Original Hussar Armour Now in the Collection of the Polish History Museum

An exhibition just opened in Warsaw features an original hussar armour from the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries whose purchase for the Polish History Museum has been funded by the ORLEN Foundation. The armour can be viewed until 15:00 hrs on 4 October 2019. Then it is going to be temporarily shown at the Mazovian Museum in Płock. The exhibit will ultimately become part of the permanent exhibition of the Polish History Museum.

During the presentation, PHM Director Robert Kostro has stressed that the newly purchased armour is one of the most important of all the acquisitions of the Museum. ‘A hussar armour is just an indispensable part of an exhibition at the Polish History Museum, in particular as that specific item comes from the collection of the famous Kossak family, whose members were painters of the Polish cavalry,’ he emphasised. In the 1970s, the armour was bought by one of Kraków-based collectors from Gloria Kossak, the painter Jerzy Kossak’s daughter. Thanks to the funding by the Orlen Foundation, it has now been purchased by the Polish History Museum in Warsaw, where it will find its place at its permanent exhibition, once the PHM seat now constructed at the Warsaw Citadel has been opened.

PHM Director underlined the involvement of a number of institutions and enterprises in the creation of the Museum’s permanent seat as well as the enrichment of its collections; he has said that the financial support received from the Polish oil concern PKN Orlen is the most generous ever in the history of the museum he heads. He has also expressed the view that also private donors need to be acknowledged in a special way. ‘At the moment, we possess 42,000 items, 27,000 of which have been donated. Not all of them are of great material, yet huge sentimental value,’ Mr Kostro added.

The President of the Orlen Foundation Katarzyna Różycka explained that the decision to support the purchase of the hussar armour was determined by its symbolic role. ‘The hussar wings now appear on T-shirts, among spectators cheering in stadium stands as well as sportsmen. The objective of institutions such as the Polish History Museum is to carry on developing that fascination. We can see that the husaria still continues to stimulate imagination and continues to be living history,’ she said. Representing the Management Board of PKN Orlen Patrycja Klarecka said that equally important was to perceive the husaria as a symbol of steadfastness and fighting again a much stronger enemy.

Dr hab. Maciej Franz from Adam Mickiewicz University held a brief lecture focusing on specific elements of the hussar armour and the weapons used by the husaria. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the hussar armour consisted of a lobster-tailed pot helmet, a breast plate, a collarbone plate, shoulder plates and a pair of arm-guards. The historian specialising in the modern military underlined that an entire hussar armour was an exception in Polish collections, which ‘have hardly any exhibits of this kind.’ Dr hab. Maciej Franz stressed that the shape of the hussar armour was a result of a long-term evolution of the husaria formation, lasting  from the early 16th century onwards. ‘The husaria is no Polish invention. We do not know the exact place of its birth but it appeared, for example, in Hungary, as light cavalry. In the late 16th century, it became an armoured formation, the heaviest, breaking the enemy’s ranks,’ he said. The historian added that the image of the winged husaria was untrue as wings were used only for parades or various festivities.

The military history expert explained that the husaria had been an ideal match for the then circumstances of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As the country was very large, its defence required quickly moving yet relatively sparse cavalry formations. ‘The task of hussars was to rapidly crush the enemy and to open the field for light formations,’ he said.

‘We needed a formation able to defeat a much stronger and well equipped enemy,’ Dr hab. Franz said. In that context, he mentioned the battles of Kircholm, Kłuszyn and Trzciana, when the enemy had been even four times stronger.

The date of the exhibition openings ties up with the anniversary of the Turkish siege of Chocim (2 September–9 October 1621). According to the sources, more than 8,000 hussars fought on the Polish side there on top of other forces. The siege of the Chocim fortress marked the final stage of the Polish-Turkish war waged in 1620–1621, which was also called the Chocim war after the poet Wacław Potocki. On 9 October 1621, a pact was signed where the Commonwealth pledged to contain Cossack raids on Turkish territories while the Turks Tatar raids on those belonging to the Commonwealth. The main objective of the Turkish invasion, that is extorting a high ransom from the Commonwealth, was not accomplished. Soon after, unpaid Turkish Janissaries murdered Sultan Osman II. According to some contemporary historians, the Turkish failure at Chocim and the sultan’s killing were the first step towards weakening the sultan’s power and, consequently, a crisis in the Ottoman Empire.


The exhibit is shown at the exhibition titled With pride about the past, with courage about the future in the patio of the Senator building at 12 Bielańska St and can be viewed only until 15:00 hours on 4 October. Already on 10 October, the armour can be seen at the Masovian Museum in Płock (8 Tumska St) until 15 October. There is no admission fee for this temporary exhibition.


Photographs by PHM/Mariusz Bodnar