Battle of Nicopolis

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Battle of Nicopolis
Part of: Crusades
Above: The Battle of Nicopolis depicted on an Ottoman miniature
Above: The Battle of Nicopolis depicted on an Ottoman miniature
date September 25, 1396
place Nicopolis , today's Bulgaria
output Victory of the Ottomans and Serbs
Parties to the conflict

Cross of the Knights Templar.svg Crusader Kingdom of Hungary Wallachia Order of St. John
Hungary Arms.svg
Coat of arms of Wallachia.svg
Armoiries d'Aspremont.svg

Fictitious Ottoman flag 1.svg Ottoman Empire Serbian Despotate
Coat of arms of the Serbian Despotate, svg


Blason comte fr Nevers.svg Johann without fear
Sigismund Jean II. Le Maingre Enguerrand VII. De Coucy Philippe Graf d'Eu

Tughra of Bayezid I.svg Bayezit I.
Stefan Lazarević

Troop strength
12,000 men,
even if the exact number of troops is disputed
15,000 men

most of the army was wiped out

high losses

Earlier assumptions of around 100,000 men in the respective armies are now considered to be greatly exaggerated. The exact loss figures can no longer be traced today either, but were very high on both sides.

In the battle of Nikopolis on 25./28. In September 1396, an army consisting mainly of Hungarian and French - Burgundian crusaders was defeated by an Ottoman force .


Since his accession to the throne in 1387, the Hungarian King Sigismund had sought support in the Western world in the fight against the Ottomans , who had been advancing steadily north for half a century and had already reached the Hungarian border. After lengthy efforts on the part of Pope Boniface IX. and the antipope Benedict XIII. a crusade army rallied under Johann Ohnefurcht and Marshal Boucicaut in Buda . The mostly Burgundian crusaders marched alongside the Hungarian army in Bulgaria and reached Nikopolis on September 10, 1396, today's Nikopol in Bulgaria. For two weeks they overran the fortress in vain. The reinforcement by the Johanniter , who had moved across the Danube , did not turn the tide . Then reached Ottoman army of Bayezid I , along with the armored horsemen of his Serbian vassal Stefan Lazarevic Nikopolis.

The battle

Map of the Battle of Nicopolis with the approach routes of the armies involved (the army strengths are the maximum numbers given in the sources).
Course of the battle at Nicopolis

On 25/28 September 1396 the two armies of about equal strength faced each other. Sigismund wanted to use his aid contingents from Transylvania and Wallachia in the vanguard, because he rated their morale as low and could thus observe them better. The French knights quashed this angrily and insisted on their pre-combat right, that is, on the honor of being the first to ride into battle.

The heavily armored knights rushed to the plateau on which Bayezid had set up his army. Sigismund tried to follow with the infantry . That was exactly what Bayezid had wanted. He had the Akıncı , a light and agile cavalry posted in the vanguard, move to the side of the janissaries and fire at the knights with his archers . The knights now turned against the new threat. This was however posted behind a field paved with stakes, so that the knights dismounted from their horses and continued to fight on foot. Despite their heavy armor, they reached the archers and janissaries and hit them hard. Marshal Coucy and Admiral de Vienne tried to establish an orderly battle formation and warned the knights to wait for the Hungarians to come. But these had already been put to flight by the Serbian knights allied with the Ottomans. When the French, already clearly marked by the battle, tried to storm a hill on which they suspected the remains of the Turkish army, Bayezid deployed his heavy cavalry, the Sipahi . With an inserted lance and in formation, they put down the knights fighting individually and on foot. The Transylvanian and Wallachian units deserted. The ranks of the Hungarians were mixed up by the knights hurrying back and could not withstand the Ottomans for long. The Christian army finally found itself caught between the Turkish Sipahi and the Serbian armored riders and lost the battle. Admiral de Vienne was killed, the Counts of Nevers, Eu, La Marche and Bar, and Marshals Boucicaut and Coucy were taken prisoner. They escaped the massacre of the captured Christians ordered by the Sultan only because they promised a large ransom. As a vassal of the sultan, Stefan Lazarević could have chosen passive neutrality, as had the Bulgarians in whose country the battle was fought. But he hated the Hungarians more than the Turks and chose the active form of loyalty to his Muslim master. His intervention at an important moment in the battle undoubtedly contributed to the Turkish victory.


Bayezid had many of the captured crusaders killed, for whom no ransom was to be expected, either out of personal anger over the victory, which was bought with high losses, or to give his soldiers an outlet for their thirst for revenge . The sources speak of 300 to 3,000 men here. The high- ranking prisoners , such as Johann Ohnefurcht and Jean II. Le Maingre , were deliberately avoided by the Turks from this massacre, because one could hope for a handsome ransom here, which in most cases was also paid by their relatives. Some of the prisoners, such as Johannes Schiltberger , survived because they had been spared because of their youth. The numerous refugees from the battle tried many times to get back to their homeland on their own, but many of them perished on the way home. Sigismund and the Grand Master of the Johanniter Philibert de Naillac , as well as Johann and Friedrich , sons of the Nuremberg burgrave, were also able to flee across the Danube with the help of Hermann II von Cilli , whereby Johann Sigismund saved the life. They took the sea route across the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, fearing that they would be captured by what they believed to be the treacherous Wallachian voivod Mircea the Old .

Revenge on the prisoners of the battle of Nicopolis ( Jean Froissart , Chroniques, Bruges, handwriting of Ludwig von Bruges , after 1470)

The heavy defeat of the crusaders left a lasting impression in the western world, not only on those directly affected, but also on those who had only indirect or hardly anything to do with the event. Another crusade, which some called for in order to wipe out the sipe at Nicopolis, did not take place at first. The main reasons for this were the resurgence of the Hundred Years War in Western Europe and Sigismund's conflicts with the Republic of Venice and the Hussites . Since almost all major European powers were otherwise militarily bound by these warlike events, the fight against the Muslims was initially limited to Spain ( Reconquista ) and the Mediterranean. The Balkan countries were left on their own in their efforts to fend off Ottoman expansion.

But even the Ottoman Empire could derive little benefit from its victory, as Sultan Bayezid suffered a heavy defeat in the Battle of Ankara (1402) against Timur Lenk and was himself taken prisoner. This event opened a period of anarchy in the Ottoman Empire, which gave Constantinople, which was hard-pressed militarily by the Turks, a respite. It was not until the 1440s that the Kingdom of Hungary, which was now linked to Poland in a personal union, under Johann Hunyadi again became aggressive on a large scale against the Ottomans. After the defeats at Varna (1444) and on the Amselfeld (1448), the initiative finally passed to the Ottomans, who soon took Constantinople (1453) and could only be temporarily stopped at Belgrade (1456). The European powers, first and foremost the Holy Roman Empire , which the Ottomans had not considered a serious threat for too long, were faced with the ruins of their policy concerning the Ottoman Empire at the latest with the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary (1526). In the following decades it could only be a question of preventing the Ottomans from advancing further in the direction of Central Europe.


  • Aziz Suryal Atiya : The crusade of Nicopolis . Reprinted from the edition of London 1934. AMS Press, New York NY 1978, ISBN 0-404-15410-7 .
  • Barbara Tuchman : The Distant Mirror. The dramatic 14th century . Slightly abridged edition. Spiegel-Verlag, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-87763-032-7 , chapter 26 ( Spiegel-Edition 32).
  • Johannes Schiltberger : As a slave in the Ottoman Empire and with the Tartars 1394-1427 . Translated from Middle High German and edited by Ulrich Schlemmer. Thienemann - Edition Erdmann, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-522-60440-7 .
  • Markus Tremmel (Hrsg.): Johann Schiltberger's odyssey through the Orient. The sensational account of a journey that began in 1394 and only ended after more than 30 years . Via Verbis Bavarica, Taufkirchen 2000, ISBN 3-935115-03-2 ( Bavarian adventurers ).
  • Michael Weithmann: A beer among "Turks and Tatars". Hans Schiltberger's involuntary trip to the Orient . In: Literature in Bavaria . 81, 2005, ISSN  0178-6857 , pp. 2-15.
  • Wolfgang Gust: The Empire of the Sultans. The history of the Ottoman Empire. Hamburg 2007, ISBN 9783937872568 , pp. 30-40.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Kelly DeVries: The Lack of a Western European Military Response to the Ottoman Invasions of Eastern Europe from Nicopolis (1396) to Mohács (1526) . in: The Journal of Military History, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 539-559.
  2. a b c See: Klaus-Peter Matschke: The Cross and the Crescent. The history of the Turkish wars. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf-Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-538-07178-0 , pp. 94-112.

Web links

The course of the battle of Nikopolis (Nigbolu) in 1396 Graphic taken from: Hans Miksch - The battle of the emperors and caliphs; Volume 2 pp. 208–211 on the website The Mihaloglu - Harmankaya Family