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The Battle of Varna (1444 AD) LanF.gif (963 bytes) LanS.gif (963 bytes) LanR.gif (963 bytes) lgde1.gif (1022 bytes) lgItalian.gif (1022 bytes)

“To escape is impossible, to surrender is unthinkable. Let’s fight with bravery and honor our arms!” - Janos Hunyadi's proclamation before the Battle of Warna.

By the early 15th Century after the tragedy of the Battle of Nicopolis, Bulgaria had tumbled down under oppressive domination of Ottomans invading Europe under the banner of Islam. The once mighty Byzantine Empire struggled desperately against the sultan Murad II, nicknamed the Conqueror.

The young King of Poland, Ladislaus IV Jagelo (WŁADYSŁAW WARNEŃCZYK in Polish) was the only European leader who dare to fight against the assault of Islam invading Europe. He leaded a mixed Christian army consisting mainly of Hungarian and of Polish forces, but with detachments of Bulgarians, Czechs, papal knights, Germans, Bosnians, Croatians, Wallahians (Romanians) and Routhenians (Old Russians).

The small European army of 30'000 marched to the relief of Christians abysmally oppressed by the Islamic ottoman dynasty. At Varna (Bulgarian fortress on the Black Sea) they met with a numerically superior force of 120'000 Ottoman Turks supported by their Arab vassals and transported from Asia to Europe by French and Italian military fleet. The Hungarians were ill-equipped, and promised support from Wallachia, Albania and Constantinople did not arrive.

Description of the Battle of Varna, 10 November 1444

Late at the night of 9 November, Christians discovered the presence of enormous Islamic army near Varna and Hunyadi ventured a recognition tour. Realizing the huge number of enemies he immediately requested a supreme military council. At the night council the papal legate, cardinal Julian Cesarini, proposed an immediate withdrawal so as to escape an open battle with the enormous Islam Jihad army that have also advantages of the landscape. On the other hand, the Christian army closed between the Black sea, the Lake of Varna and the enemy had little chance to escape without severe losses. The withdrawal through difficult mountain routes of the Frangen plateau meant accepting the danger of being harassed, and overwhelmed by superior ottoman forces. Probably the most important argument against the retreat was the proud of the young Polish king and Hunyadi. They would be ashamed to give up the campaign that they had started for Christ's sake. Next, lord-legate Cesarini proposed the defensive tactics using the Wagenburg (wagon laager) until the arrival of the Christian fleet from the Black sea. The powerful Hungarian magnates as well as the commanders of Croatian, Bosnian, and Czech forces supported this proposal.

Janos Hunyadi rejected decisively the defensive tactics. Admitting the huge advantages of Islamic enemies, he said the defense could only add to their chances of success. On contrary, a rapid and brave attack could panicked the enemies and gave the victory to Christians. He finished his statement with the proclamation: “To escape is impossible, to surrender is unthinkable. Let us fight with bravery and honor our arms.” The King accepted the plan of Hunyadi and gave him the commandment of Christian forces.

Hunyadi began immediately to shape the battle formation of small Christian army. Bonfinius describes the  deployment as an arc or crescent shape between the lake of Varna and the Frangen plateau. The line was some 1,000 paces long and shaped as it was so that the right of the line was facing both to the front and towards the Frangen hills. The centre was held by the King's Polish and Hungarian bodyguards, Hungarian Royal mercenaries and banners of Hungarian Nobles. They numbering some 3,500 men and were organised into 2 banners. The Hungarian Royal mercenaries under Stefan Batori, the rest under the joint command of Hunyadi and King Vladislav Jagelo (Ulászló in Hungarian). Behind the center the reserve of some 4000 Walahian cavalries was put aside in reserve.

The right branch, located from the Kamenar village down the hill, was the largest, numbering some 6,500 men, divided into 5 banners (contingents). The breakdown of the right wing was, in overall command was bishop (episcope) Jan Dominek of Varadin with his personal banner. Cardinal Cesarini commanding two banners: German mercenaries and the banner of Bosnian episcope Raphael, the episcope of Erlau commanding his own banner and the military Governor of Slavonia, ban Franco Talotsi, commanding one banner of Croatian soldiers. Unlike the rest of the Hungarian army these banners were deployed very deep, three banners to the front and two to the rear. South of the center, the left branch was commanded by Michael Szilagyi, Hunyadi's brother in law. His force was almost entirely made up of Hunyadi's Transylvanian troops and German mercenaries and also banners of Hungarian magnates, a total of 5,000 men, organised into 5 Banners. To the rear of the Hungarians, closed to the Black sea was the camp and wagon laager (Wagenburg), defended by drivers and the 300 Czech and Ruthenian mercenary soldiers under the hetman Ceyka. Every wagon was defended by 7 to 10 soldiers and at the angles the bombards were positioned. The lack of any significant numbers of infantry clearly caused Hunyadi problems, his deployment was such as to minimise the risk to the right of Ottoman infantry moving through the hills and falling on the exposed end of the line.

The enormous Islamic army of 120.000 ottoman fanatics and their vassals prepared cautiously its battle formation. In the center, comprised entirely of infantry, the Sultan's Janissaries and the levies from Rumelia, numbering some 20,000 in all, under the order of Yazidzy Togan, was positioned using the advantages of two Thracian hills. The sultan Murad observed and directed the battle from the ancient Thracian hill surrounded by his fanatic bodyguards. On the second Thracian hill the flag of the prophet was interred. The centre was dug in behind ditches and two solid palisades, fortifying the position, and was deployed behind the line of the cavalry wings. The right branch of ottoman army, composed of kapikulu warriors and Spahis of Rumelia (approximately 30 000) under the authority of Daud pasha, was located south of the road to Varna up to Devnya lake. The left branch, composed of azepi, akandjii, gazi warriors, Spahis from Anatolia and other Arab mercenaries under the authority of Karadza bey, was situated on the hill that descend from Kamenar village to south-west. There was an additional force of Janissary/ azab archers and akanji light horse deployed in the Frangen plateau.

The united Christian army has waited for more than 3 hours the coming of enumerable ottoman hordes. Meanwhile a terrible storm turn up shattering the orderliness and breaking the flags. Superstitious Christian soldiers from the right flank were depressed and demoralized by this thunderstorm. The light ottoman and Arab cavalry attacked frightfully concentrating their strike mainly on the discouraged fighters of the Croatian ban Talotsi. Then Christian combatants from the left side riposted jointly using bombards and firearms and stopped the assault of Islam assailants. The anonymous ottoman author wrote “the canons and firearms have shouted … as the Rain of Fortune”. varna44s.jpg (5794 bytes)

On their turn Christian soldiers begin to chase the ottomans and their Arab allies. The regiments of episcope Simon Rozgoni and Jan Dominek involved themselves in a disorderly pursuit. At this moment the Anatolian cavalry and Arab fanatics on camels guided by Karadza bey ambushed from the flank the disordered Christian troops. The fear and panic spread out the entire right side of the army. After a while the troops of ban Talotsi and the papal legate also began to go back. Harassed by the Anatolian cavalry Christian soldiers tried to escape in the small fortress of Galata on the other side of the lake, but the greater part of them were killed or plunged in the river Provadia. Here, in the marshland of Varna Lake, the papal lord legate Cesarini perished. Only the soldiers of ban Talotsi rescued behind the Wagenburg.

Observing the disaster at their right side the King and Hunyadi committed two cavalry companies from the center and the Wallahian cavalry against the Arabs and Anatolian Spahis. The ottoman cavalry was defeated and completely smashed after the death of its commander Karadza bey. The Christians pursued the Islamic fighters for more than 5-6 km and then returned to the battlefield. The Wallahian cavalry however continued the chase and entered into the fortified Ottoman camp. After pillaging, looting and marauding the camp, Wallahians overcharged with gold, silver and merchandises left the battlefield.

Meanwhile the left flank of Ottoman army has been attacking the Hungarian and Bulgarian contingent of Michael Szilagyi. The first attack was stopped and the Islam soldiers gone back. After that Spahis encouraged by Islam sheikhs, mullahs and other religious fanatics attacked again. The Christian defense begin to give up. Hunyadi who observed carefully the battle decided to help the combatants. He advised the King to wait until he will be back and then they would attack together the center of Islam army. Hunyadi committed two cavalry companies from the center against the ottoman Spahis and defeated them. Afterward, he pursued them toward the road to Shumen for around 5-6 kilometers. The ottoman soldiers was so frightened that some of them crossed the river Kamcia and did not stop until reaching fortification at distance 150 kilometers from the battlefield.


The united European army was close to the total victory. The sultan afraid of the courage of Christian soldiers decided to leave the battlefield. His devoted janissaries and religious fanatics had to threaten him in order to keep him at place. As described in The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: "When Amurath beheld the flight of his squadrons, he despaired of his fortune and that of the empire: a veteran Janissary seized his horse's bridle; and he had magnanimity to pardon and reward the soldier who dared to perceive the terror, and arrest the flight, of his sovereign." At this moment the young king of Poland made a terrible mistake. Ignoring the advice of Hunyadi, the young Wladyslaw leaded 500 Polish knights and rushed forward in the confidence of victory against 50000 ottoman Turks placed in the centre. The Polish cavalry leaded by the courageous king was slaughtering the Janissary infantry. It almost looked like the Christians might win the day when the young Polish King Wladyslaw III attempted precipitously to take prisoner sultan Murad II. Surrounded by thousands fanatic Islamic killers the young Polish king died in the battle. After the death of his King the Polish cavalry was disorganized and in turn smashed by Ottomans. varnenczyk.jpg (8656 bytes)
Wladyslaw IV Jagelo - Warneńczyk, King of Poland

The fanatic assassin Kodza Hazâr cut off the king's head and sent it to his master - the sultan. The head of young king became a great attraction in the capital of Ottoman empire. Muslim women and children sang songs, danced and praised Allah at the sight of decapitated head of young Polish king.

On his return from the intemperate pursuit, Hunyadi deplored his error, and the public loss. “… he strove to rescue the royal body, till he was overwhelmed by the tumultuous crowd of the victors and vanquished …” Several counterattacks were lunched by the Christian army in order to recover the body of the young Polish King and avert the Islam profanation but the moral of the European soldiers has gone. In the evening Hunyadi could only organized the retreat of the remains of the Christian army assaulting by Ottomans and their vassals. The historical data and estimations show that approximately 13000 Christians were slain in the disastrous battle of Varna: half of them in the battle and the rest during the retreat. Islam losses were higher: 20000 according to ottoman authors but the most probable figure is roughly 30000. According to Gibbon: “… yet the philosophic sultan was not ashamed to confess, that his ruin must be the consequence of a second and similar victory.” Although victorious at the battle, the ottomans and their Arab vassals were so badly shattered and daunted by the small Christian army that they were unable to organize the pursue neither to use their strategic advantage and to continue advancing to the Central Europe.


In the Battle of Varna, the mixed Christian army of Polish and Hungarian forces, Bulgarians, Czechs, papal knights, Bosnians, Croatians, Romanians and Routeni (Old Russians) under the young King of Poland Wladyslaw III Jagelo was defeated by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Murad II. The small European army of 30,000 was overwhelmed by 120,000 Turks and their Arab vassals transported by French and Italian military fleet. Over half of the soldiers from the united army perished. The European prisoners were mercilessly slaughtered by Ottomans or were sold to Islamic traders as slaves.

King Wladyslaw III Jagelo died during the battle at the age of 21 and in honour of his courage and boldness he was called Varnenchik. He has two graves: first in Varna, Bulgaria and second in the cathedral on the Wawel (castle) hill in Cracow. But both graves are symbolic graves only. After the battle of Varna in 1444 the body of King Wladyslaw has never been found. The Turks had cut off his head in order to show it in their capital. The King's body has probably remained unknown and he has been buried together with the other killed knights. A legend says that he has been buried in the ortodox church in Varna.

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Murad II, Ottoman sultan (1421-1444 and 1446-1451)

The defeat ended any serious attempts to prevent the conquest of East Europe by brutal and fanatic forces of Islam for several decades. The last hope of Bulgarian and other Christians for delivery from the oppressive and tyrannical domination of Islam has been blown away for almost 5 Centuries.

After the Battle of Varna, the son of Murad - Mehmed II brought an end to the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople in 1453 (during the well-known Siege of Constantinople and the massacres of hundred thousands innocent men, women and children), and other Christian cities left in the Balkans and Anatolia. The invasion of Constantinople and successful campaigns against small kingdoms in the Balkans bestowed immense glory and prestige on the country and the Ottoman state started to be recognized as a valuable ally and essential partner by the West European monarchies.

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Other Resources

Letter of Janos Hunyadi to the pope with a brief description of the Battle of Varna
Letter of Aenas Sylvius Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, to Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan

Why is King Wladislav III of Poland buried in Bulgaria?

Park - Museum Wladyslaw Varnencek
In 1924, on a Thracian hill, in the centre of the battlefield, where in 1444 Christian military troops, led by Wladyslaw III Jagelo and Janos Hunyadi, met in a cruel battle the 120 000 army of the Ottoman ruler Mourad II, was erected a modest monument. In 1935 was opened The Mausoleum of Wladiszlaw Warnencek, under authority of the Ministry of War. In connection with 520 th anniversary of the battle was opened a museum exhibition. The Park - Museum is a branch of the Bulgarian National Museum of Military History since 1968.

WŁADYSŁAW WARNEŃCZYK (1424-1444) - King of Poland

Ladislaus (in Polish, WŁADYSŁAW III WARNEŃCZYK, 31 October 1424 - 10 November 1444), son of king Ladislaus II of Poland, was the second Jagiellonian king of Poland, reigning from 1434 until his death in the Battle of Varna. He also reigned as king of Hungary from 1440 under the name Ulászló I. He died fighting the Ottoman Turkish army at Varna, in eastern Bulgaria. He was succeeded in Poland by his younger brother Casimir.

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