Battle of Nicopolis - comp

By Misplacedgeneral

The battle of Nicopolis, fought in 1396 south of Hungry between Hungarian and Western crusading forces against the Ottoman Turks was a turning point in Western dealings with the Islamic tidal wave. After the great defeat suffered at the hands of the Ottoman Turks under their Emperor Bayezid I, the Western Christian nations left Constantinople and the rest of the Balkans, in the palms of the Islamic Turks. No longer would Crusades be called and adhered too.

The battle, and the conflict that it was a part of, had it's beginnings of the decline of the Seljuk Turks, and the birth of the Ottoman nation. That nation's nearly mythical founder, Ghazi Osman, who ruled from 1285 to 1326 AD, put into place the first seedlings of what would become a grand empire, capturing much of modern Asia Minor and modern Jordan. His successor, Orkhan, continued the series of conquest, reducing Nicomedia and creating the first Ottoman state west of Constantinople, in Western Anatolia (Asia Minor) and Thrace (Europe). His son Murdad I ruled until 1369, and along with Bayezid I succeeded in conquering much of the Balkans and Armenia to Turkish rule. During this period, the Ottoman armies appeared to be unstoppable, crushing Byzantine armies left and right.

Where were the Western powers at this time? After 1291, the fall of the Holy Land, no matter how many cries went out for Crusades, a disillusioned Europe did not respond. Instead, the nations fought amongst themselves. As Ottoman power grew, so did the amount of calls for Crusades, Pope Clement VI in 1345 wrote to the kings of England and France, at the time engaged in the Hundred Years War, "Oh, how much better to fight against the Turkish enemies of our faith, than the present fratricidal strife." In 1370, another call sent out by Pope Urban V was ignored. The one nation preparing for war against the Ottomans was the nation closest to them, Hungary. In 1396, however, a peace between England and France marked the beginning of a joint participation Crusade against the Ottoman Turks, which fell under the command of the inexperienced John the Fearless, and some French military leaders.

The campaign began as it ended, quickly, marching with a large component of Western troops, John linked up with men under the Hungarian King Sigismund I. The King, a man who had witnessed Ottoman warfare, advised against the idea of marching directly at the nearest Turkish fortresses, which was the Crusader plan, but was ignored by John the Fearless, who believed no one could withstand their military strength. This seemed to be true when the fortresses of Vidin and Rahova fell. They then moved on to Nicopolis.
Bayezid I quickly marched north with his main army when the news reached him, his progress was not noted by the Crusader leaders, who did not realize he was near until the day before the battle, when he appeared less than 4 miles away. Quickly they broke off the siege, and prepared to give battle, expecting a great, and easy, victory.

The Ottoman forces, with some 5000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, were from various lands, ranging from Asia Minor too Serbia, and including the elite Janissaries. They formed up their infantry behind a line of entrenchments/stakes, with the cavalry in reserve. The Crusader forces, men from Western and Central Europe, numbered some 6000 cavalry, and 10,000 infantry (mainly Hungarian). The cavalry were placed at the front, for John expected a charge form his knights would drive the enemy away, the foot would not enter combat in the entire battle.

The battle began with an enthusiastic cavalry charge, which after making some gains against the Turkish infantry, stalled. The Turkish foot had proven to be more disciplined than expected, and after a second charge was mounted, the Ottoman cavalry, led by Bayezid I, charged the weary horsemen. The main part of the battle had lasted less than an hour. And ended with the knights fleeing in fear.
The infantry, seeing the defeat of their cavalry, instantly turned tail, some under the King of Hungary escaped by boat, but most were cut down by the Ottomans. The Turks gave no quarter to their enemy, many being ordered executed by the Sultan himself. Out of the 6000 or so men on the Crusader side who were involved with the combat, 300 survived to be ransomed for a great sum of money. If the infantry had been sent first, might the battle have been won?

Nicopolis was to prove the last time for nearly a 140 years that Western forces would clash in large numbers with those of the Turks. Not even the fall of Constantinople in 1453 drew a Western response. Nicopolis was the death bell ringing for what remained of the once mighty Byzantine empire.