Useful Notes / Jan Zizka
Undefeated one-eyed general of the Hussite Wars, proto-Protestant revolutionary, inventor of modern field artillery, and Czech folk hero
Jan Zizka (1360-1424, pronounced 'yan zjeesh-ka') was the military leader of the radical religious groups called the Hussites for much of what is known as the Hussite Wars. One of history's few generals to never suffer a defeat, he's considered one of the greatest military leaders of all time and the inventor of dedicated mobile field artillery. Born in 1360 in Trocnov in the kingdom of Bohemia, where the modern day Czech Republic is, Zizka first made a name for himself a mercenary. This mercenary work eventually lead him to participate on the victorious Polish-Lithuanian side of the Battle of Tannenburg (also sometimes called Grunwald) against The Teutonic Knights. This was one of the largest pitched battles in all of medieval Europe and had wide reaching consequences. He ended up losing an eye in the battle, and would spend the rest of his life with an eye patch, leading to his future nickname 'One-Eyed Jan'. While coming under the service of the Bohemian King Wenceslas IV, he became a landowner near the Bohemian town of Budweis (and if that name sounds familiar, it's because it is), and, like many in the region, became swept up in a radical religious movement known as the Hussites. The movement was first started by a man named Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake as a heretic for his teachings. It's from his name that the word "Hussite" was coined. They were one of the first splinter groups to directly challenge the authority of the Catholic Church, predating the Reformation heralded by Martin Luther that resulted in the formation of the Protestant denominations of Christianity. In particular, the Hussites placed a heavy emphasis on the Eucharist even outside members of the clergy, which was considered heretical at that point in history, and demanded reforms to eliminate corruption in the church. Zizka ended up leading an act of revolt known as the First Defenestration of Prague in 1419 which saw several city councilors thrown from a window after the unfair imprisonment of several Hussites. Part of the reason the revolution occurred on that year in particular was because of the ascension of Sigismund as King of Bohemia, the man who many believed was the one that was ultimately responsible for Jan Hus's death. When a crusade was declared against the Hussites along with a military invasion into Bohemia by the Holy Roman Empire, Zizka lead the very first pitched battle against the remaining loyalists to Sigismund at the siege of Vysehrad castle, and his great initial success quickly allowed him to gain prominence among the Hussite rebels. Zizka's military genius would end up being the Hussite's greatest weapon. In particular, he favored an extremely unorthodox and devastatingly effective strategy to defeat armies of knights that were more numerous, better trained, and better equipped than his own. Carefully picking an advantageous location, Zizka would have his men draw their armored wagons in a circle at first sight of the enemy and bind them together with chains, creating a fortified camp on a moment's notice. Then, his men would barrage their enemies with long distance cannon fire from their primitive howitzers before switching to crossbows and smaller hand-cannons when the enemy drew close enough, taking special care to try to kill the horses and force the knights to approach on foot. Once the enemies were sufficiently weakened, cavalry that had been kept hidden in the middle of the circle along with peasants from inside the carts— using whatever weapon they had available, including rocks— would jump out and finish off the heavily weakened and demoralized attacking force. This bizarre strategy posed a serious problem for opposing armies, because for the first time in history just being within visible range of Zizka's army made them vulnerable to attack, basically forcing them to rush at his wagon fortress before they took heavy losses from afar. It wasn't his only strategy, however— he was also fond of audacious raids into enemy encampments as a means of counterattack. He managed to defeat armies vastly larger than his own, including one victory at the Battle of Sudomer where his men were outnumbered fifty to one. At the largest battle of the Hussite Wars, the Battle of Kunta Hora, his army of 12,000 men defeated Sigismund's army of 92,000 while Zizka's army was completely encircled. The Hussites were also mostly comprised of pesants, and many could only cobble together primitive flails made from agricultural tools to use in melee combat, while their opponents were the heavily armed knights of the Holy Roman Empire. His reputation for being undefeated against all odds quickly made him the most feared man of the Hussite Wars, with armies quickly learning to actively avoid direct battles with him whenever possible. He would end up repelling three different crusades that were launched on Bohemia over the course of his leadership during the Hussite wars. He later led an attacking force into Hungary—one of the other kingdoms Sigismund ruled— which was unsuccessful aside from the battles where Zizka was directly in command, due to the vastly superior numbers of the Hungarian army. However, the retreat he led is often considered one of the most effective tactical retreats in the history of Medieval warfare. As the Hussites succumbed to in-fighting and began to split apart, Jan Zizka sided with the more radical wing located in the town of Tabornote , the Taborites, against the more moderate Utraquists based in the Bohemian capital of Prague. Zizka would lead the Taborites to victory over the Utraquists at the battles of Skalic and Malesov in 1424, effectively reunifiying the Hussites. Shortly thereafter, however, he died of plague in 1424. Afterwards, his men started going under the name 'sirotci', meaning 'The Orphans', because they felt as if they had lost their father. His famous dying wish was for his skin to be made into a drum so he could lead his troops in battle even after death. The Hussites would hold on for a few more years (and would even get penned a direct threat by none other than Joan of Arc in 1430 just before her death), but without their greatest general the Hussites once again split into Taborists and Utraquists. This time the Utraquists won out. Weary after two more crusades were launched on them, they finally agreed to submit to the King of Bohemia and the Church on the condition that they were allowed to continue to practice their own religious rites, ending the Hussite Wars in 1434. Aside from being hailed as one of the greatest military leaders in history, Zizka's military triumphs played a prominent role in helping form the Czech national identity. His military strategy offered a very early glimpse of what warfare would become in the next several hundred years, his cannon-armed war wagons preceding the artillery-heavy conquests of Napoleon and acting as something of an Ur-Example of the modern tank. Zizka is also a good example how one man can have a disproportionate influence on language. In particular the English words 'howitzer' and 'pistol' are derived from the Czech words 'houfnice' and 'pistala', both of which became prominent because of his revolutionary use of gunpowder weapons during the war. He remains to this day a very prominent figure in Czech media and fiction as both a historical figure and a folk hero.
Examples in media:
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Anime & Manga
- Zizka appears as a major character in the manga Otome Sensou, which is set during the time of the Hussite Wars.
Comics & Graphic Novels
- Zizka appears as one of the main characters in Armed Garden by David B.
- Zizka is mentioned in the the short story "A Town To Remember", set in Nazi era Czechoslovakia, in the Jack Kirby penned comic Boy Commandos.
- French Novelist George Sand wrote a romanticized history novel called Jean Zizka where Jan is the main character.
- Austrian poet Alfred Meissner published the epic poem Zizka in 1846 detailing his life and accomplishments.
- Jan Zizka is prominent in the Andrzej Sapkowski historical fantasy series Hussite Trilogy, especially in the second book Warrior Of God.
- Zizka is frequently mentioned in the Angela Hunt's Silver Sword, following a woman who dons armor to fight in the Hussite Wars.
- Zizka makes an appearance in the James Baker novel A Gleaming Dawn, written in 1896.
- The anonymously authored book The St. James's Medley; Or, Fiction, Facts, and Fancies, from the Roadside of Life directly mentions Zizka and his feats during the Hussite wars, including touching on his revolutionary use of gunpowder.
- He appears in the children's book History of the Brave Czech Nation by Lucie Seifertova, as well as in the animated adaptation of the book of the same name.
- He is the title character of Jim Fuxa's historical fiction novel Zizka, the One Eyed.
- Jan Zizka is a central figure of the "Hussite Revolutionary Trilogy" directed by Otakar Vavra. These Films were Jan Hus (1955), Jan Zizka (1956), and Against All (1957). In all three appearances he was played by Zdenek Stepanec.
- He is the the main character of the upcoming Petr Jakl film Warrior Of God.
- He appeared as a character in the 1960 Polish film Krzyzacy (Black Cross) and was portrayed by Tadeusz Schmidt.
- He was a major character in the 1968 Czech adventure film Na Zizkove valecnem voze (On Zizka's Battle Wagon) and portrayed by Ilja Prachar.
- He was a character in the 1919 Czech silent film Utrpenim ke slave and played by director Richard F. Branald.
- He is a character in 2002 Czech zombie comedy Jan Hus: Resurrection and played by Ondrej Gabriel.
- Zizka is mentioned in the 1977 Czechoslovakian film Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet, as one of the characters, Kvetuska, declares this when asked if she's a brave girl: "I am a daughter of Jan Zizka's nation."
- He is referenced in the 1965 film Pearls Of The Deep, a film of five vignettes set in 20th century Czechoslovakia.
- He is also mentioned in the 1968 film The Marathon, about a Nazi prison breakout of Czech partisan rebels.
- He is also briefly referenced in describing the location of the 2000 Czech comedy film Eeny Meeny.
- He is the lead character of Frantisek Skroup's 1850 operatic adaptation of of Smrt Zizkova ("Zizka's Death").
- Communist political composer Radim Drejsl composed a song called Ve jmenu Jana Zizky ("In the Name of Jan Zizka") in 1953, intended for use in the Czechoslovakian military.
- He's a major character in Josef Vaclav Fric's Vaclav IV, kral cesky, who was played by famous Czech theater actor Josef Jiri Kolar.
- Kolar would later pen his own play about Zizka titled Smrt Zizkova, which in turn would be adapted into an opera by Frantisek Skroup.
- He's also the title character of the 1903 play Jan Zizka by Nobel-Prize nominated writer Alois Jirasek.
- Data files exist in Medieval II: Total War for both Hussite and War Wagon units, but did not make it into the final game and can only be accessed from the source codes.
- Zizka's firearm equipped war wagons appear as a unit in Age of Empires III, ironically as a special unit of the Germans, who were one of Zizka's enemies in real life. The game's unit infobox directly mentions him with the anglicized version of his name: John Zizka.
- Zizka is referenced in the MMORPG game World of Tanks with the "Zizka Skoda T 40" tank, which is painted in the colors of the flag of the Czech Republic.
- He is the default general for the Bohemia faction of Europa Universalis 2.
- Badass of the Week listed him as one of their badasses of the week, detailing many of the feats already touched upon in this page.
- During WWII a number of military units were named after Jan Zizka. One of them, the 1st Czechoslovak Partisan Brigade of Jan Zizka was among the first anti-nazist guerrilla units in occupied Czechoslovakia. A Yugoslav partisan brigade of the same name was formed in western Slavonia on 26 October 1943 and operated in areas inhabited by a large Czech and Slovak minority.
- His portrait was used as the 25kcs banknote cover for the 1958 Czechoslovack koruna series.
- Zizkov, one of the central cadastral districts of Prague, is named after him, and lies just south of the site where the Battle of Vitkov Hill took place. The third largest equestrian statue in the entire world can be found here, depicting Zizka on Horseback.
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