Battle of Hodów: When 400 Poles repelled 40,000 Tatars in 1694

Vastly outnumbered and in theory not fit for defensive action, the famed Polish winged hussars barricaded themselves in a village to make their stand against a 40,000-men-strong Tatar horde that invaded Poland in 1694 in search of slaves and booty.

The first encounter took place on June 11 on the plains near Hodów, however, the overwhelming numbers of the Tatar horde forced the 100 winged hussars and 300 heavy cavalrymen to find shelter within the premises of Hodów village.

There they dismounted, barricaded and fortified their positions using wagons, barrels, tables, fences etc. to construct makeshift defences that greatly impaired the Tatar units’ offensive capabilities as they consisted almost solely of cavalry.

The ‘invincible’ defenders

The fights lasted five to six hours. When the defenders ran out of ammo, they started using Tatar arrowheads instead of bullets. After hours of fruitless assaults, the Tatars sent the Polish–Lithuanian Tatars, also known as the Lipkas, to negotiate.

“Upon approaching our men, they [the Lipkas] advised them to yield, however, hearing [the defenders] say that they would not budge until death comes upon them, they reported back to the Tatars, saying: ”those men are invincible and you all shall rather die sooner than you manage to lay your hands on them,” so the account goes.

Having incurred losses of between 2,000 to 4,000 men against several dozen Polish troops, the Tatars decided to withdraw.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s King Jan Sobieski III showered money upon the Polish defenders of Hodów and gifted them horses. Moreover, he ordered that a monument be raised on the battlefield.

Due to the enormous disproportion of forces, the battle is often called ‘the Polish Thermopylae’.