Hungary’s national hero, Janos Hunyadi was one of the great captains in the war between Europe and the Ottoman Turks. Hunyadi rose from obscurity to dominate Hungarian politics in the first half of the 15th century.
The 15th century historian Thuroczi represented Hunyadi as a “man of war, born to bear arms.” A devout Catholic, Hunyadi would leave his bed at night to spent hours praying at the chapel. He believed in strict discipline for himself and for his men.
During the spring of 1441, Mezid Pasha, Bey of Vidin, led 17,000 sipahis (Ottoman cavalry) into central Transylvania. The panic spread by Mezid’s ravages drew Hunyadi into an ill-prepared engagement at Santimbru. Hunyadi barely escaped but rallied peasant reinforcements and riposted only a few days later. Mezid ordered his best troops to take out Hunyadi. “To kill a lion, his heart must be pierced,” Mezid told his troops, advising them that Hunyadi “wears a silver helmet and carries a shield emblazoned with a raven. Mounted on a white horse, he is always found in the thick of battle.” Forewarned by a spy, Hunyadi let a volunteer, Simon Kemeny, wear his armor. Kemeny was slain but Hunyadi was left free to lead the attack and defeat Mezid on March 22. A wagonload of severed Ottoman heads was sent back to Buda.
Hunyadi won many such victories against the Turks but also suffered reverses such as at Varna in 1444. At the time, Hunyadi served under the teenage Wladyslaw III (Ulaszlo I) King of Poland and Hungary.
Victory all but in his grasp, Wladyslaw entered the fray with 500 cavalry. The young king smote through the janissaries, but then his horse was killed under him. Wladyslaw was hurled to the ground where a janissary swooped off his head and hoisted it on the tip of his lance. Galloping back to the battle, Hunyadi tried in vain to stem the growing panic. The sun set upon a vanquished Hungarian army.
Though at times defeated, Hungary never faltered in his resolve to carry on the war: “We have had enough of our men enslaved, our women raped, wagons loaded with the heads of our people, the sale of chained captives, the mockery of our religion…we shall not stop until we succeed in expelling the enemy from Europe.”
Hunyadi’s greatest victory, no doubt was his 1456 relief and defense of Belgrade against Sultan Mehemed II “The Conqueror.”
By nightfall the Turks were fighting in the streets. Hunyadi ordered his men to throw tarred wood and blankets saturated with sulfur into the moat. Set alight, the moat erupted in flames and burned the Ottomans trying to gain the walls. The isolated janissaries in the city were slaughtered.
The fighting was so dreadful that to Ottoman historian Tursun Bey it seemed as if “even the dead climbed out of the fortress and fell upon the army of Islam.”
On August 11th, less than a month after forcing the Ottomans to retreat, Hunyadi passed away from illness. In all probability he succumbed to the plague that had spread from Mehemed’s army into Belgrade. With his last words, the dying Hunyadi pleaded for the continued defense of Hungary and Christianity.
Hunyadi’s deeds elevated him into the realm of legend, to become Torokvero, the “scourge of the Turks.”
L. H. Dyck’s full article on the life of Janos Hunyadi appeared in Military Heritage January 2017.
Warfare History Network and Military Heritage Magazine
Prince Eugene of Savoy versus the Turks at the Battle of Peterwardein
By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
With Eastern Europe at stake, Prince Eugene confronts the Turks at the Battle of Peterwardein and Temesvár.
Thousands of dead Turkish soldiers choked the river and littered its bank. It was the fall of 1697 and the young Imperial Field Marshall, Prince Eugene of Savoy, had just vanquished the Ottoman army at Zenta (or Senta), on Hungary’s River Tiza. His decisive victory brought about the 1699 Peace of Karlowitz and the end of the Second Turkish War (1683-1699) that had pitted the Holy Alliance of Poland, Venice, Russia, and Austria’s Holy Roman Empire against the Ottoman Turks. With the exception of the Ottoman Banat (a border march) of Temesvár, the treaty left Austria in possession of all of Hungary and Transylvania.
Eugene thus became a European hero and Austria a major European power. But peace had scarcely been secured in the east when the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) broke out in the west. It pitted the Grand Alliance of England, the Netherlands, and the Empire against the French and Spanish. Together with his friend, the brilliant Duke of Marlborough, Eugene won several great victories for the allies.
In the east, however, the smoldering Turkish Empire was not yet finished, not by a long shot. Like their foes, the Ottomans regarded the Karlowitz treaty as little more than an armistice. The Ottoman Empire of Sultan Ahmed Khan III Najib (who ruled between 1703 and 1730) still spanned over two million square kilometers. With such a vast territory and burgeoning population, it was only a matter of time before the Ottomans would recuperate their manpower losses. In 1710 that time came. Infuriated by Russian border violations and new fortifications in the Ukraine, the Porte (Ottoman High Command) declared war on Russia.
Submitting to the Ottomans After a Lengthy Standoff at River Pruth
A year later, an outmaneuvered Russian army submitted to the Ottomans after a lengthy standoff on the River Pruth. Humiliated, Peter the Great accepted an unfavorable peace treaty that returned Azov and other fortresses to the Ottomans. With the Russians cowed, the Ottomans used a Venetian-inspired uprising in Montenegro as an excuse to resume their war with Venice in 1714. Grand Vizier Damad (also known as Silahdar) Ali-Pasha, the Sultan’s son-in-law and personal favorite, led the Turks in an assault on the Venetian Kingdom of the Morea (the Greek Peloponnese). The Ottomans were not so foolish however, as not to realize that their victories in Russia and in the Morea unnerved their old archenemy, Austria.
Vienna basked in the summer heat of 1715 when, in a pompous ceremony, Ibrahim, the Sultan’s müteferrika (a member of the Ottoman palace ‘elite’) walked up to a seated, short and wiry individual who was surrounded by the chief Imperial officers of state. This was Eugene, now in his fifties and president of the Hofkriegsrat (the Imperial War Council). Though a plain brown tunic was his more usual attire, in light of the occasion Eugene now wore gold-embroidered red silk.
Wishing for the Moon
From under his broad brimmed hat, Prince Eugene eyed the Turkish representative. The müteferrika presented a letter from the Grand Vizier Damad by which Damad expressed his hope for the Emperor’s neutrality in the Ottoman war with Venice. It was a not to be. Damad might as well have wished for the moon.
Eugene fully realized that no matter how cordial the Turks presented themselves, it was only a matter of time before the Ottoman behemoth swung towards the Empire. In April 1716, on Eugene’s urging, Emperor Charles VI of the Imperial House of Hapsburg renewed Austria’s old alliance with Venice. Consequently, Charles VI insisted that the Ottomans adhere to the treaty of Karlowitz and return to Venice all the lands they had taken.
A New Declaration of War
On May 15, 1716, the Porte answered Austria’s demands with a declaration of war. The Morea had already fallen to Grand Vizier Damad in the late summer of the previous year and the Venetians were hard pressed to hold onto Albania and the Dalmatian coast. The Porte was free to direct the brunt of its martial might against Austria. Leading it would be none other than the Grand Vizier Damad Ali-Pasha.
At Modon in the Morea, Damad had paid a reward for every Christian brought to his tent so he could personally relish the sight of their decapitations. He also executed any Turks who had been foolish enough to embrace Christianity while under Venetian rule. Now he wrote to Eugene, “there is no doubt that the blood which is going to flow on both sides will fall like a curse upon you, your children and your children’s children until the last judgement.” Damad inspired his own commanders with the words, “attack the infidels without mercy … Be neither elated nor down-hearted, and you will triumph.”
By Fluke More Than by Design
For the first time since Suleiman the Magnificent (1490-1566), war in the Balkans was forced upon the Ottomans instead of the other way around. This suited Eugene just fine because by fluke more than by design, European power politics following the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 resulted in an unusual period of peace in the west.
The chief catalysts for this peace were the 1715 death of Austria’s old European enemy, France’s dynamic Louis XIV, and the resurgence of the Whig party in England in 1714. Louis XIV was succeeded by his great grandson Louis XV. In the event of the child King’s death, his regent, the Duke of Orleans, was more worried about safeguarding his own claim to the throne from his rival claimant, Philip V of Spain, than in starting new wars. England’s Whigs meanwhile were too occupied with the Jacobite opposition and the danger of rebellions to get involved in Continental struggles.
The Pope Weighs In
Thus, Eugene was free to concentrate on the Turks in the east, which is what he really wanted to do. Moreover, Pope Clement XI offered 500,000 florins from church lands for the effort, which he considered a crusade. Nonetheless, the brunt of the war costs would fall on Austria. Indeed, unlike the previous two Turkish Wars, this one was to be virtually an almost exclusively Austrian war. The Venetians were busy defending the Ionian Islands, and of the German princes, only Max Emmanuel of Bavaria sent a sizeable contingent of troops.
The collection of an army had commenced and made substantial progress even before the Porte’s declaration of war. Difficulties in the form of droughts and floods intervened and Eugene himself remained in Vienna until July 2, 1716, to make sure of sufficient supplies and funds, but his diligence paid off. After a ride of only seven days he reached the village of Futak, north of the Danube and west of the fortress town of Peterwardein (Petrovaradin), the “Gibraltar of Hungary.” There he beheld his army of 65,000 men, which he described to be “in a very fine serviceable condition.” His comments were in stark contrast to those he made in 1697 when he had been given command of an Imperial army in which there “are many diseases but only a little money.”
Fighting For Money, Not Country
Through their thick walrus mustaches, Prince Eugene’s troopers no doubt cursed and muttered over the usual hardships of war. Theirs was a hard life. They fought not for cause and country but for money. Though hardy peasant louts were the favorite source of recruits for the Imperial Army, most of the soldiers—like those of all 18th-century armies—were from the bottom of society: vagabonds, criminals and beggars, especially in the infantry. Productive tradesmen and farmers were usually exempt from military service because they kept the economy healthy. Only through strict, at times excessively brutal, discipline were recruits welded into formidable fighting machines. Nevertheless, Eugene’s soldiers, flushed with recent victories in the Rhineland and with unabated confidence in a leader who genuinely cared for their well being, were ready for a fight.
This article, originally titled “We Will Attack” is from the August 2005 issue of Military Heritage Magazine, republished on August 7, 2014 on Warfare History Network. For the the rest of this article visit the order page at Military History Network.
Arminius, Prince of the Cherusci, had grown up as a child hostage in Rome. Arminius gained the coveted Roman citizenship and fought for Rome suppressing insurrections in Pannonia. However, after being moved to the headquarters of the Roman governor Publius Quinctilius Varus at Vetera (Xanten) on the lower Rhine, Arminius secretly began to plot against Rome.
“To Rome the German tribes were not equals, as he once thought. Germania’s sons fought and died for Rome while her daughters served the conquerors and her wealth fattened the pockets of men like Varus, who knew nothing of honor and battle.”
With false rumors of a tribal insurrection, Arminius led the unsuspecting Varus and his legions into the wilderness of the Teutoburg Forest and into an ambush.
“The path to the rebels led through heavy wood. Dark clouds of the northern fall hovered over the horizon. Soon Varus had his hands full just moving his army ahead. Oak and birch, beech and alder, boulders and rocks hemmed in the legions as if the very woods and mountains were turning against the Romans.
“Whistles cut the air. Here and there, all along the convoy, javelins and slingshot showered upon the Romans. The wind carried guttural bellows: the barbarians calling upon their spirits and their gods. Ghostly figures, pale-skinned, near-naked bearded giants, appeared and disappeared among the trees.
“The barbarians, lightly armed, carrying nothing but large oval shields were at home in the woods. They struck at wherever the Romans were at their weakest.
“Fortunately for the legionaries they came upon good defensive ground for the next marching camp. Behind the mauled convoy, back along its 20-mile passage to the southeast, lay 13,000 dead that were left as food for flocks of ravens and packs of wolves.
“From all directions, barbarians charged at the camp, plunging through the shallow ditch and storming the ramparts. Released of their pent-up frustration, of not being able to come to grips with their foes, the legionaries fought with renewed vigor. The barbarian waves pounded against the Roman shield wall…
L. H. Dyck’s article “Teutonic Fury” appears in Military Heritage’s March 2016 issue. The article is based on a more detailed chapter in Dyck’s book, “The Roman Barbarian Wars, the Era of Roman Conquest.”
In 1697, the Second Great Turkish War had been going on for fourteen years. In it the Holy League – a coalition composed of the Holy Roman Empire, Poland, Venice and Russia, was arrayed against the vast empire of the Ottoman Turks. Although the war had begun promisingly for the Europeans, the intervening Nine Years War (1688-97) against the belligerent Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, allowed the Turks time to recover. The Ottomans re-conquered lost lands and were further inspired by the personal bravery of their new Sultan, Mustafa II (r. 1695-1703).
After the fighting against the French came to an end, the Holy Roman Empire prepared to regain the initiative against the Turks. However, just before the summer campaigning season of 1697, the commander of the Imperial army, the flamboyant Frederick Augustus “the Strong” of Saxony, entered the election of the vacant Polish throne. He left the army in the hands of his second in command, Prince Eugene of Savoy, a veteran of the Turkish and French wars.
“Eugene, trained as a scholar, was of Italian heritage and French upbringing. His mother, Olympia Mancini, wife of the late duke of Savoy, had been involved in many illicit love affairs at the court of Louis XIV until she was banished from France for dabbling in potions and magic. Physically unimposing and burdened with his mother’s scandalous legacy, Eugene seemed a poor candidate for a military career, and Louis denied his request to join the French army. The young nobleman, however, was determined to follow the martial footsteps of his father and defected from France to join the Imperial army of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I prior to the 1683 Battle of Vienna.”
“Wholly devoted to his military career and wounded several times, Eugene was steadily promoted and earned the rank of field marshal in 1693 at thirty years of age.”
“As it was too late to chose a new commander-in-chief, Eugene was left in sole command of the Imperial army in Hungary. Early in July he joined his troops, who were drawn up with their regimental and Imperial standards at Esseg (Osjek) to greet their new commander. To the Austrian, Saxon and Brandenburg soldiers, the puny Eugene, in his plain brown coat instead of the usual pearl gray and gold trimmed officer’s tunic, must have contrasted sharply with their former commander. But what Eugene lacked in appearance, he more than made up for in character. Upon being informed that his army numbered only 31, 142, he replied: “Thank you for the information. I am the 31, 143rd, and soon we shall have more.”
“On August 19 the Turks crossed the Danube at Pancsova. Brimming with confidence, Sultan Mustafa’s one-hundred-thousand-man army was followed by cartloads of chains with which they planned to bind the defeated German generals and soldiers.”
Late in the day, on September 11th, 1697, Prince Eugene reconnoitered with his hussars on the high ground above the burnt village of Zenta. From there he beheld the Ottoman army in the process of crossing the river Tisza.
“Below him, just to the south of the village, the bulk of the Turkish infantry, along with seventy pieces of artillery and a handful of sipâhî (Ottoman noble and regular cavalry), remained on the west of the Tisza. An incomplete semicircle of ramparts, wagon barricades, and ditches protected the troops as well as the bridgehead.”
“The Imperial army arrived at Zenta with only a few hours of daylight left. Although his troops were exhausted from another forced march, Eugene immediately deployed his arriving columns for an attack.”
“Like madmen the Imperial troops stormed the ramparts, engaging the Turks at close quarters. The Ottomans, in turn, threw down their muskets to slash about with their sabers.”
The decisive battle of Zenta established Prince Eugene as one of Europe’s leading commanders. Ludwig H. Dyck’s article “Prince Eugene’s Balkan Masterpiece,” is featured in Military History Quarterly Summer 2002 issue.
“I thank thee Andraste and call upon you woman to woman…I pray to thee for victory,”1 Boudicca
The Roman eagle had sunk its claws deep into Britannia but all that Rome had gained was nearly lost, when Roman avarice and cruelty drove the tribes into revolt.
“The lash bit into the flesh of the woman’s back, beaten raw by metal balls tied into the ends of leather thongs. Her arms bound to a post, she wallowed in a pool of her own blood. She was Boudicca, queen of the Iceni.”
“Boudicca’s late husband’s goodwill meant nothing to the Romans. Surrounded by Roman provincial territory, the Iceni lands seemed ripe for exploitation.”
“Nothing is any longer safe from [the Romans’] greed and lust…cowards seize our homes, kidnap our children, and conscript our men” such were their common sentiments according to Roman historian Tacitus. Iceni nobles, their warrior routines and rural tribesmen, all were ready to follow Boudicca into battle. Fields remained unplowed and unsown but forges blazed, with the smithing of axe, spear and sword blade.
“Boudicca proudly ascended a raised platform of earth to face an ocean of humanity. Over 100,000 Briton men and women, veterans and youngsters looked to her for inspiration. Her hair cascading down to her hips, her eyes fierce and wild, her hands grasping a spear, Boudicca was tall, beautiful and terrifying.”
Governor Suetonius was busy demolishing the druid groves on Mona when news arrived of Boudicca’s rebellion. One of Rome’s leading commanders, Suetonius had previously crushed a Moor uprising in Africa. In the conquest of Mona, Suetonius had sought an equal to his rival Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo’s re-conquest of Armenia. Suetonius’ men had faced black-robed women, their hair wild like that of the Furies, who brandished torches while druids, according to Tacitus, raised “their hands to the heavens and screamed dreadful curses.” Suetonius recalled the faces of his legionaries, paralyzed with superstitious fear at the sight of fanatical women, until, urged on by their centurions, the legionaries had charged forward to destroy the enemy “in the flames of their own torches.”
Again it was a woman, Boudicca, who was Suetonius’ most formidable foe and who gave the misogynist Romans, in Dio’s words, “the greatest shame.”
Ludwig H. Dyck’s article about Boudicca, the defiant queen of the Iceni and her fateful struggle with the redoubtable might of Rome is featured in the Soldiers column of Military Heritage Magazine’s November 2015 issue.
1. Dio, Roman History, translated by Earnest Cary (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1914) 62. 6, 7
Relief came out of the woods and down from the heights
Islam at Vienna’s Gates
By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
“For nearly two long months, from July 14 to early September 1683, Vienna endured the siege of a vast Turkish army. The Turkish Serasker (Supreme Commander), Grand Visier Kara “Black” Mustafa, demanded surrender but Count Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, commander of Vienna’s garrison spat back, “Let him come; I’ll fight to the last drop of blood.”
“The last drop of blood had almost been reached. Turkish mines and bombardment opened huge gaps in the city walls. Sewage, rubble, and corpses littered the streets and disease ran rampant.”
The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705) had fled from Vienna. A bookworm and music composer, the pious Leopold was not much of a warrior but he wasn’t going to abandon his capital to the Ottoman Turks either and feverishly petitioned German and Polish nobility to come to Vienna’s aid.
Leopold’s cries for help did not remain unanswered. By September a mighty relief army, over 66, 000 strong, had gathered in the Tulln valley…
“With so many prominent nobles, quarrels over command were unavoidable but were resolved through the selflessness of the Duke Charles of Lorraine. Although cursed with a pockmarked face and a limp leg, his proven combat history against both the Turks and the French, his personal courage, humility, and charm gained everyone’s affection and admiration. On Lorraine’s recommendation, Supreme command was given to Sobieski, King of Poland.”
“The idea was to march the army from Tulln through the Vienna Woods to the Kahlenberg heights. From the heights a broad, sweeping descent would squeeze the Turks against the city, the Danube arm, and the Vienna River.”
“With the cry of “Jezus Maria ratuj (Jesus Maria help me) the whole Polish line rode down upon the Turks. Encased in glittering steel that covered head to thighs, with their tiger and leopard pelts fluttering in the wind and eagle wings fixed to their backs, the leading units of Hussars presented an almost unearthly spectacle. Armed to the teeth with a 19-foot pennon-tipped kopia lance, a curved and a straight sword, four pistols, and a battle hammer, and mounted on a powerful armored steed, the hussar was the epitome of the Polish cavalier.”
“In the Ottoman center, Kara Mustafa entered the fray personally to prevent the imminent capture of the Holy Banner by Waldeck’s steadily advancing Franconian-Bavarian foot. Flanked by sipahi and silahdar cavalry, the Grand Visier charged against a rain of German cannon and musket fire.”
“Islam at Vienna’s Gates,” Ludwig H. Dyck’s account of the 1683 battle for Vienna, a battle on which hinged the fate of Europe, is featured in Military Heritage Magazine, October 2002.
“I have often looked him [death] in the eye…and have never been the first to lower my gaze,”1 Ulrich Rudel
“In the village of Seiferdau, southern Prussia, an eight-year-old boy with an umbrella jumped out of a second story window. The umbrella turned inside out, the boy landed in a flowerbed and broke his leg. That little boy was Hans Ulrich Rudel, who dreamed of becoming an airman.”
Rudel would go on to become the highest decorated serviceman of the Third Reich, flying an unmatched 2530 combat missions. Field Marshall Ferdinand Schörner did not exaggerate all that much when he praised Rudel as being “worth an entire division.” With his loyal rear gunner protecting his back, Rudel destroyed 547 tanks, 2000 ground targets, the Soviet Battleship Marat, two cruisers and a destroyer. Stalin put a 100,000 ruble ransom on Rudel’s head but nothing could kill the indomitable German Stuka Ace. Shot down 30 times by flak, never by an enemy plane, Rudel risked his own life six times to rescue downed comrades.
Rudel’s sober milk-drinking habits initially ostracized him from the hard-partying pilot culture. It did not help either that he started out as only an average pilot:
“During the Balkan campaign, Rudel, by then an Oberleutnant, was stuck at Reserve Flight in Graz when aerial brilliance came upon him. Rudel’s Stuka stayed attached to his wing leader “like an invisible rope,” hardly every shot wide at bombing or missed at gunnery.”
Rudel’s Immelman Wing joined the siege of Leningrad where they attacked the Soviet Battleship the Marat:
“Absorbed with hitting his target, Rudel released his new 2000-pound bomb at 900 feet, forgetting that its fragmentation effect ranged up to 3,000 feet. Rudel momentarily blacked out, skimming 10 feet above the water. Rear gunner Alfred Scharnovski woke him up: “She is blowing up, sir.”
“In July 1943 the Stukas released a storm of destruction at the Battle of Kursk. Swooping in at 15 to 30 feet above the ground, Rudel’s cannons blasted tungsten-core shells through the thin back armor of enemy tanks. A successful hit entailed flying through an exploding curtain of fire, scorching Rudel’s Stuka and riddling it with splinters.”
“Rudel destroyed 12 of 13 tanks a mere 50 miles from Berlin. With one cannon jammed and a single round remaining in the other, Rudel went for the remaining Stalin tank which “burst into a blaze” when “something seared through” Rudel’s “leg like a strip of red hot steel.””
Rudel earned Germany’s most prestigious combat award, the unique Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak-Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, alongside promotions designed to keep him grounded. Rudel refused both and even disobeyed Hitler if it meant he could no longer fly and aid Germany against the relentless Soviet advance. Even after Rudel lost one of his legs in combat, he kept flying until the end of the war holding to his maxim “he is only lost who gives himself up for lost.”
“Rudel’s noble characteristics are difficult to reconcile with his close association to Hitler’s clique and to far right causes after the war, but Rudel was never accused of any war crime. Indoctrinated in Nazi ideology at an early age, he clung faithfully to what he deemed righteous and either disbelieved or ignored its horrific consequences. Perhaps Douglas Bader, who did not agree with a number of Rudel’s beliefs, summed up Rudel best, concluding that he was “by any standard, a gallant chap.”
Ludwig H. Dyck’s article of the amazing combat career and controversial post-war life of Stuka Ace Hans Ulrich Rudel is featured in the Soldiers column of Military Heritage Magazine’s July 2015 issue.
1Ulrich Rudel, Stuka Pilot (London: Black House Publishing, 2012), p. 54.
Caesar makes war on the Belgae, the “Bravest of the Gauls”
By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
“The gray skies of winter still shrouded the town of Vesontio on the Dubis River. To the south when not obscured by mist and rain, rose the Jura Mountains, and beyond them the lofty peaks of the Alps and the nearest Roman Province, Gallia Cisalpina. It was early in the year 57 BC, and within Gaul were billeted the legions of Gaius Julius Caesar.”
Caesar had gained renown in Gaul, having defeated the Germanic invader Ariovistus from across the Rhine and before him the migrating Celtic Helvetii from what is today Switzerland…
“To many Gauls, Caesar appeared as an invincible savior…but not to the Belgae! The Belgae did not appreciate Caesar’s meddling in affairs south of their lands. They believed Rome would not stop until all of Gaul was hers. Councils were held and hostages exchanged. The kings and chiefs of the Belgae readied themselves for war.”
Caesar was delighted…
“His opportunistic mind had seen that Gaul, beset by external enemies and internal strife, was ripe for conquest.”
The ensuing campaign involved three major engagements, including two river crossings and a siege of a stronghold, the pivotal battle being fought against the Nervii on the banks of the River Sabis.
“Caesar seemed confident that his cavalry, slingers and archers sufficed as protection for his legions. The Roman host then tramped down the valley side and was soon busy cutting down timber and shoveling earth to erect the usual camp entrenchment. The presence of Belgae cavalry should have forewarned Caesar that the entire Nervii coalition might be nearby, just as the prisoners had told him. Despite such knowledge Caesar considered his cavalry sufficient cover for his toiling legionaries. After all, other than some cavalry units, the enemy seemed nowhere close by. He was wrong. From beneath the emerald foliage of the woods on the far bank, the eyes of some 30,000 Nervii, Atrebates, and Viromandui watched the oblivious Romans with glee.”
“As soon as the Roman baggage train appeared over the hillside, the entire Belgae army broke out of the woods. The Nervii formed the left wing, the Atrebates the right and the Viromandui the center. The barbarians poured down the hillside like a human avalanche. In no time the barbarians gained the river’s farther side to continue with seemingly unbroken momentum up to the entrenching Romans.”
“The barbarian ambush would have sealed the doom of almost any other army caught in the same situation. But this was not just any army; it was a force of Roman legions at their prime, under the generalship of one of the great captains of history.”
“To Northern Gaul,” originally appeared in Military Heritage Magazine, August 2002, and is the basis for a chapter in Ludwig H. Dyck’s “The Roman Barbarian Wars, the Era of Roman Conquest,” soon to be re-republished by Pen & Sword Books.
The Death of Emperor Valens and the Battle of Adrianople, August 9, 378 AD
By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
“In 376 AD the Goths appeared on the lower Danube frontier of the Roman Empire. They came as a whole tribe, with warriors, women and children. They came on foot, on horse-back, and in lumbering ox-drawn wagons, refuges on the retreat from a foe even fiercer than themselves. They came knocking on the Roman door.”
Under the leadership of Fritigern and Alavivus, the Goth tribe of the Tervingi petitioned the Romans for refuge. The Romans accepted their pleas…
“The Tervingi crossed the Danube on boats and rafts made up of tree trunks. Heavy rains had swollen the river and not a few Goths drowned in its ice-cold torrents. The barbarians endured a bitter winter. Not only were Roman food supplies barely adequate but the corrupt Roman count of Thrace, Lupicinus used the supplies destined for the Goths to run a black market. The barbarians were reduced to starvation and forced to barter the favors of their women and sell their children into slavery in return for dog meat dished out by the Romans.”
Lupicinus invited Fritigern and Alavivus to Marcianople for a dinner conference…
“While the chiefs’ honor guard remained outside the palace, Fritigern and Alavivius pleaded their case to Lupicinus. Of the two, Alavivius was probably the most vocal. Meanwhile, outside the city, Roman soldiers kept the hungry Tervingi multitude away from the city’s walls. The barbarians soon turned unruly.
“Inside the palace, Lupicinus seemed drowsy after luxurious meal followed by a noisy floor show. Yet when he heard of the troubles outside the city, he suddenly ordered the Tervingi chiefs’ guard of honor to be put to death and for Alavivius to be held captive. The situation looked equally dire for Fritigern but he cleverly wormed his way out of the predicament. Perhaps not too dismayed at having been rid of his rival, he promised Lupicinus to prevent bloodshed if released. It was ruse. With swords drawn, Fritigern and his personal retainers made their way through the palace and angry crowds gathered in the city.
“Once back with his people, Fritigern promptly struck out to loot the countryside. No longer would he heed the will of the Romans, no longer would his people suffer hunger and slavery. From now on the Goths would take what they wanted and make war on those who opposed them.”
Two years later on August 9, 378, the Goths met the Roman army commanded by Eastern Emperor Valens at the decisive battle of Adrianople…
“The lines clashed together like beaked ships and tossed about like waves at sea. On both sides strokes of axes split helmet and breastplate. One might see a barbarian filled with lofty courage, his cheeks contracted in a hiss, hamstrung or with right hand severed, or pierced through the side, on the very verge of death, threateningly casting about his fierce glance” –Ammianus Marcellinus.¹
“The Terror of the Goths, The Death of Emperor Valens and the Battle of Adrianople, August 9, 378 AD,” was originally featured in Military Heritage Magazine.
¹ Ammianus Marcellinus, Ammianus Marcellinus, translated by John, C. Rolfe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1939) p. 473-475.
Long before Caesar, it was the Gauls who triumphed
Military Heritage Magazine June 2000
Onslaught at Allia and the Gallic Sack of Rome
By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
Celtic tribes from Gaul had settled in northern Italy. They threatened Clusium, a town of the Etruscans. Rome at the time was a powerful city state in a politically divided Italy…
“In response to Clusium’s pleas for help, the Roman Senate sent envoys, the sons of Fabius Ambustus, to forewarn the invading Gauls. The envoys came in peace but tempers soon flared. The Gauls stated that they had no quarrels with the Romans, but when asked as to what right they had to the lands of the Etruscans, the Gauls replied “that they carried their right in their weapons…and that everything belonged to the brave” (Livy V. 36).
The Roman army ended up suffering a disastrous defeat on the River Allia…
“Within the walls of Rome the wailing and lamentations for the fallen at Allia were replaced by a silent terror of the enemy. Throughout the night the yells and galloping of enemy cavalry could be heard outside the city walls. For those inside the tension was nearly unbearable.”
“Woe to the vanquished”
Courtesy of Heritage History
“Onslaught at Allia and the Gallic Sack of Rome,” originally featured in Military Heritage Magazine, appears in book form as the second chapter of Ludwig H. Dyck’s “The Roman Barbarian Wars, the Era of Roman Conquest.”