1440. and 1490. the most sophisticated and powerful military force in Europe.

However, unlike Ottoman army, Hungarian army of the time had little in terms of structural adaptability. Much like Byzantine Komnenian and Paleologian armies, it depended directly on capabilities of the leader. This is seen in battle of Mohacs. Despite the disbandment of Matthias’ standing army, Hungary of Jagellon times still in fact maintained significant military capability. Army of 25 000 – 30 000 men, fielded at Mohacs, was not much smaller than armies of John Hunyadi, though it was only half the size of largest armies led by Matthias Corvinus. This army however displayed clear lack of tactical sophistication which had characterized armies of John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus. While Ottoman army had increased in sophistication by that time, Hungarian did reverse – and so it was medieval feudal army which faced modern Ottoman army at Mohacs.

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