The Battle of Liegnitz (Legnica), 1241

  By TJK, 2004; Revised
Following their conquest of Russia, the Mongols commanded by Batu Khan invaded Poland and Hungary in 1241.The swift victories in Poland and Hungary became one of the noted episodes in the Mongol conquest that showed the effectiveness of the Mongol war machine, especially compared to those of Europe. In the campaign in Poland, the most important battle was Liegnitz, a battle in which a Polish army combined with Teutonic knights were said to be defeated by the Mongols.

The battle description from Annals of Jan Dlugosz (translation from
....On April 9, Prince Henry, in splendid armour, rides out from Legnica to do battle with the Tatars. As he rides past the Church of the Blessed Virgin, a stone falls from the roof narrowly missing his head. This is regarded as a divine warning or, at least, an ill omen. The Prince arrays his army on level ground near the River Nysa in four ranks: the first consists of crusaders and volunteers speaking several languages, and some gold miners from Zlotoryja; the second line is made up of knights from Cracow and Wielkopolska; the third of knights from Opole; the fourth of the Grand Master of the Prussian Knights with his brethren and other chivalry; while the fifth consists of Silesian and Wroclavian barons, the pick of the knights from Wielkopolska and Silesia and a small contingent of mercenaries, all under the command of Prince Henry himself. There are many Tatar units, each more numerous and more experienced in battle; indeed, each consists of more men than the combined Polish force. Battle is joined.

The Poles attack first and their initial charge breaks the first Tatar rank and moves forward, but, when the fighting becomes hand-to-hand, they are surrounded by Tatar archers, who prevent the others coming to their assistance. These then waver and finally fall beneath the hail of arrows, like delicate heads of corn broken by hail-stones, for many of them are wearing no armour, and the survivors retreat. Now two Polish ranks are fighting three Tatar units; indeed, have overcome them, for the Polish crossbowmen protect them from the Tatar archers, but then someone from the Tatar ranks starts running hither and thither between the two armies shouting "Run, run!" to the Poles and encouragement to the Tatars. The Duke of Opole, thinking the shouts come from a friend, not an enemy, withdraws his men. When Prince Henry sees what is happening, he laments aloud, but brings up his fourth rank, which contains the best of his troops and with them is on the point of overcoming the Tatars, when a fourth and even larger Tatar force under Batu comes up and fighting is resumed. The Tatars attack fiercely, but the Poles refuse to retreat, and for a while honours are even.

Among the Tatar standards is a huge one with a giant X painted on it. It is topped with an ugly black head with a chin covered with hair. As the Tatars withdraw some hundred paces, the bearer of this standard begins violently shaking the great head, from which there suddenly bursts a cloud with a foul smell that envelopes the Poles and makes them all but faint, so that they are incapable of fighting. We know that in their wars the Tatars have always used the arts of divination and witch-craft, and this is what they are doing now. Seeing that the all but victorious Poles are daunted by the cloud and its foul smell, the Tatars raise a great shout and return to the fray, scattering the Polish ranks that hitherto have held firm, and a huge slaughter ensues.

Among those who fall are Boleslav the son of the Margrave of Moravia and the Master of the Prussian Order. Prince Henry does not desert his men. Surrounded by Tatars who are attacking him from all sides, he and a handful of others try to force their way through the enemy. Then, when he has almost won through and there are only four knights left with him, the Prince's horse, already wounded, drops dead. The Tatars, recognizing the Prince by his insignia, press after him. For a while he and his companions fight on; then his fourth knight brings him a fresh horse taken from the Prince's chamberlain. The Prince remounts and the five make another attempt to break through the enemy ranks; but once again are surrounded. Nonetheless they fight on. As the Prince is raising his arm to bring his sword down on an enemy, a Tatar thrusts his lance into the Prince's armpit and the Prince slides from his horse. The Tatars pounce on the Prince and, dragging him two bowshots clear, cut off his head with a sword, tear off all his badges and leave his corpse naked. In this great battle a number of the Polish nobility and gentry find honourable martyrdom in defence of their Faith. The saintly Jadwiga, then in Krosno, is informed by the Holy Spirit of the extent of the disaster and of the death of her son in the same hour as it happens, and tells this to a nun, called Adelaide.

Jan Iwanowic, the knight who brought Henry the horse that nearly saved him, joins forces with two of the shield-bearers and another knight, called Lucman, who has two servants with him and himself has twelve wounds. When their pursuers pause for a breather in a village a mile or so from the battlefield, the six turn and attack them, killing two of their number and taking one prisoner. After this, Iwanowic enters a Dominican monastery and lives there piously, grateful that the Good Lord has saved him from so many dangers.

Having collected their booty, the Tatars, wishing to know the exact number of the dead, cut one ear off each corpse, filling nine huge sacks to the brim. Then, impaling Prince Henry's head on a long lance, they approach the castle at Legnica (for the town has already been burned for fear of the Tatars) and display it for those inside to see, calling upon them through an interpreter to open the gates.

The defenders refuse, telling them that they have several other dukes, sons of good duke Henry, besides Henry. The Tatars then move on to Olomouc, where they camp for a fortnight, burning and destroying everything round about. Moving on again, they halt for a week at Bolesisko, and, after slaughtering many of the inhabitants, continue into Moravia......

Controversy about the battle

Presence of Teutonic Order at Liegnitz (Legnica)
(Note: Some names require the encoding to be set to "Eastern European" to be viewed correctly)

In the recent studies provided by the polish miedeval scholar Gerard Labuda, some discrepansies in Annals of Jan D³ugosz have been disovered. Initially D³ugosz specifies four polish units but when he comes to the details suddenly five units appears. Critical analyze of D³ugosz's Annals have proved that the fifth unit - Teuton Knights commanded by the Grandmaster Poppo von Ostern - were added after the Annalas had been completed.. According to this supplement the Teutonic unit were nearly anihilated on the battlefield and its Grandmaster was killed. However according to other sources Poppo von Ostern was appointed to the position of Grandmaster in 1252 (11 years after the Battle). Due to the services rendered to the franciscans, he was burried (1263) in the church of St. Jacob, where Prince Henry was also burried as well. Because of the proximiy of their burial locations, the legend arose that Poppo von Ostern was killed in the battle of Legnica as well. Nevertheless the most possible theory is that the Teutons (a least as separate unit) never participated in the battle of Legnica...

The number of warriors
For a long time scholars have disagreed on the number of Mongols who invaded Poland. There were similar controversies concerning the chief commander of Mongolian army. Batu and Kadaan, as mentioned by D³ugosz, commanded the armies in Hungary and Transylvania. But a turning point in the research on this issue occurred suddenly in 1965, when an unknown new source was discovered: "Historia Tatarorum" by Franciscan C. de Bridia Monachi. This work was written on the travels of Franciscan Jan de Piano Caprini and Benedict the Pole into Mongolia in 1245-47. The information from Historia Tartarorum is fully trustworthy since it was collected directly from Mongols participants of the battle just a few years later. One section reads:

"... Next Batu went to Poland and Hungary and having divided the army on the border of these two countries, he sent 10 thousands of warriors under his brother Ordu against Poland.."

So only one tumen of Mongol warriors commanded by Ordu took part in the invasion against Poland. Considering the losses taken by Mongols during the campaign, (which included the battle of Tursk, Chmielnik, the siege of Cracow, Racibor and Kujavia) the Mongol army at Legnica could not have been composed of more than 8 thousands warriors.

The case is much more complicated when we talk about the army of Prince Henry. Many scholars assumed the number of the Christian army to be around 30-40 thousand warriors. However this assumption is absolutely improbable. We should remember that more than 150 years later, a much bigger and richer Poland sent only 25-thousands army to fight the Teutonic Order at Grunwald (1410). Moreover no knights from Kujawia and Mazowia could have fought at Legnica, and units from Lesser Poland were already decimated after the defeats at Tursk and Chmielnik. In the present day, Polish warfare historians estimate differently the size of Prince Henry's army. According to Prof. Mare Cetwiñski it was about 2 thousands warriors, whereas Prof. Gerard Labuda estimates the army to be of 7-8 thousand. Since none of the parties of the battle have prevailed during the first stage, theory of Labuda seems to be more trustworthy.

Reconstruction of the battle

The polish army was arranged in a following manner:
· the unit of the Moravian margrave Boleslaw was the vangard of the polish force
· the units of Sulis³aw and Opolan prince Mieszko were behind Bole³aw's unit -their  task was to protect the left and right wings
· the unit under personal command of Prince Henry constituted a reserve.
The Mongolian army was divided into four units as well. In the first line there were 3 units and behind them the reserve unit commanded by Ordu himself. The Mongolian units on the right and left wing stood in a long distance from the center unit and was hidden from the Polish army. It is probably that Ordu wanted to encircle the attacking Polish units with his units from the wings
 Liegnitz - Phase I

As a first the Boles³aw's unit has rushed to the fight. Covered by the thousands of arrows it has forced his way to center Mongolian unit and has started melee combat. Then the Mongolian units from left and right wings came out of hiding and have encircled Boles³aw's unit. This unit has been nearly annihilated and margrave Boles³aw has been killed. The units of Sulislav and Prince Mieszko have assaulted being in the middle of attack Mongolian units.
 Liegnitz - Phase II
The Poles broke through the Mongolian formation and started to push them backward. Suddenly the polish knights heard the voices calling to retreat in Polish language and the whole unit of Prince Mieszko thinking that these voiced were coming from the friendly units rushed to withdraw. The event is confirmed by Historia Tartarorum "... when the Mongols have clashed with prince of Silesia and have been about to withdraw..Unexpectedly Christian units have started to run away.. ". Seeing the withdrawal of prince Mieszko's unit Prince Henry moved in with his reserve. The victory was beginning to be again in Polish hands, but the Mongols had still some fresh forces - Ordu's unit as well as some kind of "wunderwaffe"...

All of sudden in front of Mongols formation a horseman holding a standard with a giant X and bearded head appeared "from which there suddenly bursts a cloud with a foul smell that envelopes the Poles and makes them all but faint, so that they are incapable of fighting" Then the reserve Mongolian unit decided the battle. Prince Henry with some of his knights tried to break out trough the Mongolian army but was caught up and captured.
Liegnitz - Phase III 

Afterward, Henry was decapitated. His head was sent to Batu, but before that Mongols had shown it (impaled on the spear) to defenders of Legnica, demanding surrender. Met with refusal they burned and plunder neighboring villages. Then they rushed into direction of Otmochov