Historical Tales: 5—German - Charles Morris

Solyman the Magnificent at Guntz

Solyman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey, had collected an army of dimensions as magnificent as his name, and was on his march to overwhelm Austria and perhaps subject all western Europe to his arms. A few years before he had swept Hungary with his hordes, taken and plundered its cities of Buda and Pesth, and made the whole region his own. Belgrade, which had been so valiantly defended against his predecessor, had fallen into his infidel hands. The gateways of western Europe were his; he had but to open them and march through; doubtless there had come to him glorious dreams of extending the empire of the crescent to the western seas. And yet the proud and powerful sultan was to be checked in his course by an obstacle seemingly as insignificant as if the sting of a hornet should stop the career of an elephant. The story is a remarkable one, and deserves to be better known.

Vast was the army which Solyman raised. He had been years in gathering men and equipments. Great work lay before him, and he needed great means for its accomplishment. It is said that three hundred thousand men marched under his banners. So large was the force, so great the quantity of its baggage and artillery, that its progress was necessarily a slow one, and sixty days elapsed during its march from Constantinople to Belgrade.

Here was time for Ferdinand of Austria to bring together forces for the defence of his dominions against the leviathan which was slowly moving upon them. He made efforts, but they were not of the energetic sort which the crisis demanded, and had the Turkish army been less unwieldly and more rapid, Vienna might have fallen almost undefended into Solyman's hands. Fortunately, large bodies move slowly, and the sultan met with an obstacle that gave the requisite time for preparation.

On to Belgrade swept the grand army, with its multitude of standards and all the pomp and glory of its vast array. The slowness with which it came was due solely to its size, not in any sense to lack of energy in the warlike sultan. An anecdote is extant which shows his manner of dealing with difficulties. He had sent forward an engineer with orders to build a bridge over the river Drave, to be constructed at a certain point, and be ready at a certain time. The engineer went, surveyed the rapid stream, and sent back answer to the sultan that it was impossible to construct a bridge at that point.

But Solyman's was one of those magnificent souls that do not recognize the impossible. He sent the messenger back to the engineer, in his hand a linen cord, on his lips this message:

"Your master, the sultan, commands you, without consideration of the difficulties, to complete the bridge over the Drave. If it be not ready for him on his arrival, he will have you strangled with this cord."

The bridge was built. Solyman had learned the art of overcoming the impossible. He was soon to have a lesson in the art of overcoming the difficult.

Belgrade was in due time reached. Here the sultan embarked his artillery and heavy baggage on the Danube, three thousand vessels being employed for that purpose. They were sent down the stream, under sufficient escort, towards the Austrian capital, while the main army, lightened of much of its load, prepared to march more expeditiously than heretofore through Hungary towards its goal.

Ferdinand of Austria, alarmed at the threatening approach of the Turks, had sent rich presents and proposals of peace to Solyman at Belgrade; but those had the sole effect of increasing his pride and making him more confidant of victory. He sent an insulting order to the ambassadors to follow his encampment and await his pleasure, and paid no further heed to their pacific mission.

The Save, an affluent of the Danube, was crossed, and the army lost sight of the great stream, and laid its course by a direct route through Sclavonia towards the borders of Styria, the outlying Austrian province in that direction. It was the shortest line of march available, the distance to be covered being about two hundred miles. On reaching the Styrian frontier, the Illyrian mountain chain needed to be crossed, and within it lay the obstacle with which Solyman had to contend.

The route of the army led through a mountain pass. In this pass was a petty and obscure town, Guntz by name, badly fortified, and garrisoned by a mere handful of men, eight hundred in all. Its principal means of defence lay in the presence of an indomitable commander, Nicholas Jurissitz, a man of iron nerve and fine military skill.

Ibrahim Pasha, who led the vanguard of the Turkish force, ordered the occupation of this mountain fortress, and learned with anger and mortification that Guntz had closed its gates and frowned defiance on his men. Word was sent back to Solyman, who probably laughed in his beard at the news. It was as if a fly had tried to stop an ox.

"Brush it away and push onward," was probably the tenor of his orders.

But Guntz was not to be brushed away. It stood there like an awkward fact, its guns commanding the pass through which the army must march, a ridiculous obstacle which had to be dealt with however time might press.

The sultan sent orders to his advance-guard to take the town and march on. Ibrahim Pasha pushed forward, assailed it, and found that he had not men enough for the work. The little town with its little garrison had the temper of a shrew, and held its own against him valiantly. A few more battalions were sent, but still the town held out. The sultan, enraged at this opposition, now despatched what he considered an overwhelming force, with orders to take the town without delay, and to punish the garrison as they deserved for their foolish obstinacy. But what was his surprise and fury to receive word that the pigmy still held out stubbornly against the leviathan, that all their efforts to take it were in vain, and that its guns commanded and swept the pass so that it was impossible to advance under its storm of death-dealing balls.

Thundering vengeance, Solyman now ordered his whole army to advance, sweep that insolent and annoying obstacle from the face of the earth, and then march on towards the real goal of their enterprise, the still distant city of Vienna, the capital and stronghold of the Christian dogs.

Upon Guntz burst the whole storm of the war, against Guntz it thundered, around Guntz it lightened; yet still Guntz stood, proud, insolent, defiant, like a rock in the midst of the sea, battered by the waves of war's tempest, yet rising still in unyielding strength, and dashing back the bloody spray which lashed its walls in vain.

Solyman's pride was roused. That town he must and would have. He might have marched past it and left it in the rear, though not without great loss and danger, for the pass was narrow and commanded by the guns of Guntz, and he would have had to run the gantlet of a hailstorm of iron balls. But he had no thought of passing it; his honor was involved. Guntz must be his and its insolent garrison punished, or how could Solyman the Magnificent ever hold up his head among monarchs and conquerors again?

On every side the town was assailed; cannon surrounded it and poured their balls upon its walls; they were planted on the hills in its rear; they were planted on lofty mounds of earth which overtopped its walls and roofs; from every direction they thundered threat; to every direction Guntz thundered back defiance.

An attempt was made to undermine the walls, but in vain; the commandant, Jurissitz, was far too vigilant to be reached by burrowing. Breach after breach was made in the walls, and as quickly repaired, or new walls built. Assault after assault was made and hurled back. Every effort was baffled by the skill, vigor, and alertness of the governor and the unyielding courage of his men, and still the days went by and still Guntz stood.

Solyman, indignant and alarmed, tried the effect of promises, bribes, and threats. Jurissitz and his garrison should be enriched if they yielded; they should die under torture if they persisted. These efforts proved as useless as cannon-balls. The indomitable Jurissitz resisted promises and threats as energetically as he had resisted shot and balls.

The days went on. For twenty-eight days that insignificant fortress and its handful of men defied the great Turkish army and held it back in that mountain-pass. In the end the sultan, with all his pride and all his force, was obliged to accept a feigned submission and leave Jurissitz and his men still in possession of the fortress they had held so long and so well.

They had held it long enough to save Austria, as it proved. While the sultan's cannon were vainly bombarding its walls, Europe was gathering around Vienna in defence. From every side troops hurried to the salvation of Austria from the Turks. Italy, the Netherlands, Bohemia. Poland, Germany, sent their quotas, till an army of one hundred and thirty thousand men were gathered around Vienna, thirty thousand of them being cavalry.

Solyman was appalled at the tidings brought him. It had become a question of arithmetic to his barbarian intellect. If Guntz, with less than a thousand men, could defy him for a month, what might not Vienna do with more than a hundred thousand? Winter was not far away. It was already September. He was separated from his flotilla of artillery. Was it safe to advance? He answered the question by suddenly striking camp and retreating with such haste that his marauding horsemen, who were out in large numbers, were left in ignorance of the movement, and were nearly all taken or cut to pieces.

Thus ingloriously ended one of the most pretentious invasions of Europe. For three years Solyman had industriously prepared, gathering the resources of his wide dominion to the task and fulminating infinite disaster to the infidels. Yet eight hundred men in a petty mountain town had brought this great enterprise to naught and sent back the mighty army of the grand Turk in inglorious retreat.

Hagia Sophia


The story of Guntz has few parallels in history; the courage and ability of its commander were of the highest type of military worthiness; yet its story is almost unknown and the name of Jurissitz is not classed among those of the world's heroes. Such is fame.

There is another interesting story of the doings of Solyman and the gallant defence of a Christian town, which is worthy of telling as an appendix to that just given. The assault at Guntz took place in the year 1532. In 1566, when Solyman was much older, though perhaps not much wiser, we find him at his old work, engaged in besieging the small Hungarian town of Szigeth, west of Mohacs and north of the river Drave, a stronghold surrounded by the small stream Almas almost as by the waters of a lake. It was defended by a Croatian named Zrinyr and a garrison of twenty-five hundred men.

Around this town the Turkish army raged and thundered in its usual fashion. Within it the garrison defended themselves with all the spirit and energy they could muster. Step by step the Turks advanced. The outskirts of the town were destroyed by fire and the assailants were within its walls. The town being no longer tenable, Zrinyr took refuge, with what remained of the garrison, in the fortress, and still bade defiance to his foes.

Solyman, impatient at the delay caused by the obstinacy of the defender, tried with him the same tactics he had employed with Jurissitz many years before,—those of threats and promises. Tempting offers of wealth proving of no avail, the sultan threatened the bold commander with the murder of his son George, a prisoner in his hands. This proved equally unavailing, and the siege went on.

It went on, indeed, until Solyman was himself vanquished, and by an enemy he had not taken into account in his thirst for glory—the grim warrior Death. Temper killed him. In a fit of passion he suddenly died. But the siege went on. The vizier concealed his death and kept the batteries at work, perhaps deeming it best for his own fortunes to be able to preface the announcement of the sultan's death with a victory.

The castle walls had been already crumbling under the storm of balls. Soon they were in ruins. The place was no longer tenable. Yet Zrinyr was as far as ever from thoughts of surrender. He dressed himself in his most magnificent garments, filled his pockets with gold, "that they might find something on his corpse," and dashed on the Turks at the head of what soldiers were left. He died, but not unrevenged. Only after his death was the Turkish army told that their great sultan was no more and that they owed their victory to the shadow of the genius of Solyman the Magnificent.