Monday 1 April 2024

“because without that nothing is done here”, the relief of Jajce, 1502

Over the Easter break my friend Tom visited and battle was joined once more. We wanted to get the Ottomans back on the table and decided to game one of the many border clashes that took place as the Ottoman Empire pushed it's boundaries ever westward during the 1500s. It took place around Jajce, a Hungarian held fortified town that would come under increasing pressure during the first quarter of the 16th century. Most of the information for the below account comes from pages 315-317 of Tamás Pálosfalvi's excellent "From Nicopolis to Mohács, A History of Ottoman-Hungarian Warfare, 1389–1526".

The relief of Jajce, 1502

The defeat of Louis II, King of Hungary, on the field of Mohacs in August 1526 was a climactic event that followed years of border warfare between the Ottomans and the Hungarians as successive Ottoman Sultans pushed the borders of their territory further and further west. One of the key locations in these border struggles was the fortress town of Jajce, in modern day Bosnia-Herzegovina, which lies on the confluence of the Pliva and Vrbas rivers. In the 14th century Jajce had been the capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror captured the town in 1463 and garrisoned it with Ottoman troops only for Matthias Corvinus and his Black Army to wrestle the town off the Ottomans in the autumn of the same year. As soon as Jajce fell to Corvinus the Ottomans attempted to take it back in 1464. Over the following decades the town proved to be a key bastion in Hungary's defensive line against the Ottomans. 

As the 16th century began the pressure on Jajce increased with Corvinus's son, John Corvinus, Ban of Croatia (a Ban was the Hungarian title for the military governors of the Kingdom's outlying territories) destroying an Ottoman wagon fort which had been set up to oppose Jajce in the autumn of 1501. Following this relief most of Jajce's garrison was dismissed for the winter meaning that when the Ottomans prepared to besiege the town again in 1502 the fortress-town was vulnerable. The 1501 siege had been led by Iskender Pasha, the Sanjak-bey (military governor) of the Ottoman ruled part of Bosnia. In 1502, one of Iskender Pasha's sons oversaw another attempt to take Jajce,  and another relief force was hastily prepared in Buda.  John Corvinus was in Buda and as Ban of Croatia was the man whose duty it normally would have been to relieve the town but instead of Corvinus being chosen to the lead the relief a captain relatively inexperienced in fighting the Ottomans named János Tárcai, and better known for his financial expertise, was chosen.

None of the counties who were called upon to raise troops answered the call and so the relief force was comprised solely of royal troops and those provided by Hungarian barons. A small army of around 4,000 men was raised of which at least 2,000 were light cavalry and 50 were armoured men at arms. To provision the beleaguered town Tárcai took 2,000 wagons with his army, 1,000 of them being laden with wine, a report of the campaign stating "because without that nothing is done here". Tárcai's army left Buda in the first weeks of June and was 5 miles from Jajce on the evening of 2 July. Being able to see the town's garrison from his position on a hill top his men formed a wagenburg to protect themselves as night fell. Upon receiving information that 1,000 of the akinji (Ottoman irregular light cavalry see had left the siege lines to attack another Hungarian garrison Tárcai ordered the men at arms and light cavalry to give chase in an attempt to cut the akinji off whilst they were away from the main Ottoman force. The heavily armoured men at arms found it difficult to keep up with the light horse in the night and returned to the wagenburg.

The following morning, with the Hungarian light cavalry still in pursuit of the akinji, the wagenburg was attacked by a force of perhaps as many as 10,000 Ottomans under the leadership of Iskender Pasha's son. A bloody battle ensued around the wagenburg but the Ottomans fell back hoping to lure the defenders into a pursuit and defeat them when they had abandoned the cover of the wagons. Tárcai's men did give chase but only enough to draw the Ottoman cavalry back to the wagenburg again. The wagenburg's artillery had been readied and as the Hungarian infantry retreated back inside the pursuing Ottoman horsemen were subjected to lethal hails of shot and retreated with heavy casualties.

By now the 1,000 akinji had returned to the Ottoman army, successfully evading the Hungarian light horse by returning via a different route. That evening the Hungarian light horse also returned and in the morning escorted some of the supply wagons into the town. Undeterred by their losses the day before the Ottomans attacked again, this time targeting the supply wagons as Tárcai's army attempted to relieve the garrison of Jajce. The Hungarian light cavalry charged the Ottomans whilst the 50 heavily armoured men at arms made their own charge into the besiegers. This shattered the Ottoman morale and the army broke and fled leaving over 1,000 of their number dead around the town.

Despite this successful and dramatic relief of Jajce the Ottomans would continue to besiege the town with equally dramatic relief efforts being made. In 1518 Petar Berislavić led an army of around 10,000 men, 3,000 of which were provided by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, to relieve the town. In 1525 Krsto Frankopan led 6,000 men to Jajce's relief, earning him the sobriquet of the "Hero of Jajce" in Europe. Following Mohac's Jajce would still remain in Hungarian hands eventually falling to an attack by Ghazi Husrev Beg and Murad Beg Tardić in January of 1528.

A view of the table from behind the Ottoman lines. In the foreground is a timber and earthen fort that has been erected by the Ottomans to blockade Jajce. At the top of the hill is the Hungarian relief force forming up outside its wagenburg.

A view of the table from the top of  the hill with the Hungarian wagenburg and Tárcai's relief force in the foreground. The Hungarians will attempt to escort the supply wagons to the walls of Jajce. At the top of the photo are the Ottoman besiegers. Jajce is not represented on the tabletop and is assumed to be behind the Ottoman earthworks. 


The scenario combined elements of the events that took place around Jajce in early July 1502, putting them all into one action. As János Tárcai's relief army camped on a nearby hill around 5 miles from Jajce the table represented the wagenburg of the relief army and a section of the Ottoman siege lines at the bottom of the hill (see the two photos above). Jajce was not represented as its walls would lie beyond the Ottoman earthworks.

The Ottomans did not have heavy guns as this was the army of a Sanjak-bey, comprised mostly of irregular forces. The siege was one of blockade rather than an attempt to take Jajce by assault.

As always we used our modified Lion Rampant rules for the game. Each army consisted of two retinues. The game started with the akinji and Hungarian light horse retinues off the table as in the events described above 1,000 akinji left to raid another Hungarian garrison and the Hungarian hussars and horse archers left in pursuit of them.

The Supply Wagons

In this scenario the Hungarians had three supply wagons that they had to try and get to the other side of the table. Hungarian cavalry and infantry units could move the wagons. When accompanied by a unit the wagons could move a maximum of 6" per turn and the unit lost the wagon if they were defeated in combat or battered. Units could not attack whilst still holding the wagon but could shoot whilst they had control of the wagon. Other Hungarian units could pick up "lost" wagons by moving into base to base contact with them. The unit was then considered to have picked it up and could move with it. Once a unit reached the other end of the table with a supply wagon then the wagon was removed but the unit could remain in the game.

The Wine Wagon

As János Tárcai's relief army brought 1,000 wagons laden with wine,“because without that nothing is done here”, the Hungarians also had a "Wine Wagon". This could be moved around in the same way as the Supply Wagons but, unlike the Supply Wagons, could also be picked by Ottoman units if they managed to get control of it . The Wine wagon allowed any friendly unit within 12" to reroll an activation fail. So if the Hungarians had the Wine Wagon this applied to their units whilst if the Ottoman troops had the Wine Wagon this applied to Ottoman units. Many of the Ottoman Balkan troops were not muslim and the Ottoman army still benefited from the Wine Wagon.

The Wagenburg

The Hungarian wagenburg was a static feature at the top of the hill. At the start of every Hungarian turn it could automatically fire a close range artillery shot at any Ottoman unit with 12" from any point in the wagenburg. To destroy the wagenburg the Ottomans had to get a unit into base to base contact with it. On the following turn instead on an activation the Ottoman unit could role a D6  and on a 4+ the unit was considered to have broken into the wagenburg and destroyed it. If the unit failed it was considered a failed activation and the retinue's turn ended. For every other Ottoman unit in base to base contact with the wagenburg the unit attempting to destroy it would get a +1 to the D6 roll. So, for example, if four Ottoman units were in base to base contact with the wagenburg one unit could activate to destroy it and would automatically succeed as they would receive +3 to  the D6 roll. If 2 units were in base to base contact and from different retinues then each would successfully destroy the wagenburg on a 3+ and the second unit could attempt if the first failed as they would be in separate retinues.

The arrival of the akinji and the Hungarian light horse

As explained above these two retinues did not start on the table but their arrival was triggered by events in the game. Once a unit of Ottomans had crested the top of the hill and moved onto a tile at the top the following turn the Ottoman player could roll to see if the akinji arrived. On the first turn after a unit reached the hill top a 10+ would bring on the akinji. The following turn it would be a 9+  and so on.
Once a Hungarian unit had got a unit to the bottom of the hill the following turn the Hungarian player could roll to see if the Hungarian light cavalry would arrive. On the first turn after a unit got to the bottom of the hill a 10+ would bring on the light cavalry. The following turn it would be a 9+  and so on.

Whichever of the light horse retinues, akinji or Hungarians, arrived first then the player commanding them rolled a D6 and a 1-3 would mean the retinue arrived from one long edge of the table whilst 4-6 would be the other. We did not know which sides they would arrive from before hand. When it was known what side the first light cavalry retinue would arrive from then the opposing light horse would arrive from the other side of the table once their arrival was triggered as per the rules above.

Units from these retinues could only enter the table via move activations. They could not enter via skirmish or attacking activations. These light horse units could arrive along their designated table edge, as rolled for above, but they could only enter along the centre. This meant these units couldn't enter closer than 24" from either table end.

If a starting Ottoman or Hungarian retinue was wiped out in its entirety before triggering the arrival of the akinji or Hungarian light horse then its light cavalry retinue would arrive the turn after the retinue was wiped out.


If the Hungarians got all of the  Supply Wagons across the table or if all 4 retinues were reduced to half strength then the game would end
Victory was decided by victory points which were awarded as follows:

6 points for every Supply Wagon that reached the other side of the table
6 points if a Hungarian unit held the Wine Wagon at the end of the game
1 point for every enemy unit destroyed or routed
3 points if the son of Iskender Pasha was killed or routed

12 points if the Wagenburg was destroyed
6 points if an Ottoman unit held the Wine Wagon at the end of the game
1 point for every enemy unit destroyed or routed
3 points if János Tárcai was killed or routed

The Ottoman besiegers of Jajce form up for battle in front of the siege lines. They will attempt to prevent the relief of the town and to destroy the Hungarian wagenburg.

János Tárcai and the Hungarian relief army have camped on a hill from which Jajce, 5 miles away, can be seen. From this position they will attempt to relieve the besieged frontier town. The wagenburg is well equipped with artillery to defend against an Ottoman attack.

The Armies

János Tárcai and the Hungarian relief army

János Tárcai, the infantry and men at arms

1 Unit of Foot Knights (János Tárcai - retinue leader)
2 Units of Hungarian Men at Arms
2 Units of Pavise Infantry with arquebuses
2 Units of Pavise Infantry with crossbows
2 Units of Halberdiers

The Hungarian Light Cavalry

4 Units of Hussars (One contains the retinue leader)
2 Units of Hungarian Horse Archers
2 Units of Balkan Cavalry

The son of Iskender Pasha and the Ottoman army of Bosnia

Iskender Pasha's son and the Ottoman besieging army

2 Units of Deli's (One is Iskender Pasha's son and his bodyguard - retinue leader)
2 Units of Sipahis
2 Units of Voynuks
3 Units of Azab Archers
1 Unit of Azab Hangunners
4 Units of Azabs

The Akinji

6 Units of Akinji (One contains the retinue leader) 
2 Units of Balkan Cavalry

Tom chose to play as the besieging Ottomans so I took control of Hungarian relief army. A brief write up of the game follows and the captions to the photos are a great way to follow the action.

A view up the hill from the wooden tower that forms part of the Ottoman siege works.

The Ottoman forces surge up the hill under the leadership of Iskender Pasha's son.

János Tárcai's small relief army, having marched from Buda in the previous weeks, begins the relief attempt.

The Hungarian troops escort the relief wagons down the wooded slopes of the hill in good order.

The Ottoman and Hungarian forces head towards each other.

The Hungarians shelter behind a wall of pavises. They know they will face a storm of arrows when the Ottomans attack them.

As dawn broke on 3 July 1502 János Tárcai organised his troops and left the safety of the wagenburg in an attempt to deliver the supply wagons to the besieged fortress town of Jajce which lay just 5 miles away. The Ottoman forces surrounding Jajce formed up under the command of the son of the local Sanjak-bey and prepared to meet the relief force as it made its way down the hillside. The two forces advanced towards each other cautiously until each army could see the banners of the enemy through the wooded the slopes.

The Ottomans were the first to attack sending lightly armed azabs through the trees in an attempt to halt the Hungarian march. The azabs did succeed in slowing the Hungarians but only so they could redress their ranks before send a hail of shot and rain of crossbow bolts into the azabs. As the azabs fled back down the slopes of the hill the far more heavily armoured voynuk auxiliaries moved up and charged into the Hungarian force. In a series of fierce clashes the voynuks pushed the Hungarians back but their morale was poor and they turned and fled having only taken a few casualties. The son of Iskender Pasha cursed as he had lost his best infantry and failed to halt the march of the relief force.  

The first Ottoman attackers, Azabs armed with arquebuses and with melee weapons, are driven back by the Hungarian arquebusiers and crossbowmen.

Battle lines form on the slopes of the wooded hill.

The Hungarians face some of the Ottoman's many Christian troops, the heavily armoured voynuks.

A view of the table as the two forces are about to clash.

Battle is joined and the Hungarian infantry drive back the attacking voynuks.

The Hungarians maintain their cohesion as the Ottomans launch successive attacks.

There is fierce fighting but the Hungarian infantry push the azabs and voynuks back...

...the voynuks are broken and flee the field. Iskender Pasha's son has lost his best infantry.

The Hungarian relief army has taken casualties but resumes the march to relieve Jajce.

Iskender Pasha's son now sends his personal bodyguard of elite delis into the fray...

...the delis succeed in breaking some of the Hungarian units but take casualties themselves in the bloody hand to hand fighting.

Having lost their best infantry the Ottoman's sent their fearsome deli's and their sipahis into the fray. The delis were more successful than the voynuks and routed a portion of Tárcai's force but they were unable to halt the advance of the Hungarians who were now joined by a small party of Balkan horsemen who had returned ahead of the main body of their light cavalry.

Riding amidst the deli's Iskender Pasha's son neared the crest of the hill and the Hungarian wagenburg. Disobeying their orders to hang back and guard the wagenburg a unit of Hungarian men at arms charged down the hill and into the bodyguard of Iskender Pasha's son. One of the men at arms rode straight for the Ottoman commander with his lance levelled and moments later the Ottoman force had lost their leader. This affected the already poor Ottoman morale and more units fled meaning the Hungarians could continue their advance unhindered.

A unit of Balkan sipahis charge the Hungarians but Tárcai's men hold firm.

The Ottoman's have sustained heavy losses in the fighting on the slopes and the path to the gates of Jajce looks clear.

Against orders a unit of Hungarian men at arms rashly charges down the slopes and into the Ottoman commanders bodyguard...

...the men at arms rash decision pays off and Iskender Pasha's son is slain. His death has a catastrophic impact on Ottoman morale.

As the Hungarians reach the foot of the hill their 2,000 light cavalry return. The have been unable to catch the akinji that they had ridden off in pursuit of the night before.

Hungarian hussars and horse archers race onto the battlefield.

The last units of the Ottoman besieging force are slain...

...allowing the Hungarians to pass through the siege lines and deliver much needed supplies to the beleaguered town of Jajce.

A cheer went up in the ranks of the Hungarian relief force as they reached the foot of the hill and prepared to push through the Ottoman siege lines. The infantry were heartened to see the banners of their hussar and horse archer units on the slopes as their light cavalry returned from their pursuit of the akinji. The Hungarian light horse may have failed to catch the Ottoman raiders during the night but their return meant they could aid the infantry as they escorted the relief wagons.

There were brief melees in the Ottoman siege lines as the last units of azabs attempted to prevent the Hungarians from breaking through. These attacks did little to halt the advance of Tárcai and his men and the first of the wagons were delivered to the gates of Jajce. The Ottoman threat was not over though as it became clear the akinji were also returning to the siege, having evaded the Hungarian light cavalry they had ridden to the aid of the besieging army via a different route. But had they arrived too late?

Moments after the Hungarian light cavalry arrive the akinji also return to the siege lines. Having taken a different route through the woods and evaded the Hungarian horse the akinji now charge into them...

...a chaotic cavalry melee takes place on the wooded slopes.

Many Ottoman and Hungarian cavalrymen are slain as a fast paced battle develops between the two forces of expert horsemen.

Whilst the fighting takes place on the slopes the Hungarian relief force is able to get more wagons through to Jajce.

Hussars and akinji skirmish with one another in the hills surrounding Jajce.

Despite his inexperience János Tárcai has led a successful relief of the town and remained in control of the wine supply.

With a thunder of hooves the akinji charged along the wooded slopes and a furious cavalry battle developed as the Ottoman and Hungarian light horsemen fought one another on the hillside. Arrows flew and lances and spears broke as the hussars and akinji clashed. Despite killing many of the Hungarian horsemen the charge of the akinji was unable to decide the day. They had arrived too late.

As the fighting continued on the wooded slopes Tárcai's infantry and armoured men at arms were now through the Ottoman siege lines and all of the supply wagons were delivered to the grateful defenders of Jajce. The wagenburg had not been tested by the Ottomans who had also lost their leader. Tárcai had successfully relieved Jajce and managed to defeat the besieging Ottoman army. The 1502 siege of Jajce had ended.

The akinji are driven off as the Hungarians gain the upper hand in the cavalry battle.

Tárcai's men at arms pass through the Ottoman siege lines and deliver the final relief wagon to town. Jajce has been relieved and will not fall to the Ottomans this year. 

 This was one of those wargames where things just go very badly for one of the forces! Tom suffered some terrible luck with the early routing of both of the voynuk units. This was followed by a blunder by my men at arms which, instead of causing trouble for my army, meant they charged down the hill into the Ottoman leader's unit only for him to be slain. This had the knock on effect of then causing the flight of more Ottoman units. The Ottomans never managed to reach the hill top, being very much focused on breaking into the Hungarian infantry formation as it marched downhill, meaning when the akinji did arrive it was far too late in the day for them to have any effect.

The game ended with a total defeat for the Ottomans, we tallied up the victory points as 49 for the Hungarians and 7 for the Ottomans, but we had a lot of fun despite the one sided result. Tom was a great sport about the terrible turn of events that beset his forces and we had a lot of laughs about some of his dice rolls. The wagenburg, wooded slopes and Ottoman earthworks set the atmosphere for the game which really had the feel of a bloody border skirmish. As described in the initial background Jajce was besieged numerous times during the first two decades of the 1500s and we may do a series of games based around the Hungarian relief efforts. Whilst pitched battles between the Ottomans and Hungarians were rare these kind of clashes were common and provide a great basis for scenarios.


  1. What a super read, really enjoyed a very good report. Lovely table and cracking figures, very nice indeed.

    1. Cheers Donnie, it was fun to base a game around a less well known Hungarian Ottoman clash.

  2. A nice change of theatre with the usual absorbing narrative and lavish illustrative photos. The pavises are particularly fine.
    The one sided result seems appropriate for Easter perhaps another festival with have another result.
    In the absence of artillery fire did you find the kettle drums noisy?
    My thanks as always,

    1. Thank you Stephen, I am glad you enjoyed the write up.

      You are correct there was no artillery fire, especially as the wagenburg never got attacked but there was a crack of handguns, the thunder of hooves, sounding of horns and beating of kettle drums as the action played out.

      There was also a lot of cursing of dice rolls!

  3. Fantastic stuff! Hungarians vs Ottomans - just too good!!

    1. Thank you John, the Hungarians vs Ottomans is a 16th century classic! I plan to do more games with these two armies in the future.

  4. Beautiful looking table and figures once again Oli - your mate Tom must be a very good sport - I am not sure I could have taken all that bad luck with such equanimity!

    1. Cheers Keith. Yes Tom was a good sport in this one - normally in these games something goes badly wrong for the person trying to move objectives across the table, I couldn't believe I got all the wagons across with very few casualties.