Jan ika z Trocnova a Kalicha (circa 1360 11 October 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, ika first made a name for himself as a mercenary. This mercenary work eventually lead him to participate on the victorious Polish-Lithuanian side of the Battle of Tannenberg (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 creation 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. ika ended up leading an act of revolt known as the First Defenestration of Prague in 1419 which saw several city councillors thrown from a window after the unfair imprisonment of several Hussites. Part of the reason the revolution occurred on that year, in particular, was that 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, ika 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. ika's military genius would end up being the Hussite's greatest weapon.
In particular, he favoured 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, ika would have his men draw their armoured 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 howitzers, hook guns, and long ranged cannons 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.
While the use of cannons was hardly new, until that point in history they were used almost exclusively as siege and naval weapons, and only used in actual pitched battles as a last resort. ika was the first to implement large-bore firearms meant solely to kill groups of enemy soldiers as one of the main elements of his army, and by pairing them with the war wagons he allowed them to be moved around and set up rapidly while also providing protection to the operators. This bizarre strategy posed a serious problem for opposing armies, because for the first time in history just being within a visible range of ika'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 Sudoměř where his men were outnumbered five to one. At the largest battle of the Hussite Wars, the Battle of Kutná Hora, his army of 12,000 men defeated Sigismund's army of 92,000 while ika's army was completely encircled. The Hussites were also mostly comprised of peasants, 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 and continued to lead in battle even after losing his other good eye and becoming totally blind.
He later led an attacking force into Hungary—one of the other kingdoms Sigismund ruled— which was unsuccessful aside from the battles where ika 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 ika 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. ika would lead the Taborites to victory over the Utraquists at the battles of Skalic and Malesov in 1424, effectively reunifying the Hussites. Shortly thereafter, however, he died of plague in late 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 into 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 herself 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, ika'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. ika 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 'píťala', 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:
- ika appears as a major character in the manga Otome Sensou, which is set during the time of the Hussite Wars. He's a friendly character to the main heroine and, not terribly far from how he was described in his own life, he's a bit of a Hot-Blooded, wise Cloud Cuckoo Lander mentor who his soldiers would follow to the ends of the earth.
- ika appears as one of the main characters in Armed Garden by David B.
- ika is mentioned in 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 ika in 1846 detailing his life and accomplishments.
- Jan ika is prominent in the Andrzej Sapkowski historical fantasy series Hussite Trilogy, especially in the second book Warrior Of God.
- ika is frequently mentioned in the Angela Hunt's Silver Sword, following a woman who dons armour to fight in the Hussite Wars.
- ika 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 ika 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 ika, the One Eyed.
- Jan ika is a central figure of the "Hussite Revolutionary Trilogy" directed by Otakar Vavra. These Films were Jan Hus (1955), Jan ika (1956), and Against All (1957). In all three appearances, he was played by Zdeněk těpánek.
- He is 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 ikově válečném voze (On ika'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 ika'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 Smrt ikova ("ika's Death").
- Communist political composer Radim Drejsl composed a song called Ve jménu Jana iky ("In the Name of Jan ika") in 1953, intended for use in the Czechoslovakian military.
- He's a major character in Josef Vaclav Fric's Vaclav IV, král český, who was played by famous Czech theatre actor Josef Jiri Kolar.
- Kolar would later pen his own play about ika 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 ika 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.
- ika's firearm equipped war wagons to appear as a unit in Age of Empires III, ironically as a special unit of the Germans, who were one of ika's enemies in real life. The game's unit infobox directly mentions him with the anglicized version of his name: John Zizka.
- ika is referenced in the MMORPG game World of Tanks with the "ika koda T 40" tank, which is painted in the colours 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 ika. One of them, the 1st Czechoslovak Partisan Brigade of Jan Zizka was among the first anti-nazi 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 Czechoslovak koruna series.
- ikov, one of the central cadastral districts of Prague, is named after him, and lies just south of the site where the Battle of Vítkov Hill took place. The third largest equestrian statue in the entire world can be found here, depicting ika on horseback.