OTTOMAN INFANTRYMEN, 15th CENTURY

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2
by Ian Heath

c.f. William Caoursin’s Obsidionis Rhodie Urbis Descriptio
Ulm, 1496, printed edition
]
  [Based on The Battle of Zonchio (Navarino), 1499]
3 & 4.      OTTOMAN INFANTRYMEN, 15th CENTURY

Ottoman foot-soldiers at the Battle of Nicopolis are described by Doukas as ‘Turkish slingers and archers’, and similarly at the siege of Constantinople in 1453 Leonard of Chios described the infantry attacking the breach in the walls as ‘archers and slingers and javelin-throwers’. In both instances, however, it is only the light troops provided by the ‘azabs that are being referred to (an eye-witness of Nicopolis specifically states that the infantry there fought without armour), and we know from Kritovoulos’ chronicle in particular that such troops represented only one element of the Ottoman army’s infantry, which he clearly divides into (a) such light troops as have already been mentioned, comprising archers, slingers and handgunners, plus some javelinmen, and (b) heavy troops made up of spear-armed ‘heavy infantry and the shield-bearers’ (see figure 8). He frequently refers to the latter troop-type, whose shields must have been bigger than the small bucklers already mentioned since he describes the light troops, both horse and foot, as being armed with these. However, it should be noted in addition that when referring to their infantry, Brocquière and other sources again record those of the Ottomans to have been poorly-armed. Brocquière in one place refers to them being ‘destitute of tarquais, helmets, mallets, or swords, few indeed being completely armed’, and in another passage describes them as ‘miserably accoutered, some having swords without bows, others without swords, bows, or any arms whatever, many having only staves.’ Doukas similarly stated that ‘most of them [were] without kitbag or rucksack, without spear, bow or sword the majority of them carrying no more than a club’.

Of the two figures depicted here, 3 is from Caoursin’s ms. account of the 1480 siege of Rhodes (see note to figure 44), while 4 is from a contemporary woodcut of the naval battle of Zonchio in 1499. Identical figures are to be found in pictures of Turkish armies as late as the 17th century. Clothing colours in the Caoursin ms. are principally red, dark and light blue, yellow, and green, with boots usually some shade of tan or brown and turbans shown in a variety of colours, predominantly yellow, tan and white. This particular figure, with his long topcoat tucked up through his waist-belt for ease of movement, is one of the few shown with a round shield, the majority carrying instead almond-shaped types similar to those also shown in the Zonchio woodcut (3a and b), where they are decorated with various combinations of crescents, stars and diagonal bands. Presumably it was such shields as these, doubtless adopted from the Byzantines, that Kritovoulos’ ‘shield-bearers’ carried. Most of Caoursin’s figures are spear-armed, but a few crossbowmen also appear. That the windlass or cranequin crossbow (tatar-oky) was used by the Ottomans is also confirmed by eyewitness accounts of the siege of Constantinople.



Next: 5 & 6. JANISSARIES, 15th CENTURY in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2 by Ian Heath