The Battle of Lechfeld

  By Raider, 1 January 2007; Revised 1 January 2007
  Category: Hungarian History
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Background

After the Battle of Brenta and the Conquest of Hungary, the Magyar tribes launched various campaigns against Western Europe and Byzantium.

In 953, civil war erupted in Germany. Luitdolf, the son of king Otto, and Conrad, the son-in-law of Otto, rebelled against the future emperor. The rebels asked for the help of the Magyars and a Magyar army attacked Bavaria in 954. The campaign was a huge financial success for the Hungarians, and, one year later, another army tried to repeat it.

A Hungarian encampment was established on the Eastern bank of river Lech and several raiding parties set out to loot the neighboring countryside. The Magyars also sieged Augsburg, defended by bishop Udalrick/Ulrich. The Magyar army consisted of 6-8000 men and was led by Bulcsú, Lél and Súr.

On August 8th, 955, Berchtold, the Lord of Risinesburg, arrived at the Magyar camp and warned the Hungarian leaders of the coming of Otto’s army of 3500 men. Bulcsú raised the siege and the leaders made a battle plan based on the events of 910, when the Magyars destroyed the army of Louis the Child on Lechfeld (first battle of Augsburg).

The Battle

According to the plan, the Magyar army was divided into two parts. The smaller part should have attacked the enemy, weakened them with arrows and lured the disordered Germans to  where the hidden main army awaited for the attack. However this plan failed.

On August 9th, 955, the sun set at 19:36 and it was totally dark on 20:00 because the moon rose only at 21:03. Exploiting the darkness, the Magyar army crossed the Lech and the bait-contingent (ca. 2000-2500 men) separated and departed to attack the German camp. At the same time, count Dietpald left Augsburg with ca. 500 men to join king Otto. Both of them had approximately 6 hours to take their places.

Otto had ordered his men to leave the camp at early dawn, before sunrise, and before the Magyar bait-contingent arrived. Presumably, he wanted to surprise the Magyars and chose a rough hilly terrain covered by forrest. (See map2). Otto divided his troops into 8 legions and these legions left the camp in columns.  Each legion followed the one before it within hearing range. The first legion consisted of Bavarians led by Henry Liudolfing, king Otto followed with the Saxons, then Conrad the Red of Franconia, and, lastly, the Suabian legion led by duke Burchard. A contingent of 1000 Bohemian soldiers were left behind to guard the camp with the impedimenta.

When the Magyar bait arrived, the Bavarians were 2 km away from the camp and they did not notice the Magyar attack. With their sudden attack, the Magyars easily crushed the Bohemians and they repelled the Suabians who were close enough to the camp. They were likely surprised by the success (remember their original task was to lure the Germans to the main forces.) But, instead of worrying, they started to plunder the camp and, presumably, sent a messeger to the main army. (cca. 6:00 am)

While they gathered the loot, the fleeing Bohemians and Suabians caught up to duke Conrad’s franconian knights.  Red Conrad returned to the camp to surprise and defeat the looting Magyars. (cca. 7:00 am).  Conrad left a strong guard in the camp and joined king Otto, who decided to continue his plan.

Meanwhile, Bulcsú, with the main army, got the message that the German camp was captured and decided to return to his camp. It began to rain and the Magyars had to remove their bows to protect them from water. ( cca. 8:00 am)  At that moment, the Bavarians arrived from the forrest with the Saxon and Franconian troops behind and charged the Magyars. There was no time to bring out the bows, there was no place to maneuver, and they were unable to retreat due to the swampy Schmutter creek. In the melee, the Germans' heavy cavalry was unquestionably superior and crushed the surprised Magyar army.

In the battle, Conrad the Red died (he was the same Conrad who had allied himself with the Magyars one year before) and the three Magyar leaders were captured.

Aftermath

It is widely believed that this battle crushed the Magyar military power and ended the Magyar attacks. However, this is an exageration of the events.

This attack was a financial enterprise of Bulcsú, Lél, and Súr, so the army was only a part of the whole manpower of Hungary. On the other hand, the battle showed that with the newly organized border system, the uniting Germany were able to defend herself. The attacks to the west stopped, but continued to the South. The last attack was in 970, when a Hungarian-Petcheneg-Kievian alliance was crushed by Byzantium.

The battle also had an important role in the creation of the Holy Roman Empire and the unification of Hungary. Otto used this victory as a propaganda to increase his fame and political  power. The Árpáds of Hungary seized control of defeated tribes’ territory, laying down the fundamental of a unified Hungary.

The defeat at Lexchfeld was also very shocking. Before it, the Hungarian chiefs were treated as equals, but now king Otto simply hanged the captured chieftains instead of demanding a ransom as a civilized man. Hungarian chronicles tried to compensate this by inventing a “second battle”  in which the Hungarians won.  The Lél legend birthed that the captured chief Lél killed emperor “Conrád” with his bow.  (Conrad the Red was confused with Otto.)

Sources:

The description of the battle based on the essay of Lajos Négyesi: “Az augsburgi csata” in Hadtörténeti Közlemények 1/2003. http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00018/00023/17.htm