Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The political setting
The fourteenth century has rightly been termed the Blüte der Staaten, or renaissance of old and new state formations in east-central Europe. The small states of the region, such as Serbia, Wallachia, Bulgaria, whose fortunes waxed and waned over time, in the long run fell victim to their more powerful neighbours: the core states of Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia, which by the end of the fourteenth century were much strengthened politically and economically; and the Ottoman Empire, which gained control of the Balkans from the late fourteenth century onwards. The Teutonic Knights and Lithuania exercised important roles for a time, but by the sixteenth century they had both become buttresses of the Polish crown. Of the lands surrendered by the Teutonic Knights, some came to constitute East Prussia, while the western territories were integrated into the Polish kingdom. The Tartars and the territories they dominated were militarily significant, especially for the Poles, since they both served as allies of the Lithuanians and provided auxiliary troops to the Ottomans. In addition to the Polish and Hungarian hussars (and later the Cossacks), the Tartars were the only group that adhered to tactics based upon the deployment of light cavalry.
An important factor in the reconfiguration of states in east-central Europe was the fact that several monarchs enjoyed long reigns, allowing them to implement a series of reforms.