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The inhabitants of the country

In the 1330s the Pope's tithe-collectors visited Hungary. Their records of the collected sums survived, though only in fragments. According to these, the population of Hungary together with Slavonia might have been around 2 million. The great plague broke into the Carpathian Basin in 1349, and at the end of 1359 another plague spread throughout the country. There are no data concerning the number of the victims of these plagues. Famines were quite insignificant in Hungary, though they occurred regularly in other European countries. The great decrease in the population, which was rather typical of European countries in this period, did not seem to happen in Hungary, since the population of the country may have been around 3-3.5 million in the 1430s.

In Hungary, as in Western Europe, social groups were called estates, and belonging to an estate was called condition. The estate was the community of people with identical rights. Financial differences could be very large among people in the same estate. Belonging to an estate was defined by birth, the possibility of moving to another estate was rather slight. The privileges of social groups were called freedoms, so we can talk about the freedom of noblemen and hospeses. The 14th century was the century of juristic unification. In its first decades the rights of noblemen, by the middle of the century the rights of villeins became unified throughout the country.

Unified nobility and villeins

The estate of the nobility included royal servants and a certain part of castle villeins besides the real noblemen. The "one and the same nobiliary freedom" declared by the 1351 laws did not mean that they had identical rights from that time on - this was accepted decades before - but it referred to the situation of noblemen living beyond the river Drava and in Transylvania, whose legal situation was different from that of the noblemen of Hungary. Landowners were also called noblemen independent of the size of their estates, and both a single piece of ground and a domain could be considered a noble estate.

A noble estate did not belong to a certain family but to the whole clan. The ancient estate was inherited within the clan. Aviticity was not invented by Louis the Great, he only justified the already existing legal theory in his 1352 law in a way that he invalidated a regulation in the Golden Bull, which scarcely or never was practiced. The 1351 ruling was made in the defence of royal rights, so the property of those who died without a male successor would fall back on the king. At the beginning of his reign, Louis the Great introduced the system of the new gift, which was quite disastrous for clan possessions.

In the second half of the 14th century the ancient noble clans became divided, they lived their lives as independent families, only the ancient estate and the common coat-of-arms reminded them of their kinship. Members of noble families who received gifts through their services at the court did not share them with other members of the clan. In the age of the Angevine rulers and at the beginning of the Sigismund age the real dividing line within the nobility was between court and country nobility. Through court services one could join the group of barons as well.

Barons were the main office bearers of the country in the age of the Angevine kings. Their number decreased first around 1350, and from this time on the county ispáns [bailiff] - with the exception of the ispán [bailiff] of Pozsony - did not belong to their group. Ex-office bearers were also barons, but their children were not yet barons at that time. The closed estate of noblemen started to take shape after Sigismund's great gifts, the basis of which was not exclusively the office, but also the estate obtained by succession.

Noblemen living at the court, who did not bear the title of baron, were divided into three groups: court knights, court youths and court pages. The basis of this categorisation was not their age, but their origin and merits. Court noblemen took part in the everyday practice of governing. They and the barons received not only an estate as a gift, but also an office estate called the 'honour', which could be repossessed by the ruler at any time, but the profit of the honour estate was their legal due.

Country estate owner noblemen were called common noblemen. They could not intervene in politics, they could represent themselves only in county administration. Noblemen with a single estate lived like peasants. From both groups several people served a lord or joined his family, this is why they were called familiares. However real a social group they formed, court nobility and the familiares did not become an estate. Their members were considered noblemen just as their lords. This was because according to contemporary Hungarian law everyone was a nobleman who had his own estate.

There were noblemen living in various parts of the country, who had different and more restricted rights than the noblemen of the homeland. They were called local or particular noblemen. The immunity from taxes of the noblemen living beyond the river Drava was declared only in 1351, and the right of the Transylvanian noblemen for noble-courts was also acknowledged at that time. The different condition of the noblemen of Liptó and Turóc, or the ten-spears of Szepes was in connection with their ancient origin and closed geographical situation. Ecclesiastical noblemen, the so-called praedialists, were not considered real noblemen. They lived on ecclesiastic estates and performed administrational duties in times of peace, and fought on the side of their lords in times of war.

Under the unclear political conditions of the turn of the 13-14th centuries the institution of royal castle disappeared, and so did the social layers connected to it: servants and castle villeins. The organisation of royal equerries was also dissected. Peasants living on other people's estates were uniformly called villeins from the middle of the 14th century, no matter if they lived on royal, nobiliary or ecclesiastic estates. Villeins could be liberated servants, who received lands from their lords, people of royal castes, impoverished castle villeins, equerries or hospeses. Their rights and duties were defined after the pattern of the rights of earlier hospeses.

Villeins could use their lands freely, later the lands were inherited by their descendants. If a villein paid for his debts and land rents, he was free to move to another landlord. This free movement was often impeded by the landlords, so it had to be enstrengthened by a law in 1391. To their landlords villeins had to pay the land rent in cash, give presents in products, for example, lambs, cakes, and they had to pay ninth after certain products, for example wine and land products. The labour service [robot], which had to be performed in the landlord's farmstead, was quite insignificant then. Land rent and presents had to be paid at different times depending on the traditions of the given region.

The services of the villeins were regulated by customary law. In spite of juristic uniformity, there were big differences in the services of villeins, depending on which earlier social layer their ancestors originated from. For the last time equerries were differentiated from villeins in the age of Sigismund. Hospeses kept their better position throughout the Middle Ages at many places. In the course of inheritance, estates became smaller and smaller. Villeins owned half, quarter, or even a smaller part of these estates, and in the 15th century the average size of an estate was a quarter-estate. Peasants who possessed their own houses - not estates - were called cottars, they worked for wages or rented their lands.

The landlords had to defend their villeins - if it was needed, even by force. They also had to provide administration of justice at their private court. Since the reign of Charles I first of all the barons, but more and more court noblemen received power of life and death, so in their estates they could administer justice not only in minor cases and over their own villeins, but also over all criminals who were caught there. The estate of the landowner, who obtained power of life and death, got out of the juristic power of the county ispán [bailiff], so this right is called 'free of ispánship [bailiff]' in Hungarian.

Ethnic minorities and privileged groups

Settling people to the borderlines of the country was continued in the 14th century. On the one hand there were not enough people in the country for this, on the other hand these woody mountain regions required special farming methods, so the new inhabitants of these territories came from abroad. Owing to these big settlements the population did not decrease in Hungary - which was quite general in Europe then - and the borderlines of the country became inhabited by Slovak, Ruthenian and Rumanian people.

Besides the Slovaks, who always lived here, in the Upper Hungary, there were settlers from Moravia, Poland and the Russian principalities, mainly with the lead of German enterpreneurs, the so-called Soltesz-es. They created new villages by cutting out woods. Orthodox Ruthenians came to the Eastern Carpathians in large numbers in the 14th century. Part of them lived according to vlach (Wallach) rights, that is they exclusively dealt with animal husbandry and they had to pay only the fiftieth tax.

In the 14th century there was a turn in Rumanian settlement. Charles I legalised the practice which was used during the interregnum, when he let the landowners themselves settle down Rumanians in their estates, but the sheep fiftieth tax had to be paid to the king. Wallach districts were organised for the Rumanian people living on royal estates, such districts were, for example, the Lugos, the Sebes, the Hátszeg and the Hunyad districts. The Rumanian society was led by the kenéz-es. The second wave of Rumanian settlement started then, from the east, from Moldavia. The Rumanians came with the lead of the voivodes and they showed bigger social differences than their ancestors. They populated the Máramaros region on the left bank of the river Tisza. The Rumanian voivodes of Máramaros organised the Moldavian principality.

The Székely and Saxon communities in Transylvania formed an independent, closed society. The Székelys were divided into three estates: leading were the chiefs, under them the horse chiefs and then the common Székelys. The early leaders of the Transylvanian Saxon society, the gerébs did not extend their nobiliary rights over the inhabitants of Saxon villages. At the end of the 14th century their leading role was taken over by the leading bourgeoisie of towns. In Saxon territories there were no Saxon villeins, the peasants remained free. Because of Turkish attacks in the south, many villages were destroyed in the age of Sigismund. This territory was later inhabited by Serbs, who escaped from the Balkans.

The assimilation of Cumans into Hungarian society meant gradually giving up their nomadic life style, their settling down and the adoption of farming life style. The residences of clans became the Cuman chairs, their clan leaders became their residence captains, then later they became noblemen.

The Jász were first mentioned in the territory of the country in 1319. Besides today's Jászság [Jász land] they lived in Pilis county and in the region of the Lower-Danube. They might have arrived in Hungary some decades earlier, but definitely after the Cumans. Their language was not related to each other either: the Cuman spoke a Turkish language, while the Jász spoke an Indo-European language. By the 15th century both peoples used Hungarian elements in their languages.

Cities - citizens

The Angevine rulers continued their ancestors' policy to found cities. However, not all the privileged cities fulfilled the expectations. Only those were worth giving royal privileges that could live on their own. These cities lay along the main trade routes of the country. At the beginning of his reign, Sigismund gave away several cities. The free - that is privileged - royal - that is owned by the king - cities and villages were called together for a meeting by the king in 1405. There was no similar other meeting in Hungarian history.

As a result of this meeting a decree was issued, which ordered that the royal privileged settlements be surrounded by walls, and introduced the usage of the Buda measurements as compulsory ones. The court of appeal of royal towns was the court of the royal treasurer. Cities were given the power of life and death, and they were exempt from the staple right of Buda. Later a small, elite group separated from the royal towns, which had special rights, compiled according to the Buda laws: Buda, Pozsony, Sopron, Nagyszombat, Kassa, Bártfa and Eperjes. Another special group of cities was formed later, called private cities, and the Transylvanian Saxon and royal mining towns.

Next to cities surrounded by walls - the so-called keyed cities - boroughs were formed at the main market places of the country. Mostly they were owned by private landlords, since the beginning of the 15th century castles were built in some of them, and they became aristocratic residences (Kismarton, Pápa, Gyula). People who lived there were villeins, but in several boroughs they obtained significant privileges. The dwellers of free royal towns and boroughs earned their living from farming, only the minority dealt with industry or trade.

The majority of the population of privileged Hungarian towns were German. Till the beginning of the 15th century the leadership of significant towns was in the hands of a certain social layer, which followed court life, owned big estates and dealt with trade as well. They often married daughters from aristocratic families, many of them became noblemen. By the turn of the century most of these families died out and their place was taken over by city dweller merchants. There was no such change in the mining towns, the descendants of the founding families - citizens, who had houses on the main square and big shares of the mines - kept their positions.



The bigger part of the population was engaged in agriculture. The proportion of farming and animal husbandry differed from region to region. In the economy of the Cuman and Rumanian the role of animal husbandry was much more important than that of the cultivation of the land. In the major part of the Carpathian Basin the regulated soil changing system was applied, while in the region of Transdanubia rotational farming was also used. The difference between these two kinds of farming was that the ploughed land and fallow land were changed yearly and not every 4 or 5 years.

In rotational farming the uncultivated land is called fallow land and not waste land. Where rotational farming was used three-course rotation was applied. In case of rotational farming members of the village community had to accommodate to one another, it was the only possibility to defend the land from grazing animals. In both farming systems the land which belonged to one estate was divided into smaller pieces near the village. The individual pieces were distributed to the members of the village by shooting an arrow. This system is called 'distribution on the grass', because the individual pieces of land were separated by strips of grass.

At the forming of the system of land plots at every settlement a definite number of land plots of the same size belonged to an estate. The size depended on the size and quality of the cultivated territory. The size of the inner land - which included the house in the village, farm buildings and the garden - was also defined. In Upper Hungary the system of "torunok" lands was popular, that is, the long-shaped plough-lands were situated directly behind the inner lands. Here the land plots were not distributed after a certain time, but the farmers used the same piece of land for a long time.

The vineyard was outside the system of land pieces, since it was considered a cut-over area. Usually one tenth of the wine was given to the landlord, this was the mountain tax. As not every village possessed a mountain vineyard, it was not rare that people from different villages owned territories of vine in the same mountain. Usually white wine was produced, if they needed red wine they coloured the white wine by adding blueberry, elder and sour cherry to it.

In the Transdanubia region besides treading, wine-presses were also used from the 13th century on. However, in the territory east of the Danube wine-presses were not applied. Here pressed wine was considered worse than treaded wine. The harvested grapes were treaded and pressed in the open air in the vineyard, further processing and storage were done at home. There were no buildings (the so called 'cellars') in the vineyards yet, they were just started to be built in the Balaton region and South Transdanubia.

Animal husbandry, fishing, mills

Animal husbandry in Hungary not only satisfied the needs of local consumption but also cattle trade to the west and south, already began in the age of the Angevine rulers. Large cattle, brought by the Cumans, were bred in the Great Plain. These animals were kept in the open air, cow-houses spread outside the Great Plain. Swine were kept in the woods - if it was possible - half in the open air. In Transylvania the sheep keeping of the Rumanians was based on summer shepherding in the mountain and winter shepherding in the valleys. Only the rich could afford to keep horses, but they were also used for cartage by villeins, their price was relatively low, comparing to Western Europe.

In the Middle Ages much fish was consumed, partly because of fasting days, partly because there was plenty of natural water suitable for fishing in the territory of the country. At fishing places near natural waters fish were caught by anglers, at other places fishing ponds were created by damming up streams. These latter ones were used by the members of the village jointly.

Water energy was most commonly used for milling corn. For this purpose mills were built on streams or ship mills were used on rivers. Millers paid a rent to the landlord for using the mill, in case of ship mills they paid for putting their mills into port.

Mining and minting coins

The gold mines of Körmöc, Szomolnok, Nagybánya, Abrudbánya and Zalatna were opened between 1320-50. These newly opened quarries made the minting of the golden forint possible. That time Hungary produced approximately one third of the world's gold, and 90 % of Europe's gold. There were silver mines as well, but the silver production of the country fell behind that of the Czech state, Saxony and Tirol.

The reform of mining and minting money was carried out in Hungary by adopting Czech experiences. Körmöcbánya was founded by people who arrived from the Czech Kuttenberg, and the city received the Kuttenberg mining right. In 1327 Charles I issued a decrete in which he assured landowners that he wouldn't take their lands if someone found precious metals in his estate, and that the owner himself could open a mine and keep one third of the urbura. Louis the Great's 1351 law repeated this, but in practice almost all the precious metal mines were in the hands of the king. In accordance with the system of free mining the citizens of mining towns were free to search for metals on royal and private estates.

The smelted metals had to be sold to the royal chambers at a fixed price, and the trade of uncoined metals was banned. There is no data about the quantity of metal products, the only information we have is that in 1344 Queen Elisabeth - who went to Italy to act on Prince Andrew's behalf - brought 6628 kgs of silver, 5150 kgs of gold and golden forint coins with her. By the 1370s mines were full of water and were exhausted, so the royal chamber, which was used to the rich incomes, was forced to apply the method of debasing the currency at the end of Louis the Great's reign.

Iron quarries in the age of the Árpád dynasty, such as the one at Vasvár, lost their importance. The center of iron mining and metallurgy became the Szepes-Gömör ore mountain, and the city Dobsina. The mine regale was not applied to iron mining. The mines were in the possession of private landlords, and Bavarian, Tirolian and Austrian settlers were employed as workers there. The hamor [small forging mills] was first mentioned in Hungary in 1344. Iron mining in Torockó, in Transylvania probably also started in the 14th century.

The most important preservative of the Middle Ages was salt. The salt of the Carpathians was 'cut' in cubes, salt wells - which were popular abroad - were very rare here, so there was no need for boiling salt. Salt cutting did not require any particular technical knowledge or capital, compared to salt boiling, so there were no enterpreneurs in Hungarian salt mining, in contrast to precious metal or iron mining. Besides the Transylvanian salt mines, the Máramaros salt mines became significant by the 14th century. By the end of the century the larger part of salt, which was put in circulation in the country, was produced here. Salt was also mined in Sáros county.

Salt trading was a royal privilege, it was supervised by salt chamber ispáns [bailiff]. In the age of the Angevine rulers the bigger part of incomes of the treasury came from the exchange of precious metals. During Sigismund's reign the most important source of income originated from the salt monopoly, the second one was from the profit of the chamber, and the third one was the exchange of precious metals. At the end of Sigismund's rule the annual total income of the treasury was around half a million of golden forints.

In the period between 1301-1437 the system of minting coins had completely changed. Till the middle of the 14th century in the eastern part of the country, especially in Transylvania, people often paid and counted in uncoined silver bars, but by the age of Sigismund money economy became general. During the reign of Kings Ottocar, Wenceslas and Charles I the minting traditions of the late Árpád age were continued. Two kinds of silver coins were minted, the denarius and the half denarius (obulus). There were many foreign coins circulating in the country, especially the Czech groat, which spread in the 20s.

Charles I started to have his golden forint minted probably in 1325, after Florentine patterns. Since St Stephen, this was the first golden coin minted in Hungary, which was minted with the same weight and money rates through centuries. Golden money was generally kept at home as treasure. In everyday circulation silver coins were used. Charles I was the first to issue silver groats, following the Czech model, but these coins did not become a durable currency. After 1369 only denariuses and small denariuses, which were worth fraction of a denarius and had different names in folk culture, were minted in Hungary for a century. Minting signs, which referred to the place of minting and the officer of the chamber, appeared from the age of Charles I on.

In 1336 Charles I abolished the annual compulsory exchange of money in the countryside, and the income from this, the profit of the chamber, was changed into a royal tax collected yearly. This was imposed on the plots of land of the villeins by gates, the sum was independent of the size and income of the farm. First 3 groats, later one fifth of a forint was collected by this right. Noblemen, servants, ecclesiastic people, cities and one-time equerries were exempt from paying this tax. In cities the compulsory exchange of money was performed in the traditional way for a time. In 1338 this compulsory exchange was totally abolished. The minting of permanent denariuses started and the use of foreign coins was banned.

However, this regulation was not very long-lasting. Louis the Great restored the system of compulsory exchange, but denariuses were only debased in the last years of his reign. In 1390 Sigismund introduced a great currency reform: he had denariuses minted for a long time, and 100 of these were worth a golden forint. After 1403 the currency was debased again, so in 1427 there was another money reform. Besides centralised royal minting, coining in the ban district of Slavonia - which was started in 1255 - also survived till 1384. Between 1311 and 1355 the city of Buda also minted money. At both of these places denariuses were minted, and theoretically both of them issued their money under royal authorisation.


With a later expression the profit of the chamber was a regular tax, while war tax was an extraordinary tax, which was collected on special occasions. In Slavonia, in counties Pozsega and Valkó beech skin tax, called marturina, was paid in cash. Special taxes were imposed on cities, Jews, Transylvanian Saxons, Rumanians, Cumans and Székelys. Though it was not a tax, but it also increased the income of the chamber when the office of an bishop was vacant, since in these cases ecclesiastical incomes, which were the legal duty of the bishop, went into the royal treasury.

Craftsmanship, trade

The bigger part of objects used in everyday life was produced by local peasant farms, the rest by the village craftsmen: smiths, coopers, furriers, shoemakers. In cities specialised branches of industry also appeared and developed. In 1379 in Sopron 11 % of the population was engaged in handicraft industry, while in 1424-27 20.5 % of them dealt with craftsmanship. The first guilds also appeared then in Hungary. In 1411 King Sigismund wanted to move all the barchent weavers of the country to Kassa, and gave them privileges. In Bártfa textile bleaching was sponsored by royal privileges.

The greatest part of home trade was performed in cities. The right of keeping markets could be received through a royal privilege. In case of weekly markets the settlement which obtained this right could organise a market on a fixed day of the week. There could not be another market on the same day in the neighbourhood. The most significant cities had two market days. The right for keeping annual markets was rather rare, these were usually held on the day of the celebration of the patron saint of the city.

Hungary had to import industrial goods. From the west they imported textile and iron products, and also precious metals and live-stock were brought from here - in spite of every kind of prohibition. Hungary's most significant business partners were the south German cities. Besides land transport, there was an important shipping route on the Danube between the western borderline and Buda.


Men's and women's clothes

Illustrated Chronicle: eastern and western-type clothes

No item of clothing survived from Hungary from the 14-15th centuries, so we must rely on written sources (testaments, inventories) or contemporary pictures. Besides wall-paintings, tabloids, sculptures and the miniatures of codices seals - that authorised charters - and even tombstones provide information about the history of clothes. However, medieval representations can be used as documents of cultural history only with reservations, since part of the clothes represented are 'ageless' clothes shown in pictures since the ancient times. Other parts are imitations, copies of the model work of art, and the emblems, objects seen in representations often have symbolic meaning.

King Louis the Great is depicted on the cover of the Illustrated Chronicle - from the second half of the 14th century. The ruler sitting on his throne is wearing striped clothes, a cloak with ermine lining; and the members of his escort can be divided into two groups based on their clothes: there are armed knights in western-type armour on the King's right with swords and shields and men wearing eastern-type, kaftan-like clothes on his left, holding bows, arrows and sabres. In this period this kind of duality was typical in Hungarian clothing: besides western fashion the spread of Cuman clothes could be seen from the second half of the 13th century. From the 15th century on Balkan, then, then increasingly, Turkish clothes began to spread.

The fashion of wearing loose clothes in several layers - each of these was made of the same material but they differed in colour - gathered up by the belt was still popular in the first decades of the 14th century. We can see Charles I and the carrier of his arms, Thomas Semsei, captain of the Szepes fortress, in the wall-painting of the church of Szepeshely, made in 1317. the big change in European fashion came from the 1340s, while in Hungary it came only later. The most typical characteristic feature of the new fashion trend was that the overgarments followed the outline of the body, they became tighter and shorter.

Western-type clothes

We can recognise this new fashion - which appeared first at the court in Hungary, following the clothing of western aristocracy - in the miniatures of the Illustrated Chronicle. Men's underwear were the swimming-suit-like, short underpants, the 'berhe'. We can see this in the picture which represents the self-scourging Flagellans. The 'berhe' was fastened by a string around the waist, and the colourful tights (or in other words pants, as at that time these two things meant the same item of clothing) - covering the legs - were also fastened to this. People carrying the soil at the siege of Krakow were wearing the same kind of tights - in the picture of the Illustrated Chronicle.

Shirts - worn as underwear on the upper body - became wide-spread only from the beginning of the 15th century. We can see such a shirt in the escutcheoned letter given by King Sigismund to Kistárkány: a loose, linen shirt with closed neck and sleeves, which reached to the knees. In the 14th century the colourful, tight-sleeved tunics were worn directly over the upper body. Tunics, which reached to the knee, were tight to the hips, and under the hips they were slightly looser. These tight clothes were fastened to the body by buttons, strings or straps.

Armour was worn over the tunic, coats of mail were a bit shorter than tunics. The loose coats of mail, which were gathered up by a belt at the waist and were worn over the armour in the 12-13th centuries - went out of fashion by the beginning of the 14th century. Its last representation was from 1317, on the St Ladislaus wall-painting of Kakaslomnic. Instead of the coat of mail, cloaks with hoods - reaching to the knee - or tight coats of mail were worn, or tight loin-cloths, which were made of leather and decorated at the bottom with cuts. Belts lost their function, they were moved to the hips and they had a decorative role only.

If someone wanted to be elegant, he put on a tight coat over the tunic. Louis the Great was wearing such a coat on the cover of the Illustrated Chronicle. These coats were often decorated with embroidery, lace or silver clasps. Multi-colour upper clothes or clothes sewn from stripes of various colours were quite popular. To prevent the body from extreme weather conditions or for the sake of representation a knight's cloak with precious fur lining was worn over the coat. Fashion was followed only by rich people, mainly the young dignitaries. Older people insisted on the traditional upper clothes which reached to the ankles.

We can follow the changes in men's fashion of the end of the 14th - beginning of the 15th century on the figures of the Buda sculpture findings. The overgarment, which was worn over the shirt at that time, was called the 'dolmány' [dolman/pelisse] from the end of the century. This was a kind of tunic, tight to the waist, with split sleeves. It was loose and frilly under the belt. The wide sheepskin coat ['suba'] or gown worn over the dolman or shirt was very elegant. It was made of velvet or brocade, with a fur collar or trimming, and it was often split at the side. Hats or caps decorated with feathers or fur also belonged to everyday clothes.

Leather soles were added to tights, which covered the feet as well, against wear and tear. These soles were often strengthened with other thick leather or wooden soles. Besides these dignitaries wore soft, short boots laced at the ankles, which were sometimes decorated with lace-like cuttings. These boots were not very durable, so people bought several pairs of them, just like gloves. In spite of this fact, unbroken boots were found at several archaeological openings, which were in very good condition. There was a strange thing in shoe-fashion in the 14th century: 'beaked shoes'. These shoes had very long toe-caps, which made even walking more difficult. These toe-caps were fixed by stiffenings or they were tied up. It did not spread in Hungary, though.

Eastern clothes

Long gowns or kaftans, high, pointed caps and boots with soft soles were typical Cuman clothes. Kaftans - which originated from Central Asia - were gathered at the side and just like gowns from the Far East (e.g.: that we can see on the figures on the cover of the Illustrated Chronicle) were made of decent silk. Weapon belts were important items of these clothes. Surprisingly, these belts were decorated with western motifs - according to the preserved samples. In contrast with Christian traditions, Cuman men cut off their beards and wore thin moustache. They shaved their head at the front and the remaining hair at the back was worn in a pony-tail.


The body of warriors was protected by wire or plated armour, but there were transitional armour-types between these two basic types. The wire armour was a long-sleeved shirt made of flat rings of iron wire. At endangered places of the body it was covered with protective iron plates. The scale armour was made of tiny metal sheets attached together. The popular brigand was a leather coat strengthened with iron stripes, lined with iron plates. Members of the light cavalry, first of all the Cuman, wore leather armour made of several layers of leather.

The plated armour developed from the plates covering the endangered parts of the wire armour. From the 14th century larger and larger parts were covered with plates, and by the middle of the 15th century the whole body of the warriors was covered with iron plates. A whole plate armour weighed 20-25 kgs and the independent chest-, back-, arm- and leg-plates were fixed by straps. The hands were protected by armour gloves, the feet by armour boots. A set of this armour was worth the price of several villages, so only a very few people could afford it.

There were several types of helmet in use for the protection of the head. Cylinder-shaped cauldron or pot-helmets with flat tops went out of fashion by the 14th century. Their place was taken over by cone-top helmets, which provided little space for hostile attacks. The basic type of these were cone- or bell-shaped light helmets. The neck and shoulders were protected by a wire armour, which was attached to the helmet. The face, however, remained unprotected. The totally closed bucket helmets and beaked helmets, used from the second half of the 14th century, were mush safer. In case of beaked helmets the face was protected by a holed helmet visor, which could be opened up. It was riveted to the helmet.

Knights fighting in closed armours could be recognised by the coat-of-arms painted to their shields or by the helmet decoration on the helmet. The earliest Hungarian coat-of-arms donations were in fact helmet decoration donations. Besides these the representations of shields were unimportant. We can see the helmet decoration quite clearly on Thomas Széchényi's country judge seal - it is a lion with a crown growing out of the helmet -, but the shield is missing. The helmet decoration of Angevine kings was an ostrich with a crown which bit into a horseshoe. Its representation survived on several relics. The synod of Constanz was a turning point in the use of helmet decorations in Hungary: during their foreign travels Hungarian noblemen saw western coats-of-arms, and asked Sigismund for coat-of-arms donations in great numbers.


The most important weapon was the sword; both of its basic types were used in Hungary. The western-type double-edged, straight sword was the weapon of heavy cavalry, the bent sabre, which was widening towards the hilt, was the weapon of light cavalry. It was represented on contemporary pictures as the special feature of eastern clothing. War knives and daggers were used in short distance fights as accessories of swords. The best known crushing weapon of the age was the club. The club heads were cast from bronze. They appeared in various forms, the most popular ones were the star-head clubs.

Crushing weapons were sabres and battle axes, which were made in various forms and size. We can see battle axes on the different representations of St Ladislaus in Hungarian art: it was considered to be the attribute of the knight king, an emblem with the help of which people could easily recognise him. In the wall-paintings of the St Ladislaus legend we can see all the contemporary weapons: the king and his escort went into the battle with spears, and the enemy, the Cuman held bows and arrows in their hand. The size and form of spears depended on their use (e.g.: different spears were made for soldiers on horseback and infantrymen).

The most important long distance weapon was the bow, and its developed version, the flexbow. Bows were used first of all by Cumans in the light cavalry. In contemporary representations it was part of eastern clothing, just like the sabre, but its usage was not limited to this ethnic group. In wall-paintings, miniatures we can see bows in flexed positions, and all of these were reflex bows of the same type. The representation of quivers (arrows were stored in these) and bow protecting quivers was so clear in case of some pictures that experts could reconstruct them.

Women's clothes

The change in fashion in the 14th century had its influence on women's clothes, too. The important feature of the new fashion was that it laid a stress on the body. Instead of the closed clothes of the earlier centuries, which hid the form of the body, tight (to the waist and loose under the waist or hips) dresses with tight sleeves were worn with deep neckline. This type of clothes had to be adjusted to the body of their wearer, so the 14th century was a turning point in tailoring. The dress or skirt (at that time it was the same thing) was made of one piece, the waist part started high, under the breasts and the bottom of the dress was richly pleated.

At the beginning of the 15th century tight sleeves were replaced with loose ones: sleeves were often cut in or split, so the shoulder part of the shirt worn under the dress could be seen through these holes. This shirt also appeared in the deep neckline of the dress. Over the dress a cloak was worn against the cold, which was clipped together with a buckle or clasp at the neck. The bottom of the cloak, or sometimes the bottom of the dress was decorated with fur. The head - except for that of unmarried girls - was covered with veils or bennets. The material of these showed diversity, but the extreme trends of western fashion did not appear in Hungary.

The most fashionable clothes were worn by aristocratic girls and women. In the wardrobes of the bourgeoisie or common noblemen these appeared much later, in a low-quality version. The textile of these clothes - both men's and women's clothes - showed the social status of the owner. Golden brocade textiles, silks and velvets were worn by the members of the richest dignitary families, as they were very expensive. The textiles themselves were imported as well, but the price depended on the place of origin and quality. Everybody could find the textile he or she could afford.


Jewels had a duel role in the Middle Ages: on the one hand they were the means of pomp and representation besides clothes, on the other (besides decorative dishes) they were the easy way of accumulating and mobilising values and treasures. Part of the jewels were used for fastening clothes, or were decorative elements on clothes. Such items were cloak clasps gathering cloaks, decorative buttons of clothes and the typical decorative elements of the age: metal buttons, rosettes, figures and heraldic motifs. Besides the original items the casts were also found.

The most important accessory was the belt. Fashionable belts of the age were the so-called 'head-dress belts' worn on the hips. The fashionable items were made of metal thread and were decorated with gold or silver plates. We can see such belts in the representations of the Illustrated Chronicle and on the secular figures of the Buda sculpture findings. Belts were worn both by men and women, and they were part of both western and eastern clothing, Golden necklaces and rings were worn by both sexes. Sometimes there were valuable crosses, relic holders or orders hanging from necklaces.

The most valuable jewels were worn at the royal court, but these did not survive. According to written sources, Charles I was buried with a golden crown on his head, boots with golden spurs and precious stones on his feet and the three knights representing the king in the funeral procession were wearing the war emblem of the king decorated with a golden crown. These knights and also their horses were wearing a lot of pearls and precious stones, even the harnesses were made of gilded silver. The king's widower, Queen Elisabeth left a golden head-dress to her granddaughters in her testament, but she also left crowns with precious stones and pearls to the Clarissan nuns of Óbuda.

The lily crown found in Sigismund's tomb at Várad was originally made as a relic crown (not for personal use) in the 14th century. The gilded silver lilies are decorated with precious stones and pearls of different colours. The decorative cloak clasps that Louis the Great donated to the Hungarian chapel of Aachen were made to the order of the court. The two bigger and four smaller gilded silver, enamelled clasps (the two bigger ones fixed the cloak in the middle and the two smaller pairs on the shoulders) represent Louis the Great's coat-of-arms. The interesting form of the bigger ones followed architectural tabloids.

The treasures found at archaeological excavations supplement the picture based on written sources and contemporary representations. The owner of the findings of Kelebia, which consists of 97 pieces, was the Ban of Macsó, Paul's wife. Among the treasures there were cloak clasps, earrings, bracelets, rings, buttons, decorative plates and discs as well. The treasure of Körmend from the 14th century also included buttons, seal-rings. The findings of Kiskunhalas also contained some clothes-mountings and rosettes. These jewels were made by Hungarian masters in a great number, according to the preserved casts.

The belts and belt-mounts are quite valuable among these treasures. The belt of Kígyóspuszta, decorated with the picture of fighting knights, was found in the one-time residence of the Cumans. When it was altered at the beginning of the 14th century, buttons with Latin writings (prayers to saints) were added to it. The belt of Felsőszentkirály with a shield decoration, whose owner died around 1350, was also found in this region. Further decorative belts were found from the end of the 14th- beginning of the 15th century: the silver plate of the Nagytállya was decorated with a hawking woman; and the belt of Kerepes was decorated with leaves.

The 14th-15th centuries was the period of founding secular orders of knighthood throughout Europe. These orders had their own emblems. There are no data about the activity of the first Hungarian order of knighthood, the St George order, founded by Charles I. Only its letter of foundation survived. But several relics of the Dragon Association - founded by King Sigismund in 1408 - were preserved. The emblem of the order, a dragon formed into a circle, was worn by the members attached to their clothes, or as a jewel, hung in the neck or on a ribbon across the shoulders. Sigismund was buried with the gold dragon hanging from his neck, but the emblem was lost during the opening of his tomb at Várad at the end of the 18th century.

The objects of everyday life


During the 150 years between Charles I's accession to the throne and Sigismund's death everyday life changed substantially. Demands increased in every layer of society: at the beginning of the 14th century the majority of castles consisted of a tower and the surrounding wall, and the leaders of cities lived in such towers, too. By the end of the 14th century both castles and cities underwent a big change: within castle walls palaces and chapels were built, in cities two- or more-storey bourgeois houses appeared. In the villages, however, three-part houses became quite wide-spread.

According to modern standards, buildings at that time were quite unfriendly, in most of the rooms there were only one or two pieces of furniture. The most important item of furniture was the chest. First of all, it was used for storing things, since people kept everything in chests, from flour to items of smithery. But it was also used for sitting or lying. Its earliest type was the trough chest carved from one trunk, strengthened by iron stripes . The chest of Szepebéla - made in the 14th century - is a good example. Carpentered chests were made by using a more developed technique (for example, the Rozsonda chest from Nagyszeben). They appeared and spread in Hungary only in the second half of the 15th century.

Tables were not very valuable in this period: they were set up from saw-horses and plane surfaces during meals, after that the table was taken apart. People were sitting next to the table on benches; chairs were luxurious items even in the 15th century. In contemporary pictures they were firm, square, uncomfortable structures. The base of beds were similar, prism-shaped structures, and since the 14th century bed-ends were attached to these. People slept naked in bed, and there were several people sleeping in one bed. In the 15th century there were beds already in the houses of villeins, though men - according to a tradition which was preserved till the 20th century - slept near the animals, in farm houses or stables.

Besides simple items of furniture, carpets and textiles, which provided comfort, played an important role. Bedding: pillows, wadded quilts were quite valuable, they were part of dowries. Bed-clothes were important in villein houses as well - social and financial differences appeared in quantity and quality of the textiles. Only wealthy noblemen or citizens could afford carpets, though. They were used for many purposes. They covered beds or chests with them, walls were decorated with them and sometimes carpets separated neighbouring rooms.

Stove tiles, covering the floor of rooms, glass windows appeared at wealthy families only in the 15th century, and they were considered luxurious items for a long period of time. Windows were usually covered by 'lantornas' (dried pellicle of cows), or there were wooden boards in front of them in winter against the cold. The central room of village houses was the kitchen with an open fire-place. The stove of the rooms was heated from here. The heating of castles, town houses was a bigger problem. It was quite general that the majority of the rooms were not heated at all. One of the richest aristocratic families of the country, the Garai family, had two valuable houses in Buda, and only a few of the 50 rooms had a fire-place or stove.

Decorated tile stoves appeared in royal and aristocratic castles or in houses of rich citizens in the middle of the 14th century. The basic type of stoves had a square fire-place on a stone base with a tower-shaped building on top of it - which usually had an edge. They were covered with tiles or dish-shaped 'stove-eyes'. The majority of green, yellow or brown tiles were decorated with geometric forms. Most of the tiles were made after wooden or clay forms (negatives). The most beautiful ones - which were formed as a niche or were trough-shaped - were open tiles with tiny sculptures in the niches. They might have been handmade, independent works of art.

Dishes in the household

The majority of dishes in the household were clay dishes used for cooking or storing. Clay cauldrons used in the Árpád age disappeared by the 14th century and most of the dishes were planned for open-fire cooking. Clay dishes were products made by home industry, but according to archaeological findings town pottery became more and more wide-spread, too. The findings show territorial differences: in the region of Buda white ceramics were popular, while in the eastern and southern territories of the country darker ceramics were preferred. Near the western border the higher-standard grey, later yellow or red ceramics were used.

Under the influence of western import, Hungarian masters also adopted yellow or red ceramics from the 15th century. These ceramics were often covered with lead glaze. Potters made pots in the greatest number, and pot-lids were also used from the 13th century. For storing liquids different jugs, jars and bottles were used; and bowls and cups were also used during meals. The new table-dish, the clay cup and its bigger version, the chalice, appeared in the 14th century. From the 15th century clay cups were made in various forms, almost each city had its own typical form.

The representative demands of the royal court, aristocracy and wealthy bourgeosie could not be satisfied by home industry for a long time. From among imported decorative dishes the salt glazed cups of Moravia, Lostice became wide-spread, but Austrian and German clay dishes were also used. Glass-products were brought in the country by Venetian tradesmen in the 14th century for those who could afford these expensive glasses and bottles. Since the beginning of the 15th century glass products were made in Hungary, too - first by Italian masters who settled down here - but luxurious dishes were still imported.

Decorative dishes

Besides clothes and jewellery the financial situation of a family was best shown by decorative dishes. Since glass products were relatively rare, and tin dishes became wide-spread only from the end of the 15th century, in this category mainly silver, or gold-plated silver, or rarely gold dishes were put onto the ceremonial table. The abundance of gold dishes - which was described in Palatine William Drugeth's testament - was not typical even in aristocratic circles. But as far as possible everybody tried to obtain some. Among the treasures of Körmend gilded silver dishes were found, and at Kiskunhalas the treasure was hidden in a silver cup which was dropped into water.

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