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The Crusade of 1456 Texts and Documentation in Translation by James D. Mixson Book

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Overview: In July 1456, a massive Turkish army settled in before Belgrade, an ancient city at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. The army’s leader was the twenty-four-year-old Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, "the Conqueror," who sought to take one of the most strategically important fortifications in southeastern Europe. Three weeks later, Mehmed’s army was driven from Belgrade by a Hungarian warlord and his army, along with a ragtag force of ill-equipped crusaders.

In The Crusade of 1456, James D. Mixson gathers together the key primary sources for understanding the events that led to the siege of Belgrade. These newly translated sources challenge readers with their variety: papal decrees, letters, liturgies, and chronicles from Latin, Byzantine, and Ottoman perspectives. An accessible introduction, timelines, and maps help to illuminate this fascinating yet previously neglected story.

The Crusade of 1456 Texts and Documentation in Translation by James D. Mixson Book Read Online And Download Epub Digital Ebooks Buy Store Website Provide You.
The Crusade of 1456 Texts and Documentation in Translation by James D. Mixson Book

The Crusade of 1456 Texts and Documentation in Translation by James D. Mixson Book Read Online Chapter One

Preparations for Crusade, 1453–1456

1. Pope Nicholas V, Etsi Ecclesia Christi

September 30, 1453 (Rome)

Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople on May 29, 1453. News of the event made its way to Western Europe over the summer, and by September, Pope Nicholas V had prepared the call to crusade presented here. The decree reflects, on the one hand, a long tradition of crusade propaganda: the theology and piety that informed the practice of crusade indulgences; scriptural allusions reflecting a long tradition of crusading; detailed provisions for fundraising. On the other hand, it signals developments more reflective of the fifteenth century, above all in its anti-Turkish sentiment, which here frames Mehmed II as a bloodthirsty tyrant and highlights the atrocities committed in his name. The decree became in many respects a model document for subsequent calls to crusade through the end of the century.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from the partial editions available in Cesare Baronio, ed., Annales ecclesiastici (Bar-le-Duc, 1864), 28: 599–601, and L. M. Bååth, ed., Diplomatarium Svecanum appendix. Acta pontificum svecia I. Acta cameralia. vol. 2: 1371–1492 (Stockholm, 1957), 385–7 (no. 1243). These editions are supplemented here with readings from Vatican, Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Arm. XXXII, vol. 12, fols. 75–80r.

Nicholas, servant of the servants of God, for perpetual memory.

Although the church of Christ is governed, protected, and defended ceaselessly through Jesus Christ our Lord, the only begotten Son of God and our eternal pontiff, lest the roaring enemy should prevail against her (and indeed it is Jesus who, by his own words in the presence of his apostles, promised to all the church that he would always be present, saying, “Behold I am with you all, until the end of the age”;1 and it was Jesus who gave the church assurance that she would never be overcome by her persecutors, saying, “Fear not! I have overcome the world”2); nevertheless, he is forever calling back his faithful, who so often break his laws and wander from the way of his commands, and through their tribulations and difficulties he never ceases from calling them back to the power of salvation.

Thus, it has been established through God’s most merciful providence that although mankind’s life here on earth is one of struggle and temptation (and there is not one who does not face it, from the mother’s womb to the grave); nevertheless, divine Providence desired that mankind should place all of its hope in God’s aid and protection (because “unless the Lord build the house, its builders labor in vain” and “unless the Lord guard the city, the watchmen guard it in vain”);3 and that mankind should put forth every care and effort to cooperate with divine grace, so that there would be triumph, and not defeat. He cooperates in every good work of the faithful, and grants that, by his merciful piety, their strength prevails. For as the most blessed [Pope] Leo says, “the gifts of God’s grace are indeed sweeter to us whenever they are gained with great effort; and an uninterrupted peace obtained through ease can seem a lesser good than one that is earned through labor.”4 For the victory that Christ our God granted to the church while we are in this world, though it is grounded in great faith, still does not come without effort; and it has not been given so that we might sleep, but that we might work all the more cheerfully. “Through many tribulations,” says the Apostle, “we must enter into the kingdom of God.”5

There was once a most bitter enemy of the church of Christ, the cruelest of persecutors, Muhammad, son of Satan, son of perdition, son of death – who longed with his father, the Devil, to devour both souls and bodies, thirsting for Christian blood, a savage and bloodstained enemy of the salvation wrought by our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ our Lord; who is thought certainly to have been that great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its head that John saw in Revelation, whose fall brought down a third part of the stars of heaven and sent them to the earth; who occupied almost all of the East and Egypt and Africa; and who compelled others to imitate his impiety, as he profaned the holy city of Jerusalem, destroyed its sanctuaries, inflicted injuries, shame, blows, prison, and death upon the faithful of Christ. And yet divine Providence preserved the church of the faithful who (in his most inscrutable judgment) were pleasing to him, and up to this day he has not allowed the enemy to prevail.

But very recently, in our times, a second Muhammad has risen up, an imitator of his impiety, burning with a thirsty passion for pouring out the blood of Christians, burning against the name of Christ, forgetful of all humanity, like a rabid beast who, since he can only attack the head [of the church] with empty words, now tries to sprinkle, to pour, and to spew out his furor and wrath as if from a vomiting stomach upon the members, that is the faithful.6

And now in most recent days he has brought under his dominion the city of Constantinople, overcome by a brutal siege and a fight to the bitter end, with a great slaughter of Christian people. All of the churches and sanctuaries there have been profaned; the reliquaries of the saints trampled underfoot; the sacred images of our Lord Jesus Christ and his most glorious Mother and of the living cross subject to insults and taunts, cast down, knocked over, torn to the ground, stained with mud and other vile matter, and thrown away as objects of shame and hatred. Here, truly, is a herald of the Antichrist, who like a second Sennacherib7 glories in his strength and in the number of his people, that he might obtain all of the West by his hand and erase the name of Christian from all the world. He is out of his mind, obsessed with the idea that he can prevail against the power of God.

Therefore we who, though unworthy, hold the place of the one to whom Christ commended his church: the one who has worked to ensure that “the gates of hell should not prevail against it”;8 and the one to whom Christ gave the command that he should support his faltering brothers in their commitment, saying, “I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail. And when you have repented, strengthen your brothers”9 – in this moment we look to the duties of our office as is required of necessity by the church. And so, by the advice and assent of our venerable brothers, the cardinals in the holy Roman Church, we have undertaken to arrange the following:

First, we encourage, require, and command all Christian princes, whatever imperial, kingly, queenly, ducal or other worldly dignity they might hold, by virtue of the profession they made in taking on holy baptism, and by virtue of the oath they offered when they took up the insignia of their dignities, to come to the defense of the Christian religion and of the faith with their goods and persons, as genuinely and insistently as is possible. In doing so they will receive an eternal reward from the one whose cause they advance, both in the present life and in the future, since in the present moment we believe it to be incumbent upon each of them, as a necessity of salvation and a necessity from which no one may legitimately excuse themselves. As for other lords or communities or anyone having whatsoever other dominions, we also exhort, require, and admonish them, commanding similarly by the force of the faith which they have professed, to strongly and perseveringly assist in the defense of the religion and of the faith with all their strength and all their power, remembering that they have alongside them that champion who, through his angel, in one night killed 185,000 from the army of Sennacherib,10 and who has otherwise never abandoned his church, nor allowed its enemies to glory in their impiety.

Thus, to all of whatsoever estate, rank, condition, or order who, in the face of such a great emergency for the church and the faith, shall be present and serve for six months from February 1, whether clergy or laity, whatever ecclesiastical or worldly dignity may distinguish them, by the authority of almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul as well as the plenitude of heavenly power given to us, we grant full remission and pardon of all sins. We also grant all that has been customarily given by our predecessors in aid of the Holy Land, as well as all things which our predecessors and we as well have granted to the Christian people for the Jubilee year […].11 And by apostolic authority we command that however many of the aforesaid holy works to which they may obligate themselves by vow, they should also place on their clothing the saving sign of the living cross, carrying on their shoulders the memory of the one by whose suffering they have been saved from eternal damnation and imitating the one who, for our redemption, had “the government of the world placed on his shoulders,” who admonished us to follow in his footsteps, saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”12

But since an almost incalculable amount of money is needed in order to carry out this task successfully, in order to make arrangements for those things that necessity will require, and since this is a matter involving the faith, and of all the Christian religion, to which all are held accountable without exception, as a matter of their salvation, we therefore first ordain, decree, and order it to be sacredly observed, that all fruits, revenues, and profits coming to the apostolic camera,13 from whatever benefice, whether greater or lesser, whether archiepiscopal, episcopal, abbatial, or whatever other kind, by whatever name they might be deemed to belong to us, be put in the service of this holy task – totally, fully, and without being lessened in any way. And so that this may be put into effect precisely as we desire, we wish and command that these revenues should be assigned by our chamberlain (or his representative, our treasurer) to our venerable brothers and cardinals of the holy Roman Church […] all of whom will ensure that the money is held by a depositor to be chosen by them for the use of this holy expedition.

By the same rationale we wish and command that a tenth portion of all revenues that come to our camera from the temporal holdings of the Roman Church should be assigned to the aforementioned cardinals through the same chamberlain or his representative and treasurer, and we dedicate this along with the above sum to this holy work as well. Moreover, our venerable brother cardinals of the holy Roman Church should willingly and freely offer to pay for such a holy and pious task, fully and without any reduction, an entire tenth from common incomes from their chapel and all their churches and benefices. And since it is a shameful thing for anyone of a lesser rank or order to retreat from observing the law to which the highest pontiff has obligated himself out of charity, and on the other hand since it is a decent and fitting thing that all, whether prelates or those of a lesser rank, should be participants in bearing the same burden, we wish (and by this present constitution decree) that for such a holy work a tenth portion should be paid in full from the incomes of all of the offices of the Roman curia, whatever their titles, even those administered by the aforesaid vice-chancellor, chamberlain, and major penitentiary, cardinals of the holy Roman Church (as these same cardinals have willingly offered to do).

And so that all of this might be strictly observed by those of lesser rank, we wish and decree that anyone who is fraudulent and does not pay the aforesaid tenth in full will be subject to excommunication and removal from office. And since all of this would still not suffice for only a modest part of the needs of such a great undertaking, unless the prelates and other ecclesiastics of all of the churches which are spread across the whole Christian world should also lend their aid and effort, by the counsel and also the assent of our venerable brother cardinals of the holy Roman Church, by virtue of the fullness of apostolic power we hereby reserve for such a holy effort a full tenth of all ecclesiastical incomes throughout all the world, according to their true value, without any exception – those of patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots, and whatsoever other incomes, whatsoever their titles, greater or lesser, with or without pastoral duties attached, exempt or nonexempt, whether bound by religious rule or not, of whatsoever order, status, or condition they may be.

So that this measure might be carried out more efficiently, we wish to place under the sentence of excommunication those who resist or disobey or defraud, so that those who are disobedient or who knowingly commit fraud, whatever their estate or condition, should incur the sentence of excommunication. By the same authority we also decree that, until this holy undertaking should see a happy outcome, all who hold offices in lands subject to the temporal rule of the Roman Church, whether in the present or in the future, whether clergy or laity governing cities or provinces, public or civil governors or treasurers, whether holding their offices for life or for a term, if they are owed a salary, should pay a tenth of all pay and other incomes that are due to them or to their ministers, without any reduction. And they should do this according to the manner and form established by our venerable brothers […] whom we have assigned especially to this task. If they should do otherwise, let them incur excommunication, and also be rendered unable and unworthy to hold any office in the future.

And clearly since those who dedicate themselves to the services of the heavenly emperor ought to enjoy a special privilege, we decree that all those who sign themselves with the cross for this holy expedition should be exempt from collections, taxation, or other burdens, commanding each and all, whatever dignity they enjoy, that they not require anything from those under the sign of the cross. After they have taken the cross, we take their persons and goods under Saint Peter’s protection, and ours.

Should anyone stubbornly refuse to obey this command, let them incur excommunication. Moreover, so that those maritime predators called pirates or others accustomed to committing robbery on land and sea should not dare to impede this expedition, we bind all of them with the chains of excommunication, along with their accomplices, protectors, and harborers. We strictly forbid anyone to enter into any contract for selling or buying, to make concessions for any port or locale, or to interact with them publicly or in private, also commanding the leaders of cities and locales that they prohibit anyone from committing such impiety. Moreover, as blessed Felix our predecessor said to Acacius, “to not disturb the perverted is nothing other than to support them,” and “let those not shy away from hidden association who refuse to confront manifest crimes.”14 Therefore we inflict on these persons the sentence of excommunication, and we command that the prelates of their lands strike them with the sentence of interdict. We furthermore excommunicate and condemn those pseudo-Christians who carry to the aforesaid enemy of Christ (or to their allies) iron weapons and wood; those who sell war galleys or cargo ships or any other vessels to them; those who build ships for their use; and those who take command of their ships; as well as any who offer any aid or counsel with machines of war or in any other acts. They are also to be punished by the privation of their goods and declared the servants of their captives. We command that sentences of this kind should be publicized in all maritime cities on every Sunday and feast day, and that the bosom of the church should not be open to those punished in this way unless they should offer both all that they gained from this damnable commerce as well as their own resources in support of this praiseworthy and most holy undertaking.

But since for the advance of such a holy task we discern it most fitting that kings and princes and all others who hold dominion among the Christian people should have and observe peace, by the authority of almighty God we establish and order that throughout the Christian world peace should be generally observed, so that through the prelates of the church those who are at odds might be returned to peace, or if there is no way at all to find peace then at least truces might be strictly observed. And if someone should refuse to yield, then let them be compelled to obey individually by way of excommunication, or as a community by way of interdict. Therefore let no one infringe on our exhortation, requirement, admonition, mandate, concession, gift, will, decree, reservation, transfer, assignment, or command. But if someone should presume to do so, let them know that they have incurred the wrath of almighty God and of his apostles, the blessed Peter and Paul.

Given in Rome in 1453, on September 30, in the seventh year of our pontificate.

1 Matthew 28:20.

2 John 16:33.

3 Psalm 126 (127):1.

4 Pope Leo I (d. 461), Letter 120, to Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus. Adapted here from Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol. 12 (1895; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 87.

5 Acts 14:21.

6 The reference here is to the traditional bodily metaphor for the medieval church, with the papacy as the “head” and the faithful as the “members.” 

7 King of Assyria whose armies besieged Jerusalem under King Hezekiah. In the biblical narrative (see 2 Kings 18–19), 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops were killed by an angel. The story became integral to liturgies of crusade and narratives of Christian victory against overwhelming odds. See also 2 Chronicles 32:20–1. For context see Gaposchkin, Invisible Weapons. See the introduction, n. 37.

8 Matthew 16:18.

9 Luke 22:32.

10 See n. 7 above in this document.

11 A series of detailed prescriptions regarding indulgences follows.

12 Isaiah 9:6 and Matthew 16:24.

13 That is, the papal treasury.

14 Acacius, patriarch of Constantinople (d. 489), was involved in a series of controversies with Pope Felix III and eventually excommunicated.

2. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, Constantinopolitana clades

October 15, 1454 (Frankfurt)

In the wake of Nicholas V’s call to crusade, papal diplomats sought to persuade the powers of Western Europe to coordinate a military response. Their efforts resulted in what became a longstanding truce in Italy (April 1454) and in Germany a series of diets at Regensburg (April 1454), Frankfurt (October 1454), and Wiener Neustadt (February 1455). One of the most important figures at these diets was Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini. Born near Siena to an impoverished noble family and trained as a humanist in Florence, Piccolomini’s skill as a writer and orator drew him into the circles of several leading Italian cardinals as well as to the assemblies of the Council of Basel (1431–49), as they worked to reform and govern the church. He also came to the attention of Germany’s Frederick III, who appointed him imperial secretary. As the Council of Basel’s fortunes waned, Piccolomini eventually came to side with the papacy. Ordained as a priest in 1446, he worked on behalf of Eugenius IV and then Nicholas V, who appointed him bishop of Trieste (1447) and Siena (1450). Piccolomini was one of many humanists who in their writings responded forcefully to the fate of Constantinople in 1453. He authored a series of eloquent letters lamenting the fall of the city, as well as the famous oration whose opening lines are translated here. Delivered on behalf of Frederick III at the Diet of Frankfurt in 1454, Constantinopolitana clades (“The Fall of Constantinople”) was a strikingly effective deployment of humanist style in a crusading context. The address became in many ways a touchstone and a model for the formal crusade oration, a new genre that came to complement the traditional sermon as a key element of crusade propaganda.

Source: Michael Cotta-Schønberg, ed. and trans., “Oration Constantinopolitana clades of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (15 October 1454, Frankfurt), 6th version,” in Collected Orations of Pope Pius II (Saarbrücken Scholars’ Press, 2019), vol. 5, no. 22, pp. 98–223.1

Reverend fathers, illustrious princes, and you others, noble and respectable men:

The Fall of Constantinople was a great victory for the Turks, a total disaster for the Greeks, and a complete disgrace for the Latins. Therefore, I believe, it must pain and hurt each of you – and the more so the more noble and good you are. For what is more proper for a good and noble man than to care for the true Faith, to favor religion, and to extol and spread the name of Christ, Our Savior, as much as possible? But now that Constantinople is lost, and this great city has fallen into the power of our enemies, now that so much Christian blood has been shed, and so many people2 have been carried off into slavery, the Catholic Faith has been grievously injured, our religion has suffered a shameful reverse, and the name of Christ has been grievously damned and abused.

Truly, for many centuries the Christian commonwealth has suffered no greater disgrace than today. Our forefathers often experienced setbacks in Asia and Africa, that is in other regions, but we, today, have been smitten and struck in Europe3 itself, in our fatherland, in our own home and seat. If somebody says that it is many years since the Turks came from Asia4 to Greece, the Tartars settled in Europe on this side of Tanais,5 and the Saracens crossed the Herculean Sea,6 occupied a part of Spain,7 and inflicted many defeats on the Christians, [my answer is that] until now we have never lost a city or a place equal to Constantinople, and never have we, in Europe, lost so much Christian and noble blood to the infidels as now.

Constantinople is almost at the center of all the lands that may be easily cultivated, and it has a very large and safe harbor where ships, nay immense fleets can be armed and provisioned. In one direction, the way is open through the Bosporus to the Euxine Sea, that we today call the Great Sea,8 and all its Northern and Eastern coasts. And in the other direction, you may easily go through the Hellespont,9 that we now call the Arm of Saint George, to the West and to the coasts of the Mediterranean. This place, so advantageous, so useful, and so essential, has now been lost to Christ, Our Savior, and gained by Muhammad, the Seducer, while we were silent, not to say asleep.

Moreover, the Christians had two emperors, one Latin and one Greek. Now that the Greek emperor has been killed together with his nobles, can we not say that one of the two eyes of Christianity10 has been plucked out and one of its two hands cut off? In the whole world, four empires have been considered great and outstanding: the empire of the Assyrians, the empire of the Greeks, the empire of the Carthaginians, and the empire of the Romans. The first one may be called the Eastern Empire, the second the Northern Empire, the third the Southern Empire, and the fourth the Western empire.

In the same way, our forefathers established four patriarchal sees: the Antiochene See they gave to the Eastern people, the Constantinopolitan See to the Northern people, the Alexandrian See to the Southern people, and the Roman See to the Western people. The patriarchal sees of Jerusalem, Aquileia, and Grado that has now been translated to Venice, were founded long afterwards and are not considered as equal to the first four. Of the four principal patriarchates, our forefathers lost two, together with the See of Jerusalem, due to passivity and mutual conflicts.11 Because of the same passivity, but to our greater shame, we ourselves have now lost the third one, the one that is followed by all the Ruthenians and many peoples to the North and East of Tanais. No wonder, nobles, that you are all mourning, shocked and stupefied by this great blow to Christianity, seeing that at one stroke the Greeks have fallen, the Turks are victorious, and the Latins have been thrown into confusion and disorder.

The grief of Holy Emperor Fredrick was just as great as yours. You should have seen him when he was first informed about this catastrophe, crying in his chamber, sorrowful in court, worried in council, praying in church, and everywhere downcast and anxious. For a long time, food gave him no pleasure and sleep no rest. But since the Turks are daily threatening Christendom with greater evils, it does not need moaning and tears as much as vigor and weapons. His Serene Highness has therefore found it worthwhile to summon an assembly of princes and cities of the German nation in order to take counsel on how to protect Christianity. Indeed he remembered the saying: “For, before you begin, there is need for deliberation, and for prompt action after you have deliberated.”12 The convention was asked to assemble in Regensburg, and you all know what happened there. The present meeting is held at the decision of that assembly. During the last days, it has been amply explained why this meeting is not held in Nuremberg, and why the emperor is unable to be present. For he would most certainly have come to the upper parts of the Empire in such an important matter if he had been able to leave his homeland at peace.

Though his desire was frustrated by those who benefit more from strife and war than from peace and tranquility, he did not want to disregard this assembly. Therefore, he sent these princes13 to act in his place and to represent him, and he has given them full and ample powers. They are prepared to negotiate both on the affairs of the Empire and the common matter of the Faith. But since your primary task is to consider and discuss the articles discussed in Regensburg, you wish to know the emperor’s mind on the matter. Therefore, by the authority of my colleagues I am now requested to set forth his mind, his opinion, and his intentions on these issues. As I would rather seem stupid through obedience than clever through defiance, I have taken this almost unbearable burden upon my shoulders, trusting in help from Him who would rather have obedience than sacrificial victims.14 And I do not fear to falter under this great burden since some here will lend me a hand if I stumble.15 And I obey so much more gladly that I see your numerous and kindly disposed assembly.

I am also moved by the fact that the matter on which I am to speak is important and urgent: should we go to war against the Turks who have unjustly conquered Constantinople; who have killed the Greek nobles and their emperor; who have polluted all the holy places; and who are threatening all Christians with chains, whips, murder, and atrocious punishments? If I convince you to do this, we shall easily settle the issues of how large a force is necessary, how the soldiers should be found, what wages to pay, which privileges to issue, how to provision the army, what war machines to prepare, as well as the time of departure, and the route to follow.16 It will also be easy to appoint a captain or leader of the war whom the ancient Romans called imperator. You will not hesitate to choose someone who has expert “knowledge of military affairs, great bravery, evident authority, and luck,”17 and who shows “application to duty, courage in danger, thoroughness in operation, rapidity in execution, wisdom in strategy.”18 I do not doubt that there is such a man among you. And as I shall explain later, you will not have to worry about keeping peace at home if you decide to go to war abroad.

Now you understand, Princes, the substance of my oration and what the matter is all about:19 the whole issue is whether or not to go to war. I have come to persuade you, in the name of the emperor, to go to war, and I have only accepted this burden because I see that the matter is clearly worthy of your courage, your nobility, and your nation. So, do now consider, hear, and examine the issue of undertaking this war for the sake of the Catholic Faith. Noble princes, every senate and every people that has to deliberate on going to war should discuss, carefully and stringently, three things so that it will not do something that it will later regret. For, as the saying of Scipio goes, it is shameful to err and then afterwards to say: “I had not thought of that!”20 So, anyone who is going to war should first ask: is the war just? Secondly, is it useful? And thirdly: is it feasible?21 If these conditions are not met, there is no reason for good men to go to war.22

1 Only the opening passage of the text is presented here, with the permission of the author. Note that the full text (in Latin and English, with a substantial introduction and apparatus) is also available in the public domain (

2 Here animae, or “souls.”

3 Note Piccolomini’s geopolitical use of the concept of Europe.

4 Asia Minor. Reference here to the Battle of Gallipoli in 1354.

5 The Don River, in antiquity considered to be the frontier river between Asia and Europe. Reference here to the Battle of Liegnitz in 1241 against the Mongols.

6 The Strait of Gibraltar.

7 Reference to Arabic conquests of the eighth century. 

8 The Black Sea.

9 The Dardanelles.

10 The image of Rome and Constantinople as the two “eyes” of the world was coined by Themistius in the fourth century.

11 Alexandria (641), Jerusalem (1187), and Antioch (1268).

12 Sallust, Bellum Catilinae, 1.6.

13 Bishop Ulrich Sonnenberger of Gurk; Henry of Pappenheim; Hartung von Cappel; Margrave Albrecht of Brandenburg; Margrave Kar of Baden; and Piccolomini himself.

14 Cf. 1 Samuel 15:22.

15 Cf. Ecclesiasticus 7:36.

16 Cicero, Pro lege Manilia 1.1.

17 Cicero, Pro lege Manilia 2.6.

18 Cicero, Pro lege Manilia 11.29.

19 Cicero, De officiis 2.12.

20 Cicero, De officiis 1.81.

21 Cf. Quintilian, Institutio oratoria 3.8.22.

22 The treatise continues by answering each of these questions affirmatively, at length, in sonorous humanist prose. The full text is available via the link provided in n. 1 above in this document.

3. Correspondence of 1455–1456

This section turns to the correspondence of those active along the Danube frontier and southern Hungary in 1455–6 who most directly confronted the Ottoman advance in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the siege of Belgrade. The letters translated here allow us to hear, however indirectly, the voices of a few of the key characters in that historical moment, and to access something of the moment’s energy and anxiety.

3.1. The City of Ragusa to John Hunyadi

June 11, 1455 (Ragusa)

The Adriatic port city of Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik, Croatia) was a former Byzantine and Serbian city that by the fifteenth century was under Venetian influence. The city was crucial both commercially and diplomatically, as a point of contact between Italy, Central Europe, and the Balkans. In this letter the Ragusans relate to the Hungarian general John Hunyadi the fate of the Serbian city of Novo Brdo. Because of both its fortifications and its vital mining industry, Novo Brdo was a key center of commerce, communication, and military leverage, and thus an obvious target for Mehmed II, who captured it on June 1, 1455, after a forty-day siege. Mehmed executed most of the city’s leaders, but he left its mining experts in place to continue their work, now on his behalf. He also conscripted many Serbian youth for his janissary corps, among them Konstantin Mihailović, whose later memoirs (see document 34) are a key source for the period, including the events of Belgrade.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from József Gelcich and Lajos Thallóczy, eds., Diplomatarium Ragusanum (Budapest, 1887), 580–1 (no. 332).

To the lord governor of Hungary, June 11, 1455:

Though there is no doubt that Your Lordship has scribes and ambassadors who are [aware] of everything that is happening across these lands, we might seem to fail in fulfilling our duty were we to neglect to signal to Your Highness in our letters those things which you yourself have scouted out most thoroughly. For who has not heard such great rumors, which we think, because of their magnitude, must have made their way to every land, from west to east?1 Who does not react with horror, the voice stuck in the throat? Behold, the most savage emperor of the Turks, most fierce and common enemy of all, with his innumerable troops, with so many different and unheard-of instruments of war, has attacked the city of Novo Brdo, and strives to conquer it thoroughly. What is there to say about the city? He seeks through his lustful and ambitious will to bring all of the Christian religion under his rule. So, who could be of such a stubborn heart or so ignorant as not to see this great danger to the Christian people, or indeed more truly that the time of our destruction and death is at hand? What ought to be done with this letter, perhaps Your Excellency might say? We certainly wish that it might serve as a goad for Your Lordship to issue a call to arms against these Turks. For unless some aid be forthcoming from your kingdom [of Hungary], as we see it this evil will bring about grave injury. So: act quickly! No more delay, our great and unconquered leader! All of the Christian people turn their eyes to you and prefer you, who alone can and are able to bring aid against and to face down such furor – you who wish to avenge and to restore to her ancient dignity and freedom the Christian republic that is now so miserable and afflicted.

In this form [also] written to:

His Majesty the lord king [Ladislaus V]

Nicholas of Ilok

Ladislaus Garai

The bishop of Oradea [John Vitéz]

1 Here a loose translation of an obscure phrase.

3.2. John of Capistrano to Pope Callixtus III

June 21, 1455 (Győr)

As noted in the introduction, the Italian friar John of Capistrano was one of the central figures in the events surrounding Belgrade.1 Already engaged in a sustained preaching mission across northern Europe after 1451, in the wake of the Diets of 1454–5 Capistrano’s mission turned to the call to crusade. Unfortunately, no texts of his crusade sermons survive. But Capistrano was a prolific correspondent throughout his travels, and his letters provide important information about his itinerary and perspective. The letter translated here was authored at the height of an important early assembly of barons and princes in the Hungarian city of Győr, just as Capistrano’s crusade recruitment was underway. Here the friar writes to Alfonso de Borja, who on the death of Nicholas V (see document 1) had been elected Pope Callixtus III. A native of Valencia with close ties to King Alfonso V of Naples, the new pope brought a distinct focus and intensity to the challenge of launching a crusade against Mehmed II. In this letter, Capistrano informs the pope of the deliberations of the assembly at Győr, the desperation of Serbia after the fall of Novo Brdo, and the urgent negotiations over John Hunyadi’s grand plan for raising an army of some one hundred thousand troops.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 292–4.2

Most blessed father, I lie prostrate, humbly, to kiss the footprints of your sacred feet. Although in these last days I have sent Your Holiness two letters, nevertheless I will not pass over an opportunity – while the services of letter carriers are available – to write to Your Blessedness above all regarding those things that I deem to concern the honor of both God and Your Holiness. Two ambassadors of the holy Apostolic See recently came to me, one by the name of Rudolf, a confidant of the most reverend lord of Győr, carrying a letter from Your Holiness. The other was a courier of the reverend lord of Firmano3 who, as he claimed, bore letters from the sacred college of the most reverend cardinals that announced the election of the Holy Spirit, namely that by divine disposition you, holy father, had been chosen as the true Vicar of Christ, not only to preserve but even to advance the holy Catholic faith. And since most of the barons of the distinguished kingdom of Hungary have gathered here to establish mutual harmony among themselves, having received a letter of this kind they have been filled with great gladness and delight, and are rejoicing intensely in the will of the divine.

But it was not without envy and grumbling that, in a meeting of such lords, there were letters presented on behalf of Your Holiness to certain lesser types that were not also given to the most powerful ones of the same kingdom; that is, to the bishops of Pécs, Oradea, and to certain more distinguished barons of the realm. It was easy to resolve this matter on your behalf. Thereafter, it pains me to say, just today a courier hastened here with a special message for the despot of Serbia [George Branković], who has desperately sought from these lords and barons support and defense of his territory. The courier announced to the same despot and barons that the most shameful enemy of Christ, Muhammad, emperor of the Turks, has occupied a most powerful Serbian city, called Hobordam,4 where there is a gold and silver mine that brings annually to his coffers – so they say – 120,000 ducats. And all of the other cities and fortresses are said to be surrounded, soon to be cut off. Everyone, blessed father, is terrified of such terrible news, and of all the wicked deeds that have been committed – and we seem only to hear every day that there is more, God forbid, to come. So, it is no surprise that there is worry over whether, should the right kind of aid not arrive quickly, things might turn out even worse. Therefore, blessed father, since God has given you power to see to it (just as you have established other holy undertakings) to effectively preserve and grow the holy Catholic faith, I hold it as certain that God has brought you to this moment for no other purpose, than for you to guard what has been prepared for the appropriate time, restore what has been lost, and by your virtue and care to restore damaged members to the wholeness of your body.

I wrote yesterday to Your Holiness that you should adorn the most serene king [Alfonso V] of Aragon with spiritual and temporal weapons; and that although he is already most powerful, Your Holiness could help make him still more so. Indeed, I think it is necessary, and most advantageous, that we resist manfully and wage war strongly against this evil enemy of Christ, not only by sea but also by land. For since I conferred today with these lord prelates and barons, the magnificent and excellent governor [John Hunyadi], Count of Beszterce, offered himself as the first to take up arms at his own expense, along with ten thousand elite horse at his command. He said, moreover, that the most serene lord King Ladislaus would provide twenty thousand from the rest of the kingdom of Hungary. And though the despot of Serbia [George Branković] has suffered great loss, he has offered to provide ten thousand, even though he continues to adhere to his faith.5 It falls to us, however, to take into consideration the dangers that we face, and to arrange for an appropriate remedy.

The aforesaid magnificent Lord John [Hunyadi] has taken part in a second conference, saying that if our serene lord pope would provide twenty thousand horse, and if the serene king of Aragon ten thousand, and the other cities of Italy ten thousand, since the Duke of Burgundy offers that he would come with ten thousand horse and ten thousand foot soldiers, this John was confident that within three months we could take such a fight to the Turk that he would have nowhere in Europe to lay his head, especially since [Hunyadi] knows the power of the Turks in every detail, along with that of other infidels, and since he is the one who understands thoroughly the right way of waging war against them. So it was that in the presence of all of these lords and barons he asserted this today: that with such a great number of soldiers he would hope to regain even Jerusalem, and that he would not ask for any payment for the aforesaid cavalry beyond the first three months.

It would be expedient for Your Holiness to designate a cardinal for these lands, to act as a kind of supervisor for such an army, along with a sufficient amount of money. Or if it seems well to Your Holiness to commit this matter to the reverend lord cardinal of Esztergom (who is strong in virtue, foresight, and counsel), I think the consultation would turn out well.6 Moreover, this John [Hunyadi] has offered himself – if he is given true warriors, not youths, but men who are vigorous and well trained in arms, well suited to pursue the enemies of Christ – from one year to the next, if need be, to persevere with such an army and to require no further financial support, trusting that he could reap from the goods and lands of the Turk so much that he could provide for his army more abundantly than the Turk himself pays his own troops. Therefore, in this way, with the most serene king of Aragon fighting on the sea and this John on land, there could be genuine hope of recuperating what has been lost and of acquiring the reign that Christian princes deserve, as well as capturing the wealth of the infidels and spreading widely the holy orthodox Catholic faith, unto the everlasting glory and immortal praise and eternal memory of the name of Your Holiness.

Thus, may Your Holiness, blessed father, discern what may be done in this matter, and may the Almighty preserve his holy church and the Christian people forever, to whom I commend my suppliant self, along with our [Franciscan] order. From the town of Győr in the kingdom of Hungary, June 21, 1455.

A worm and an unworthy little servant of Your Exalted Holiness, yet a most faithful orator, Brother John of Capistrano.

1 See the introduction, pp. 38–40.

2 Wadding’s editions of Capistrano’s correspondence, though long standard, have come to be seen as problematic. Currently an international team of scholars led by Letizia Pellegrini is undertaking a new authoritative edition of the corpus (see the introduction, n. 66). An edition of the correspondence of John of Capistrano in Hungary, supervised by Gábor Klaniczay and Otto Gecser, is nearing completion but not yet in print. I am grateful to both scholars for allowing access to their team’s ongoing editorial work. In this section and the next, where possible I have checked Wadding’s edition of Capistrano’s letters against drafts of the forthcoming editions.

3 Domenico Capranica (d. 1458), Italian canonist, bishop of Fermo, papal diplomat, cardinal, and protector of the Franciscan order.

4 A garbled rendering of Novo Brdo (in modern Kosovo). See the first letter in this section.

5 The reference here is to the Greek Orthodox tradition of Serbia, deemed “schismatic” by the Latin church and by Capistrano.

6 Denis Szécsi. See document 9.

3.3. John of Capistrano to Pope Callixtus III

September 17, 1455 (Csanád)

His contemporaries marveled at Capistrano’s energy and dedication to the task of recruiting an army for crusade, which took the seventy-year-old friar on a journey of some four hundred miles across Hungary and Romania between May of 1455 and February of 1456. In this letter, only the introduction of which appears here, Capistrano sends a report to Pope Callixtus III from the church of Csanád in southern Hungary, not far from the advancing Ottoman forces.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 326–8.

Most blessed father, with a kiss for the footprints of sacred feet, and with humble and eager obedience to your commands, unto the death of the cross1 (and there is nothing more delightful to me): I have a most fervent desire to make my way to Your Most Merciful Holiness in person, if only the weight of old age would not hinder me, if the great distance of the journey did not deter me, and if these unsettled times did not hold me back. For I am at the moment stationed in Christendom’s most distant cathedral church, called Csanád (at most fourteen miles, so they tell me, from the most treacherous Turks), whose diocese extends to the front lines. In recent times they have now not only come against this city twice but depopulated and ravaged the region with iron and fire. As an absent pilgrim I have thus visited you five times now with my humbled quill, and after other reports regarding the dangers facing the Christian republic I write to Your Serenity that the despot [George Branković] of Serbia has arranged peace with the enemy of Christ, the most savage Great Turk Mehmed. These are dangerous times, blessed father, and the days are evil. It is thus necessary to prepare for avoiding the dangers to come, and better to meet them ahead of time than to try to heal a wounded Christendom afterward. For after death, it is too late to offer medicine. And in fact, almost everyone in these parts lives in fear of the ferocious lions who now rise up against them. I will not repeat what I have already written to Your Serenity in other letters. It is your task to discern, in Jesus Christ, what ought to be done.

[The letter continues, first praising the office of pope as the head of the church and then asking Callixtus III to confirm the privileges his predecessors had issued for Capistrano’s Franciscan order. It concludes by emphasizing the special bond between the Observant wing of the order and the papacy].

1 The phrasing here seems to reference the possibility of Capistrano’s martyrdom.

3.4. Juan Carvajal to John of Capistrano

January 16, 1456 (Vienna)

Alongside Capistrano, the papal legate Juan Carvajal played an important role in the effort to mobilize an army against the Ottomans. Born to a noble family in Trujillo in the territory of Extremadura in western Iberia, Carvajal was a university-trained canon lawyer who rose to prominence at the papal court in the middle of the fifteenth century. As a papal legate to Germany in the conciliar era he became one of the most active and influential diplomats of his day, especially in Central Europe and in the circles of Ladislaus V. By 1456 he had been charged by Callixtus III with organizing the crusade against Mehmed II. His exchange with Capistrano in the next five letters offers a glimpse of the interweaving of theology and practical matters in these kinds of communications. The exchange also hints at the complex web of diplomatic relationships figures like Carvajal and Capistrano had to negotiate in order to advance their agenda, and at the urgent but also delicate matters of timing and logistics that all had to negotiate in the first months of 1456.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 371.

To our esteemed reverend father in Christ,

Asking for your prayers, we inform Your Paternity that the most serene king of Hungary, as he told us today, intends with God’s help to begin his journey toward Hungary this week. We hope through his arrival in that kingdom to be able to make good arrangements for the affairs of the faith, since the most serene lord king himself has no small amount of religious fervor, along with these lords who are with him. May almighty God see fit to keep Your Paternity safe from danger. We cannot express in words or letters how much joy and consolation we have taken from those things we have heard regarding the most illustrious lord governor [John Hunyadi], who we have heard has raised seven thousand troops. We reminded those among them who were wavering of all that God has done on our behalf: how Maccabeus, master of a holy army, routed the army of Nicanor and Gorgias with that number. But the people of Israel killed 120,000.1 And so we hope in the Lord that this army of seven thousand, if all other human help should fail, under the aforesaid governor, the Maccabeus of our time, should be victorious, and that God will grant his people victory. We would wish that the same lord governor should write to those princes with whom he has close ties in this affair, including the emperor, the king of Aragon, the Duke of Burgundy, and others, that their troops should be sent to Hungary in the month of June, or July at the latest, and that the governor himself will be prepared by that time. Nor are they to be asked that they should provide this or that many thousands of troops, because they will soon clearly understand that the lord governor (in whose name they place great faith) ought to be properly prepared. Tell them also that the apostolic legate [i.e., Carvajal] is here with the cross, that “the curtain will draw the curtain,”2 and that some will come for devotion, others for honor, in such great numbers (so we hope in the Lord) that we will fear not having enough food more than not having enough troops. Therefore, Your Paternity should consider carefully in this matter what to write to the lord governor, and that he should be prepared at the appointed time, because God will provide both the sacrifice and all that is needed for the offering.

A certain courtier, a very noble man, said to me that he has it from the curia that the reverend father in Christ, the patriarch and chamberlain Lord Ludovic, has been announced as legate to fight against the Turks on the sea.3 You know what kind of a person he is, and how well suited to this service. And so, everything is properly arranged. May Your Paternity see to it that nothing is lacking in the province given to you by God. The most serene lord king is most eager to engage in this business, so much that we anticipate he will be a second David, and in his most pure innocence will slay the unbaptized Turk, killer of Christians. May Your Paternity remember the most serene king in your prayers, that God would give him an upright heart. Even the illustrious Count of Celje4 promises to do all he can. Again and again, may God bless Your Paternity.

From Vienna, January 16, 1456.

1 Cf. 2 Maccabees 8.

2 This phrase appears in quotation marks in the edition of the text; it seems to be a colloquial phrase whose resonance is now lost.

3 Ludovico Trevisan (d. 1465), patriarch of Aquileia, cardinal priest of San Lorenzo, and chief financial officer of the apostolic camera. By the 1450s Trevisan had behind him a long career of diplomatic and military service on behalf of the papacy in Italy. He was now charged with leading the papacy’s naval campaign against the Ottomans.

4 Ulrich II, Count of Celje. See the cast of characters, p. 274.

3.5. John of Capistrano to Juan Carvajal

February 19, 1456 (Pest)

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 372–3.

To the most reverend father in Christ and lord to be most obeyed, Cardinal John of Sant’Angelo, apostolic legate, etc.

Most reverend father in Christ and lord, lord to be most obeyed, most distinguished protector and teacher, a humble commendation, with every obligation of deference. When I in my weakness was by God’s grace engaged along the farthest frontiers of Christendom, in the kingdom of Transylvania, sowing the word of the one from whom an abundant crop has grown (for a multitude of infidels has been baptized there, and more are baptized daily!) note how, amid that harvest, by the command of the letters of Your Reverend Lordship, I postponed all things and immediately took up the journey toward this city of Pest. Although it pained me in no small measure to leave unfinished that work of harvesting souls, nothing could be more pleasing or joyful than to obey the Apostolic See with an eager spirit – something I have always done and will always do, unto my last breath. There was another time, when I was near Prague for an assembly, that I had in my writings so destroyed those biting ones, Rokyczana and his allies,1 that they had fallen totally silent, and many among the heretics renounced their errors in throngs almost every single day. And so, the letters of the reverend lord cardinal of Saint Peter in Chains2 called me to hasten to the assembly at Regensburg; I postponed everything and willingly complied. Then a third time, when I had gone down to Moravia from Poland to combat the heretics mentioned above, and was making good progress there, again I received word from the reverend lord [Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, bishop] of Siena that I should make my way to the assembly at Frankfurt. I obeyed immediately. So many regions, so many provinces have I crossed, and encountered so many different languages, that the length of the journey and the difficulty of the labors would even wear down stones! But I have never shied away from nor succumbed to any labor for the growth of the holy Catholic faith, and for maintaining obedience to the holy Apostolic See.

I only say all of these things so that Your Reverend Lordship may understand: I desire nothing more fervently than to offer every service to Our Reverend Lordship [the pope] and his legates for the advancement of the Christian religion. And I do not think I should neglect to say that when I made my way to Frankfurt, by the words of his own mouth the aforementioned reverend lord of Siena [Piccolomini] asked me to come to the assembly at Vienna Neustadt, which I did, freely obeying his commands. I finally came to Pest, where the letters of Your Reverend Lordship summoned me. And here I stand ready for whatever you might command, ready to obey your orders most promptly. But I have received letters from our most serene lord [the pope] that I should under no circumstances depart from the kingdom of Hungary or the surrounding infidel lands without special command. Moreover, on the very day on which I made contact, the letters of Your Reverend Lordship were given to me, which very much inspired us to encourage the magnificent Lord John Hunyadi, Count of Beszterce. I can tell Your Reverend Lordship this one thing: he needed neither persuasion nor exhortation! He himself promised me, with his own mouth, seven thousand armed knights, equipped with all they needed for battle; that he would confirm more day by day; and that he would write to our serene lord the most unconquered Roman emperor, the most serene king of Aragon, the most illustrious Duke of Burgundy and other lords, informing them all that he would be ready with ten thousand troops, when the time was right, to move against the shameful enemy of Christ. Your Reverend Lordship should not think that he would for any reason back away from his promise. He is wearing his armor at every hour. I only fear that all of this delay will bring great danger to the Christians. The others promise that they will be ready this coming July. But the Turks do not sleep. Almost every day they invade the lands to the south, miserably plunder them, and also fortify them, such that we ought greatly to fear them [i.e., their advance] even before Easter. We therefore need a more urgent effort to resist the raging enemy, who enjoys nothing but the pouring out of blood, especially against Christians – the killing of whom, he thinks, is an offering to God.

Thus, whatever is to be done, may Your Reverend Lord decide. May Jesus Christ see fit to protect you into a generously old age, for the defense of his holy faith. From our convent in Pest, February 19, 1456. The useless little servant of Your Reverend Lordship, but also a faithful ambassador, Friar John of Capistrano.

1 Jan Rokyczana (d. 1471), follower of Jan Hus and Capistrano’s bitter opponent during the friar’s mission across Central Europe. Their clashes took the form of an intense exchange of polemical letters and treatises, many of which were widely read across Central Europe in the second half of the fifteenth century.

2 Nicholas of Cusa (d. 1464).

3.6. Juan Carvajal to John of Capistrano

May 14, 1456 (Buda)

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 385–6.

Reverend [father]. [We offer] greeting and [wishes for] every prosperity.

Your Reverend Paternity recalls the great insistence with which we have been urged to move south with the crusaders, and Your Reverend Paternity should do the same. But we, who have faith not in arms but in God (who when appeased by the prayers of his holy church softens his anger) promised to do so not so much in consideration of human strength but of divine power, and the Count of Beszterce [Hunyadi] wrote to us nothing against it. Thus, we went down to Szeged, where soon after the count (who has treated us with much humanity and honor) also arrived. We had many conversations about the service of Christ and the business of the faith, and in the end, it seemed best to the count that we should return to His Royal Majesty [Ladislaus V]. But we pressed on our way, making it as far as Petrovaradin.1 The count not only condemned the move but also testified against us publicly, blaming us for all the losses that would follow, and openly adding that it would bring an enormous loss to Christendom as a whole. We thus yielded to his admonitions and returned to the most serene lord king. But since we have heard that other crusaders continue to make their way down, we have sent our reverend father in Christ, Lord Francis the bishop of Assisi,2 who will receive them and deploy them to their proper positions. Among other reasons that the count opposed our move south was that it would above all harm the reputation and expectations that everyone had of the army that the legate of the Apostolic See was said to have gathered, that the enemy’s fear of a strong force coming to our aid would thus be turned to mockery, and that [the enemy] would thereby be all the more bold. But for the gathering of so many knights and crusaders there is great need of your reverend father’s assistance, and so we would gladly meet you somewhere that would allow us to be without the interference of others.

In the early days of the church the holy Roman pontiffs offered themselves to martyrdom, and we would do so freely now, just as we told the lord count; we also offered to stay in whatever place he might desire. And lest we seem to place any hope in arms, we have forbidden anyone of our household to bear the arms which they have purchased; for we have placed all of our hope in the prayers of the church, in which we place all of our hopes for defense. The day before yesterday a certain brother of the Order of Preachers whom we had sent to Venice came to us. He reported that he had heard from a Venetian nobleman (an ambassador or legate to Constantinople who had returned to Venice) that the captain of the fleet of the king of Aragon, Filomarinus, had been seen in those parts with a great multitude of galleys and ships, that the king was adding daily to the strength of the fleet, and that he had now sent twelve galleys to the captain. He also said that Lord Skanderbeg had taken the field, and that the king of Aragon had sent a thousand horse and other foot soldiers, and that he had seen a certain French knight and crusader making his way to Albania with five thousand armed crusaders wanting to serve in this war for a whole year. It is to be believed that on account of our delay here, as long as we are not drawn into the fight, a great gathering of crusaders will come together in Albania.

May our almighty God see fit to long protect Your Reverend Paternity. From Buda, May 14. Your devoted son, Cardinal John of Sant’Angelo, legate of the Apostolic See.

1 On the south bank of the Danube across from Novi Sad, approximately fifty miles upriver from Belgrade.

2 Francis Oddi, consecrated bishop of Assisi in 1444. A close confidant and collaborator with Capistrano, he had been given broad authority for the administration of affairs related to the crusade in these months. See documents 3.9 and 3.10.

3.7. Juan Carvajal to John of Capistrano

May 25, 1456 (Buda)

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 386–7.

Just this hour I have received the last of Your Reverend Paternity’s letters, in which you advise us to handle the affairs of the crusaders promptly and with care. And we have done so with great care indeed. We have already written twice regarding our descent as far as Szeged, and our return to Buda at the counsel and insistence of the Count of Beszterce, and how we directed the reverend lord bishop of Assisi to go down to Petrovaradin to receive the crusaders and to scout the region and advise us regarding all things. It was not very pleasing [to Hunyadi] that we sent the bishop; and the count desires that we press the king and the princes of Germany to send military aid. Indeed, the count said to me that he had written to Your Reverend Paternity, telling you not to send any crusaders until he should advise that it be done. And having considered everything, it seems best to me that Your Paternity should go down to explore the region, and to inspire its men to war, so that they will be ready when the time comes. Then you can come to the lord king, and thereafter go to the emperor. And if we work together here, we could accomplish much and prevail upon these princes. If the Holy Spirit should say otherwise to Your Paternity I pray that you would write, and if you cannot come I will make my way down to you. I have said much and proposed much but have accomplished nothing. I have heard some news from Rome that can be put neither well nor safely into writing. But if I am able to see Your Paternity, I will share it. Almighty God, etc. From Buda, May 25.

3.8. Juan Carvajal to John of Capistrano

June 5, 1456 (Buda)

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Luke Wadding, ed., Annales minorum, 3rd ed. (Quaracchi, 1932), 12: 387.

By way of my own ambassador, I have sent to Your Reverend Paternity an apostolic brief and a copy of the letter of Count Hunyadi, in which he warns of the approach of the Turks. I ask Your Paternity to inform me about all that is being done there, and all that has been heard. The most serene lord king [Ladislaus] has gone hunting and has not returned. See to it, distinguished father, that the crusaders make their way down as quickly as possible. We will do the same, diligently. Almighty, etc. From Buda, June 5.

3.9. John Hunyadi to Francis Oddi, Bishop of Assisi

June 18, 1456 (Hollós)

This letter reflects John Hunyadi’s efforts to coordinate troop movements and communicate strategy in the weeks leading up to Belgrade. It is addressed to Francis Oddi, bishop of Assisi, who had been given an important role in coordinating the campaign. The text is written in a hasty Italian that captures something of the urgency of the moment.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from L. Thallóczy and A. Antal, eds., Codex diplomaticus partium regno Hungariae adnexarum, Monumenta Hungariae Historica 33 (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1907), 2: 464–5.

Most reverend father in Christ, to be honored by us, etc.

We advise Your Lordship that this past Thursday we departed from Szeged and made our way toward Rumelia, as the land is called, where in every way and without any doubt we will arrive on the approaching feast of John the Baptist [June 24], insofar as once again we have now received certain news that the most cruel emperor of the Turks hastens and agitates for his arrival, and wants and is determined to come soon. And for this reason, we also hasten our movement to the place where the river called Morava passes or rather falls into the Danube, since by taking our stand against the Turks there he will not be able to sail his ships into that river.1 We therefore ask Your Reverence to command all those who are signed with the sign of the cross to make their way, if possible, toward Rumelia. And this should be done quickly, because to delay their arrival any longer seems of little use, since they would not arrive before the Turks have put their ships into the Danube. We ask that Your Lordship send this letter to the bishop of Oradea, who will show it to the Palatine bishop.2 From Hollós, on the sixth day after the feast of saints Vitus and Modestus, martyrs, in the year of our Lord 1456.

John Hunyadi, Count of Beszterce

1 This is eight miles northeast of Smederevo. The Morava was a crucial route for ships ferrying troops, weapons, and supplies northward from Ottoman-controlled territories in Serbia. See also the account of Jacopo Promontorio in document 29.

2 Oradea is in western Romania, on the Hungarian border, some 150 miles east of Buda. Bishop John Vitéz (d. 1472) was later cardinal archbishop of Esztergom, the position held at this time by Denis Szécsi. See document 9.

3.10. John of Capistrano to Francis Oddi, Bishop of Assisi

July 3, 1456 (Belgrade)

This is among the very last of over six hundred letters that survive from John of Capistrano. Composed just as Mehmed II’s troops were beginning to settle in before the city, it was also among the very last letters sent out before the opening of the battle for Belgrade. Like the previous letter by Hunyadi, this one is addressed to Francis Oddi, bishop of Assisi. It is also written in a style similar to Hunyadi’s letter: a hasty Italian whose rapidly flowing prose captures the urgency of the moment. The translation here attempts to preserve that original style, even as its often run-on sentences at times overflow into what is an almost incoherent narrative.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from L. Thallóczy and A. Antal, eds., Codex diplomaticus partium regno Hungariae adnexarum, Monumenta Hungariae Historica 33 (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1907), 2: 465–7.

To the reverend father and lord in Christ, Lord Francis bishop of Assisi, his most worthy protector and most honorable teacher.

Most reverend father and my most distinguished lord, etc. Just this hour I have received the letters of Your Lordship, and with them all that they command regarding those signed with the sign of the cross, and its admonitions which are most welcome to me. At this time the Turks already occupy all of the Danube, and their ships, which have made their way into the Danube, can easily make their way into Hungary, since as I said they hold and occupy all of the Danube, and today we await their siege of this fortress, because the Turks have never before been present in such power and strength. The Christian republic, the Catholic faith, and the Christian people and also the kingdom of Hungary are all under immediate danger, and Lord John the Count of Beszterce fights hand to hand with them in battle every day. But who could ever resist such an army and such a multitude without the help and aid of others? For this reason, I ask Your Lordship, if it please you by your faith, to send word by your trustworthy and speedy messenger to advise the most reverend lord legate [Carvajal] of this danger, attack, and occupation. Let them all look to the Danube, the most serene king and all ecclesiastical and secular princes who want to offer favor and aid to resist this great danger, since now is no longer the time to sleep and to stand around doing nothing, but rather the time and the hour “to rise from sleep.”1 See now that the one thing we worried about has already come to pass, in that the esteemed kingdom of Hungary, if it offers no resistance, will come under the hand of the Turks, under their subjection and command. And see now that if the king and the other princes, barons, and prelates of this land do not wish to be visited by the Turks, and if they seek and wish to defend their land, they should come themselves, or send their military contingents, and they should not wait for the day when they will have to drive the Turks from their own homes, since here is a proper and fitting place to resist them, here is the proper place to fight the battle with them, and here is the best place to fight them since after they have taken control of the water they will not stop before taking the land. Your Lordship must therefore write to the most reverend lord legate that His Lordship must work night and day with the king and other lords to stand up against this imminent threat and in the face of this pressing necessity they must provide aid and give help and support, and in the letters that Your Lordship sends to them, and may it please you to include this letter of ours along with them at the end, so that His Most Reverend Lordship may more clearly understand and confront this great and threatening storm. With the great affliction, pain, and weariness that I presently endure I am unable to write them, but Your Lordship can provide for what is lacking in me, always recommending me to His Most Reverend Lordship.

From the fortress of Belgrade, July 3, 1456.

Servant of Your Most Reverend Lordship, Brother John of Capistrano, by my own hand.

1 Romans 13:11.

4. Liturgy for Taking the Cross 

1456 (Germany/Austria)

In recent years scholars have turned with great interest to church liturgy as a key source for understanding the history of the crusades. The ceremonies of the church, their words, music, and gestures, their theology and symbolism – all are now seen as crucial points of contact between the ideals and practices of crusade and medieval culture. Among the many liturgies of crusade, one of the most central was of course the ceremony for taking the cross, which survived in many varieties and remained a vibrant tradition throughout the later Middle Ages. One of those many ceremonies is preserved here, in a text translated directly from a fifteenth-century manuscript from the Austrian abbey of Saint Peter in Salzburg. The manuscript also contains Robert the Monk’s famous Historia Hierosolymitana and other crusading materials, as well as brief narratives of the victory at Belgrade. This liturgy is copied into the manuscript alongside other materials associated with the Benedictine abbey of Benediktbeuern in Bavaria, suggesting their possible origin in that setting.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Salzburg, Stiftsbibliothek St. Peter, MS B.IX.28, fols. 125a–b.

First, Let Them Take a Vow in This Manner:

I, N., promise to almighty God, the blessed Mary, forever virgin, and to all the saints, and to you, Father, that I will undertake the journey to fight against the Turks, freed of any legitimate impediment, offering myself to God, whether dead or alive. Amen.

The Form for Giving the Cross:

If anyone should desire to set out on campaign against the Turks, the cross should be imposed upon him in this way, since it is first blessed in this way and then imposed.

Blessing of the Cross:

First let the versicle “Adiutorium nostrum,” etc., be said.1 The Lord be with you. Prayer:

Almighty, eternal God, who gave the sign of the cross by the precious blood of your Son, and who through the same cross of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, desired to redeem the world, and through the power of the same venerable cross freed humankind from the bonds of the ancient enemy, we your suppliants ask that you see fit to +2 bless these crosses with paternal piety, and impart unto them heavenly power and grace, so that whosoever might bear this sign of the Passion and the cross of your only begotten Son for the protection of body and soul would receive, through them, the fullness of heavenly grace, and the protection of your + blessing. And just as you blessed the rod of Aaron so he could put down a treacherous rebellion,3 may you also bless these signs with your right hand and infuse them with your power to defend against all diabolical deceit, so that they might confer upon those who carry them saving prosperity of both soul and body and multiply their spiritual gifts. Through the same Christ.

Here They Kneel, and This Prayer Is Said Over Those Receiving the Cross:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who are true and almighty God, the splendor and image of the Father and eternal life, who said to your disciples that whoever wanted to follow after you should “deny himself and take up his cross and follow you,”4 we seek your immense mercy, that you might always and everywhere protect and save from all dangers these your servants, who, in accordance with your word, desire to deny themselves and take up their cross and to follow you and fight against the Turks. May you also absolve them from the bond of sin and lead them from the vow they have taken to their desired goal. You, Lord, who are “the way, the truth, and the life,” and the strength of those who hope in you5 – we ask that you clear the way and grant prosperity to all, so that amid the trials of this passing world they may be always guided by your aid. Send them, Lord, your angel Raphael, who accompanied Tobias on his journey and freed his father from blindness, so that in going out and in returning he might be their defender against the treacheries of all enemies both visible and invisible.6 And may you drive from them all blindness of mind and body.

After This Let Him Begin, Saying:

Accept this sign of the holy cross in the name of the Father + and the Son + and the Holy + Spirit, in the image of the Passion and the death of our Lord Jesus Christ and for the defense of your body and soul, so that by the grace of divine blessedness, after the completion of your journey, you may return to us healed and corrected. Through the Lord, etc.

Finally let him [the priest] sprinkle them with holy water.

Form of absolution for those marching personally against the Turks.

May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you. And by his authority, and that of the most holy lord Pope Callixtus III granted specially to me in this region, I absolve you from all sins which you have now confessed to me, and which you would freely confess should they come to your mind. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen. By the same authority I grant to you full remission of all your sins and restore you to baptismal innocence. Know also that I commend your soul to the angels, so that should death befall you on your journey against the Turks, they will bear it away to the heavenly realms without delay, and without any taste of the pains of purgatory. Amen.

I impose nothing upon you for satisfaction except that you fight against the Turks without fraud or deceit, and that you persevere until the task is complete, or at least for the course of one year. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Form of absolution for those remaining, that is contributing [financially], sending [support], or praying.

May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you. And by his authority, and that of the most holy lord Pope Callixtus III granted specially to me in this region, I absolve you from all sins which you have now confessed to me, and which you would freely confess should they come to your mind. I also grant to you full remission of all your sins. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

1 A “versicle” is a short passage read by a worship leader, leading to a response by the congregation. The versicle noted here is “Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini,” or “Our help is in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 123:8).

2 In the manuscript, this sign instructs the presiding cleric to make the gesture of the cross at various points in the liturgy.

3 Cf. Numbers 17.

4 Cf. Matthew 16:24.

5 Cf. John 14:6 and Isaiah 40:31.

6 The tradition of Christian pilgrimage, and eventually crusading liturgy, had deep roots in the story of Tobias and Raphael (from the Book of Tobit, ch. 5 ff.). See Gaposchkin, Invisible Weapons, ch. 1, especially p. 37 and nn. 42 and 43. See the introduction, n. 37.

5. A Pope’s Call to Prayer

As word reached Rome of the Ottoman advance toward Hungary, Pope Callixtus III issued a general call to prayer. After an initial publication of the decree on June 19, the pope then reissued it ten days later, on the feast of saints Peter and Paul in Rome, to broaden its reach. Though the battle for Belgrade was already over only weeks after its publication, the decree enjoyed a long afterlife. Copies of the text circulated relatively widely in both manuscript and print through the second half of the fifteenth century, and its provisions inspired both devotion and debate in the same period. The text offers a strong example of several key themes in fifteenth-century crusading: the intersection of liturgy, piety, and memory; the intersection of communication and culture, and of preaching and pastoral care in a crusade context; and the deployment of longstanding tropes of crusade theology in a new fifteenth-century circumstance. As a solemn papal pronouncement, the language of the document is intentionally florid and intricate, its often paragraph-length sentences and their complex clauses intended to convey the gravity of the moment and the seriousness of the document’s purpose.

5.1. Callixtus III, Cum his superioribus

June 29, 1456 (Rome)

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Zsolt Visy, ed., La campana di mezzogiorno: Saggi per il quinto centenario della bolla papale (Budapest: Mundus, 2000), 192–201.

Bishop Callixtus, servant of the servants of God, to our venerable brother patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops, along with their beloved sons in spiritual affairs, vicars and abbots and other ecclesiastical persons, wherever they may be established in the Christian world, greetings and apostolic blessings.

Since in these last years the wicked persecutor of the Christian name, the tyrant of the Turks, has taken Constantinople, and in doing so carried out every kind of cruelty, burning against not only its people – because he could do nothing against our God – but also against the relics of his saints, striving with all of his might to persecute the faithful, whom he wished to oppress, striking them with such unceasing slaughter that every day now brings word of new plagues and new calamities;

And since – which is even more outrageous – he has not been content with all of this, but has instead climbed into a chariot of pride and put it into his mind that he should establish an empire over all of the Christian people and of the West, preparing himself day by day to invade it with violence, working to wipe the holy name of Christ from the earth and to establish the damnable and horrendous blasphemy of the dog Muhammad;

So it is that some time ago, amid such harsh times and circumstances, we (though of insufficient merit) were called to the pinnacle of the highest apostolate and had compassion for the Lord’s flock as it fell everywhere under the sword of the infidel. The Lord our Savior thus charged us to guard and feed that flock, and we have tried up to this day (insofar as divine grace has seen fit to be generous) to fight back against such perniciousness as best we can, with all of our strength and that of the Roman Church.

To this end we press onward with an attentive mind and spirit. And indeed we have already imposed a tithe on all clergy throughout the Christian world; we have summoned the Christian people for the common cause of the faith through our letters; we have sent ambassadors to preach that all should gird themselves as best they can to come to the defense of the holy cross of the Lord, and to collect the aid offered by Christians; we have also sent our legates in part to pacify kingdoms, in part to inspire kings and princes, and also in part to gather and lead troops against this second Muhammad, who follows in the footsteps of the old; and not long ago we commanded our beloved son Ludovico, cardinal priest of San Lorenzo in Damaso and our chamberlain, to depart under the Lord’s command with a maritime fleet.1 In the end we have omitted nothing, insofar as the Lord has seen fit to help us, that might be of profit, on both land and sea, for this salutary expedition.

But since, as the Apostle says, it is for us to labor and for God alone to ensure that our actions have results,2 we see that nothing will be accomplished in all of the effort of these great deeds unless we return to the Lord in fasting, weeping, and lamenting and prayer, so that God might return to us – who, with lashes of this kind, bruises the Christian people because our sins demand it, just like a slave who knows the master’s will and does not do it.

For this reason, we think it necessary and especially appropriate that we beg for God’s mercy with groans and cries; that we humble our souls in prayer, trusting not in our human strength alone, which is fragile and faltering, but in the army of the Lord, who is truly a “tower of strength,”3 and who once gave to Abram and his small band, trusting in the Lord, victory over powerful kings.4 For victory in war is his. “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.”5 “Behold,” says the Psalmist, “the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.”6

Was it not more through prayer than through weapons that the people of Israel overcame the Amalekites, as divine scripture bears witness? And when Moses raised his hands, Israel conquered, but when he lowered them only a little, Amalek had the upper hand. And preparing to fight the Philistines, they also said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.”7 And when he prayed and offered a sacrifice for them, the Lord “thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.”8 And did not the humble and devout prayer of King Hezekiah destroy the pride of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, who gloried in all of his chariots and horses, until an angel’s blows struck down 185,000 of his soldiers?9

For who is not admonished, amid troubles and challenges of this kind, to flee to prayer as if to an unconquerable fortress? Is not King Jehoshaphat more to be admired than any great victory, [a king] who, when surrounded by the neighboring Gentile nations and struck with fear, offered himself completely to the Lord and preached a fast for all of Judah, and with all of the people gathered together offered a most devout supplication to the Lord – who then sent his spirit on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, and so responded to him: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. It will not be you who will fight. Only be strong, and you will see the Lord coming to your aid.”10 Jehoshaphat then embraced fervent prayers and divine praises, and established singers who praised the Lord and who went before each of the army’s divisions like a most firm and unassailable fortress, saying with a resounding voice: “Confess to the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.” And as they began to sing praises, the Lord set ambushes against them, so that they turned against one another and began to wound and kill each other.11

By these same powers Judith, so illustrious among women, a woman sustained by prayer in tears of weakness, killed Holofernes and broke the swollen pride of the great king Nebuchadnezzar. “For thy power, Oh Lord, is not in a multitude, nor is thy pleasure in the strength of horses, nor from the beginning have the proud been acceptable to thee: but the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased thee.”12

And what shall we say about Maccabeus, the strongest of men, glorious for all ages, who as often as he went out in battle and was filled with prayer came back victorious? Yet when he neglected prayer and failed to call on God and went to fight with King Antiochus, he fled in defeat. He also neglected the protections of prayer in the war against Bacchides, and so was conquered and killed, and the people of God were defeated.13

We say then that you are just, oh Lord, and your judgments are proper. We deserve all that we suffer, because we have sinned against you and have not obeyed your commands. Divine mercy does not strike a sinful people with such a severe punishment without seeing them wander stubbornly from its commands. Achior of the Ammonites, though he was a pagan, offered this advice to Holofernes: “Now therefore, my lord, search if there be any iniquity of theirs in the sight of their God: let us go up to them, because their God will surely deliver them to thee, and they shall be brought under the yoke of thy power: but if there be no offense of this people in the sight of their God, we cannot resist them because their God will defend them: and we shall be a reproach to the whole.”14

So it is that we ought to have fear and great dread, because the furor of the infidel could never prevail against the people of faith unless the Savior has seen something in them that offends the eyes of His Majesty. He often crushes and corrects the corrupt ways of mankind through war and avenges his enemies by way of their enemies. We should therefore hasten to penance and prayer, lest in putting off our emendation and our return to the Lord our God worse things should happen to us. For it is certain indeed that if we return to the Lord, he will return to us. Seeing the affliction of the sons of Israel in Egypt and hearing their cry, he gave them a most glorious triumph over the Egyptians, freed them, and led them with joy across both the sea and the vast solitude of the desert to the promised land. And when they joined new evils to old and found themselves oppressed at various times from all the surrounding nations, as often as they turned back to seek the help of the Lord, he freed them through divine mercy. God heard David himself, penitent and in tears, when he said, “I have sinned, Lord!” and immediately forgave his sin; when Ezekiel prayed, God extended his life and put off the hour of his death; and when those who were about to die under the just sentence of the Ninevites turned to him in weeping and prayer, God heard them in his mercy. And now, too, “the hand of the Lord is not shortened,”15 for “he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil”16 of his people.

Moved by these witnesses of holy scripture and by many other examples, we therefore exhort you, brothers and sons, through the merciful heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, that by virtue of the pastoral duty with which you have been entrusted, you insist diligently on the moral reform of the people under your care, according to the canons and decrees of the holy fathers, since, as our predecessor blessed Gregory says, the wolf does not tear apart the Lord’s flock secretly in the night, but in the light of day.17 Let us be vigilant, therefore, that none are lost, and that if any are captured let us call them back to the Lord’s flock with voices of divine eloquence; and let us not be afraid of the task, because we have taken up the title of pastor not for rest but for labor. For a pastor who refuses to reprove the errant surely kills them. But nothing is closer to our heart, and there is nothing we desire more (as we ought to do, according to God, and as we are obliged to do) than to reform the life and customs of the people. And with God’s help we intend to do so in due time. But because at the present moment this storm of the Turks is the most urgent matter, we labor to confront it with all of our effort and strength. And just as we have required bodily aid from all the Christian faithful, both clergy and laity, through the bull we crafted for that reason18 (so that we ourselves might not seem to be lacking in commitment) we now turn all the more fervently to spiritual matters, which are the greater ones.

We therefore admonish you in the name of the Lord, and by the authority granted to us by almighty God and by blessed Peter and Paul, his apostles, we direct and command, that each and every priest, even if a cardinal, or of whatever other dignity, whether secular or regular, exempt or nonexempt, whenever they may celebrate Mass, should remember and recite the established prayer against the pagans: “Almighty and eternal God, in whose hand are the power and rule of all kingdoms, in your mercy look upon the Christian armies, that the heathen who put trust in their own ferocity may be vanquished by the power of your right hand.”19

For both those who celebrate this Mass and those who say this prayer, from the spiritual treasury of the church and in the name of the Lord we mercifully release them from one hundred days of any penance imposed upon them. And so that all people – of both sexes and all kinds – can participate in the prayers and indulgences offered here, we order and command that in each individual church, of whatever city, land, or locality, between nones and vespers (that is, before the ringing of vespers and separated from it by at least half an hour), on each day one or more bells should be rung three times – richly, that they might be heard well, just as the customary evening salutation for angelic protection.20 And at that time each individual ought to say the Lord’s Prayer (that is the Our Father) and the angelic salutation (“Hail Mary, full of grace,” etc.) three times. To those who do so once, we mercifully grant in the Lord forty days’ indulgence; and for those who do it three times, with genuflections, one hundred days.

Moreover, we command and order that in each of the cities, lands, fortresses, and villages or locales of your dioceses, administrations, or jurisdictions, you should hold general processions on every first Sunday of each month. All of the people should come together for these, along with all of the clergy, whether secular or regular, mendicant or not mendicant, exempt and nonexempt, whether outside or inside the walls of the cities, lands, fortresses or towns, or in the suburbs. But those religious who dwell in solitude21 and who are not accustomed to come together for such processions when they are found in cities, lands, fortresses, and towns or other locales, should not be compelled to do so. Rather, on these days let them gather either within their own monasteries, or around them, or in a nearby basilica – whatever will inspire greater devotion for them – and hold their processions there. As for nuns, whether they live within or outside their city walls, let them hold their processions within their convents, singing the seven penitential psalms with litanies. Moreover, if on any of these Sundays some legitimate obstacle should arise that would prevent these general processions from being done devoutly and peacefully, we ask that each parish or monastery or other church carry them out inside their churches or monasteries, or however else might be judged best for the devotion and peace of the people. We leave this matter to your conscience. But let the prayers, songs, and other ceremonies in these processions be done in whatever way is customary in each city, land, fortress, town, or locale, or however you think best to arrange devoutly for a matter so pious and necessary. Only make sure that the solemn Mass to be said in these processions is the one ordained by the church “against the pagans.”22

But since the faith and its works come from hearing23 – as the Apostle says – and no one can hear without preaching, we wish and command that in all cities, fortresses, towns, and locales that might be able to host a preacher of the word of God, he should preach a sermon to the people on the occasion of this solemn procession. In that sermon he should first work to confirm the faith, and to encourage patience in tribulations of this kind. Let him also teach how the “trying of faith works patience,” and how “patience has its perfect work,”24 and that (as blessed Augustine says) as often as we suffer some oppression or tribulation, we are given admonitions and corrections. For sacred scripture does not promise us peace, security, and rest, but warns of tribulation, oppression, and scandal. What unusual things does humankind suffer that our fathers did not suffer? The church is indeed (as Ambrose says) a ship sailing on the sea of this world, tossed by the winds and the waves (that is, the lashes of temptation) while the angry tides (that is, the powers of this world) try to drive it on to the rocks. But even if it is often cast about by waves and storms, there will never be a shipwreck, because on its mast (that is, the cross), Christ is raised up; the Father guides the rudder; and the comforter Spirit guards the prow. Twelve oarsmen guide the ship through the straits of this world, that is the twelve apostles and the same number of prophets. Here, I say, is the ship that, even though it might be tossed about by this world as if on the open sea, will never founder on the rocks or sink in to the deep. Divine Providence has arranged that it find consolation in prosperity, insofar as it was not destroyed by adversity; and that in adversity it should be tested, so that it will not be corrupted by prosperity. In this way the two circumstances compensate for one another.

Let the preacher also lead the people to penitence, since both the master of truth and his precursor John began their work of preaching by saying, “Do penance! The kingdom of heaven is near!”25 Let them also consider, with an anxious mind, the day of eternal judgment and its terror, and embrace penance; and let them bathe in tears the stains of all of their sins, so that our pious Creator, when he comes for judgment, will console them all the more with grace, insofar as he now sees they are punished for their sins.

And so, in the end, as it becomes clear just how savage the Turks are and what great harm they try to bring to Christians, the prayers and pious vows of all are directed to God against them. To be sure, we (who are assured of the mercy of almighty God) have granted a generous indulgence entailing bodily labor, and we have also granted an indulgence to those who take up a spiritual task. Therefore, to all who are truly penitent and confessed and who take part in these processions, we grant seven years (and the same number of Lents) of true indulgence. To those who offer a pious vow and fulfill it, however, whether of prayer or pilgrimage or the offering of alms, so that almighty God might see fit to come to the aid of pious Christians, we offer two years (and the same number of Lents), as contained in our present apostolic letters or bulls, to be valid for as long as our holy crusade should last, and until victory be granted – as we have faith it will – against the treacherous Turks and the other followers of the damnable sect of Muhammad in the East.

Therefore let no one diminish or with reckless daring presume to contradict this record of our warning, encouragement, command, release, grant, and concession. But if someone should presume to do this, let them know that they incur the wrath of almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, in the year of our Lord’s Incarnation one thousand fourteen hundred and fifty-six, on the third kalends of July,26 in the second year of our pontificate.

1 Ludovico Trevisan. See document 3.4, n. 3.

2 Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58.

3 Cf. Psalm 60:4.

4 Cf. Genesis 14.

5 Psalm 32 (33):16.

6 Psalm 32 (33):18–19.

7 1 Samuel 7:8.

8 1 Samuel 7:10.

9 2 Chronicles 32:20–1. See document 1, n. 7.

10 A paraphrase of 2 Chronicles 20:15–17.

11 A paraphrase of 2 Chronicles 20:21–2.

12 Judith 9:16.

13 1 Maccabees 9.

14 Judith 5:24–5. 

15 Isaiah 59:1.

16 Joel 2:13.

17 Gregory the Great, Epistolae 2: 39. See The Letters of Gregory the Great, vol. 1: Books 1–4, trans. John R.C. Martyn (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004), 218.

18 Under his own name, Callixtus III had reissued and revised Nicholas V’s call to crusade with the bull Ad summum pontificates apicem (May 15, 1455).

19 For the origins of this traditional prayer, see Gaposchkin, Invisible Weapons, 198–9, where it is described as “one of the most important prayers in the history of crusade liturgy” (198). See the introduction, n. 37.

20 The tradition referenced here is that of the liturgy of the hours, specifically the afternoon hours between “nones,” i.e., the ninth hour of the day (roughly 3:00 p.m.), and “vespers,” at nightfall. These lines, along with later traditions of commemoration (see document 24) would eventually inspire the legend of a bell rung at noon in commemoration of the victory. 

21 A reference to those who led the life of hermits, or who belonged to religious orders that emphasized solitude, such as the Carthusians.

22 For the origins of the Contra paganos mass, see Gaposchkin, Invisible Weapons, 222–5. See the introduction, n. 37.

23 Cf. Romans 10:17.

24 Cf. James 1:3–4.

25 Cf. Matthew 3:2.

26 June 29.

5.2. Bulla Turcorum / “Türkenbulle”

Cum his superioribus in Gutenberg type (Mainz, 1456)

The text of Callixtus’s call to prayer circulated widely in manuscript after 1456, especially across the regions of Central Europe (e.g., southern Germany and Austria) that were nearest the Ottoman advance. The publication of the text also coincided with the advent of the printing press, making it among the very earliest examples of what would become a long tradition of crusade indulgences and other papal propaganda in print.1 In Erfurt in October 1454, an indulgence inspired by appeals from Cyprus and authorized by Pope Nicholas V came into print and circulated widely across Germany. Soon after, in December 1454, a German pamphlet exhorting European powers to action was published in Mainz in the circles of Johannes Gutenberg, its imprint in a rough version of the same type (the so-called DK) that Gutenberg would use for his famous 42-line Bible. In 1456, Gutenberg’s circles in Mainz used the same type to publish Callixtus III’s call to prayer, in both Latin and German.

Source: Catholic Church. Pope Callistus III (1455–1458), “Bulla Turcorum” (Mainz: Johann Gutenberg, 1456). (Donatus and Kalendar Type.) Princeton University Library, Scheide Collection.


Bulla Turcorum/“Türkenbulle”

1 For this broader context see Margaret Meserve, Papal Bull: Print, Politics, and Propaganda in Renaissance Rome (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021).

6. Pope Callixtus III, Omnipotentis dei misericordia

March 26, 1457 (Rome)

This decree, issued in multiple versions between 1455 and 1460, served as a complement to the formal calls to crusade issued in 1453 and 1455. It opens with a rich statement of incarnational theology, here shaped by late-medieval traditions of Christ’s suffering. It then turns to another sharply polemical denunciation of Mehmed II as a bloodthirsty tyrant, and a lament of the failure to respond to earlier calls to crusade, before concluding with the terms of a portfolio of indulgences (here specifically for territories in southeastern France, the Rhineland, and the Low Countries), as well as the procedures for their publication and for the collection of funds. At the end of the document, in the bottom margin, a scribe has also copied an additional paragraph with further variants on the same terms – a rare glimpse of the flexibility and negotiation that shaped these kinds of arrangements, as well as the reality that they might also circulate in multiple versions.

Source: Trans. J. Mixson, from Vatican, Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Reg. Vat. 446, fols. 269r–270r. The bull remains unedited and unprinted, but a preliminary census of surviving copies can be found in Benjamin Weber, Lutter contre les Turcs: les formes nouvelles de la croisade pontificale au XVe siècle (Rome: École française de Rome, 2013), 536. This document in particular is noted on p. 300.

The immeasurable mercy of almighty God toward the sons of mankind (who are held captive under the law of death and damnation by the sin of the first parent) ordained, by way of a profound and inscrutable plan, that the only-begotten Son of the Father, coequal and coeternal in the same substance, should take on the form of a servant and made to be obedient unto death on our behalf, bearing in his own body all of our frailty and pain. So great was his desire for us, and so great the magnitude of his love, that he, though righteous, did not shy from enduring torture for the unrighteous: flogged, spit upon, insulted and taunted, struck with blows, crowned with thorns, pierced by nails, stabbed by a lance, hung on the wood of the cross, so that he could justly say to the pilgrims of this world, “Oh all ye that pass by the way, look and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow!”1 For our Redeemer has been wounded because of our sins, led to death because of our crimes: “he hath done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in his mouth.”2 Here is the one through whom we have been liberated from the gates of hell, and through whom the gates of paradise have been opened for us, the one who “laid down his life for his sheep.”3

And since none of us can participate in his merits except by adhering to the faith of the Catholic truth, and also by risking life and goods in defense of the Christian religion, we, upon whose shoulders divine mercy has seen fit to place the burden of caring for all of the Christian people, have taken careful notice of how the enemy of our religion, Muhammad, prince of the Turks, has by his power not only subjugated Constantinople and many other Christian cities, lands, and locales, but also – thirsting for Christian blood – is now drawing near to us everywhere and waging horrible wars. He glories in depopulating Christian lands, and daily he rises up more and more pridefully, presuming to ascribe to his own strength what is in fact known to have happened because of the sins of the Christian people. And indeed, he labors daily with such cruelty, with unquenchable madness, to drink the very blood of Christians, sparing no one from his sword whatever their age, sex, or creed. He glories in settling his people and in depopulating the land of Christians, so much that unless we rise up quickly against him, we fear he will overcome us like a tempest’s thunder.

Our predecessor, Pope Nicholas V of blessed memory, in whose time the city of Constantinople, alas, was lost, at that time exhorted, required, and commanded all Christian princes, whether emperors, kings, or whatever else their worldly titles might be, by the force of the profession made at their baptism and the oaths offered when they accepted their crowns, to come to the defense of the faith with their goods and their persons as much as possible, in reality and without delay. The same pope also granted the fullest of indulgences to all who come to the aid of the faith in this moment of such great necessity. But as we have heard, painfully, from the reports of trustworthy witnesses, the devotion of our faithful has grown colder by the day, and there are few who have prepared themselves to resist the power of this Muhammad, most bitter enemy of the Christian people.

Therefore, so that we do not fall under the fearful judgment of our Savior (because we, in our silence, did not see to it that the Christian religion should be protected from this foul Muhammad); but instead, so that by our effort the Christian faithful might be all the more fervently inspired to such a saving work, and thus find salvation for their souls; by the mercy of almighty God, and trusting in the authority of his apostles Peter and Paul, we grant to each and every faithful Christian of either sex who is truly penitent and confessed, in the whole dominion of the Dauphiné of Viennois, the duchy of Savoy, and all of the dominions of the same duke on both sides of the mountains, as well as on both sides of the Rhine all the way to the ocean, in the duchies of Cleves and Blois4 and the cities and dioceses of Liège, Metz, Cambrai, and Utrecht, as well as other jurisdictions found in those parts, [the following]:

All who wish to do so may choose a suitable confessor, whether a secular cleric or a member of a religious order, if they make an offering from their resources that is proportionate to their estate and dignity; that is, for those who have greater resources, man and woman counted as one person, five or four florins of the camera; those who are of middling sort, three or two; those who are truly poor, one florin or even a half, or its equivalent true value, so that, even if any of them are joined in marriage, they can make payments of this kind separately. Upon listening diligently to their confessions, the chosen confessors shall [absolve them] from all of their sins, errors, and excesses, even if these are reserved for the Apostolic See, whether generally or in particular. The absolution should be granted only once. Moreover, confessors may in fact absolve penitents (if such is asked for in a spirit of humility) from whatever sentences and censures and lawful penalties might bind them, imposing a suitable penance and other things enjoined by law. They may then grant to each one who is truly penitent and confessed a plenary indulgence and remission of all sins, for one time at the point of death, insofar as they remain in sincerity of faith, in the unity of the holy Roman Church and obedience and devotion to our laws and those of our successors as Holy Roman pontiffs. Moreover, we grant that they may, by apostolic authority, freely and licitly commute vows, whether for Outremer, or to the blessed apostles Peter and Paul and James, as well as vows of chastity, excepting only vows of religious life, to serve other works of piety, as may be appropriate for the salvation of souls.5

To all primates, archbishops, bishops, abbots, and other ecclesiastical prelates and metropolitans, or the canons of other cathedral churches established throughout all of the world, by virtue of holy obedience and under penalty of excommunication (which those who disobey will incur immediately), we strictly order and command that each of them (whether they themselves or through others) should by apostolic authority solemnly publish and explain (or have published and explained) the present document (or a copy of it) on Sundays and festival days in all metropolitan, cathedral, collegiate, parish, or other churches or places, wherever they might be. And from these there should be [sent out] collectors [or their deputies or substitutes] who should by apostolic authority solemnly publish and explain (or have published and explained) the present document in the vernacular tongue as well, so that it might be more clearly understood by all. Let them also promise to publish and promote [also through deputies or substitutes] as often as may be required, the exhortatory letters called De placet, which ought to be granted and held without any contradiction, fee, or payment.6

But because it will perhaps be difficult to carry these documents to all of the individual places where it might be necessary to have them, we wish and by the same authority decree that copies of these documents, authorized by a public hand and the seal of the aforesaid collector (or archbishop, bishop, or other ecclesiastical authority) ought to be granted the same full faith as the originals, and ought to have the same force as if the aforesaid originals were being presented or shown. Therefore let no one diminish or with reckless daring presume to contradict this record of our warning, encouragement, command, release, grant, and concession. But if someone should presume to do this, let them know that they incur the wrath of almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.

Given in Rome at Saint Peter, March 26, 1457, in the second year of our pontificate. (+

(+ Here is a variant: If of the rank of count, baron, or magnate, or other illustrious figure, [they should pay] one hundred papal ducats. Those who are of the rank of noble knights, burghers, or wealthy merchants of sufficient means should pay fifty ducats. Middling sorts of the same professions, however, should pay thirty ducats, wealthy burghers and artisans twenty-five, middling sorts of these professions fifteen or at least ten. Others of lesser rank, however, should pay five or three gold florins, or their true value. In another [version] the quantities have been changed: If of the rank of count, etc., fifty; knights, etc., thirty; middling sorts, etc., twenty; burghers, etc., fifteen; middling sorts, etc., ten or eight; lesser sorts, five or three. In other versions [of this decree] the quantities have been modified: If of the rank of count, etc., twenty-five; of the rank of knights, etc., thirty-five; middling sorts, etc., ten; burghers, etc., seven; others, etc., five or three, etc.

1 Lamentations 1:12.

2 Isaiah 53:9.

3 Cf. John 10:11.

4 Here perhaps a scribal error, in that Blois was a county, not a duchy.

5 The reference here is the release from vows of crusading or of pilgrimage to Rome and Santiago, with an exception for vows of entry into a religious order.

6 The reference here is to letters of approval granted by secular authorities prior to the publication of ecclesiastical enactments. These are also called “Regium placet” or “Exequatur.” See the article “Exequatur” in F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

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