Who won the Battle of Kosovo? (June 15, 1389) - History Key

Who won the Battle of Kosovo? (June 15, 1389)

There are few historical sources that talk about the Battle of Kosovo. However, after a few examination and comparison with similar battles (Battle of Angora or Nicopole) allowed a faithful reconstruction. The Battle of Kosovo took place on June 15, 1389 between a coalition of Serbian noblemen and the Ottoman Empire.

Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870)
Battle of Kosovo, by Adam Stefanović (1870) © Image Source: Wikipedia

A possible comeback?

After the defeat of the Ottomans by the Serbs and Bosnians in the Battle of Plocnik, the ruler of the empire, Murad I began to prepare his troops for a counter attack. Murad I wanted the territory of Kosovo for strategic purposes. In case of a victory, the Ottoman ruler could attack either the possessions of Prince Lazar or those of Vuk. Therefore, Murad I started to march from Plovdiv in the spring of 1389 and arrived near Kosovo in June 14.

 Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr (painting)
Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr (painting) © Encyclopædia Britannica/Image Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately, isn’t too much information about how Lazar prepared his army, but it is possible that his troops gathered near Nis, on the right side of the Juzna Morava River. It seems that he stayed there until he found out that Murad I was planning his comeback.

Strategy

It is not very sure how large were the two armies, especially that recent sources tend to increase the numbers to hundreds of thousands. But let’s assume that the Ottoman army would have counted around 30,000 soldiers (Sedlar, Jean W. – East Central Europe in the middle Ages, 1000-1500). The other side of the battlefield counted somewhere between 12,000 and 30,000.

The two armies met at the Kosovo Field. The Ottoman army was organized in three: the center part was led by Murad while his sons Bayezid and Yakub were on the right and left flank. On the front line of the flanks were positioned around 1,000 archers. The center part was covered janissaries and behind them was Murad surrounded by his horse guards. The logistics and a small number of soldiers were positioned in the back of the army.

The Serbian army had Lazar in the center, Vuk on the right and Vlatko on the left. However, the army was slightly different than the Ottomans. On the front line the cavalry was positioned and the infantry was in the back.

Plan of the Battle of Kosovo
Plan of the Battle of Kosovo © Kandi (user)/ CC BY-SA 3.0/Image Source: Wikipedia

One death, one “birth”

The Battle started with a shooting of Ottoman archers heading to the Serbian cavalry. The cavalry headed towards the Ottomans. They managed to penetrate through the left flank of the Turks, but they did not have the same success in the center and in the right flank. However, the left flank wasn’t defeated, it was only pushed back.

Initially the Serbs gained an advantage, but somehow the Turks managed to push back their entire army thanks to Bayezid. His actions made him the next sultan and gave him a nickname: “the Lightning”.

Bayezid I
Bayezid I © Cristofano dell’Altissimo/ Image Source: Wikipedia

Based on several Turkish historical documents it is believed that Murad was killed by a Serbian knight who pretended to be dead while the sultan was on the battlefield after the battle. On the other hand, another version of Serbian historians sustain that Murad was assassinated by the same knight but in a different manner. It is believed that the knight went to the Turks with the pretext of being a deserter which brought him in front of Murad and killed the sultan with a dagger.

Still not clear

Unfortunately due to the lack of historical documents, the outcome of the battle is unclear. Although the Ottomans managed to push the Serbian forces back, they did not advance to conquer Kosovo right after the battle. Instead, they withdrew because of the death of Murad and the new sultan, Bayezid had to go to the capital to be crowned.

On the other hand, some Serbians nobles began to pay tribute to Turkish soldiers after the battle. Despite that the victory or defeat is still not clear, the Serbian losses were huge. The Kosovo battle is seen as a reference point for the Serbian national identity.

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