1396: Battle of Nicopolis
After the Battle of Kosovo, the Ottomans surrounded Constantinople in Europe and pushed all the way to Hungary. The Ottomans had taken Nicopolis from the Bulgarians in 1393 and now sat at the south bank of the mighty Danube River. This river served as a border between Christendom and Islam and Islam threatened to spill over so Pope Boniface IX called a crusade. A combined force of 10 Christian nations, from France and England to Genoa and the Knights Hospitaller gathered an army of perhaps 20,000 men with the goal of taking back Nicopolis before moving further to attack Ottoman territory.
The overconfident Crusaders brought no siege equipment to take Nicopolis and settled in for a leisurely siege. They did not expect the might of the Ottoman army to make it to them anytime soon. They were very wrong, however, as an army of 20-25,000 headed by the Sultan Bayezid met the Crusaders outside of the city within two weeks.
The Crusaders apparently panicked and promptly slaughtered the 1,000 or so prisoners they had gathered on their campaign so far. Before the main Ottoman force arrived, a clever Crusader commander executed a perfect ambush on about 1,000 more Turks, raising the morale and confidence of the crusaders.
The Crusaders decided to have a thick center with some elite knights guarding the flanks. An early French cavalry charge was successful against the lighter Ottoman troops but was soon bogged down by rows of sharpened stakes. The French dismounted and pulled stakes before moving on. they pushed up a hill until they met a reserve Ottoman force. Far away from the main army, French knights fell or were captured left and right. When the most prominent Knights were defeated the rest of the French soon surrendered.
The main battle was a quick victory for the Ottomans; with the French gone, the Crusader’s flanks were vulnerable and the whole army weaker to the full assault of the Ottomans. Hundreds of men drowned trying to escape across the Danube and thousands were captured. Only a few hundred to maybe a few thousand escaped to safety.
The Sultan was outraged to learn of the Crusader’s slaughter of prisoners. He kept the highest-ranking knights alive for ransom but made them watch as he slaughtered most of the captured crusaders. The Ottomans took hefty losses from the ambush and initially successful French charge, but overall it was a decisive victory. The crusade was stopped embarrassingly short of its goals and the Ottomans were in a great position to strike out even farther into Europe, but first, they had to deal with a certain triple-walled city in their backyard.