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The Origins of the Hungarian People

In the second half of the 19th century, linguists showed that the Hungarian language is related to the Finno-Ugric languages, or to be more precise, to the language of the Uralian peoples. The Hungarians, who live in the Carpathian Basin, are separated from them by a huge geographical distance, with their various relatives living mainly in Northern and Eastern Europe, and east of the Urals, across enormous territories expanding from Siberia to the Baltic Sea. Even by twentieth century standards of transportation, they are hugely scattered. The peoples speaking these languages are today's Finns, Estonians, Karyalans, Lapps, Lives, Ishers and Votes by the Baltic Sea; the Mordvins and Cheremis people (Maris) on the upper reaches of the river Volga, and the Votyaks (Udmurts) and Suryens (Komis) along the Kama river, the Voguls (Manyshis) and Ostyaks (Hantis) east of the Urals - the mountains that nominally separates Europe from Asia - and the Samoyed peoples (Nyenyets, Enyets, Nganasans and Selcups), who live in the east and north.

Linguists have shown that the Hungarian language has lived an independent life for thousands of years. The linguistic community of the Uralian and the Finno-Ugric peoples broke up thousands of years ago, and some of its elements developed more or less independently from one another. This is why the Finno-Ugric peoples who live far apart do not understand each other's language any more. An example of the importance of distance in contributing to the independent evolution of a language can be seen with the Slavic peoples. They separated "only" one and a half thousand years ago, but they can still communicate with one another without an interpreter.

The Uralian peoples speaking related languages used to live close to one another. To define their former homeland - the original home - the vocabulary of geographical features from the Uralian original language (which can be reconstructed from the ancient word-stock of today's Uralian languages) are available for us. On the basis of these words it has been pointed out that in the 6th-4th millennia BC the community of Uralian peoples lived around the Urals (this is where they got their names from), mainly on the eastern side. On the basis of the archaeological findings we can state that in the 4th millennium BC the majority of the Uralian peoples lived in the middle and south of this huge mountain range, on its eastern slopes. Certain groups might have started their migration from here towards the east and west somewhere between 4000 and 3000 BC. Those who left for the west later reached the Baltic shores, while the other group in the east came to the region of the Altai-Sayan. The members of the Ugric community (that included the ancestors of today's Hungarians and Ugrics of the Ob) must have stayed on the territories east of the Urals - which explains why the language closest related to the Hungarian is that of the Voguls and the Ostyaks.

The Uralian peoples subsisted on fishing and hunting. They settled down near rivers and lakes, where in the summer they lived in tents covered with the bark of birch trees, in the winter in houses dug into the ground. A big part of their memories of material culture were preserved by the depth of the ground, or later in swampy regions by peat-bogs. Stone tools, objects carved from bones and wood, animal shaped sacrificial wooden pots and drinking cups, miniature statues of human and animal shape have come to light during archaeological excavations. Their weapons were bows and arrows. They travelled on sleighs and skis in winter. Evidence of their beliefs and arts survived on rock paintings found on the eastern slopes of the Urals. They represent human and animal shapes and celestial bodies in the company of magic signs and signs of clans.

During the 2nd millennium BC there were big changes in the lives of the Finno-Ugric peoples, which is shown by both linguistic and archaeological findings. As a result of the influence of peoples in the south, who spoke ancient Iranian languages, tilling and animal husbandry were slowly adopted. In the place of these settlements and burial places of the Bronze Age bones of domesticated animals (cow, sheep and horse) and seeds of plants (wheat, barley and millet) were found. The golden age of metalwork, which was reached at the same time, was in the 16th-14th centuries BC. On territories in Western Siberia and Eastern Europe where Finno-Ugric peoples lived, bronze objects with a high lead content were widespread, and the place where these objects were made was the region of Ob-Istis rivers, judging from the casting mould findings. At that time lead was mined only in the far Altai mountains. Additionally, the Hungarian words meaning "tin" and "lead" from the Ugric age, "gold" and some elements of the word-stock of animal husbandry are of ancient Iranian origin.

Evidence for the existence of animal husbandry in the Ugric age comes with the Hungarian words for cow and milk. Besides the spread of keeping cattle and sheep, felt is an important contribution, since this thick material made of wool could serve as a covering material of the summer tents. The words for horse, saddle, halter (snaffle), whip and stirrup were introduced in the Hungarian and Ob-Ugrian languages at that time, too.

In the northern zone of the Western Siberian steppe and in the zone of grovy steppe north from it, archaeologists have found traces of not only extensive, but also stabled animal husbandry from these times. According to their burial traditions the dignitaries were given food-, drink- and animal-sacrifice. As provisions for the journey after death, meat and milk (kumis) were placed next to the dead body in different pots. Cows, sheep and horses were sacrificed in their honour, and the bones of the piled up animals were placed into the grave or onto the pile raised above the dead. Not only grinding stones, but also seeds of grain-crops and sickle findings refer to the nature of Hungarian farming at that time. The loan-word meaning (farm)wagon was introduced into the Hungarian language in the Ugric age, and it might refer to the same influence in education that originates from the ancient Iranian people, whose burial traditions with (farm)wagons were known much earlier, from the 3rd millenneum BC. The traditions of the so-called horse burial may have originated from them, too. This was to become the typical distinguishing feature of the Hungarians in the age of the Conquest: the meat of the sacrificial horse was eaten, the skin - with the head and legs of the animal inside - was placed next to, or above the dead body.

The way towards independence

The most important stops on the east-west migration route of the Hungarians towards becoming an independent people were the following: Western-Siberia, Magna Hungaria along the Kama river, Levedia and Etelköz on the South-Russian steppe and finally the Carpathian Basin.

The pre-Hungarians might have left the community of Ugric peoples in Western Siberia at the end of the Bronze Age, at the beginning of the Iron Age - between 1000-500 BC. Since that time we can talk about independent, pre-Hungarian people. They may have lived in the southernmost regions of the home of Ugric peoples, in the grovy steppes along the Irtis-Isim-Tobol rivers. At that time, a new technique of farming evolved in this region, which was important for a very long time: nomadic grazing, riding nomadism. The consequent mobile lifestyle made the pre-Hungarians leave the territory of their Ob-Ugrian linguistic relatives. Since that time, the ancestors of the Hungarian could call themselves "magyar" (the two elements of the word are magy+er. According to one theory, the meaning of this name of the people is "speaking man", according to another theory it means "man-male").

The important elements of the development of ethnic consciousness are the language, the costumes and the traditions - things that differentiated them from others, and strengthened the feeling of belonging together. The belief in a common ancestor was a contribution to this, its reflection was the legend of the origin of the Hungarians' ancestors. The legend of the mythical stag - preserved in the Kézai chronicle - is supposed to originate from these times, too, as the southern neighbours of the ancient Hungarians were the Sarmatas, related to the Skitas, who spoke Iranian. The Skitas had a special respect for the stags. The shields of their dignitaries were decorated with the figure of a golden stag. The name of the Asian Skitas (Sakas) means "the people of the stag".

The findings on the grovy steppes of Sargatka, Western Siberia, (6th century BC - 5th century AD) can be connected to the memories of ancient Hungarians, the characteristic features of which were nomadic farming and the traditions of horse burials. At around the 5th century AD a great migration - of unknown origin - pushed the Hungarians to the west, to the territory of today's Europe: somewhere between the middle reach of the river Volga and the Ural mountains. In 1236, a Dominican friar, Julianus, found traces of the Hungarians who stayed in the east, and he called this region Magna Hungaria, or "old Hungary".

Their archaeological remains were found in the 1980s, near the village Bolsije Tigani: in the tombs dating from the 8-10th century objects were found such as horse remains, funeral shrouds woven with silver thread, as well as further metal objects related to the metal works of the conquering Hungarians - belt-mounts, jewellery, accessories and weapons.

At around 700-750 the majority of Hungarians supposedly migrated further from Magna Hungaria, now to the south along the Volga river. A minor group preserved its language for more than five hundred years; their fragments might have been found by friar Julianus in that region. In the very same year (1236), however, the Tartars, pressing forward from the east, destroyed their settlements on the territory in contemporary Bulgaria along the Volga, and after that there was almost no mention of the Hungarians who stayed behind in their original home - they might have integrated with the population surrounding them. At the region of the meeting of Volga and Káma rivers, in the town called Chistopol a tombstone from 1311 came to light, on which we can read: "This is the tomb of Ismagil, son of Magyar khadi".

Levedia and Etelköz

In the second half of the 6th century, the Turkic Empire gained great importance in Eurasia. In the middle of the 7th century the Khazar Kaganate came into being at its western border. The Hungarian people were in their sphere of interest at the end of the 8th century. Their relationship was sometimes a closer, sometimes a looser bond. The subordinated relationship, that may have lasted for some time, ended in the 830's. Its significant sign might have been the building of the brick fortress, Sarkel, against the Hungarians in about 838, on the left bank of the river Don.

The Khazars set examples for the Hungarians in several fields, as in the field of power relations. The first chief prince of the Hungarians was Levedi; the succeeding generations named the territory in the region of the Don after him (Levédia). The Byzantine emperor, Constantin, called the dwelling-place (where they had lived before they came to the Carpathian Basin) of the Turkic people (=Hungarians) Etelköz (the territory between rivers) in his work written in the middle of the 10th century. The location of the two territories, Levédia and Etelköz, is uncertain. Nevertheless, the ancestors of the Hungarians presumably left the Don region at the beginning of the 850s, and moved toward the west, to the region of the rivers Dnyeper-Dnyester-Prut, where their power extended to the Lower-Danube and the Eastern-Carpathians.

In the meantime, the Hungarians grew both in population and in knowledge when the Eskils, who spoke Bulgarian-Turkish, joined them along the Volga. According to certain researchers, they were the ancestors of the Székelys, the Hungarians of Eastern Transylvania. The other group of Volgan Bulgarians who joined them were the Bersils (Barsils). In the 820-830's the Kabars (rebels), who rebelled against the Khazar Kaganate and suffered a defeat later, escaped to the Hungarians as well. According to the traditions of nomadic peoples, they were supposedly employed as subsidiary military people. Around 850, however, a large number of people may have left the Hungarians of the Don region: after they (in alliance with the Khazars) had suffered a defeat from the Petchenegs, according to Byzantine emperor, Constantin, some of them settled down on the Persian border, south of the Caucasus. Also known from the messages of the Byzantine emperor, these people exchanged envoys with the Hungarian tribes that moved to the Carpathian Basin after more than a hundred years (around 950).

Riding nomadism - that had been developed on the huge steppe of Eurasia - meant making economic use of the dry steppe under extreme climatic conditions. The shepherds did not graze the animals on territories near their settlements, but each season they drove them to pastures where opulent vegetation was found. The two basic forms of nomadic grazing were: altering grazing grounds in plains and mountains, and along rivers in north-south direction. In spring the nomads went further to the north from their winter dwelling-place, or visited pastures that lay high in the mountains. They always spent the summer in different areas, and with the approach of autumn they left for their permanent dwelling-place. Their winter homes were usually in the mouths of rivers, in valleys offering protection from the strong winds, and where the snow was not to deep, so that the animals could scrape food out from under the snow. A supplementary branch of production was farming in the surroundings of their winter homes; the crops sown in spring were harvested at the end of the summer. Besides these, they were also engaged in fishing and hunting. The basis of farming and their supplementary bartering was first of all the quantity and condition of their live-stock. The fate of their herds determined their fate - whether they were impoverished or grew rich.

Concerning farming, neither in West-Siberia, nor in Magna Hungaria were the ancient Hungarians so defenceless against the geographical and weather conditions of the open, dry steppe as they were here. In their former dwelling places, they lived in the grovy zone of the steppe; farming - around their permanent homes - had a more important role in their living, so they could stay in their winter accommodation all year long. At their dwelling-places they erected various buildings. Nomadic families - starting from the Ugric age - lived in tents covered with felt, from spring to autumn, or they travelled and lived in ox-carts covered with felt. In the 5th-7th centuries a new kind of round tent, the yurt, began to spread in the steppe. Because it had a screened wooden structure, it was easy to take apart and put together and it was durable and resistant. In their winter place of living they henceforward built houses half-dug into the ground, where in the beginning open fireplaces, later ovens made of stone or clay served for heating, baking and cooking. Earthen stew-pots or earthen cauldrons used for cooking in the open fire were widespread at that time, too.

Village settlements from the 8th-9th centuries discovered at the Don region show that after the Hungarians' moved to Levedia, this process of settling down may have continued: the majority of Bulgarian-Turk loan-words in the Hungarian language are related to farming: words for wheat, barley, plough, sickle, fruit, apple, wine, hemp and pea. Animal husbandry became intensive: ox, bull, sty, sheepfold. The words meaning hen and pig are the proofs of it, since pigs and chickens could not bear the continuous moving of the nomads. The Hungarians in Etelköz were not just nomadic shepherds. There was also a significant farming layer. Farmers could bring their experience with them to the Carpathian Basin, the westernmost corner of the steppe.

From the 850s the Hungarian tribal alliance - which possessed a big armed force (20.000 horsemen) - lived between the river Dneper and the Eastern Carpathians. It was governed by a double principality - after Khazar patterns - since moving to Levedia. During their plunderings, the horsemen could explore the plains of the lowlands and spy upon the power relations in the Carpathian Basin.

Events before the Hungarian Conquest - the settling down in the Carpathian Basin - took place as usual in the steppe: depending on the temporary military balance of forces. In 894, the Byzantine emperor, Leo the Wise, entered into alliance with the Hungarian principals against the Bulgarian Khan, Simeon, who had previously defeated him in Macedonia. The Hungarian army was led by Levente, Árpád's son; the army was delivered to the southern bank of the Danube by the Byzantine fleet. Having defeated Simeon's troops, the army ravaged the territories surrounding the Danubian-Bulgarian capital, Pliszka and Madara.

In the very same year (894), the Moravian prince, Svatopluc asked for their help against the Francs. The memory of this ally might have been the White-horse legend, according to which Árpád sent a harnessed steed to Svatopluc in exchange for soil, water and grass (in exchange for the three most important elements that guaranteed the sustainance of the equestrian nomadic people). Meanwhile the Hungarian troops defeated the Francs, and presumably moved to the Upper-Tisza region to wait for the arrival of the main Hungarian army led by Árpád. The Petchenegs, living between the Volga and Ural rivers, forced the Hungarian tribal alliance to make a major decision: whether they should give up their quarters in Etelköz and take over the new territory, well-protected by mountains. The Petchenegs, being at constant war with the Khazars, suffered a serious attack around 893-894. In the meantime, the Bulgarians, who made peace with the Byzantine emperor, concluded an alliance with the Petchenegs and flanked the Hungarians staying in Etelköz. Since the main forces left, rear-guards were not able to cope with the numerical superiority, and suffered a heavy defeat, losing the majority of their animals. They might have escaped to Transylvania, the trans-Tisza regions and the Great Plain through the mountain passes of the Carpathians.


The Structure of Society

With the conquest of the Carpathian Basin the Hungarian people had new neighbours - people living in states - and their ties with the world of steppe was loosened, though they were an integral part of it before the Conquest.

The Hungarians, with the subsidiary military forces who joined them, took possession of their present home between 895 - 900. At that time they were living within the bounds of a tribal alliance, but under a unified leadership. In the sources, the expression "hétmagyar" (the seven Hungarians) refers to the Hungarian nation coming to existence from the alliance of the seven tribes. In fact, however, their number must have been at least ten, including the three tribes of the "Kabars". The alliance had two commanders - after the pattern of the Khazar Kaganate. The supreme command was exercised by the "kende" or "kündü", and the other commander, the "gyula", was in charge of military campaigns, the other main concern of governing. This political structure is called double principality.

In the 10th century the sources mention a third principal: the "karcha" (horka), which functioned as a judge, and this title was worn hereditarily by the head of one of the tribes. The chieftains belonged under his command.

The population of the age of the Conquest contained the following main groups:

- noblemen: leading families with great wealth

- the middle layer: the serving noblemen, more or less wealthy

- common people: who lived in their own communities, partly sharing common property

- servants: people owned by noblemen, living in the vicinity of their lords

These social layers were connected to one another by a complicated system of rights and obligations.

At this time the group of noblemen was called "bő" (which means plentiful, rich), indicating their political power and economic wealth. In the relationships of chieftains and heads of clans, marriage played a very important role, assuring one another peace and alliance.

The protection of noblemen, chieftains, and heads of clans was provided by the armed escort formed of the middle layer. The members of this escort volunteered for this service. They made an oath to their lords, in exchange for which the lord protected them, providing them with board and accommodation.

The common people supported the noblemen. They owed them products as well as their labour. Communities may have been based on ties of blood, even at this time, which meant shared property, and it also determined their work and economic activities. They also received foreigners into their communities on many occasions. The leader of a village was the villicus, who directed the life of the community with the help of the seniors.

The different servants formed a very important group in the society. They settled down near the courtyards of the noblemen, and they formed village communities on the basis of their trades. Rates were imposed on their products, and they owed certain labour services to their lords (for instance, locksmiths, armourers, gunsmiths, potters, tanners, turners, saddlers, goldsmiths).

The free men were legally equal in the 11th century, but economically there were huge differences among them.

The impoverished layers gradually became dependent on the leaders. By losing their freedom and equality, many of them fell into the group of servants (servus). The majority of the conquered ethnic groups in the Carpathian Basin, as well as the captives taken during the raids, may have belonged to this very same group.

The leading role of the central power, which was based on personal bonds, could be felt more and more, and the conditions for forming a western-type state - which is based on stable institutions and comprises the whole region of the country - had been developed by the end of the 10th century.

Settling down, raids

In the first phase of the Conquest the Hungarians pressed forward as far as the Danube-Garam line, which was a natural border for them. In the west, their strong neighbours, the eastern Franks and the Moravians blocked any further expansion. They took over Transdanubia five years later (900). Some events made occupying Pannonia easier. After Svatopluc's death (894), his two sons' fight for the throne weakened the Moravian state, and in addition to this, Arnulf, king of the eastern Franks, formed an alliance with the Hungarians against Berengar, emperor of Lombardy, whom they defeated later. After Arnulf's death the Hungarians, returning to Pannonia, came to the conclusion that the time was ripe for expanding their territories. First the Hungarian conquerors occupied the plains, and they gradually expanded their settlements to the mountains. Their choice was determined first of all by considerations of defence. They tried to settle down near water, in river valleys and regions protected by marshes.

According to late chronicles, the quarters of principals were situated in the middle reach of the river Danube - the Csepel island was Árpád's center, and Óbuda belonged to Kurszán. However, the most important contemporary findings testify that after the Conquest, the principals' quarters must have lain exclusively in the Upper-Tisza region.

Planned settlement, the defence of borders, and the borderland (gyepü) served a defensive role. After the Conquest the defence zone and the borderland protected the country principally from attacks from the east and the south. To the west, the Hungarians launched attacks or plundering campaigns - frequently in alliance with a western emperor. Above all, these campaigns determined the Hungarian foreign policy in the 10th century.

More recently the raids are considered as plundering campaigns. This way the Hungarians could obtain luxury items, valuable and expensive goods (including captives) from foreign countries in the form of fights, robbery, booty and tax which their own society could not or could only partly produce.

Only those tribes launched raids that lived near the southern and western borders. Western European armies then consisted of heavily armoured cavalry. By contrast, the Hungarians were quick and mobile, and this provided the reason for their success for a very long time.

With their well proven tactics, they tried to flank the armoured cavalry from each side and shoot arrows at them. Then they pretended to run away and finally entrapped the enemy. During their raids they held the rich, civilized and developed regions of Europe to ransom. They were at war with Europe for more than 75 years. Many factors supported the Hungarians in their successes: the above mentioned surprise attacks on horseback, the feudal anarchies that weakened the countries from inside, and the permanent wars that divided Europe. However, sooner or later, real power relations made Hungarian strategies fail. It was only a matter of time before European countries could act concertedly against them.

The raids had a contradictory influence on the structure of society. They contributed to the further differentiation of the Hungarian people. The leading layer of society became richer and richer. First they obtained silver, fabrics and animals as booty during the raids, but later they taxed on defeated rulers - and this strengthened their power. They left for Germany against king Henry in 933 so as to collect taxes, but he was prepared for the attacks of the Hungarians, and they suffered a defeat at Merseburg.

The battle of Merseburg did not mean the end of the raids, but it undermined the faith that the Hungarians are undefeatable. Catastrophe reached them at Augsburg in 955. After a three-day-long bloody fight the Bavarian prince, Henry, had 3 leaders of the captured Hungarians hanged (Bulcsú, Lél, Súr). This had a great psychological effect, since the Hungarians believed that executed leaders became servants of the German, in heaven and their ghosts helped them (the German).

Their defeat brought about great changes in Hungarian foreign policy. The tribal leaders "replaced" Fajsz with Taksony, to take the lead of the tribal alliance. He made a radical change in Hungarian foreign policy and its direction. He put an end to the plundering campaigns, and he chose defence instead of attacks. He strengthened the western border zones, and invited Petcheneg soldiers into the country. Hungarian-German relations still remained tense. Taksony, sometimes taking even territorial losses (e.g.: giving up Northern Moravia), attempted to avoid war and maintain peace with the west. In the south the situation was different.

During the next 15 years they continued the attacks southwards, into Italy, Bulgaria and Byzantium. The Byzantine emperor, learning about the defeat at Augsburg, stopped paying taxes, and the Hungarians then sent troops against Byzantium under the command of Apor. Tradition preserved and embellished the story of the brave warrior, Botond, in connection with this campaign, who flew into a rage that the emperor had refused to negotiate with them and broke the Byzantine gates. In contemporary diplomacy, this was a sign of declaration of war.

The last southern, anti-Byzantine campaign of the Hungarians took place in 970, in alliance with the Russians, Bulgarians and Petchenegs. These allied forces "crossed the Balkan mountains, and after they had set up a camp near the walls of Arkadiupolis waiting for the battle, they burnt and plundered the entire Thracian empire..." The Byzantine army annihilated the strength of the Petcheneg troops first, and after a long-lasting fight, the Hungarians were finally defeated.

The Hungarian raids ended with the defeat at Arkadiupolis. Chief-prince Géza realized that warfare should cease, otherwise the nation would be broken down by powers stronger than Hungary. Internal problems ought to have been solved from inside. Formerly noblemen obtained treasure at the cost of other countries, but now they obtained it in their own territories. For this, however, they needed a new organization: domestic and foreign affairs hastened the formation of the Hungarian state.


Chief prince Géza

In the 970s - as a pressing result of the changed domestic and foreign affairs - chief prince Géza adopted Christianity, the faith of the victors, and started spreading it in the country. At the same time he started to organize the central power, too. He hardly ever made war against foreign countries during his 25-year-long principality. His peace policy was reinforced by dynastic marriages - which were quite natural at that time - between his children and members of foreign ruling families.

His eldest daughter became wife of the Polish prince, Boleslo the Brave, and his other daughter was married to Gavril Radomir, the Bulgarian heir to the crown. Settling the relationship with the Germans was an extremely important issue: his son, Vajk, who received the name István after baptism, married Gizella, daughter of Bavarian prince, Henry the Wrangler, and hereby he became the new Bavarian prince, Henry IV's brother-in-law. His third daughter was married to Otto Orseolo, the Doge of Venice. He had a peaceful relationship with countries to the east, that is, with the Russian princes of Kiev, the Petchenegs and the Bulgarians. His brother, Mihály, made things smooth for him, since he married a Bulgarian princess.

In connection with the adoption of Christianity, the question of vital importance was whether Hungary should join the western or the eastern Church. Formerly (around 948) the Hungarian noblemen joined the Byzantine Church. The decision on the choice was made by current foreign affairs. The last phase of the Hungarian raids was directed against the southeast, and this alienated Byzantine relations. It could have been a warning for the Hungarian principality that the Byzantine emperor abolished the political and religious independence of Bulgaria.

When Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire were direct neighbours of Hungary, orientation to the west seemed a more promising support for chief prince Géza, since Otto I. also realised that embracing the cause of the Hungarians would reinforce his own political influence in the region. The Holy Roman emperor selected the members of the mission to Hungary with the advice and cooperation of his immediate followers. He chose Prunwart (later Saint Bruno) from Saint Gallen as the missionary bishop. So in the autumn of 972 the archbishop of Mainz consecrated friar Bruno as bishop of the Hungarians, who converted many pagans to Christianity. He was the one who christened chief prince Géza and his family. Géza got the name István when he was christened. His wife, Sharolt, was baptised by the Greek bishop Hierotheos in her early childhood.

The Hungarian chief prince needed the political, moral and occasional military help of the German empire because of the Byzantine threat. Adopting Christianity was both a cultural and a political event for the Hungarians. During Géza's reign the plundering campaigns came to an end. By the same token the sources of rich booty also ceased. All the wealth they brought from abroad so far had to be obtained from inner sources. Only part of the former military groups could save their independence. From those, who were no longer needed for military purposes, various services were demanded. In certain territories it became common to collect the obligatory presents and taxes in the form of produce or products. Thus the villages of servants around the courts started to grow (cooks, goldsmiths and smiths). Part of the collected products went to foreign markets, while local noblemen brought luxury items - which they plundered formerly - from merchants. Customs duties (the main source of income of which was the profit of salt-mines and silver-mines) and the income of different ports were the legal due of the principal. The spreading of new religion with methods not free from violence, and the need to establish a new internal order brought about resistance among the free, and the leaders of tribes and clans did not necessarily follow these trends either.

Chief prince Géza relied first and foremost on the clergymen and German knights in his immediate entourage to carry out his plans. To realize his strive for centralisation he needed the help of his strong military escort. He replaced the pagan tribal leaders and heads of clans with Christian German knights, who supported him loyally, and who were likely to get the property of the rebelling leaders. These knights formed the center of the heavily armed forces. The Hungarian soldiers were equipped only with light weapons. Subsidiary troops might have belonged to the military force of the principality, like the Petcheneg soldiers among others.

Géza intended to leave a country to his successors which was independent of all outer powers. At the same time, the issue of succession to the throne created tension at the court: by ancestral right Koppány should have claimed the throne, but the ruler chose his first-born son to be his successor. The fight in the chief prince's family started after Géza's death, in 997.

King Stephen's reign

Géza's efforts to establish a stable state power and guarantee the throne for his son were not really successful, because he had to share some of the country with the other members of the principal family. Prince Koppány also lay his claim for the throne. In the Hungarian succession the theory of seniority - the right of the oldest living brother - prevailed. Koppány also laid claim on the principal's widow, Sharolt. Géza's will, that his first-born son should inherit the throne, contradicted the ancestral right.

Koppány took up arms, and many people joined him in Transdanubia. The rebels represented the old faith and order, the ancient human rights, tribal independence and the pagan belief.

Together with his warriors, Koppány marched to Veszprém, which was also Sharolt's residence. István was prepared for the attack, too: before the battle his followers authorised him to be chief prince by girding a sword on him. With this army - which consisted of Hungarian and foreign troops as well - he left the fortress of Esztergom for Veszprém. The leaders of István's (Stephen's) guardsmen were Hont and Pázmány, German "principles". The Swabian guest (hospes), Vecellin took the lead of the army, and he killed Koppány near Veszprém during the battle. After the victory, István rewarded the knights who supported him, and he had Koppány quartered and hung his bodily remains from four castle gates as a deterrent. The warning sent to the Transdanubian Székesfehérvár, Veszprém, Győr and the Transsylvanian (Gyula)Fehérvár was addressed to the whole nation: with this he wanted to threaten those who intended to turn against the new order he represented.

The foreigners who were staying at the court arrived in the country with Gizella, and their role was very important; not only in armed fights, but in other respects as well. Their activity in the church and politics was of equal importance: the ruler followed their advice in governing the country. During the organising of the castle districts and counties, the developed western form made its way into public administration. Centers that guaranteed the king's power had to be established, and these centers were the castles.

The estate and the servants provided the castle. A huge part of the estate surrounded the castle itself, but further territories could belong to it as well. The bailiff directed the life of the castle: he was the judge, he collected taxes, he took the lead of the army of the castle. He was the supervisor of the villeins - the supporting pillar of the new power. The clerks of the castle administration were chosen from among them, and they formed the bigger part of the army. The common people of the castle retained their freedom by right, but actually they were chained to the service of the castle forever. In the first place they were engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, and only some of them were employed in the army. They paid tax in money and land produce. The incomes were shared by the ruler and the bailiff (in the proportion of 2/3 - 1/3).

The royal court set out for journeys quite frequently. Then their numerous escort was stationed in the castles and its surrounding villages. The servants of the castle were obliged to supply them. If they failed to do so, an accommodation-tax (descensus) may have been claimed from them instead.

The bailiff and his men collected road tax at the borders of the county, and bridge tax at the crossing places of rivers. Outside the castle walls, not very far from the castle there was a fair, a weekly market on a particular day of the week. In the beginning, this day was Sunday (the Hungarian word for Sunday - vasárnap - means market day). With the spread of Christianity this day, however, became a holiday - on Sunday working was prohibited, the people in the village went to church, so market days were put off to other days of the week.

Counties consisted of castle districts, and they were in charge of public administration. They did not serve military purposes at first place. The Hungarian word "megye" (county) is of Slav origin and it means "border". The borders of the newly arising counties were determined by the castles, the dioceses and tribal territories, which still existed at that time. In contrast with castle districts, the counties were contiguous estates, and the dependants of royal, ecclesiastical and secular landlords lived within their borders. The number of counties may have been about 35-45, less than that of the castle districts. The head of the counties were the county bailiffs, who were appointed by the king.

After Koppány's defeat and the reorganisation of public administration, chief prince István was of the opinion that strengthening his power and becoming king were issues of crucial importance. In the autumn of 1000 he sent ministers to the Pope to ask for a crown and the royal title. It was important for him to ask support from the Pope, and not the German ruler, because by doing so he did not become the vassal of the German empire - though in respect of the church he depended on Rome. Pope Sylvester II - in concert with the German ruler, Otto III - fulfilled István's request.

With the coming of the new millennium - according to different calendars it might have been on 25th December 1000, or 1st January 1001 - István was crowned king, and hereby Hungary joined the Christian community of European peoples. So the organisation of the church could start in the new kingdom.

At the Easter of 1001 the Pope founded the archbishopric at Esztergom and gave István a free hand to organise bishoprics. The first archbishop was Randla, followed by Astric, the former bishop of Kalocsa. King István founded and sponsored ten dioceses. The church possessed huge estates, these provided the economic background. Besides, the payment of tithe for the church, the constructions of churches, and church going were regulated by laws.

King István considered his power to be of divine origin; this appears in his certificates and in the preface of his first book of laws. The king had a number of royal emblems. The royal coronation cloak - originally designed for a chasuble - is from 1031, and on this we can see the crown, the orb and the spear. The sword and the sceptre were royal emblems as well, and centuries later the silver cross was also added.

At the time of its foundation, the Hungarian kingdom preserved its freedom and sovereignity. István strengthened his power by minting money, framing laws and issuing diplomas.

Minting money in Hungary - after German patterns - posed a number of debated questions. Experts usually attribute two different mints to István. One of them is the "dénár" (denarius) with the writing "LANCEA REGIS" (the king's spear) and a hand holding a winged spear on its face, and on its back there is a legend "REGIA CIVITAS" (royal town) and a church in the center. Such coins survived only in a very small number. The other mint is the "obulus" (half-denarius), with the legend STEPHANUS REX (King Stephen) on its face, and REGIA CIVITAS - referring to Esztergom - on the back. These coins, however, were found in such a large quantity that we must come to the conclusion that this currency was widespread throughout the country. It was in circulation in home and foreign trade as well.

The German influence could be noticed also in legislation. Two law-books are attributed to István. These contain a total of 56 acts. There are no manuscripts, though, that would contain all of them. The king's orders were probably collected in these law-books only after his death. The general view is that the acts of the first book were codified at the beginning of István's reign, and those of the second book were brought into legislation towards the end of his life. There are no relevant dates in them, though. The codex of Admont from the 12th century divides the laws into two parts: the first one contains the booklet of moral teachings written to his son (Exhortations), the second one contains a set of criminal laws.

Laws were enacted by the body of the king's councillors. The royal senate (senatus) consisted of the episcopal board and the bailiffs. Its two leading figures were the archbishop of Esztergom (the head of the episcopal board) and the most respected bailiff, the palatin of Hungary. They could give advice to the king, but their advice could not restrict the king's will.

Nine diplomas survived under István's name. The majority of these are forgeries from the 13th-17th centuries, but some of them contain original elements from the 11th century. All in all, three authentic diplomas can be linked to the age of István (the Letter of Foundation of Pannonhalma, the Letter of Foundation of the bishopric at Pécs and that of the bishopric at Veszprém). These diplomas were made by a clerk from the chancellery of Otto III., who settled down in Hungary after the German emperor's death on 23rd January 1002. On the basis of the handwriting we can identify C. Heribert's work, who was the composer of the Letter of Foundation of Pannonhalma, and who left king István's thoughts to the succeeding generations with his specific decorative letters.

With the help of the laws - the most important contemporary group of sources - we can outline the society of István's age, which can be divided into two parts; the basis of differentiation was whether one was free (liber) or a servant (servus).

The legally uniform society of the freemen consisted of further layers. On top of the hierarchy was the king (rex); surrounded by the aristocracy - ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries. The groups of the freemen were the following - on the basis of their financial situation-, according to contemporary laws: bailiff (comes), warrior (miles) and common (vulgaris). The warriors (milites), who composed the middle layer, were on military duty; they possessed private property (houses, lands, servants). The common people (vulgari) had smaller properties (horses, weapons), they had to pay the chimney tax - the denarius of the free - per family. They could become impoverished easily, losing more and more of their human and political rights, and gradually sinking to the level of the servants.

Servants (servi) did not have personal and political rights (such as free marriages, moving, making wills, carrying arms, participation in public affairs) that could be summarised as public or golden liberty (aurea libertas).

Attacks against the new order

After the coronation, István became king of Hungary, but in reality his power extended only over western and northern Hungary. In the eastern part of the country significant forces were in opposition to his uniting and centralising policy.

The king made his uncle (on the mother's side), the Transylvanian Gyula, surrender first, in 1003. Gyula and his people lived according to pagan traditions, he refused to obey, and intended to create a self-supporting, independent principality. István himself led a campaign against the disloyal Gyula, who - in the end - did not go against his nephew's army, but surrendered. After depriving him of the title of lord of province - by this he spread his power to Transylvania -, the king set up the Transylvanian episcopacy.

In course of the fights in the organisation of the state István's next enemy was Ajtony, who developed an independent rule in the territory bordered by the rivers Körös, Tisza, Lower-Danube, and the Transsylvanian mountain range. Although he took up Byzantine Christianity, he lived according to pagan traditions - as many other people did at that time. He resisted the king, in his own territory he functioned as a sovereign ruler. The royal army marched against him with the leader, Csanád at around 1008. They gained a total victory. In Ajtony's territory county Csanád was organised, and in 1038 the episcopacy of Csanád was set up, the prelate of which was Gerald from Venice.

As a result of a series of military victories, István managed to unite the Carpathian Basin both politically and religiously. Arranging home affairs required tremendous energy, thus he followed his father's policy concerning foreign affairs. He entered into alliance with the German empire, Venice and Byzantium. When battles were unavoidable, he proved to be a successful commander. In military affairs the Hungarian king was supported by the armies of the castle districts, the armed forces of ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries and the help of some privileged peoples.

King István defeated the Bulgarians in 1015 as an ally of Byzantium. In 1017 Polish troops arrived in the country to help Gyula, but they were defeated. The Hungarian ruler made peace with the Polish chief prince in 1018, and after 1019 a good relationship developed between Hungary and the Kievian ruler, Yaroslav the Wise. As a result, Russian and Varegian warriors came to the court, who were enlisted as the king's guardsmen, the leader of whose was prince Emeric. After the fall of Bulgaria in 1018, peace was brought to the Balkans. Thus Hungary had a common border with Byzantium till the end of the 12th century.

After 1018 István, a respected ruler throughout contemporary Europe, opened the Hungarian section of the pilgrims' route to Jerusalem, offering protection to the travellers. As a result, Hungary could join the economic, political and intellectual circulation between the eastern and western parts of Europe. As this route excluded Esztergom, István set up a new residence at Székesfehérvár, where he had a huge basilica built. He destined it for a royal chapel and burial place. Later the annual law-days were held here, in the royal headquarters, when everyone could appear before the king.

In 1030 the Hungarian kingdom had to face an enormous trial of strength. There was a German attack against the country, led by emperor Konrad, and at the same time the Czechs also launched an attack. The German emperor wanted to make Hungary its vassal and restore the former borders of the Carolingian Empire. The German army, however, suffered a defeat. Famine brought forth by tactics of well-built border zones and burnt land annihilated the armed forces of the enemy and made them turn back. During the pursuit István took over Vienna, as well. The peace signed by the Hungarians, Germans and the Czechs in 1031 granted Hungary territorial growth along the Lajta and Morva rivers.

Concerning succession, István believed that the suitability to rule (idoneitas) was the most important factor, as we can read it in his Exhortation. In connection with succession, he had to cope with a difficult problem in his last years. He had two sons: Otto, who died very early, so prince Emeric became the successor. He was provided with a good education, his teacher was the learned bishop Gerald (Gellért). In 1031 the royal family had to face a disaster: prince Emeric died in course of a wild-boars hunt.

After Emeric's death, István had to look for a new successor. Finally he chose his nephew, Peter of Orseolo, who was born from his sister's marriage to the Venetian Doge, and who had been living in the Hungarian royal court after his father's fall in Italy. István adopted him as his son. His decision hurt the sons of his father's brother - Mihály (Michael), Vazul and László (Leslie) Szár, in their hopes for the throne.

In 1032 a murderous attempt was made on the ill king's life. The plan, however, did not succeed, and a serious punishment was the result. The king rendered Vazul unable to rule (he had him blinded and poured lead into his ears), and his children - Levente, András and Béla - were exiled from the country. The successor, Peter of Orseolo had to make an oath, that he would obey István, have a respect for the queen, Gisella, whom he would not molest in property, and whom he should protect from everyone.

Our first king died on the 15th August, 1038. According to his will, he was buried in the basilica of Székesfehérvár. He was canonized in 1083, during king Ladislas's reign. His memory and relics were preserved by the passing centuries.

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