Fashion, much like art, can count war among its driving forces. Some of the most stylish men in the world were history’s greatest warriors. But not all of them were born to be trend-setters as much as blood-letters, so it was not uncommon for warriors to steal their enemies’ style.
The Winged Hussars, medieval Poland’s elite horse cavalry, are famous for the giant wings attached to each rider’s back. Though the origin of the wings is still debated, a theory suggests the Polish horsemen bit the style of an old enemy.
In the 16th century, the Hungarian cavalry often engaged in battle with the Ottoman Empire’s akıncı (“ah-ken-jee”), Turkish raiders famous for their near-suicidal fighting style. The raiders painted eagle wings on their backs, which they believed made their horses ride faster. Over the course of many battles, the Hungarians started copying them.
When Stefan Batory, a Transylvanian-Hungarian prince, was elected king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1570, he reorganized the Polish hussars and introduced Hungarian traditions to the elite riders. This included the painted wings – which later transformed into the heavy, wood-and-metal contraptions of the Winged Hussars.
“We saw it…. the hussars let loose their horses. God, what power! They ran through the smoke and the sound was like that of a thousand blacksmiths beating with a thousand hammers. We saw it…. Jezus Maria! The elite’s lances bent forward like stalks of rye, driven by a great storm, bent on glory!”
– Henryk Sienkiewicz, Potop (Deluge)
And maybe those wings did have some magic in them after all.
During the Battle of Kłuszyn in 1610, some 4,000 Polish-Lithuanian soldiers – mostly Winged Hussars – charged a staggering 48,000 troops fighting for the Tsardom of Russia. The Hussars cost the Russians around 5,000 men and only suffered a tenth as many causalities. The Russians were forced to retreat, earning the Hussars a decisive victory and proving them some of the most stylish badasses in all history.
Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to steal someone’s style — just make it your own.
The Gentleman Journalist