Hungarian Armies 1300 to 1492
The Banderium (Bandiera)
The Militia Portalis
Mercenary Knights (Armigeri)
Hungarian Light Cavalry
Hussars (Serbian Gusars)
Wallachian and Moldavian Light horse
Mercenary Infantry of the Hunyadi era
Handgunners or Arquebusiers
I have taken the approach when describing the Hungarian
army of placing information where I feel it makes most sense rather than sticking
rigidly to my headers. For example the Szekely and Cumans appear under the light
horse heading yet the information on them includes a brief history and other
notable items not really relevant to Light horse. It is also worth noting that
where Hungarian is used it does not cover Transylvania. Transylvania is covered
separately within the text.
The Generalis Exercitus was a mass levy of all lesser
Noblemen of Hungary. Originally the core of the Hungarian army this mass levy
had provided their Kings with a large and enthusiastic army. By the 14th Century
though the levy was an anachronism unable to provide any realistic military
force. This was mostly due to changes with in the Hungarian society where the
lesser nobility had increasingly been absorbed into the wealthier peasant class
though they still insisted on the right of Generalis Exercitus as a means to
distinguish themselves. This right though did not equip such men for war and
throughout the 14th Century references abound to the complete lack of suitable
equipment of those called by the Generalis Exercitus. Additionally the organisation
of the Generalis Exercitus was limited to the 'local' or county level. There
were no arsenals, leaders or basic organisational units. This situation was
mostly political in origin, partially due to the King and partially due to the
men of the Generalis Exercitus themselves. The men most experienced in war and
most likely to be able to organise the levy into an effective military force
were the Barons of the Kingdom. The Kings of Hungary though were not prepared
to trust the Barons as local leaders of the levy as it represented a significant
threat to their own power. Also the levy were unlikely to wish Baronial interference
as in undermined their own independence. The Golden Bull of Andrew II of 1222
further limited the use of the Levy. By this Bull the Levy were only obliged
to serve within the boundaries of Hungary and only for a period of fifteen days.
The levy did however provide a counter point to Baronial power in Hungary. Charles
Angevin used the levy to considerable affect against the rebellious Nobles on
his accession to the throne. Yet even he seems to have limited its use to 'minor'
wars. His son Louis followed a similar policy and we find that for his foreign
wars mercenaries were the preferred troops though significant numbers of Hungarian
infantry appear to have taken part in his Italian campaigns.
In the 15th century, much like the General Levy of Poland the Generalis Exercitus when called up was singularly ineffective. The last mobilisation of it was in 1439 by king Albert. The Generalis Exercitus dutifully massed and followed the King fifteen days later it disbanded itself and went home, forcing the King to abandon his campaign and retreat.
The Banderium (Bandiera)
The decline in the Generalis Exercitus increasingly
lead to the responsibility for providing sufficient military forces shifting
to the senior Nobles of the realm. As with almost all feudal societies the Nobility
of Hungary had their own armed retinues. These retinues were originally made
up of kinsmen called Familiaris or Servientes. This gave rise to the term familiaries
to describe a Noble's armed following. Unlike western practises though those
that served as familiaris were not automatically vassals of their chosen Noble.
Service was not equated to vassalage, the familiaris only committed himself
and not his own family, lands or retainers. It also fell to the Lord in question
to equip and supply his familiaries. In this way the majority of the retinues
tended to be made up of Hungary's lesser Nobility. The break down in Royal authority
in the 13th and 14th Century saw an increase in the size of these familiaries.
No longer were they comprised solely of trusted kinsmen but included anyone
willing to serve. The name of these retinues also changed, they became Vexillum
(flag/banner) and they also became a significant threat to the King's power.
Vexillum came into use as it was customary for the familiaries to be fielded
under their Noble's personal standard and leadership. The requirement for vexillum
to provide the King with troops also brought about the risk of civil war. A
situation clearly shown at the end of the 13th century with the death of the
last Arpad King. The Nobles of Hungary used their Vexillum in the power struggle
for the throne and created a myriad of 'little Caesars' in Hungary.
The accession of Charles Angevin brought about some changes to the Vexillum system. Once Charles had successfully regained control of Hungary he altered just who was allowed a Vexillum. He limited it to those of Baronial rank only, this also included senior figures of the Church as well. It should be noted that about this time the term Banderium came to be used instead of Vexillum. This is probably due to Italian influence (banderia being the Italian). This shift in name has often been used to justify a radical overhaul of the Hungarian military by Charles. There is however little proof of new practises other than the limiting of just who could raise a Banderium. Never the less the Banderium were private armies and as such answered to their Lords. To ensure their service to the Crown it became customary for the King to compensate Barons for their Banderium expenses. The Banderium system remained the primary source of troops for the Crown until the time of Matthius. It should be noted that Banderium was used in several contexts Firstly it described the private army of a Baron or the King and in this respect could number in the thousands. Secondly it was used to describe a unit of men fighting under a standard, much like the Polish 'banner'. In this way it was possible for Janos Hunyadi's Banderium to be made up of several Banderium. For Hunyadi we find the term Familaries being used to describe his Personal Banderium, recruited from kinsmen and his private estates and then Banderium being applied to the numerous mercenary companies that he employed. King Ulászló is described as having a Royal Banderium at Varna, comprised of some 300 to 500 Polish guards, yet another Royal Banderium is mentioned fighting alongside Hunyadi and being comprised of Hungarian guards.
Louis the Great frequently employed mercenaries. Mostly
for his Italian wars but some for garrison duties within Hungary as well. In
1380 for instance the castle of Bran in Transylvania was manned by a contingent
of English archers (source: Thuroczy p182). However like the later practises
of Poland Hungary employed domestic mercenaries in preference to all others.
These mercenaries were hired and led by Knights of the King and paid directly
from the Royal Treasury. Normally these mercenaries took to the field as part
of the Royal Banderium under the direct command of the King. Though under Louis
parts of the Royal army fought in Italy under the command of Barons. The Hungarian
mercenaries of one of these armies formed their own company when it was disbanded.
This mercenary company, the Magna Societas Ungarorum played a significant part
in the Italian wars of the later 14th Century.
Mercenaries were increasingly hired to serve in the Banderium of the Barons as well. Janos Hunyadi particularly employed large numbers of Bohemian and Germans. The other major mercenary presence in the Hungarian army was that of her infantry, here almost overwhelmingly ex-Hussite and Germans prevailed.
It would be under Matthius that mercenaries became the backbone of the Hungarian army forming its own 'black army'. The name 'black army' was actually first applied to Matthius' army in the early 16th century so is anachronistic but does make a convenient tag. During his reign Matthius created possibly the most formidable 'regular' army of the time. The core of Matthius army was originally mercenaries brought over by Jan Jiskra in 1462 after he made his peace with the King. Bonfini, the Italian chronicler records that Matthius' standing army in 1463 was some 2000 cavalry and 5,000 infantry. The same chronicler records that the army Matthius used in his campaign of 1487 in Austria was some 20,000 cavalry, 8,000 infantry and 5,000 wagons. Sources repeatedly state that the core of Matthius' army remained Germans and Bohemians but that it increasingly included Serbian light cavalry as well.
The Militia Portalis
The Militia Portalis was born out of attempts to reorganise and reform the general
levy. It first appeared in documents of 1397 during the reign of Sigismund.
It outlined that for every twenty serf-lots (portae) a Noble was expected to
raise and led 1 archer (probably mounted). What is often assumed is that this
soldier was a peasant from such holdings this though is never actually specified
by the documents of this time or later. This specific levy was not to be limited
by service within Hungary nor the 15 day period of service. It appears that
this initial attempt failed under opposition from the Nobility. Failure of the
Generalis Exercitus during the Hussite wars saw further attempts at reform between
1432-35. These appear to have been more successful and there is documentary
evidence of the use of the Militia Portalis from then on.
For more detailed information and examination of the evidence on the Hungarian organisation see the following articles:
Military reform in early fifteenth Century Hungary by Joseph Held, Eastern European quarterly, Vol. XL no 2
Militia Portalis in Hungary before 1526 by Andras Borosy, From Hunyadi to Rakoczi
Transylvania appears to have organised differently from the rest of Hungary and was instead militarily organised along the lines of Wallachia and Moldavia. Transylvania appears to have retained an effective militia system comprised of a the 'great' and 'small' armies. The small army was a levy comprised of the wealthier Nobles of Transylvania and as such was probably fairly effective. The great army was a general levy called in times of emergency. Janos Hunyadi is known to have called on every able bodied man in 1442 to defend against an Ottoman invasion. There is no recorded instance of a similar occurrence with in Hungary itself. Alongside these levies there was also soldiers available from the Szekely and the Saxons and these are covered below.
Copyright © 2002 Matthew Haywood
All images and text, unless otherwise noted, may not be copied without my written permission.