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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Sunday 9 June 2024

The Army of Transylvania 1613-1690

 This is a new look at an interesting army by Florin Ardelean in the Helion Century of the Soldier series. In this period, Transylvania was a frontier state, squeezed between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans. While a vassal of the Sultan, the ruling princes enjoyed a high degree of autonomy.

The book starts with a history of Transylvania and its rulers. Gabriel Bethlen and the Rakoczis are best known because of their intervention in the Thirty Years' War. The period ended with the death of Michael Apafi in 1690 when the principality had come firmly under Habsburg control. 

The meat of the book is the chapter on the army's organisation. The nobility remained the most influential of the estates, if not the most numerous. They were not as heavily armoured as their Western equivalents but were not always the light cavalry types you often see in wargame figure ranges. They should have been able to muster up to 10,000 men, but 2000 to 3000 men were more common in foreign campaigns. The Szekely had migrated to Transylvania from Hungary and were a distinct estate with political rights and military obligations. They typically fielded around 6,000 men, light infantry foot and mostly light horse. The third estate was the Saxons, descendants of German settlers based in south-eastern Transylvania. While mainly mobilised for self-defence, they could field up to 2,000 infantry.

In addition to the three estates, other units comprised a large part of the army without political rights in the state. The Hajdus had a protected status in the borderlands, primarily as infantry and light cavalry. They functioned in a similar way to the grenzer in the Habsburg lands. They could field up to 20,000 men, but smaller detachments up to 10,000 were more common. German mercenaries became more common as the period developed, paid for by taxation and by the nobles in lieu of military service. Their units included one led by a Scot, Andrew Gawdy, 3000 strong, who was also entrusted to defend key forts.

There are colour plates of all the main troop types as the essential painting guide for wargamers. 

A ring of fortifications protected the state. They varied from older medieval castles to modern stone bastions and wooden palanka forts. These are described in detail, along with their garrisons and artillery defences.  

The next major chapter covers the military campaigns. These include several interventions in the Thirty Years' War. Bethlen mobilised 40,000 men for his intervention and could still leave the state defended by Transylvanian troops as the bulk of his early came from Hungarian counties and mercenaries. There was also the ill-fated Polish campaign of 1657 when George Rakoczi II made a bid for the Polish Crown. He later fell out with the Ottomans and was wounded and defeated at the Battle of Floesti in May 1660.

Transylvania was a distinct state for around 150 years, mainly as a threat to the Habsburgs. The army was diverse, shifting from those owing military service to paid troops over the period. It was primarily a cavalry field army, with horse making up between 50-78%. The infantry mainly held the extensive fortifications that protected the borders. Ironically, the Ottomans' punishment campaign weakened the state, allowing the Habsburgs to sweep in after the failed siege of Vienna in 1683.

This is an excellent study of an interesting and colourful army. I have a handful of units, usually fielded in my Ottoman armies, but this book will encourage another look.


  1. Thanks for the review. I’ll add this to my wants list. Ideally to be picked up at The Other Partizan in October - unless I see it at a better price beforehand πŸ˜‰

    1. Yep, worth keeping an eye out for their special offers around anniversaries and holidays.

    2. Indeed sir - that’s already “on my radar” πŸ‘πŸ˜‰