Marchfeld, plain, NE Austria, NE of Vienna, between the Danube and the Morava (Ger. March) rivers, on the border of Slovakia. A strategic approach to Vienna, it was the site of several important battles. In 1260, Ottocar II of Bohemia defeated Bela IV of Hungary on the Marchfeld, and in 1278, Ottocar was defeated and slain by the forces of Rudolf I of the house of Hapsburg. In 1809, Napoleon I was defeated on the Marchfeld at Aspern by Archduke Charles, but was victorious at Wagram.

The Battle on the Marchfeld (Morava Field) at Dürnkrut and Jedenspeigen took place on August 26, 1278 and was a decisive event for the history of Central Europe for the following centuries.

The opponents were Bohemian (Czech) army led by king Ottokar II of Bohemia and an Imperial army led by Rudolf I of Habsburg in alliance with the Hungarian King Ladislaus IV of Hungary. The Hungarian army included Hungarian heavy cavalry as well as Cuman horse archers. It is estimated that almost 55,000 men were involved (out of these 20,000 of Hungarians and Cumans, besides Pechenegs and Székely horsemens). Thus, it was one of the largest knight battles during the Middle Ages. On the other hand, this battle is also a good example of the aligned usage of heavy cavalry and horse archers.

The Marchfeld (named after the Morava river) northeast of Vienna became the battlefield, as the armies consisting of knights could easily engage in battle on the flat terrain with hardly any forest.

Rudolf I takes the German throne

Otakar II, angered that Rudolf I was a rival candidate for the German throne, did not partake in Rudolf’s royal election to the throne in 1273. The German princes did not consider Otakar because they feared that he would not let them rule their principalities as they saw fit. In addition Otakar, "Lion of Bohemia", didn't receive papal support. In contrast, Rudolf did receive the unconditional support of the Pope in 1274. Otakar II had positioned himself to be the successor to the Babenbergs through marriage to his much older wife Margaret (at the time of their marriage, Margaret was forty four while Otakar was twenty two). Otakar was set to acquire Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and Friuli. However, Rudolf’s election to the German throne made him eligible to take these provinces as well. In order to settle this dispute, Rudolf summoned Otakar II before the Diet. Otakar failed to show, not wanting to acknowledge the election of the "poor count of Habsburg" (this phrase coined by Otakar).

Preparations for battle

By not appearing before the Diet, Otakar set events in motion for his imminent demise. Rudolf, meanwhile, was gathering allies and preparing for battle. He achieved two of these alliances through the classic Habsburgian style—marriage. First, he married his son Albert to Elizabeth, the daughter of the count of the Tyrol, Meinhard II. In return, Meinhard II received Carinthia as a fief. Second, he established an alliance with the duke of Bavaria, Henry, by offering him his daughter in addition to the region of present-day Upper Austria as a pledge for her dowry. He also achieved an alliance with the King of Hungary, Ladislaus IV of Hungary.

The battle

The battle took place on the 26th of August in 1278, at Dürnkrut in the Marchfeld where the Morava River opens into the Danubian plain. Rudolf I had reorganized the imperial army, recruiting 3,000 knights from the Rhineland, Swabia, Franconia, Austria and Styria, László the Cuman's army numbered ca. 18,000 men (hungarian heavy and light cavalry, pecheng, szekler and cuman light cavalry). King Otakar II employed the services of Saxon and Brandeburgian knights in his army (except, of course, the so-called "iron lords" (železní páni) – Bohemian-Moravian aristocratic cavalry, which composes the core of his forces).

The battle was short and brutal. In the late afternoon, Rudolf's forces finally could decide the battle in their favor. Ottokar didn't die in direct combat but during the retreat most of Bohemian army was beseted, knock down from his horse and subsequently slayed. Carinthian knight Berthold von Emerberg, his cupbearer, killed the king in order to settle a personal vendetta. Years earlier, the king had ordered the execution of his relative.


Rudolf I, heartened by his victory, promptly continued the offensive in the direction of Moravia and Bohemia. "He endeavoured to act with moderation; he granted the kingdom of Bohemia as a fief to Václav II., his son-in-law and Otakar II’s legitimate heir, and set aside the case of Moravia." (Bérenger 51) There were several other repercussions. The dream of creating a great Slavonic kingdom could no longer become reality.

The victory allowed the Habsburgs to take control over the Duchies of Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola for the centuries to come (until 1918) and to start growing into a serious power in German politics instead of being just a petty-princely caretaker administrator. The Premyslid dynasty, on the other hand, was prevented from expanding to the western, German-speaking lands and effectively competing for the imperial crown, instead turning their main interests eastward to kingdoms of Poland and Hungary. Only some fifty years later did it become possible for kings of Bohemia (a dynasty descended from Premyslids) to again have imperial designs over Germany. The heirs of the two protagonists united their dominions a first time in 1438, and again in 1526, after which several monarchs ruled Vienna from Prague, but usually a bigger number vice versa.


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