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Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

XVII: The Crusades Against the Hussites,   pp. 586-646 ff. PDF (24.0 MB)

Page 596

sources, the chronicle of the Prague city secretary Lawrence of Brezová,27
names among the members of the crusading army various German-speaking groups,
all the ethnic groups of the kingdom of Hungary, other southeastern peoples
like Bulgarians, Serbians, and Wallachians, several representatives of the
Slavic east like Poles, Russians, and Ruthenians, and finally from the west
the Dutch, Swiss, English, French, Aragonese, and other Spaniards. (The omis
sion of Italians was certainly a slip.) Brezová's claim that this
army grew to 150,000 men is surely much exaggerated; on this issue a source
from Sigismund's camp, the chronicle of his financial adviser and biographer
Eberhart Wendecke, speaks of 80,000, still a rather high figure though perhaps
not quite impossible. In any case even this, for medieval times, enormous
army would have had difficulties in conquering a strongly fortified city
like Prague, with a population of some 40,000 inhabitants (the emigration
of Germans and anti Hussites was roughly offset by the addition of the troops
of the Czech allies). The history of the later Middle Ages shows hardly any
examples, with the remarkable exception of Constantinople, of the conquest
of great, well-defended cities. But the very size of the population—and
40,000 was, for the time, a large population—could have its disadvantages,
if the aggressor succeeded in maintaining a truly effective siege which would
prevent the city from being suffi ciently supplied, particularly with food.
The situation of Prague was dangerous. The two great castles were in the
hands of the royalists, and attempts of the Hussites to conquer the Hradcany
before the crusading army established itself outside the city had failed.
The Hradëany dominated the accesses to the west and southwest, the Vysehrad
those to the southeast, while the main body of the crusaders' army had built
a large tent city to the north across the Vltava on what today is called
the Letná. Prague, there fore, was open to the outside world only
as long as the roads to the rich valley of the upper Elbe were free. In the
neighborhood of Prague they were dominated by a longish hill east of the
city, called the Vitkov, whose southern slopes were covered with vineyards.
If this hill could be occupied and upheld by the crusaders, it would indeed
make the siege effective. Sigismund planned the occupation of the Vitkov
as his first and most promising stroke, but Zizka anticipated the king's
intentions and acted accordingly. 28 He ordered the building of a small but
well situated bulwark consisting 
27. Brezová, pp. 383—384; also other sources given in detail
in Heymann, Zizka, pp. 136 ff. 
28. See, on the battle on the Vitkov, ibid., chapter 9 (pp. 136—147).

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