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

[Based on an engraved sabre-scabbard chape with an image of a Serbian or Hungarian hussar]

[c.f. The Battle of Krbava in Croatia, c.1514-6 by Leonhard Beck & Hungarian aristocrats in the Triumph of Maximilian]

Despite the fact that Serbian light cavalry were apparently being referred to as gusars or usars by the 14th century, the establishment of hussars as a recognised troop-type only first took place in Hungary under King Matthias Corvinus (1458-90), after the fall of Serbia. The exact origin of their name is unknown, but it has been suggested (a) that it evolved from 'Khazar', via Byzantine Chosarios; (b) that it comes from Hungarian huszar, meaning each twentieth man; or (c), and most probable considering their Serbian origin, that it derives from the Serbian gusar or husar, meaning a robber or plunderer - a likely enough description of a mediaeval light cavalryman. The Poles and Lithuanians, who also employed hussars by the very end of this era (as, to a limited extent, did the Austrians and some other Germans), called them simply Raci or Racowie ('Serbians'). In Hungarian service they were organised in units of 25 men called turbae.

Figure 94 is taken from an engraved sabre-scabbard chape of 1500, the earliest known representation of a hussar, with a few details added from a contemporary Polish painting of the Battle of Orsha (1514); there is no reason to suppose that hussars of the mid-15th century were any different. He wears an 'Hungarian cap' and a topcoat called a mente, probably with either embroidered frogging or proper frogging across the chest like that of 95, in silver, white and gold. His arms comprise a lance 10-12 feet in length and a sabre, the scabbard for which was usually black and heavily ornamented - or sometimes completely covered - in decorated metal and gilt plaques, like that from which this figure is taken.

Figure 95, of early-16th century date, wears a long-sleeved quilted tunic (joupane), and over it a topcoat with hanging Albanian-style sleeves that were tucked through the belt or sash at the back when in action. His headgear is again an 'Hungarian cap', often worn adorned with one or two eagle feathers stuck through the brim at the front, or occasionally with ostrich feathers in a plume-tube like that of 94. His mace is of a type usually described specifically as Hungarian, even though it was also in widespread use in Serbia.

The term Raci derives from Rascia or Rassia, a name coined for Serbia in the 12th century, derived ultimately from the name of the original centre of the Serbian state, the fortress of Ras.

Next: 96. HUNGARIAN FLAGS in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2 by Ian Heath