The Ottomans arrived at Eger with around 40,000 men, a load of artillery and most noticeably 2,000 camels.
By contrast, the Hungarians were a motley assemblage of 2,200 soldiers, peasants and a few dozen women. The defenders withdrew behind the towering walls of the castle placing their hopes on heavy artillery and the seeming impregnability of the fortress walls.
The vast numerical advantage of the Turks was considerable, but mitigated by the fact that the Hungarians had a fantastic leader in Istvan Dobo and a fantastic tactician, Gergely Bornemissza. Dobo, part of the land owning nobility in northern Hungary, was literally fighting for his family’s birthright.
He oversaw the fighting force throughout the battle and his leadership was probably worth several thousand troops in itself. He was able to keep the defender’s morale at a peak level, in contrast to the Ottoman’s who were riven by infighting. Dobo’s best lieutenant was the infantry commander Bornemissza who had a knack for innovating makeshift yet deadly weapons.
The most famous would be a water mill wheel filled with gunpowder that would both explode and spread fire. He also developed grenades and powder keg bombs packed with among other things oil and sulfur.
Repeatedly the Ottomans found fire raining down on them from the towering walls they were unable to scale. Some of this fire came at the hands of female defenders who took to pouring oil on to the enemy, which would soon ignite.
For thirty-nine bitter and hard fought days, the resourceful Hungarians used every stratagem available to keep the attackers at bay. Finally the Turks withdrew beaten soundly by a force they had outnumbered nearly 20 to 1.
It was a legendary victory that has echoed down through the centuries of Hungarian historical lore.
Case in point, the most famous literary work on the siege of Eger was written several centuries later in 1899 by Geza Gardonyi, the fictional novel Eclipse of the Crescent Moon.
The book portrays the heroism and courage of the defenders in the face of nearly insurmountable odds. It has been required reading for all Hungarian students since its publication and has become part of the national culture. Gardonyi literally walled himself off in his room to maintain focus (and perhaps recreate the same siege mentality of the defenders) while writing the book.
Both Eger Castle and Gardonyi’s nearby home can be visited on a trip to the city today. Visitors can look down from the castle walls and imagine the Hungarians valiantly fighting off the mighty Ottomans.
The Siege of Eger showed the enemy that the Hungarians would not give up or give in and most importantly as they have done throughout their history, gain “Victory in Defeat.”
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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