Croatian cavalry

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Croatian rider with black tie around 1630 ( Heeresgeschichtliches Museum , Vienna).

Croatian cavalry ( Croatian Croatian konjaništvo ) or Croatian riders , or simply Croat (Contemporary Crabaten or Krabaten ), is an in Thirty Years' War been arrived (1618-1648) collective term for irregular units of light cavalry consisting East or South-East European mercenaries were formed . The Croatian cavalry was considered a separate branch of arms .

The Croatian cavalry developed within the framework of the Habsburg military border and fought in the ranks of the imperial army in the Thirty Years' War, especially under Wallenstein . During the 17th century Croatian equestrian associations were set up in other European countries. In the period that followed, the special position as a separate branch of arms was lost again.

In many regions of Germany today remember some place names and Flurkreuz called "Croats Crosses", the Croatian cavalry, such. B. in Kevelaer , Saarburg , Schwäbisch Gmünd , Winkelhaid , Eichenberg (near Suhl) and Altendambach . The name of the magician is derived from the contemporary Crabat or Krabat ("Croatian") for a Croatian rider, from the legend of the same name and the name of the tie .

Armament, Structure and Mission

Contemporary illustration of a Croatian rider during the Thirty Years' War

As light cavalry, the Croatian cavalry was quite similar to the hussars , but in addition to a saber and dagger and mostly two rider pistols, often also an arquebus with them, so that they also performed the tasks of arquebus riders or dragoons in their original role as mounted infantry . The saber was carried over the shoulder as it was more convenient for service on foot.

As in their service in the military border, the Croatians formed units of around 50 men. The Croatian cavalry entered the field in groups of around 200–400 riders, which was a suitable size for guerrilla fighting .

The military advantage and clout of the Croatian Cavalry also resulted from the fact that it could be used both on horseback and on foot. This diversity predestined them for tasks of the Little War , the reconnaissance , the flank security, the foraging, the security of favorable marching and quarters as well as the pursuit of fleeing or dispersed enemy troops. However, this made it difficult to monitor and discipline the Croatian riders and was often used by them to wage war on their own account. Unlike the actual cavalry , they were not intended for open combat with regular troops.

As part of the regimental economy, regiment owners acted as war entrepreneurs, who initially invested in setting up and equipping the units, only to hand them over to the warlords of the imperial or other warring parties for money .

In the Croatian equestrian associations established after the end of the Thirty Years' War, the armament, structure and order were based on whether they were set up as hussars, lancers or court guards and which national army organization was followed.


In the service of the Habsburg monarchy

Originated within the framework of the military border

After the lost battle on the Krbava field in 1493, Croatia, ruled in personal union with Hungary, was in the process of being integrated into the Habsburg monarchy . For the Habsburgs , the establishment of the military border meant primarily the protection of their countries. This part of Croatia was therefore politically subordinate to Vienna . At that time there were more troops from Vienna, ethnically composed from all parts of the Habsburg Empire, than those from the autochthonous Croats in the military border. After the battle of Sisak in 1593 and the subsequent war, which lasted until 1606, a total of around 7,000 mercenaries lived in the area of ​​the Habsburg military border. About 30 percent of these mercenaries were Croatians who served in various units as hussars , haramijas and light infantry units . In the event of major military conflicts with the Ottomans , several thousand Croatians were additionally mobilized on the orders of the ban or the church. In general, the number of soldiers in infantry units outnumbered those in cavalry among the Croats .

The conditions for the development of a powerful cavalry were very favorable in the territory of what was then Croatia. In order to be suitable for defense against frequent Ottoman raids and attacks on Ottoman territory in this border region, the very agile, but nevertheless strongly armed type of Croatian rider developed.

Thirty Years' War


During the Thirty Years' War, Croatian horsemen are first mentioned in 1619 on the occasion of the battle near Zablath (now part of Trenčín) .

In 1622 the Croatian Sabor (Landtag) called for service in the ranks of the Imperial Army (HRR) . Although Croatia was weakened and bled to death by the protracted battles against the Ottoman Empire , thousands of men of military age registered as mercenaries for service in the Thirty Years War .

Croatian horsemen fought in numerous battles in the ranks of the Catholic League under the leadership of the commanders Tilly and Wallenstein . They distinguished themselves in the conquest of Heidelberg and Göttingen and advanced as far as Rügen and Stralsund .

Georg Zrinski (1599–1626)

The Croatian cavalry under Wallenstein appeared in large numbers during his campaign against the Prince of Transylvania and leader of an anti-Habsburg uprising Gabriel Bethlen (* around 1580; † 1629). In order to be able to fight Bethlen's cavalry, Wallenstein tried to recruit Croatian riders to strengthen his cavalry. The Croatian Ban Georg Zrinski (1599–1626) also took part in this campaign as a Croat leader . He contracted an illness and died a little later.

In the first battle at Breitenfeld (1631) lost for the imperial army, Croatian horsemen under Palant and Saradetzky smashed the Saxon infantry regiments under Ernst Dietrich von Starschedel († March 2, 1641) and Hans Caspar von Klitzing (1594–1644 ) without major losses of their own ) and captured the regimental flags . A Saxon musketeer reported afterwards "the officers had maneuvered them, they were supposed to stand up, but defend themselves, tore it up, a riot town got the thread, tore it off and twisted the body." One of the commanders of the Croatian cavalry in this battle was Henrik Graf Holck (1599-1633).

In the Battle of Lützen (1632) Croatian horsemen from the association of Wallenstein's troops made a major breakthrough into the Swedish lines, which endangered the train of the Swedish King Gustav Adolf and captured " a lot of droß and defenseless servants along with a large number of Pagagi " could be. The Swedes in particular, both under Gustav Adolf and under the leadership of Axel Oxenstierna , proceeded extremely unconditionally against the Croats and generally did not grant them any mercy.

When Holk succeeded in taking Leipzig a third time within two years in the summer of 1633, two regiments of Croatian horsemen were among his troops.

In the Battle of Nördlingen (1634) Croatian horsemen under Johann Ludwig Hektor von Isolani (1586–1640) secured the right wing of the imperial army. Their attack on the left wing of the Swedish troops, guided by their skillful maneuvering, was so strong that they fled. The Croats pursued the scattered remains of the troops and captured a lot of war assets. Croats under Isolani's command appeared in front of the imperial cities of Dinkelsbühl , Mergentheim , Rothenburg and took Salzungen and Meiningen .

In the second battle near Breitenfeld (1642) Croatian horsemen opened the fighting, as can be seen from a contemporary report in which it says: “Before the hour of prayer is over, the Croats showed themselves”.

In the final phase of the war, the Croatian Ban Nikola Zrinski fought with a crowd of Croatian noblemen under Peter Melander von Holzappel (1589–1649) in northern Bohemia and Thuringia .

After the end of the war through the Peace of Westphalia (1648), most of the Croatian cavalry was disbanded and the Croatian horsemen returned to serve on the military border or were dismissed from service.

At the height of the Thirty Years War there were around 20,000 Croatian riders in the service of the imperial army, so that a large part of the Wallenstein arquebusiers consisted of Croats. In addition to Croats , Serbs , Wallachians , Hungarians , Poles , Cossacks , Uskoks as well as Tatars and Turks served in the Croatian cavalry , so that the name denoted more of a branch of arms than an ethnic origin.


Colonels and thus mostly namesake owners of their respective regiments were u. a .:

Depiction in propaganda and entertainment literature

Regardless of which side they fought for, the mercenaries of the Thirty Years' War often presented a great danger to the civilian population. Violent attacks and the looting of villages and towns were committed from all sides.

In the book “Imperial Heretics and Croats” one can read the following: “... With the train of the Croatian cavalry, dispossessed Serbs and Wallach came into the country. These were unfree servants of their Croatian masters. These Croatian foot troops were particularly cruel, as they slaughtered the rural population and stole everything they could get their hands on. While the Croatian cavalry spared Kassel, for example, the Serbian and Wallachian foot troops moved on to Eschwege and completely destroyed it. ... ”

The bad reputation of the Croatian horsemen also resulted from their use as military explorers , through which they were often the first to reach settlements that had previously been spared from war. Since they had to support themselves, these areas were often the first to feel the need of war through Croats. However, the Croatians gained a negative reputation , especially in the Protestant part of the population of Europe, for alleged and actual atrocities of war. When they captured Kaiserslautern (so-called “Kroatensturm”), Magdeburg and Chemnitz , the Croats were accused of cruel acts such as murder, looting, rape and pillage, so that the Swedish king Gustav Adolf called them the “devil's new nobility”. In fact, the Croatian mercenaries were by no means always violent towards the civilian population. Long periods of largely peaceful coexistence are attested, especially during the winter roosting phase. It is possible, however, that Croatophobia was also promoted by Tilly , Wallenstein and other imperial generals in order to inflict the greatest possible economic damage on their opponents. The reputation of the troupe was reflected in the entertainment literature for a long time . So let Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen 's Simplicissimus a time when the Croatian riders spend and even in Friedrich Schiller's Wallenstein's Death dunk century later on.

In the standing army of the Danube Monarchy

After the Croatian struggle for independence had failed with the uncovering of the Zrinski-Frankopan conspiracy and the execution of the Croatian national hero Petar Zrinski in 1671, it took until the middle of the 18th century for troops with specifically Croatian replacements to be set up in the developing standing army of the Danube Monarchy . The four mounted formations established in this way ( Warasdiner Grenz Hussar Regiment , Slavonian Border Hussar Regiment , Banal Hussar Regiment and Carlstadt Border Hussar Regiment ) were no longer Croatian riders in the original sense, but normal hussars and became dissolved again in 1780. Croatian cavalry recruits then usually served with the Hungarian hussar regiments, the short-lived Croatian-Slavonian border hussar regiment (1795 to 1801) being an exception . In 1848 the Kuk Hungarian-Croatian Uhlan Regiment "Nicholas II. Emperor of Russia" No. 5 was initially set up as a hussar regiment, which existed until the end of the Danube monarchy in 1918.

Croatian cavalry in other armies

During the Thirty Years' War, Croats served not only in the imperial army and in other states of the Catholic camp such as Kurbayern and Spain, but z. B. also in the Danish and French armies . For some time after the end of the war, states not affiliated with the Habsburgs still maintained Croatian cavalry.


At the request of King Louis XIV , three foreign cavalry regiments (régiments-etrangér de cavalerie) were set up on August 13, 1643 by Comte Jean de Balthazard from Croatian riders. In 1667 the remnants of the three regiments were combined into one, which was given the name "Royal-Cravate cavalerie" and was incorporated into the line cavalry . With its elongated, characteristic neck bows, the regiment later shaped the style of men's fashion, in which they continue to exist today as ties . By the end of the 17th century, however, the Croatian element no longer played a role in the regiment. In 1761 the "Régiment de Chabrillan cavalerie" was incorporated. Even if it continued to be called "Royal Cravates", it was no longer officially a foreign regiment at the latest since then. From 1791 to 1803 it was called "10 e regiment de cavalerie" and from 1803 to 1940 it was the 10 e régiment de cuirassiers , which has been inactive since 1971 as an inactive reserve regiment .

In February 1813 Napoleon set up a Croatian hussar regiment in his Illyrian provinces , but disbanded it in November.


Contemporary representation and description of Janko Peranski at a parade of Croatian horsemen in the life guard of the Saxon Elector in 1678: “17. Mr. Johann von Peraynsky, Obrist-Lieutenandt from the Leib-Guardie, Cammerherr and Ambts-Hauptmann zu Moritzburg, in a leopard skin . "

As an expression of an absolutist claim to power based on the model of the French Sun King , medium-sized and smaller princes often maintained expensive court guards that were recruited abroad . With imperial approval, a " Leib Compagnie Croaten auf Ross " was recruited for the mounted guard of the Saxon Elector Johann Georg II. In Croatia and patterned on March 15, 1660 in Pirna . It counted 87 men with the same number of horses, "namely 8 men 1st sheet , 37 servants, 17 Croatian noblemen , 25 single horses ". On October 1, 1660, the unit was reinforced by 50 men and "their 1st sheet increased". The commander was the cavalry captain and later lieutenant colonel Count Janko Peranski († 1689), who was later appointed chamberlain and bailiff of Moritzburg for his services . In particular with regard to the Croats, the elector codified service, discipline and military justice in the so-called “equestrian law” in the same year to remedy the deficient discipline of his cavalry. The Croatians received their wages from the elector's private box. When Johann Georg II, escorted by his Croatian guard, entered the Reichstag in Regensburg in 1664, it caused a considerable stir. In 1666 the company comprised 132 men, in 1676 still 75. It was finally replaced by the subsequent Elector Johann Georg III for cost reasons . Disbanded in 1680. Her best-known family member was Johann Schadowitz (1624–1704), who is considered the historical model for the Sorbian legendary figure Krabat .

Well-known Croatian riders


  • Johann Christoph Allmayer-Beck , Erich Lessing : The imperial war peoples. From Maximilian I to Prinz Eugen 1479–1718. Bertelsmann Verlag, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-570-00290-X .
  • Tomislav Aralica, Višeslav Aralica: Hrvatski ratnici kroz stoljeća . tape 1 : Oprema, oružje i odore hrvatskih ratnika od oko 800. do 1918. godine . Znanje, Zagreb 1996, ISBN 953-6473-32-1 .
  • Aladár Ballagi , Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein : Wallenstein's Croatian arquebusiers: 1623–1626. From unused, archival sources. F. Kilián, Budapest 1884. Previously Hungarian Review . tape 3 . FA Brockhaus, 1883.
  • Philipp Batelka: "Croats and rabble like that". Border warriors as violent perpetrators in the War of the Austrian Succession . In: Philipp Batelka, Michael Weise, Stephanie Zehnle (eds.): Between perpetrators and victims. Violent relationships and violent communities . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2017, p. 107-126 .
  • Ernest Bauer: Splendor and tragedy of the Croatians: selected chapters of the Croatian war history . Herold, 1969, Chapter V: The Thirty Years War, VI. Chapter: Croatian life guards at royal courts.
  • Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Ed.): The Imperial and Royal Military Border. Contributions to their history (= writings of the Army History Museum. Volume 6). Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Vienna 1973, ISBN 3-215-73302-1 .
  • von Preradović: A contribution to the history of the establishment respectively. Equipment of the Electoral Saxon Body Company on Horseback “Croats” (1660–1680) . In: Association for historical weapons (Hrsg.): Journal for historical weapons . tape 3 . Dresden 1905, p. 358 ff . ( ).
  • Holger Schuckelt: Croatian riders - horror and fascination in Saxony . In: Uwe Fiedler (ed.): The cup of bitter suffering. Chemnitz in the age of Wallenstein and Gryphius . Chemnitz Art Collection, Schlossbergmuseum, 2008, p. 100-108 .
  • Michael Weise: Cruel victims? Croatian mercenaries and their different roles in the Thirty Years War . In: Philipp Batelka, Michael Weise, Stephanie Zehnle (eds.): Between perpetrators and victims. Violent relationships and violent communities . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2017, p. 127-148 .
  • Michael Weise: Violence professionals and war profiteers. Croatian mercenaries as violent entrepreneurs in the Thirty Years War . In: History in Science and Education . tape 68 , 2017, p. 278-291 .
  • Michael Weise: The Imperial Croats in the Thirty Years War . In: Robert Rebitsch , Lothar Höbelt, Erwin A. Schmidl (eds.): 400 years ago. The Thirty Years War . Innsbruck University press, Innsbruck 2019, p. 107-115 .
  • Michael Weise: Mobility, speed and violence - the Croatian riders in Brandenburg and Saxony . In: Matthias Asche , Marco Kollenberg, Antje Zeiger (eds.): Half of Europe in Brandenburg. The Thirty Years War and its Consequences . Lukas Verlag, Berlin 2020, p. 80-94 .

Individual evidence

  1. Military History Research Office (ed.): Handbook on German Military History, 1648–1939 . tape 4-5 . Bernard & Graefe, 1979, p. 62 .
  2. ^ A b c Marcus Junkelmann: Gustav Adolf (1594–1632). Sweden's rise to a great power . Pustet, 1993, ISBN 978-3-7917-1397-7 , pp. 217 .
  3. Felix Konze: The strength, composition and distribution of the Wallenstein Army during the year 1633. A contribution to the army history of the 30 Years War . Inaugural dissertation to obtain the doctorate of the high philosophical faculty of the Rhenish Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitat in Bonn. Frankfurt am Main 1906, p. 15 .
  4. Bauer, 1969, p. 31.
  5. Ernest Bauer: Splendor and tragedy of the Croatians. Selected chapters of Croatian war history . Herold, 1969, p. 29 .
  6. Bauer, 1969, p. 34.
  7. Bauer, 1969, pp. 30, 34.
  8. Bauer, 1969, p. 34. Bauer incorrectly uses Gallant instead of Palant.
  9. ^ Arndt Preil: Austria's battlefields . tape 1 : Breitenfeld 1631, Lützen 1632, Breitenfeld 1642 . H. Weishaupt, Graz 1990, ISBN 978-3-900310-59-2 .
  10. Michael Weise: Cruel Victims? Croatian mercenaries and their different roles in the Thirty Years War. In: Philipp Batelka, Michael Weise, Stephanie Zehnle (eds.): Between perpetrators and victims. Violent relationships and violent communities. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2017, pp. 127–148, here: pp. 140–146.
  11. Bauer, 1969, p. 35.
  12. Aladár Ballagi: Wallenstein's Croatian arquebusiers . In: Hungarian Review . With the support of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. tape 3 . FA Brockhaus, 1883, p. 716 .
  13. Bauer, 1969, p. 31.
  14. Stanko Guldescu, The Croatian-Slavonian kingdom from 1526 to 1792. The Hague 1970, p. 130.
  15. Michael Weise: Violence professionals and war profiteers. Croatian mercenaries as violent entrepreneurs in the Thirty Years War. In: History in Science and Education. Volume 68, 2017, pp. 278–291, here: pp. 289f.
  16. the exact time of the discontinuation of the attribute “étranger” is not known
  17. Vladimir Brnardic: Napoleon's Balkan Troops. Oxford 2004, p. 24 f.
  18. Excerpt from a copper engraving by Gabriel Tzschimmer : The most serene gathering or historical narration, what the most serene prince and lord, Mr Johann Georg der Ander, Duke of Saxony, etc., in the presence of His electoral serenity, most honorable gentlemen, brothers of the wives, princes and princesses in peculiar honor and amusement in the Residenz un Haubt-Vestung Dresden in the month of February of the 1678th year with all kinds of acts, knightly exercises, shows, shooting, hunting, operas, comedy [...] Johann Hoffmann, Nuremberg 1680 (Tzschimmer's best-known work; originated in Commissioned by Elector Johann Georg II on the occasion of his meeting with his brothers, the dukes of the three Albertine secondary school principalities in 1678.).
  19. ^ O. Schuster, FA Francke: History of the Saxon Army. From its construction to the most recent times: Using handwritten and documented sources . tape 1 . Duncker & Humblot, 1885, p. 84-87 .
  20. ^ Wilhelm Schäfer: Saxony Chronicle for the past and present . J. Blochmann, Dresden 1854, p. 171 ( ).
  21. ^ Richard Albert von Meerheimb: Experiences of a veteran of the great army during the campaign in Russia in 1812 . Meinhold, 1860, p. 319 or 321 ( - there “Colonel Sajadowitz”).