„The great defeat of the Croatian nobility’s army on 9 September 1493 in the Battle of Krbava Field represents one of the most important events of the long-term defensive war against the Ottomans.
Its consequences have long remained in the Croatian people’s minds as a great disaster which shaped the further historical development of all of Croatia.“
The great medieval battles against the Ottomans shaped the history of many European countries, and one such took place in the 15th century in Lika. To this day it is regarded as the Croatian army’s most significant defeat. This text by Suzana Miljan and Hrvoje Kekez takes us on a journey to the Battle of Krbava Field.
On September 9, 1493, the military contingent led by Ban Emeric Derencsényi of Croatia suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the Ottoman army on Krbava Field in present-day central Croatia. The long-lasting defensive war waged by the Kingdoms of Hungary and Croatia against the Ottomans became one of the formative factors of the collective identity of Croats in the early modern period, as well as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More than 300 years of continuous armed conflicts with the Ottomans provoked the interest of both contemporaries and modern historians.
Although there were some sporadic Ottoman raids on Croatia and Slavonia before the middle of the fifteenth century, Croatian lands did not become a main target of Ottoman military and political strategy until the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia in 1463. The events that preceded the battle of Krbava include the conquering of most of the Bosnian towns and castles (including the royal city of Jajce), the death of King Stephen Tomašević of Bosnia, and the foundation of the Jajce and Srebrenica Banats, followed by the Senj Captaincy in 1469 under the rule of the King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. In subsequent decades, the Ottoman raids continued, and in the early spring of 1493 Hadum Jakub-pasha gathered his army in order to raid Croatian and Austrian lands once again.
In the very beginning of his campaign, Jakub-pasha besieged Jajce in central Bosnia, but he very quickly abandoned this attempt and continued his raids in central Slavonia and Styria. At the same time, dissatisfied with the royal politics of King Wladislas II Jagiellon of Hungary, Count Hans (Anž) Frankapan of Brinje and Count Charles Kurjaković of Krbava rose up against the king. The Frankapani wanted to recover their castles in the County of Vinodol and the city of Senj, a very important port on the northern Adriatic. These cities and estates had earlier been confiscated by King Matthias. Similarly, Count Charles Kurjaković wanted to regain Obrovac, one of the most important emporia on the Zrmanja River
Very soon after he received news that rebels had besieged the royal city of Senj, king Wladislas sent Bans Emeric Derencsényi and John Both of Bajna at the head of an army to crush the rebellion. The bans decided to direct their campaign towards the estates of Count Hans Frankapan, so they besieged Hans’ castle of Brinje.
Meanwhile, they received news that Jakub-pasha has plundered the areas around the Modruš castle and that he had burned outlying settlements to the ground. Without hesitation, Ban Emeric Derencsényi invited rebels to join him in the ensuing battle against the Ottomans and granted them royal pardon. The majority of the Croatian noblemen who had participated in the uprising decided to accept this proposal, with the exceptions of Hans Frankapan and Charles Kurjaković, who very soon died, most probably because of wounds that were inflicted during the battle around the Brinje castle.
The accusation that Count Hans Frankapan invited Ottomans to help him in his campaign against Ban Emeric Derencsényi cannot be dismissed beyond any doubt, and that may be why he did not join the Christian army.
Nevertheless, Ban Emeric Derencsényi and Croatian noblemen slowly gathered their army on Krbava Field below the Udbina castle. According to the surviving written testimonies, Jakub-pasha initiated negotiations for free passage to his strongholds in Bosnia. The ban rejected this proposal, most probably because he wanted to demonstrate the power of the Ban’s army (i.e. the royal army) in a battle with the Ottomans on the open field. The goal of this decision was also to prevent any future collaboration between Croatian noblemen and the Ottomans or the Venetians.
Although the Croatian army outnumbered Jakubpasha’s army, the Ottomans had more cavalry and their army was composed of experienced soldiers. Knowing this, and having experience in conflicts with the Ottomans, Count John Frankapan of Cetin encouraged the ban to trap the Ottomans in one of the numerous passes in the area, but the ban rejected this suggestion and arranged his army on the open field below the Udbina castle.
The battle began with an Ottoman decoy and did not last long. Jakub-pasha had sent some of his troops to surround the Croatian army and attack them from behind. The decoy was very successful, and the left wing of the Croatian army, consisting primarily of the infantry led by Count Bernardin Frankapan, was annihilated. Very soon, the rest of the Croatian army was destroyed. Although the Ottoman victory was complete, Jakub-pasha hastened his army to leave the area and went back to Bosnia. The Ottomans took only the most important noblemen as prisoners to be ransomed, while the rest were slaughtered
Although the Croatian defeat at the battle of Krbava Field in 1493 was devastating, it should be noted that the Ottomans did not occupy the county of Krbava, because it is situated far from the Bosnian border, and it was conquered only some 30 years later, in 1527. The explanation for this may lie in the political and military strategy of the Ottoman Empire, which at the time was concerned more with the Pannonian basin, i.e. Hungary, than Croatia. Nevertheless, the battle had two important consequences. First, the defeat at Krbava Field accelerated the emigration of the inhabitants of Krbava and neighboring areas into safer regions.
Second, the great loss of members of the leading Croatian noble families in the battle of Krbava Field was a severe blow to contemporary society. The noblemen were missed not only by their own families, but also as organizers of the defense of the Croatian lands against the Ottoman threat. This loss of an important element of the Croatian defense forces was clearly a factor in the subsequent events of the wars against the Ottomans and in the everyday life of the kingdom.
The battle of the Krbava had a devastating effect on the ability of the Christian army to resist Ottoman incursions and expansion. Numerous Croatian noblemen lost their lives, and the calamity sparked the flight of the population from the surrounding area.
Text: doc.dr.sc. Hrvoje Kekez, dr.sc. Suzana Miljan
“The Memory of the Battle of Krbava (1493) and the Collective Identity of the Croats”
Photo: Nino Salkić