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Turks Pound Defenders at Eger

Heroic defense at Eger.

IN THE MIDDLE of the sixteenth century, Islam seemed destined to conquer Hungary. The Turks had triumphed throughout the Mid East and North Africa and had also seized parts of Europe. Their advance seemed unstoppable. 

When Baron István Dobó de Ruszka learned a force of one hundred and fifty thousand Ottoman Turks was approaching his fortress at Eger (Erlau), his army was too distant to come to his aid. With only a few men to defend the fortress, he wrote, “We expect aid from God only, and not from men.” Nonetheless, he did his part, laying in all the supplies he could and recruiting young Hungarians from neighboring towns until his garrison was above two thousand men, as well as women and children. He had only nine guns and the same number of gunners, so he hastily drilled whoever seemed best fitted to learn artillery. 

The Turks approached Eger on this day, 11 September 1552. Ahmed Pasha (a pasha was an Ottoman dignitary) ordered Dobó to surrender. Dobó read the letter to his men. With a shout they swore they would never surrender. That very night, Dobó ventured out with a few men and seized a large quantity of loot from the nearest Turks. The Pasha responded by firing one hundred and twenty guns into the fort, some hurling fifty pound balls. After battering the fort with cannon for eighteen-days, the Turks attempted to force their way in. The Hungarians repulsed them. 

The Turks continued blasting the castle with their guns. A Turkish cannon ball struck the garrison’s magazine, blowing it up and opening a gap in the wall. The Turks rushed in for the kill. Once again, the defenders held. Dobó repaired the gap and began making gunpowder in the castle’s basement. 

Thirty-eight days after the siege began, the Turks attempted another all-out assault. When the exhausted defenders were down to seven hundred men and it appeared all was lost, the women of the castle rushed to the wall. Some snatched up the weapons of fallen men and fought on the battlements. Other poured boiling oil and water on the attackers. Dismayed, the Turks fell back, losing eight thousand men that day alone. 

The Pasha and his army retreated. Reliance on God and the valor of a handful of defenders and heroic women kept Hungary in the hands of Christian rulers for another forty-five years. However, a Turkish invasion in 1596 would bring Eger and the region around it under Islamic control for almost a century.

Dan Graves

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