Florin Nicolae Ardelean, On the Borderlands of the Great Empires, Transylvanian Armies 1541-1613 (Helion, 2022)
Florin Ardelean tells the tale of the Principality of Transylvania, its birth after the defeat of the Hungarians at Mohacs in 1526, and its struggle for survival, coveted as it was by both the Hapsburgs and the Ottoman Empires. Politically, it was a complex mix of Noble, Saxon, and Szekely estates overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Be warned, its complex and confusing, with power struggles, dynastic changes, and some characters seemingly appearing, disappearing, and then reappearing again.
The organisation of the army reflects that complexity, being a mix of Nobles and their levies, Szekely (Southeast Transylvania), and Saxons sprinkled with tax exempt riflemen and guardsmen. All in all, it must have been quite a colourful spectacle but quite difficult to control. The principality also had a fairly substantial number of fortresses, which were frequently fought over. Ardelean details the most important ones and what happens to them throughout the period.
The final chapter of the book focuses on the military campaigns and is supported by clear diagrams of the major battles. There are civil wars, fights involving Spanish Tercios and Landsknechts, and battles against Ottomans and even Wallachians; enough to ignite those thoughts of new armies and exciting wargame scenarios.
The book has a range of period illustrations and a set of coloured plates by Catalin Draghici, which are particularly finely done. I’ve never heard of the artist before, but I look forward to seeing more of her work. The only minor quibble is that four out of the eight plates represent non-Transylvanian troops; most readers will already know what a landsknecht looked like.
Helion is developing a real niche in finding subjects not commonly covered in the current literature and bringing them to the English reading world. This is an interesting and complicated story that is well presented, and one that I would recommend for early modern era readers and those wargamers who are looking for something a bit off the beaten track that could tie in with pre-existing interests in the Ottomans and Habsburgs of the late 16th and early 17th Century.
(Reviewed by Mike Huston)