Known as “The One-Eyed,” Jan Ziska led the Hussites in a religious and patriotic war against the Holy Roman Empire. Born in Trocnov, Bohemia (present-day Czechoslovakia), Ziska lost an eye in child¬ hood.
He served in the military bands of sev¬ eral Bohemian lords and went to Poland to fight against the Teutonic Knights, an order of German knights. He particularly distin¬ guished himself at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. He became an adherent of the church reforms advocated by Jan Hus, which many scholars see as the start of the Protestant Reformation.
Following the death of Bohemian King Wenceslas IV in 1419, his half brother Emperor Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire claimed the throne of Bohemia. Sigismund announced his intention to root out all heresy from his new kingdom. Learning of the emperor’s plan, Ziska formed a band of 400 men who called themselves the “armed brotherhood of Taborites” (Tabor was a city in south-central Bohemia).
The Taborites occupied the Vitkov heights over the city of Prague. When Sigismund’s troops arrived in 1420, they saw Ziska’s defenses and withdrew from the area without trying to capture the city. (Since that time the heights have been called Zizkov in his honor.)
Ziska developed a fighting system that was completely new. He mounted cannons on farm wagons, which could be drawn together at a moment’s notice to form a prodigious defense. The Hussite battle plan almost always called for a resolute defense from the wagons, followed at a crucial moment by an attack from behind the wagons that would rout the enemy. Ziska also pioneered in the development of earthwork fortifications.
Using these new tactics, Ziska defeated the emperor’s soldiers at Plzen (1421), Kutna Hora and Nemecky Brod (1422). He himself lost his remaining sight at the siege of the cas¬ tle at Rabi, but continued to direct his troops. In 1423, there was a serious breach between the radical Taborites and a more moderate Bohemian group called the Utraquists. A Hussite civil war ensued in which Ziska led the Taborites to victory at Horid and Strachor.
Ziska took command of another sect of radical Hussites in eastern Bohemia based around the mountain fort of Hradec Kraloue (better known as Horeb). He continued to win victories over the moderate Hussite ele¬ ments, notably at Malesov on June 7, 1424.
Ziska contracted the bubonic plague and died at the castle of Pribyslav. He was buried at Horeb, but his remains were later trans¬ ferred to Caslav. Ziska remains one of the national heroes of Bohemia, a land that has known many conquerors since his time period.