The Polish Winged Hussars, an elite branch of the Polish army during the 16th and 17th centuries dominated the European continent for over 200 years striking fear into their enemies. They defeated the Swedes, Teutonic Knights, the Tatars, the Russians, and the Ottoman Turks. The Hussars were a skilled tactical shock-force capable of annihilating armies twice their size and with terrifying ferocity and speed.
The origins of the hussar were the Serbian exiles who had fled their homeland after the defeat under the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century. The Hungarian Kingdom organized their own hussar banners (units) and trained them into a strong, highly effective cavalry which time and again proved their mettle in the heat of battle.
Like that of the Hungarians, the early Polish Hussars wore no armour and were armed only with the lance, sabre and shield. It gave them greater maneuverability and speed in battle - unlike that of the heavy, lumbering knights. The Hungarians soon made improvements to their hussars by introducing helmets, mail, and gorgets, making the cavalry heavier.
By the mid-16th-century, the Polish King and Lithuanian Grand Duke, Stefan Batory reorganized the Polish and Lithuanian cavalry along similar lines as those of the Hungarians. He included armor, yet ensured that the Hussars would remain a fast, albeit heavy cavalry. They were made the standard of the Polish army, and were very-well trained and well-equipped.
The most distinctive feature of the Polish Hussars were the pair of huge wings attached to their backs, each constructed of high wooden frames upon which eagle feathers were attached, although ostrich, swan and goose feathers had also been used. Feathers were inserted into a series of holes bore into the length of the wood and the frame was either painted, or covered with crimson velvet and mounted in brass. By a series of metal rods on the batten, the wings were attached to the backplate of the hussar's armour. This symbolism is related to the Serbian practice of painting wings on cavalry shields. By the 1590s the double frame was replaced by a single decorative wing attached to back of the saddle on the left side.
It is believed that the Polish Hussars wore these wings for the purposes intimidating the enemy, and they have often been depicted in battle wearing wings. This is the image that has long promoted by painters through the ages and more recently by film productions. The reality however may be that the Polish Hussars donned these wings only for the ceremonial purposes and victory parades. The size and weight of such apparatus would have been cumbersome if not self-defeating during battles. Legend has it that the mere sight of these huge wings and the rustling sound they apparently made as the steeds charged in battle, were enough to unnerve infantrymen and horses. Such a spectacular sight would indeed alarm the enemy, but it is highly unlikely that feathers could emit any sound in the din of battle. However, one other feature contributed to the awesome appearance of the Polish Hussars: in addition to their uniforms (and wings), draped over one shoulder would be the pelt of a leopard, tiger, or wolf, the total of which must have struck fear in their enemies before they even attacked.
This fall America is facing the possibility of a fourth war with a Muslim nation in twelve years. Despite our attempts at nation building, it appears that the hostility and scope of our conflicts are growing every year. Is there any real hope of peace between America and the Muslim world?
First let’s look at the historical context. For 1,400 years the Christian West has been forced to defend itself against the onslaught of Islam, a religion built on world conquest. The army of Mohammed first invaded the Holy Land, which had been Christian for 300 years, taking Jerusalem in 625 A.D. Since that time hundreds of battles have been fought through the centuries. Charles Martel defeated 80,000 Muslim warriors at the battle of Tours in France in 732, which halted Islam’s attempt to destroy the last vestiges of Christianity in Europe. The Crusades (1095-1192) were largely a failed attempt to regain control of Jerusalem and the holy places of Christianity from the Muslims.
By the 14th century the Ottoman Turks had become the central power of the Muslim world and
labored for centuries to prepare armies to destroy Christian Europe. They defeated the Christians
at Constantinople in 1453, slaughtering tens of thousands, turning the largest church in the world
(Sancta Sophia) into a mosque.
By the early 16th century, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent spent decades training over 150,000
men for an invasion in an attempt to destroy Christianity. Providentially he was turned back at the
gates of Vienna as an incredibly rare September snowstorm and sickness contributed to the
devastation of his army in 1529.
Then in two Muslim invasions, both on September 11th in two different centuries, the Turks
suffered devastating defeats in their quest for worldwide hegemony. First, in 1565, Suleiman
and his Ottoman Turks had only one obstacle in their path in their drive to obtain complete
control of much of Europe including Rome. That obstacle was the small rocky island of Malta
in the Mediterranean. After six months of battle, on Sept 11, 1565 the 700 Knights of Malta,
with less than 9,000 soldiers, finally defeated 50,000 Muslim warriors who viciously attacked
the small island with 200 warships. The courageous Knights of Malta were determined at all
costs to save Christendom (Western Civilization) from destruction.
Then again on Sept. 11, this time in the year 1683, 138,000 Ottoman Turks were routed as
they were besieging Vienna, Austria in the Muslim drive to invade and destroy all of Christian Europe. On that day, as the people of Vienna were facing eminent starvation and defeat, the Polish King,
Jan Sobieski, gathered 81,000 Polish, Austrian and German troops. He surprised the huge Muslim army encamped outside the city. Jan’s attack was led by 38,000 men on horseback with 16 foot spears in one of the largest calvary charges in history. Many of them were wearing giant wings as of angels that created a thunderous roar and fear as of divine judgment. Again the Christian world was saved, the cathedrals of Europe were not burned or turned into mosques and Christendom continued its cultural ascendency while the Muslim threat subsided for centuries.
But the struggle continued. Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean plundered and sunk ships and enslaved crews from every nation in Europe. In 1625 the Pilgrims lost one of their ships to these raiders. The Pilgrim ship was loaded with beavers and fish that had been sent back to England to pay debts. This pirating continued for over 200 years. Even America’s founding presidents were forced to pay bribes to the pirates to protect American shipping in the Mediterranean, culminating in a war with these pirates during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.
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Once again, in our time, the threat of a militant Islam confronts the world. The conflict that is unfolding is a new chapter in a 1,400 year old war between the ideologies of Islam and Christianity; between the power of religion of forced submission and the transformational loving religion of voluntary conversion. Could it be that there are answers that lie beyond the scope of government and military force? Five hundred years ago Martin Luther gave insight into the problem as he, and all of Germany were facing the invading Turks at their doorstep.
Luther placed the blame for invasion ultimately on the unrepentant Christian world. He says, “There is reason to fear that the Turks will not be so easy to beat… Christian weapons [spiritual weapons] and power must do it…[the fight against the Turks] must begin with repentance, and we must reform our lives, or we shall fight in vain.”
John Calvin saw the real solution to the Muslim question, even as the Muslim Turks were invading Europe in his time. He said, “Until the church finds the heart and the will to care for those lost souls bound in Islam with the hope of the Gospel we shall always be at peril.”
The most impactful news story of the 21st century is the explosion of evangelical Christianity. Scholar Dinesh DeSouza explains this great news: “We often read that Islam is the fastest growing religion. Not true. Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world today….for the first
time in history Christianity has become a universal religion. It is in fact the only religion with a global reach.”
Author Peter Leithart reports, “At the same time that traditional Christian populations are being driven out
[of Muslim nations], Muslims are converting to Christianity at what missionaries and other church leaders
describe as an unprecedented Author Peter Leithart reports, “At the same time that traditional Christian
populations are being driven out [of Muslim nations], Muslims are converting to Christianity at what missionaries
and other church leaders describe as an unprecedented rate.” According to Al-Jazeerah’s interview with Sheikh
Ahmad, the president of The Companion Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, “In every hour,
667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million
Muslims convert to Christianity.” (Al-Jazeerah has since removed the interview and details.) Best-selling author
Joel Rosenburg continues, “More Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ over the past decade than at any
other time in human history. A spiritual revolution is underway throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and
The transforming power of God bringing salvation to those lost in Islam and a revival of true faith in Christ to
the concerned people in the Western World is the only lasting solution to peace between nations. It is the
promise of Scripture that the day will come when all the people of the earth will pay homage to the one true
King, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:25)
- Marshall Foster
WORLD HISTORY INSTITUTE teaches the liberating lessons of historically-proven biblical principles to benefit people of all nations. Resources, conferences and tours have been provided since 1976. WHI is a 501(c)3 non-profit ministry. Your involvement and tax-deductible contributions are encouraged. © Copyright 2013, World History Institute, PO Box 4673, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362,
As news reports give details of the Muslim terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya, North Africa, we are reminded that in the 1600's, it was the Muslim Barbary Pirates of North Africa who made the news.
In 1605, St. Vincent de Paul was sailing from Marseille, France, when he was captured by Muslim Turks and sold into slavery in Tunis, North Africa.
Fortunately for him, he converted his owner to Christianity in 1607, and escaped to Europe where he started an order to help the poor.
Between 1606-1609, Muslim pirates from Algiers captured 466 British and Scottish ships.
Giles Milton wrote in White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million European Slaves (UK: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2004), that in 1625, Muslim corsair pirates sailed up the Thames River and raided England.
They attacked the coast of Cornwall, captured 60 villagers at Mount's Bay and 80 at Looe. Muslims took Lundy Island in Bristol Channel and raised the standard of Islam.
By the end of 1625, over 1,000 English subjects were sent to the slave markets of Sale, Morocco.
In 1627, Algerian and Ottoman Muslim pirates, led by Murat Reis the Younger, raided Iceland, carrying into slavery an estimated 400 from the cities of Reykjavik, Austurland and Vestmannaeyjar.
One captured girl, who had been made a slave concubine in Algeria, was rescued back by King Christian IV of Denmark.
In 1631, the entire village of Baltimore, Ireland, was captured by Muslim pirates, led by Murat Reis the Younger. Only two ever returned. (Des Ekin, The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates, O'Brien Press, 2006).
Thomas Osborne Davis wrote in his poem, "The Sack of Baltimore" (1895):
"The yell of 'Allah!' breaks above the shriek and roar;
O'blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore..."
By 1640, hundreds of English ships and over 1,500 British subjects were enslaved in Tunis and in 3,000 Algiers.
The Pilgrims had their own experience with Muslim Barbary Pirates.
On NOVEMBER 21, 1620 (NS), the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact and began their Plymouth Colony.
In 1625, they filled two ships with dried fish and beaver skins and sent them back to England to trade for much needed supplies.
Governor William Bradford wrote in his History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608-1650 (rendered in Modern English by Harold Paget, 1909, ch. 6, p. 165-7):
"The adventurers...sent over two fishing ships...The pinnace was ordered to load with corfish...to bring home to England...and besides she had some 800 lbs. of beaver, as well as other furs, to a good value from the plantation.
The captain seeing so much lading wished to put aboard the bigger ship for greater safety, but Mr. Edward Winslow, their agent in the business, was bound in a bond to send it to London in the small ship...
The captain of the big ship...towed the small ship at his stern all the way over.
So they went joyfully home together and had such fine weather that he never cast her off till they were well within the England channel, almost in sight of Plymouth.
But even there she was unhapply taken by a Turkish man-of-war and carried off to Saller (Morocco), where the captain and crew were made slaves...
Thus all their hopes were dashed and the joyful news they meant to carry home was turned to heavy tidings...
In the big ship Captain Myles Standish...arrived at a very bad time...a plague very deadly in London...
The friendly adventurers were so reduced by their losses last year, and now by the ship taken by the Turks...that all trade was dead."
This Thanksgiving, as we remember our brave soldiers and U.S Ambassador who were killed in Benghazi by a Muslim terrorist attack, we also gain new appreciation for our brave Pilgrim forbears who faced a similar threat.
"The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco," stated President Obama in Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009.
Explaining this, Governor William Bradford wrote that in 1625, a Pilgrim ship was returning to England with dried fish and 800 lbs of beaver skins to trade for supplies:
"They...were well within the England channel, almost in sight of Plymouth. But...there she was unhapply taken by a Turkish man-
of-war and carried off to Morocco where the captain and crew were made slaves."
Muslim pirates of Morocco raided European coasts and carried away over a million to the North African slave markets, where also they sold tens of millions of Africans into slavery.
In 1627, Algerian Muslim pirates, led by Murat Reis the Younger, raided Iceland, and carried 400 into slavery.
One captured girl, who had been made a slave concubine in Algeria, was rescued back by King Christian IV of Denmark.
On June 20, 1631, the entire village of Baltimore, Ireland, "The Stolen Village," was captured by Muslim pirates.
Only two ever returned. Thomas Osborne Davis wrote in his poem, "The Sack of Baltimore" (1895):
"The yell of 'Allah!' breaks above the shriek and roar;
O'blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore."
Kidnapped Englishman Francis Knight wrote:
"I arrived in Algiers, that city fatal to all Christians and the butchery of mankind."
Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail had 500 wives and forced 25,000 white slaves to build his palace at Meknes. He was witnessed to have killed an African slave just to try out a new hatchet he was given.
The Catholic Order "Trinitarians" collected alms to ransom slaves.
In 1785, Morocco recognized the new country of the United States by capturing two American ships and demanding tribute.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Jay, 1787:
"There is an order of priests called the Mathurins, the object of whose institution is to beg alms for the redemption of captives.
They keep members always in Barbary, searching out the captives of their country, and redeem, I believe, on better terms than any other body, public or private.
It occurred to me, that their agency might be obtained for the redemption of our prisoners at Algiers."
Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Carmichael, 1786:
"Mr. Adams and I had conferences with a Tripoline ambassador, named Abdrahaman. He asked us thirty thousand guineas for a peace with his court."
Jefferson reported to John Jay," March 28, 1786:
"The Ambassador answered us that it was...written in their Qur'an, that all nations who should not have acknowledged Islam's authority were sinners, that it was their...duty to make war upon them...and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners."
Jefferson purchased a Qur'an to understand the enemy.
Despite paying nearly 20 percent of the U.S. Federal budget as extortion payments, the Muslims continued their piracy.
When Jefferson became President, he finally sent in the U.S. Marines to stop Morocco's Barbary pirates.
In his First Annual Message, December 8, 1801, Thomas Jefferson stated:
"Tripoli...of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to (announce) war on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer.
I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean, with assurances to that power of our sincere desire to remain in peace, but with orders to protect our commerce against the threatened attack. "
On December 29, 1803, the new 36-gun USS Philadelphia ran aground on Morocco's shallow coast and Muslim pirates captured and imprisoned Captain William Bainbridge and his 307 man crew for 18 months.
To prevent the ship from being used by the Muslim Barbary pirates, Lieut. Stephen Decatur, FEBRUARY 16, 1804, sailed his ship, the Intrepid, into the pirate harbor of Tripoli, burned the captured U.S. frigate "Philadelphia" and escaped amidst enemy fire. British
Admiral Horatio Nelson called it the "most bold and daring act of the age."
The Marines later captured Tripoli and forced the Pasha to make peace on U.S. terms.
Frederick Leiner wrote in The End of the Barbary Terror-America's 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa (Oxford University Press):
"Commodore Stephen Decatur and diplomat William Shaler withdrew to consult in private...The Algerians were believed to be masters of duplicity, willing to make agreements and break them as they found convenient."
The annotated John Quincy Adams-A Bibliography, compiled by Lynn H. Parsons (Westport, CT, 1993, p. 41, entry#194), contains "Unsigned essays dealing with the Russo-Turkish War and on Greece," published in The American Annual Register for 1827-28-29 (NY: 1830):
"Our gallant Commodore Stephen Decatur had chastised the pirate of Algiers...The Dey (Omar Bashaw)...disdained to conceal his intentions;
'My power,' said he, 'has been wrested from my hands; draw ye the treaty at your pleasure, and I will sign it; but beware of the moment, when I shall recover my power, for with that moment, your treaty shall be waste paper.'"
America's war with the Muslim Barbary Pirates was the country's first war after the Revolution, giving rise to the Marine Anthem:
"From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli."