I’ve kept this one in my pocket for a while. I’ve wanted to talk about Jan for many months but never found the right time. As I start my journey here I think its high time we talk about this legend.
When I say Jan is an unknown Alexander I mean that he is probably significantly more capable that Alexander the Great but almost totally unknown. This may seem like a grand statement but you’ll soon find out that it is not.
You see Alexander faced down the Persians and this was no small feat. However, Alexander had the most experienced and best equipped professional army in human history (up to that point) behind him. Jan faced all of Catholic Europe and all he had was around 500 peasants.
It’s like that meme everyone loves. Who would win? The Holy Roman Emperor with the Pope and Catholic Europe or a 1 eyed boi with 500 farmers.
Jan fought in the Hussite Crusades. The Hussite wars are extremely complex but this should serve as a basic breakdown. Czech Priest Jan Hus had been preaching some rather radical things, much to the anger of the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund and the Pope. So Sigismund with the support of the Pope and Catholic Europe invaded Bohemia where the Hussites lived.
The Hussites had no real support- they were little more than a band of heretics. But they did have Mercenary Jan Zizka and that was all they needed.
In the opening days of the war, Sigismund crossed into Bohemia at the head of a massive 80,000 man army. He set out for Prague and began to lay siege to the city.
Zizka found some allies in the local militia and set forth to defend the city. He stationed his small force on a large hill outside the city named Vitkov Hill
Sigismund attacked the hill hoping to force Zizka back inside the city and was defeated. You may be thinking “so he defended a hill, so what?”
Well, what I did not mention was that Zizka had 130 peasant farmers with him and Sigismund attacked with 8,000 heavily armed knights. Zizka defeated a force of 8,000 knights with only 130 men- all while taking a mere 3 casualties.
Every battle Jan fought went like this. He never once lost despite always being outnumbered 5, 10, or 20 to 1. He only ever fought with peasants and only ever fought professional armies filled with knights and trained killers. Look at all these battles below- a clipped the Wikipedia entry to make it all more visual.
You may wonder how he did it? Well he was innovative and pragmatic.
He was an early adopter of firearms and used them to great effect. He also loved mobile field artillery and wagons. He would place a line of wagons at a slant close to the enemy position and fire on them with artillery. When the enemy finally responded by sending in the knights they would find that the wagons protected the infantry from a charge. Inside the wagons would a team of crossbowmen, gunners, and melee warriors. Unable to charge any formations and prevented from getting to the army by the wagons the knights would take heavy losses. When the knights finally began to get demoralized the infantry would charge out from behind the wagons and slaughter the retreating and demoralized knights- inflicting massive casualties with minimal losses.
To put it simply the guy was decades ahead of his time.
Jan defeated the crusaders. The Hussites won the war- beating the Catholic church in Europe. It was an improbable victory- peasants defeating an emperor and the church.
Jans last deathbed wish was that his skin be made into a drum so even in death he could lead his men in battle.