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Common board – common heritage

New look on Polish and Turkish castles on Dniester


Kamyanets-Podilsky (both the town and the fortress) has been the subject of a large number of studies (the latest Polish one: R. Król-Mazur, Miasto trzech nacji (A Town of Three Nations), the Ukrainian one: М. Петров, Місто Кам'янець-Поділський в 30-х роках XV-XVIII столітomoc, where further literature can be found). The castle of Kamyanets has been deeply ingrained in Polish culture and collective consciousness due to the historical novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Therefore, the full history of the fortress of Kamyanets-Podilsky will not be presented here (those who are interested in it, please refer to scientific and popular science studies published so far). Instead of that, the work will briefly discuss key aspects of military functioning of the castle and its garrison.

The beginnings of the masonry castle are connected with the rule of Princes Koriatovych over Podolia. At first, they chose Smotrych on the river with the same name as the capital of their dominion. At the end of the 1370s and the beginning of the 1380s, the Koriatovych family moved to Kamyanets, where a Roman Catholic diocese was founded as well, which confirmed the high status of the town. However, the Old Castle of Kamyanets was given its modern form as a result of fortification work from the beginning of the 16th century, when it was already within the Kingdom of Poland. The extension of the fortifications was related to the changed balance of power south of the Jagiellonian monarchy. Moldavia and Wallachia became vassals of the Ottoman Empire and since the 2nd half of the 15th century, the Tatars invaded Podolia and Ruthenia almost every year. In this period, the Polish south-eastern borderlands protection system began to form and fortresses played an important part in it. At that time, a permanent garrison of Polish infantry (from several dozen to several hundred people on average) started to be stationed at the castle of Kamyanets and remained there until 1672.

In the 1st half of the 16th century, Moldavian forces came to Kamyanets several times, but they did not have means to lay siege to the town and castle. For the same reason, the fortress on the Smotrych River was not attacked by the Tatars. Thanks to a considerable improvement in the Polish-Turkish relations since the 1530s, there were no serious threats to Kamyanets. Therefore, it is no wonder that there was no major fortification work at the fortress (apart from small changes made during the reign of Stefan Batory) and the garrison was not reinforced. It was only in the 1610s that the Porte started to threaten the town and castle. It was probably then that a decision was made to build modern fortifications improving the defensive capability of the Old Castle. A hornwork called the New Castle, designed by Teofil Szemberg, started to be built in 1617, but Poland did not manage to finish it before the Turkish invasion in 1621. At the time of the defence of the camp near Khotyn, Kamyanets played a very important part as the main supply centre of the Polish-Lithuanian-Cossack army fighting by the Dniester. The Turks came to Kamyanets again in 1633, but the army led by Abaza Mehmet pasha was defeated by Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski at the battle fought just outside the fortress.

Khmelnytsky’s Cossacks tried to besiege Kamyanets in 1651 and 1652, but they did not have means necessary to pose a serious danger to the garrison under the command of Piotr Potocki, General Starost of Podolia. Only an army with appropriate engineering-technical resources could be a threat to the fortress and such was the Turkish army. At the beginning of the 1670s, the risk of another war with the Porte made the Polish elites aware of the necessity to take care of the defensive capability of the “fore-tower of Europe.” However, it was definitely too late. A Dutch engineer Ulrich von Werdum wrote in 1671 that the fortress was in a lamentable condition. It is no wonder that the following year, it fell prey to the sultan’s army. The famous siege was a subject of many works (recently, it has been discussed by Marek Wagner). It is only worth mentioning here that the capitulation of the castle resulted not only from the miserable condition of the fortifications, but also from the small size of the Polish garrison (a little more than a thousand regular soldiers). Contrary to Sienkiewicz’s vision, the capitulation took place at the last possible moment, when the Ottoman army was very close to capturing the fortress. Kamyanets came under Turkish rule for over a quarter of a century. This period has been discussed in detail by Dariusz Kołodziejczyk.

The last years of the sultan’s rule and the Polish blockade at the time of the so-called Great Turkish War contributed immensely to the economic collapse of the town. In the 18th century, there was a struggle to restore it to its former importance, which partly succeeded. At the same time, there were plans of rebuilding the castle, still one of the most important fortresses of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Around 600 infantrymen were kept permanently at Kamyanets. The fortress was also fortunate in having talented and energetic engineers and commandants such as a Scot Archibald Glover de Glaydeny, a Swede Christian Dahlke and a Dutchman Jan de Witte. The first serious fortification work started under the supervision of Glover in the years 1710-1715 and 1720-1725. It consisted mainly in the conservation of the existing structures, but also in the construction of several new defensive works. In the middle of the 18th century, Dahlke surrounded the town with a circle of artillery batteries (although not very strong), and in the 2nd half of the century, Witte kept developing the defensive infrastructure, for example by building barracks. The chief problem was a lack of funds, which is why despite all the efforts made, Kamyanets could not match the most advanced fortresses of the time and had an absolutely insufficient garrison. The last military episode in the history of Polish Kamyanets took place in 1792 in connection with the so-called War in Defence of the Constitution of May 3. The fortress was prepared for a siege and the garrison was reinforced to reach the record number of 3000 soldiers. However, military activities developed in such a way that the fortress and its garrison did not play a major part in the course of the war.


Based on:

Z. Hundert, Garnizon wojskowy Kamieńca Podolskiego w latach 1667–1672 (The Military Garrison of Kamyanets-Podilsky in the Years 1667–1672), “Saeculum Christianum” (forthcoming).

D. Kołodziejczyk, Podole pod panowaniem tureckim: Ejalet kamieniecki 1672–1699 (Podolia under the Turkish Rule: the Eyalet of Kamyanets-Podilsky), Warszawa 1994.

R. Król-Mazur, Miasto trzech nacji: Studia z dziejów Kamieńca Podolskiego w XVIII wieku (The Town of Three Nations: Research into the History of Kamyanets-Podilsky in the 18th Century), Kraków 2008.

М. Петров, Місто Кам'янець-Поділський в 30-х роках XV-XVIII століт: Проблеми соціално-економічного, демографічного, етнічного та історико-топографічного розвитку. Міське і замкове управління, Кам'янець-Поділський 2012.

Library of the Czartoryskis in Kraków, manuscript No. 2699.

L. Podhorodecki, Kampania chocimska 1621 r. (The 1621 Khotyn Campaign), “Studia i Materiały do Historii Wojskowości” (Studies and Materials on the History of Military Science), Vol. X-XI (1964-1965).

A.J. [Rolle], Zameczki podolskie na kresach multańskich (The Podolian Castles in the Muntenian Borderlands), vol. I, Warszawa 1880.

M. Wagner, Wojna polsko-turecka 1672–1676 (The Polish-Turkish War of 1672-1676), Vol. I–II, Zabrze 2009.


Autorzy zdjęć/grafik:Artur Brzóska (17)Krystian Trela (25) - w sumie 42.