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Mongols siege of Esztergom
Part of Mongol Invasion of Europe
Thuróczy Tatárjárás.JPG
Mongol invasion in the plains of Hungary
DateJanuary 1242
LocationEsztergom, Hungary[1]
47°47′8″N 18°44′25″E / 47.78556°N 18.74028°E / 47.78556; 18.74028
Result Hungarian strategic victory[2]*Mongols destroy most of the city, but are repulsed at the citadel and fail to gain significant loot
Belligerents
Golden Horde flag 1339.svg Mongol Empire Hungary Arms.svg Kingdom of Hungary
Commanders and leaders
Golden Horde flag 1339.svg Batu Khan[3] Royal arms of Aragon.svg Count Simon[4][5]
Units involved
dismounted heavy cavalry
dismounted horse archers
catapults[6]
crossbowmen
few knights
Strength
Unknown
30 catapults[7]
Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown most of the city's population killed[8]



The Siege of Esztergom took place in the winter of 1241. Following the hard-fought but decisive Mongol victory at the Battle of Mohi, Batu Khan pillaged the lands of the Kingdom of Hungary, with particular focus on soft targets such as small villages and towns. One exception was Esztergom, the capital and largest, wealthiest city in the Kingdom of Hungary until its destruction. It was the last city to be looted and destroyed by Batu Khan before he sent a reconnaissance party against the Holy Roman Empire and later withdrew of all Mongol forces from central Europe back to Russia.[9] Most of the information on the siege and its aftermath comes from the chronicle of Roger of Torre Maggiore, the Italian (Apulian) archbishop of Split.

Background[]

Following the Mongol conquest of the Kievan Rus states, the Cumans fled from their former lands and appealed to King Bela IV of Hungary for refuge, which he accepted on the condition they provide him military service. Batu Khan immediately threatened the king to round up all the Cumans or be annihilated. King Bela IV refused, and his kingdom was subsequently invaded. Bela as unable to secure military support from any other European states, bar Moravia, Bohemia, and the Polish duchies, which the Mongols dealt with separately.[10] Bela's kingdom was ill-prepared for the Mongol invasion. At the time, Hungary was one of the poorest and most sparsely populated areas of Europe. The population was estimated at slightly over 2 million in the mid-thirteenth century despite its large land area, with the largest city, Esztergom, having only 12,000 inhabitants.[11] Its armies consisted primarily of light cavalry with some light infantry, and only a handful of crossbowmen, mounted knights, and heavy infantry, in contrast to the areas further west where such troops were nearly ubiquitous. The focus on light cavalry made Bela's army appear "oriental" to Western observers.[12] Most critically, Hungary had an almost complete lack of stone fortifications, with less than a dozen stone castles; even the nobles mostly relied on wood and earth forts.[13][14]

The Mongols were very successful in their initial advance. After sacking Buda, they won a large victory over Bela at the Battle of Mohi, which effectively wiped out most of Hungary's army in a day. After this they proceeded to lay waste to most of Hungary's unfortified places, with particular devastation inflicted on the plains regions, where 50-80% of settlements were destroyed.[15] The Mongols also searched stringently for King Bela. In early 1242, they crossed the frozen Danube river, hoping to pillage the richest territories of the kingdom of Hungary.[16]

Battle[]

Batu Khan decided to assault the city in January 1242. His troops battered the walls of Esztergom with catapults and stone throwers. They easily reduced the walls and wooden towers, and had prisoners fill the moat with earth. Rogerius states that when the Hungarians and foreigners in the city realized it was going to fall, they torched their houses along with huge amounts of dyed fabrics and any other valuable commodities. They also slaughtered the animals and buried their gold and silver, or sent it to the citadel, the only fully stone fortification in the city.[17]

Many citizens also fled to the citadel. While the rest of the city was sacked, the citadel held, with the garrison commanded by the Aragonese knight Simon (also spelled "Simeone"), an ispán of Spanish origin. Batu ordered his engineers to batter down the walls of the citadel, hoping to get at the valuables inside, but the catapults failed to do sufficient damage, forcing him to attempt to storm the citadel. The Mongols were beaten back time after time, with Rogerius noting the effectiveness of the garrison's crossbowmen in inflicting enormous damage on the Mongol force (the exact term Rogerius used, "balistarii", was used in most contemporary sources to refer to crossbowmen; despite some confusion, he and other contemporary chroniclers usually referred to siege engines such as ballistas as "machina"). After heavy casualties, Batu accepted defeat and broke off the siege.[18]

Aftermath[]

Batu was enraged by the result of siege. Any valuable plunder he could have taken in exchange for his significant losses was either destroyed or sent to the citadel, which held all the city's remaining wealth in the "high upper castle." In his anger, Batu slaughtered the hostages he had taken during the sack of the city itself, including 300 noblewomen and any civilians he could find. Rogerius states that only 15 civilians survived the sacking, though modern historians find that claim doubtful, believing many more should have been inside the citadel.[19]

Attempts by other Mongol forces to assault other Hungarian stone fortifications met with similarly dismal results, despite their success in pillaging the rest of the country before their withdrawal. Székesfehérvár and the Pannonhalma Archabbey held, as did the fortress of Klis, where the defenders launched boulders down the hillside onto the Mongols who were crawling toward the citadel after the Mongol stone-throwers again failed to reduce the walls.[20] While small in scope, the siege of Esztergom proved an immensely influential event for King Bela IV, who interpreted the engagement as a ringing endorsement of stone fortifications, crossbowmen, and a defensive, scorched earth strategy in the face of Mongol invasions. He would reform his country's military doctrine immensely during the remainder of his rule, and his successor put these lessons into practice when the Mongols returned in 1285.[21]

Despite failing to take Esztergom and other fortresses, the Mongols inflicted considerable damage on the kingdom, with 300,000 to 500,000 people dying either during the invasion or as a result of the ensuing famine (15-25% of the population).[22]

References[]

Footnotes[]

  1. "Genghis Khan: his conquest, his empire, his legacy"by Frank Lynn
  2. Clifford, pp. 30
  3. "Genghis Khan: his conquest, his empire, his legacy"by Frank Lynn
  4. "Genghis Khan: his conquest, his empire, his legacy"by Frank Lynn
  5. "The Mongols Proper and the Kalmuks p.150"by Howorth, Henry H.
  6. "Genghis Khan: his conquest, his empire, his legacy"by Frank Lynn
  7. "Genghis Khan: his conquest, his empire, his legacy"by Frank Lynn
  8. "Genghis Khan: his conquest, his empire, his legacy"by Frank Lynn
  9. "The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History: How Genghis Khan almost conquered the world"by Craughwell, Thomas p.270-277
  10. "The Mongols Proper and the Kalmuks p.150"by Howorth, Henry H.
  11. Gyorffy, "Magyarorszag nepessege', pp.50-51
  12. Sugar, pp.27
  13. Pow, pp. 72
  14. Sugar, pp. 26
  15. Sugar, pp. 27
  16. Pow, pp. 68
  17. Pow, pp. 132
  18. Rogers, Clifford. "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology." Vol. 1. Page 30. 'Esztergom, Siege of.'
  19. Rogers, Clifford. "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology." Vol. 1. Page 30. 'Esztergom, Siege of.'
  20. Thomas of Split, History of the Bishops, 299.
  21. Sugar, p. 26
  22. The traditional figure is 25%, but László Veszprémy, taking account of recent scholarship, says "some fifteen percent". "Muhi, Battle of," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology, ed. Clifford J. Rogers (New York: Oxford U.P., 2010), vol. 3, p. 34.

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