Stopping the Ottoman Empire with a Stake up their Collective Bottom
At the same time as putting down the Saxons, Tepes was also threatened by his erstwhile-captors and allies, the Ottoman Empire. Tepes had actually grown up alongside Sultan Mehmed, and had a good idea of his ruthless character and desire to emulate the all-conquering Alexander the Great. He thus prepared for the inevitable Turkish invasion by brokering peace with the Saxons 6 months after the execution of Dan III, the terms of which were nevertheless heavily in favour of Wallachia, in order to avoid a conflict on 2 fronts. As Wallachia’s neighbouring countries fell to Mehmed, Tepes prepared for war.
Another man fearful of the Ottoman invasion was Pope Pius II (1405-64), who gave a 2-hour address to the dignitaries of Europe in 1459, exhorting them to ‘take up the cross’ and join a new crusade against the attacking East. Most rulers pursued a policy of appeasement, but Tepes was virtually the sole European ruler who planned a positive response to the Pope’s plea. More countries and city-states gave way without a struggle, and Mehmed sent emissaries to visit Tepes, confident that he, too, would give way in the light of much of Europe surrendering with barely a blow exchanged.
Another reason for Mehmed’s confidence was that Wallachia had paid the Ottomans a hefty annual tribute of 10, 000 ducats since Vlad Dracul’s reign, though in 1462 Tepes was 3 years in arrears. In addition to the back-payments, which now had to be delivered to the Sultan by Tepes himself, the emissaries also demanded 500 boys for the Ottoman army. Buying himself time, Tepes negotiated an alliance with the Hungarian king, and then answered Mehmed’s demands by nailing the emissaries’ taqiyahs (skullcaps) to their heads. This was a move calculated to provoke an attack from the vainglorious Mehmed.
Mehmed responded by attempting to ambush Tepes on his way to the Ottoman fortress of Giurgiu. Seeing through the plot, Tepes captured the conspirators, whom he later impaled at Targoviste. He next captured Giurgiu by dressing up as an Ottoman and giving orders for the gates to be opened in fluent Turkish, at which his men stormed the edifice and slaughtered the garrison. In the winter of 1461-62, Tepes launched a daring and successful campaign of guerrilla warfare, splitting his army into small sections and attacking the Ottoman strongholds with a mixture of utter boldness, speed, and bloody ruthlessness.
Eventually, Mehmed sent 60, 000 men armed with a plethora of advanced weapons to invade Wallachia. Tepes’s army numbered only 24, 000, and so he adopted a new tactic of scorched earth, strategic retreat, and more guerrilla attacks. When the Ottomans were encamped outside Targoviste in 1462, Tepes launched the famous Night Attack at Targoviste, killing around 5, 000 enemies. When the Ottomans went to launch their attack on Targoviste, they encountered the notorious ‘forest of the impaled’, a mile-long semicircle of 20, 000 impaled Ottoman prisoners decomposing in the sun. The next day, Mehmed ordered his forces to retreat.