Eclipse of the Crescent Moon – the shiny stars of Eger
The Siege of Eger occurred during the Ottoman Wars in Europe in the 16th century. After 1520 the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent commenced his expansion of the empire, and began assaults against Hungarian and Austrian territories, invading Hungarian soil in 1526. At the Battle of Mohács in 1526 the Hungarian Army was totally crushed, and the way was paved for an attack on the Danube Basin. During the Turkish campaign of 1552 no less, then 25 Hungarian fortress falled into Ottoman hands.
Eger was an important stronghold and key to the defence of the remainder of Hungarian soil. North of Eger lay the poorly reinforced city of Kassa (Kosice), the centre of an important region of mines and associated mints, which provided the Hungarian Kingdom with large amounts of quality silver and gold coinage.
The actual siege started with a cannon duel on 16th September 1552. At this time the first thing to do was to try to take out the enemy’s guns. The Ottomans had 16 zarbuzans (very large siege cannons), 150 medium and smaller pieces of artillery, and a fleet of two thousand camels, which proved to be highly useful in the collection and transportation of wood to the site used for the construction of temporary siege platforms. The defenders had 6 large and about a dozen smaller cannons and about 300 trench guns with ample supplies of mmunition. The old Hungarian data value of the size of the Ottoman Army (150-200,000 men) are romantic exaggeration. In reality the Ottoman army numbered 35-40,000 men, while in the castle there were no more defender, than 2,100-2,300 people, a mixture of professional soldiers, insurgent peasants and a few dozen women.
The castle’s captain during the legendary siege was István Dobó, who decided to make a last stand. Which he enforced mercilessly. He had his soldiers take an oath, moreover Dobó forbade all communication with the enemy, and responded to death threats coming from outside the walls by hanging a coffin with his name on it on two staffs atop the wall. During the nights, the Ottoman commanders sent teams to dig tunnels for mines, which crews from the castle dug in again. On 3rd October, using a secret tunnel exit, the officer heading one of the units sent by a nearby city agreed the handover of the castle with the Ottomans, and led a unit in. They were caught, and Dobó had them executed publicly as traitors breaking their oaths.
After 39 days of bloody, brutal and intense siege the Ottoman Army withdrew – dehumilitated and beaten. Before that, when all attempts were already failed, Kara Ahmed Pasha ordered a final all out on the walls, which lasted two days. This time, Dobó called everyone into battle - including women. The heroic women of Eger became so legendary, even Ottoman chronicles mention them too. They threw stones and poured hot water, molten bitumen and lead down the siege ladders. The last battle was extremely bloody. On the second day, Turkish officers chased their soldiers into battle with drawn swords. Dobó lost both of his squires. After the final battle the turkish cannon still fired farewell for three days, and the cavalry set fire to the deserted villages nearby. But On 17th October 1552, the Ottoman troops left
The defenders’ losses amounted to about one third of their ranks, but it made a worth. Eger’s strong walls and the high morale of its defenders allowed the fortress to withstand five major assaults and continuous cannonfire (excluding the ones stuck in the walls of the stronghold, almost 12,000 cannonballs landed inside the fortress before the siege ended). Eger has become a symbol of patriotic heroism forever.
(upper photo: Lonely Planet)