The First Major Ottoman Defeat Battle of Rovine

The First Major Ottoman Defeat Battle of Rovine 1395. Upon launching his blockade of Constantinople during the early months of 1394, Sultan Bayezid I launched a series of events that would put him face to face with a great crusader army at the gates of his sultanate. As King Sigismund of Hungary was in the process of forming a crusader alliance in Europe to relieve the blockade of Constantinople, news of a  gathering Crusader army trickled down to Edirne.  

Although the European response to the blockade of Constantinople would not be swift, by 1394,   Sultan Bayezid I had already begun war preparations at home for the eventual conflict. During this limbo period,  Ottoman forts in the Balkans were reinforced and resupplied with new garrison soldiers from Anatolia.   Despite these preparations, the Sultan was not one to stay idle and wait for the enemy to arrive at his gates.

In only five years since acceding to the throne, Bayezid had achieved what no prior Ottoman ruler could have dreamed of. Almost all of  Anatolia had been conquered, all major opposition in the Balkans had been crushed, and a significant attempt to seize Constantinople was underway. Instead of staying idle, the ambitious Ottoman  Sultan planned on going on the offensive in the region to get a head start in the inevitable hostilities to come.

The Ottoman Sultan

To secure his northern borders from the upcoming crusader invasion,  Bayezid launched a surprise military campaign against Wallachia during the fall of 1394. The  Ottoman ruler most likely wished to secure control over the Danube River and create a new regional buffer-vassal state before the onset of hostiles.  Crossing the Danube from near Nicopolis, the  Ottoman army made their way north to capture the Wallachian capital of Curtea de Argeș.

The Ottoman Sultan thought that, through his lightning campaign into the region, Mircea I of Wallachia would have no choice but to bow down to his rule.   However, after a few days of raiding and burning the countryside alongside the Danube,   no response came from the Wallachian Voivode. It was only after Bayezid began his forced march into the forested interior of the region that he would be met with the first signs of local resistance.  

As he knew he did not have the men or resources to stand up to the Ottomans head-on, Mircea employed his Wallachian skirmishers to conduct guerrilla operations against the numerically superior invaders. For an entire week, the Ottoman host was harassed by Wallachian hit-and-run attacks while they marched through the unfamiliar lands.  Exhausted from the forced march and sustaining heavy losses, the Ottoman Army made camp near the  Argeș River.

Battle of Karanovasa

Refusing to let the Muslim invaders catch a breath, on the night of October 10th,  1394, Mircea ordered a surprise ambush. Masked underneath the Wallachian forest, the resilient voivode, much to the surprise of Bayezid,   descended upon the main Ottoman camp. The skirmish, later dubbed the Battle of Karanovasa,   or the Battle of the Trenches, would be a bloody affair as Wallachian and Ottoman troops were engulfed in a fierce and violent melee over the palisades of the camp.

On multiple occasions, the sultan’s own life was endangered as the battle-turned-brawl lasted well into the dawn. and having taken on many losses during the course of the entire campaign, Bayezid ordered the remnants of his army to withdraw back to the Danube into Ottoman territory in defeat. For the first time, “the Thunderbolt” had met his match in battle. Despite this setback, Bayezid prepared to invade Wallachia again during the spring of 1395, as during the interim period, Mircea had traveled to Transylvania to sign a formal alliance treaty with Sigismund for his upcoming crusade.

This time around, the Ottoman Sultan called upon his Balkan vassals to join him on the campaign.  Powerless to decline, Marco Mrnjavčević of Prilep,   Konstantin Dejanovic of Velbazhd, and Prince  Stefan Lazarevic of Moravian Serbia would all personally lead their retinue of soldiers into the sultan’s camp in Bulgaria and once again swear loyalty to their Muslim liege. Only the Serbian nobleman Vuk Brankovic,   in an act of open defiance, refused to send troops to Bayezid.

Battle of the Trenches

However, the Ottoman Sultan would turn a blind eye to this insubordinate act for the time being as he rushed to cross over the Danube to once and for all crush the forces of Wallachian Voivode. This time the sultan invaded the country from the west through the lands of his vassal, the Tsardom of Vidin.  The Wallachian skirmishers once again employed guerilla warfare on Bayezid’s army as they marched on the royal capital of Curtea de Argeș.

Perhaps due to the guerilla campaign being less effective this time around, Mircea would proceed to form a great Wallachian army to fend off Bayezid.   According to Romanian sources, the Wallachian  Voivode ordered all able men of his realm to gather up their arms and join his cause in order  to defend their homeland from the Muslim invaders.   Many settlements were abandoned, and their crops burned as the Ottomans made their way north.

Not wanting to be bogged in a long siege and wanting to resolve the war in one swift blow, Bayezid bypassed the many Wallachian forts in the region and pursued a field battle with Mircea near his capital. However, still knowing that he could not take on the Ottoman host in an open-field battle, Mircea stationed his grand army in the strategic Rovine marshlands south of his capital. The marshlands were littered with small narrow valleys, caves, old ruins, and impassable waterways, making it an idle landscape for a  defending army fighting against a numerically superior army.

Battle of Rovine

As Bayezid deployed his army on the battlefield, many sections of his host would be bogged down and immobilized in the marshes,  such as his heavy Kapikulu and Serbian cavalry. However, this would not stop the Ottoman  Sultan from pursuing Mircea’s army since the Battle of Rovine would last for an entire week. During the dragged-out battle,  multiple Ottoman attempts to breach through the marshes failed, as many were killed by  Wallachian archers.

It was during one of these attempts to breach the marches that the entire Ottoman vanguard of irregular infantry would be cut down to pieces by incoming Wallachian arrow fire. Ottoman attempts to flank around the marshes to strike at Mircea’s main camp were also thwarted. As the struggle continued, Wallachian troops began digging trenches throughout the local terrain as a means to defend themselves from wave after wave of Ottoman assaults to much success.

With each passing day, Ottoman casualties rose up as Ottoman corpses scattered the marshlands of Rovine. Amongst the dead were   Bayezid’s Serbian vassals, Marco Mrnjavčević of  Prilep, and Konstantin Dejanovic of Velbazhd. Only after a surprise Wallachian nighttime assault on the main Ottoman camp did Sultan Bayezid conclude that further attempts to break through the marshes were futile.

Ottomans after Rovine

Cutting his losses short and withdrawing from the battlefield, Bayezid, once again, abandoned his campaign against Wallachia. The Battle of Rovine had ended in a decisive victory for the Wallachian Voivode, even if it came at a great loss in manpower as he defeated an Ottoman army multiplied the size of his own host.  However, not all was lost for the Ottomans after Rovine.

In the months after the battle, Mircea I had become increasingly unpopular since his prolonged struggle against the Ottomans had drastically depleted the principalities’ military and economic resources.   Eventually, he was deposed by his court rival, Vlad I. As Mircea I fled to the nearby Kingdom of  Hungary, Vlad I submitted before Bayezid, removing Wallachia from the anti-Ottoman crusader coalition, and began to pay tribute to Edirne.  

Although unsuccessful on the battlefield, Bayezid had, through diplomacy, secured his northern border with Wallachia. Now the Ottoman Sultan turned his gaze back to his Balkan holdings, for he wanted to crush all remaining opposition in the region before the onset of the Crusader invasion.   Upon crossing the Danube, Ottoman armies were ordered to besiege the last Bulgarian holdout of Nicopolis, still held by the relentless Tsar Ivan Shishman.

The Thunderbolt

Back during the reign of Murad I, Ottoman forces in the past had tried capturing the Bulgarian fortress town, to no avail. However, this time, the Ottomans had more resources to spare for the siege.   After a short and one-sided struggle,  Nicopolis fell to the forces of Bayezid, thus bringing a formal end to the Bulgarian  Empire. Soon after the siege, Tsar Ivan Shishman of Bulgaria would be first imprisoned,  then executed on the orders of Bayezid. 

After putting an end to Shishman’s realm,  the Ottoman Sultan continued down south to his Serbian holdings. The former lands of the two slain Serbian despots from the Battle of Rovine,   Marco, and Konstantin, were formally annexed into the Ottoman Sultanate as they had no male sons to succeed in their seats. In addition to these land acquisitions, during the same period, Bayezid invaded the lands of Vuk Brankovic the Serbian noble who had failed to supply him with troops during his Wallachian campaign.

In a  short period of time, the insubordinate Serbian lord would be defeated in battle and imprisoned while his territories were transferred to the more loyal Stefan Lazarevic. After spending two years in an Ottoman cell, Vuk Brankovic, the Serbian noble who deified Edirne since the  Battle of Kosovo, died from natural causes.  For the most part, the year 1395 had been kind  to “the Thunderbolt.” The last twelve months had seen Bayezid consolidate his power in the Balkans before the arrival of the Crusaders.

Ottoman Sultanate

The Ottoman Sultan now controlled the major Danube crossing towns of Vidin, Nicopolis, and Silistra.   Wallachia had left the crusader coalition, and a pro-Ottoman ruler now sat in Curtea de Argeș.   The Bulgarian Empire under its dubious ruler, Ivan Shishman, had been murdered, and his realm conquered. Lastly, Vuk Brankovic had been deposed, and now the Serbian realm was unified under a loyal Ottoman vassal prince. 

However, the following year would see Bayezid come face to face with his greatest challenge yet. Since their conversion to Christianity under the Árpád dynasty during the eleventh century,  the Kingdom of Hungary had been one of Europe’s largest and most formidable states. The kingdom was mainly located on the rich farming lands of the flat Great Hungarian Plain situated at the crossroads of central and southeastern Europe.  

Under the Anjou Dynasty, Hungary expanded its reach deeper into the Balkans during the same period in which the Ottoman Sultanate was also making gains in the region. During the reign of Louis I, multiple wars were fought against Bosnia, Moldavia, Wallachia,   Serbia, and Bulgaria in order to bring them under the Hungarian sphere of influence. Although many of these states willingly yielded to Hungarian suzerainty initially in order to deal with the growing Ottoman threat, Louis’s death in 1382 would end Hungarian dreams of forming a Magyar-led Balkan peninsula.

The Hungarian King

The late King would be succeeded by his eldest daughter, Mary I, who herself was married to the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Prince Sigismund. In the following years, Sigismund would be crowned  King, and with the untimely death of Mary in 1395, he would become the sole ruler of Hungary. With the accession of Sigismund also came the first Ottoman raids into Hungary, and thus military preparations were made to strike back at Edirne.  

The crusade to come would be a vital opportunity for the young foreign King of Hungary to make a name for himself and cement his rule over his Magyar nobles. While the Bayezid was on a conquest spree in the  Balkans, King Sigismund had been slowly forming a great European crusader alliance against Edirne.  Although Europe had been politically divided during the Western Schism between the Popes of  Rome and Avignon, Sigismund’s European envoys around the continent were fairly successful in gathering support for the anti-Ottoman crusade.  

Benefiting from the temporary cessation of hostilities between France and England during the Hundred Years’ War, the Hungarian King had managed to get favorable responses from the two nations to join his coalition. Also, surprisingly,  the most powerful man among the French nobility,   Philip II of Burgundy, opted to become the principal financier of the crusade, raising over 700,000 francs for the Hungarian  King.

Sultan Bayezid

Most likely, the Burgundian ruler saw Sigismund’s anti-Ottoman crusade as an opportunity to demonstrate his duchy’s new-found power which had been won in the recent Anglo-French conflict.  Philip’s son, son John of Nevers, and many other prominent Franco-Burgundian nobles, such as  Philip of Artois, Enguerrand de Coucy, Jean de Vienne, Jean de Carrouges, and their personal retinues, would all join the upcoming crusade. 

Meanwhile, the Italian merchant republics of Venice and Genoa, wishing to protect their lucrative trade routes and outposts in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions from the rising Ottoman threat, would also join in the forming Hungarian-led coalition. Along with Constantinople, the Genoese colony of Galata had also been blockaded by Bayezid, an affront that would see the two rival  Italian republics, in an uncommon occurrence, unite under the same crusading banner.

The Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes, known for their piracy in the Aegean Sea, would also answer Sigismund’s call against Bayezid as they had been in open conflict with the Ottomans since the Battle of Kosovo seven years prior. With the naval powers of Venice, Genoa, and the Knights Hospitaller all raising their banners against Edirne, Bayezid was now faced with the threat of crusader warships baring down on his coastal territories.  

The Battle of Nicopolis

The Ottoman navy was still in its infancy during this era, which meant it could not effectively counter the more sophisticated warships of Europe. King Sigismund’s acquisition of European allies would not stop there. Even though he had been recently expelled from his country during the aftermath of the Battle of Rovine, Mircea I  of Wallachia still commanded a sizable loyal host numbering around a few thousand soldiers. 

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The Wallachian ruler, perhaps in an attempt to regain his throne and garner Hungarian support for his claim, would join the anti-Ottoman crusade. Lastly, smaller contingents from Bohemia, the Teutonic Knights, the Holy Roman Empire, Naples, Aragon, Castile, Portugal, Navarre, the Swiss Confederacy, Savoy, Moldavia, Poland, and Croatia would also pledge their support to Sigismund. 

With a total crusading force numbering around   15,000-25,000 strong converging on the  Hungarian city of Buda, enthusiasm around Europe for the upcoming crusade was high. Indeed, rarely throughout the Middle Ages had the Kingdoms of Europe been so united against a common enemy, and the Ottomans were about to face perhaps their toughest foe yet. The Battle of Nicopolis was soon to come. 

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