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Posted on Aug 8, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Guest POV – What was the Decisive Moment at the Battle of Nicopolis?

By Joshua Gilbert

Under a hail of arrows the French and Burgundians tore the stakes out of the ground, suffering many casualties. Finally, they managed to clear a path through the barricade but because they could not remount their horses they advanced on foot and engaged the azaps and yeniceri. Even dismounted the Western knights were still formidable and the Ottoman infantry was devastated, especially the azaps, who soon broke. In a testament to their skills the yeniceri managed to maintain their cohesion and began an orderly retreat, drawing the dismounted Crusaders with them. When they reached the hills, Bayazid and his cavalry burst from cover and slaughtered the Franco-Burgundians with impunity. Within minutes the entire body was either dead or captured, including Jean I. Meanwhile, on the other side of the field the horses of the French and Burgundian knights had begun to return to camp.


King Sigismund now knew that something was wrong. He ordered his Hungarians and the Germans forward. The fresh troops engaged the Ottoman cavalry at the hill. The contest was equally matched, but Bayazid had one last trick up his sleeve: He unleashed the Serbian knights waiting to the west.

With the Cursaders’ flanks undefended, the sudden attack around his rear caught Sigismund off guard. Mircea had considered the whole battle a folly and refused to move. The Transylvanians had followed suit. The fury of Turk and Serb together drove the German-Hungarian center to the banks of the Danube River and certain annihilation, when suddenly they disengaged. An envoy rode out from the Ottoman lines. Bayazid offered to allow the remaining Crusaders to retreat in safety, if Sigismund agreed to surrender.

The sudden change was triggered because Bayazid recognized the banner of Nikolai II Gorjanski, brother-in-law to Stefan Lazarevic—and to Bayazid himself. Not wishing to harm him by accident, the two leaders proposed peace. The Hungarian king accepted the offer and organized an emergency withdrawl of his Hungarians and Transylvanians, as well as the German remnants.

The Venetians appeared soon afterwards with their fleet, having been on standby the entire campaign. As Sigismund boarded his ship to safety he famously remarked about the French:

“If only they had listened to me… We had men in the plenty to fight our enemies.”

Mircea the Elder and his Wallachians were the last to leave the field, after enduring a tense standoff with Bayazid and Stefan Lazarevic. The battle of Nicopolis, the last great battle of the Crusading Era was over. The Ottoman dominion was reaffirmed.

Questions: What was the decisive moment at Nicopolis for the Crusaders? How big a role did the Serbians play in this battle: Could Bayazid have achieved his victory without Stefan Lazarevic?

For more information on the battle of Nicropolis, see "Crescent Triumphant!" by Ralph Peters in the July issue of Armchair General magazine.

Post a comment below to offer your answers to these questions. After two weeks, we’ll post the writer’s own POV on the answers.

Visit Joshua Gilbert at his Website, J. Gilbert History Productions.

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  1. Great stuff.

  2. Joshua Gilbert provides these answers to the questions he raised here. Do you agree?

    In my opinion, the Crusaders really lost the battle once Sigismund committed his center without flank support. The loss of the Franco-Burgundian knights was tragic, but the remaining Western forces supported by the Wallachians and Transylvanians could have stalemated Bayazid or even defeated him. As to Lazarevic, I feel his role was crucial to the battle’s outcome. His knights gave Bayazid extra tactical options, and his flank assault really decided events in the Ottomans’ favor.


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