Battle of Chocim (Khotyn) 16214

(A copy of the Wikipedia article, as it existed Jan 2006)


Khotyn (Ukrainian: Хотин; Polish: Chocim; Romanian: Hotin; Russian: Хотин) is a town in todayĺs Ukraine. In earlier times, the town was part of the Bessarabia region, which between the 15th and the 20th centuries belonged successively to Moldavia, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Romania, the Soviet Union, split between Ukrainian SSR and Moldavian SSR), and remained split between Ukraine and Moldova. Due to the fluctuations in control, the official name also changed, and there is a multitude of spellings for the town's name, including Khotyn, Chocim, Chotyn, Hotin, Choczim, or Khotin.


        Contemporary painting of the Battle of Chocim

Chocim was founded as an ancient fortified settlement located on cliffs above the Dniester, and is said to have been named after Kotizon, a 3rd-century Dacian chieftain. By the 10th century, it had become a minor settlement of the Kievan Rus. It later became part of the Principality of Halych and its successor, Halych-Volhynia. The town became an important trading center due to its position as a river crossing and by the 13th century became the site of a Genoese trading colony. Khotyn's famous castle was built by the Genoese and expanded by subsequent rulers.


Defending the Polish banner at Chocim in 1621 (Juliusz Kossak, 1892)

In the Battle of Chocim in 1621, an army of 160,000 Turkish veterans, led by Osman II, advanced from Adrianople towards the Polish frontier. The Turks, following their victory in the Battle of Cecora, had high hopes of conquering Poland. The Polish commander Jan Karol Chodkiewicz crossed the Dniester in September 1621 and entrenched the Khotyn Fortress, blocking the path of the Ottoman march. The Commonwealth hetman held the sultan at bay for a whole month, until the first snow of autumn compelled Osman to withdraw his diminished forces. But the victory was dearly purchased by Poland. A few days before the siege was raised, the aged grand hetman died of exhaustion in the fortress on September 24, 1621. The Commonwealth forces held under the command of Stanisław Lubomirski. The battle, described by Wacław Potocki in his most famous work Transakcja wojny chocimskiej, marked the end of the long period of Moldavian Magnate Wars.

In 1673, the Polish hussars again fought a major battle on this site.

Battle of Cecora (also known as Battle of Ţuţora) was a battle between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (assisted by Moldavian troops) and Ottoman forces (backed by Tatars), fought from September 17 to October 7, 1620 in Moldavia, near the Prut river.

Prelude to battle

Following the failure of Commonwealth diplomatic mission to Istanbul, and violations of the Treaty of Busza by both sides (as Cossacks and Tatars continued their raids across the borders), relations between the Ottomans and the Commonwealth plummeted in early 1620. Both sides began preparing for war, with neither being ready at the moment. The Ottomans planned for a war in 1621, while Commonwealth Sejm denied most funds the hetmans had asked for. The Senate's secret council finally decided, convinced by the Habsburg's representative, to send the Commonwealth forces in 1620 - even though many members of the Sejm thought that Polish forces were neither sufficient nor fully prepared. Hetman Stanisław Żˇlkiewski, who was by then over 70 years old (as Commonwealth policy didn't allow for a possibility of forced retirement from government offices such as that of hetman), foreseeing the coming confrontation with Ottoman Empire, decided to meet Turkish troops on foreign soil, Moldavia being the obvious choice1.

Hetmans Zˇlkiewski and Stanisław Koniecpolski led the army to Cecora (Ţuţora, a commune in Iaşi county, Romania) to fight the Horde of Khan Temir (Kantymir). The army numbered over 10,000 (2,000 infantry and almost no Cossaks cavalry) with many regiments being made up of the private forces of magnates Koreccy, Zasławscy, Kazanowscy, Kalinowscy and Potoccy's. The army entered Moldavia in September. The Moldavian ruler, hospodar Gaspar Graziani, nominally vassal of the Ottoman Empire, decided to support the Commonwealth against the Ottomans. Graziani killed janissaries in Iaşi, imprisoned envoys of Sultan Osman II (who had requested his deposal and escorting to Istanbul) and had wanted to flee, but, forced by Żˇłkiewski, joined his troops to the Polish camp. However, many of the Moldavian boyars dispersed in order to defend their own estates against pillaging by undisciplined Commonwealth magnates' troops, and others decided to wait for an outcome and join the winning side. In consequence, only a few hundred (600-1000) Moldavian supporters appeared in the Commonwealth camp. Zˇłkiewski ordered the army to proceed to the fortified camp (standing from previous wars) at Cecora.

The battle

On the 10 September, near Cecora, the Commonwealth army encountered the Tatar and Ottoman forces (13,000-22,000), which had been sent by the Ottoman sultan to help Gabriel Bethlen in his struggle against the Habsburgs. The Tatar force took Commonwealth defenders by surprise, taking many prisoners. During the first day of fight (the 18th), most of the Moldavians decided to switch sides, and quickly attacked the Polish flank. Mercenaries, private troops and their magnate leaders, were lacking in discipline and morale. Stanisław Koniecpolski commanded the right flank of the Commonwealth forces during the ensuing battle. On 19 September, it had become clear that Polish forces were defeated, although still managing to hold their positions; Koniecpolski prevented the army from desintegrating on 20/21 September. On 29 September, Commonwealth forces had broken through Ottoman ranks with tabor wagon trains and started their retreat. However, after Graziani bribed some magnates, units of private troops begun to flee and some mercenary cavalry panicked and run away. This was a prelude on things to come. Consecutive attacks during the retreat (such as the violent one on 3 October) were repelled, only for troops to start desintegrating as soon as soldiers caught sight of the Dniester and the Polish border.

During another large assault on the 6 October, most of the magnates and nobles started to flee north, leaving infantry and camp. Thus, they sealed the fate of the whole expedition: most of the Polish troops got killed or were captured. In the ensuing battle, Żˇlkiewski was killed and Koniecpolski and many others (Samuel Korecki, Mikolaj Struś, Mikołaj Potocki, Jan Żˇłkiewski, Łukasz Żołkiewski), Stanisław "Rewera" Potocki and Bohdan Khmelnytsky were taken captive. Żˇłkiewski's head was mounted on a pike and sent to the sultan; duke Korecki, having often meddled in Moldavian territories, was soon murdered in the Istanbul prison.

In the face of such an important victory, advised by grand vizier Ali Pasha and Gabriel Bethlen, Osman II decided that he could crush Gavurs and extend his rule to the Baltic (or at least conquer the whole of Ukraine from Poland). The Sultan soon nominated Alexandru Iliaş as ruler of Moldavia, Graziani having been killed during his flight on 29 September.


There are several accounts that Żˇłkiewski was sent to relieve the Habsburgs from the very beginning. Iskander Pasha, during his talks with Żˇłkiewski at Cecora, confirmed that was sent to support Bethlen, not to fight the Commonwealth.  

'On Tuesday, the same day, after the infidel Turks had put their ranks in order , at 23 o'clock, 15.000 men again drew up on the field and with a great force and great rapidity went straight against the gate of the Polish camp, where Field-Hetman was staying, as there were 2 gates on the Turkish side. At the other gate there stood the Crown-Hetman. There were stationed 3 squadrons as day sentries at the gate of the Crown-Hetman, and they did not suspect anything. But seeing that the infidel went straight against the gate of the Field- Hetman, the Crown-Hetman instantly started out on horseback against them. Then the 3 squadrons having seen the great zeal of the Hetman, did not let him go into fight. But in front Castellians Polocki and Prokop Sieniawski attacked the enemy with their squadrons, and so did also the Crown-Hetman's third squadron which had been stationed there as reserve. Calling on God's help the 300 men engaged in fight, so that the lance of none was left empty, because with firm hands they encountered one another, straight from the side of the field and not frontally, and each knocked down 2-3 men, because there was such a throng. Then they drew out their swords and killed as many as they wished. When the infidel [Turks] saw this, they took to flight and trampled down each other. And our men pursued them hitting and killing them as far as the camp of the Turks.'

 fragment of an Armeno-Kipchak chronicle on the Polish-Turkish wars in 1620-1621.

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