Anonymus on the Hungarian Conquest of Transylvania

The earliest Hungarian chronicle, the 'Old Gesta', was repeatedly expanded and reworked into several versions between the 11th and the 14th centuries. Unfortunately, it offers only a brief account of how the Hungarians first occupied Transylvania, killed their leader Álmos (probably in a ritual sacrifice), and then moved on to 'Pannonia'. The source fails to make clear where Gyula was coming from when, while hunting, he chanced upon a 'white castle' (i.e. the ruins of Apulum), or what people he might have encountered there. Nor does the source put a date on the Hungarians' arrival in Transylvania; that can only be inferred from the comment that King Stephen (St. Stephen) took over Transylvania from the third Gyula, i.e. the grandson of the one just mentioned. At the beginning of the 13th century, these mysteries drew the attention King Béla III's scribe, a man who modestly signed his work Master P., and who is known to posterity as Anonymus.

Anonymus relates the Hungarian Conquest of Transylvania in chapters 23–27 of his chronicle: 'When Tas, Szabolcs, and Tétény (Thosu, Zobolsu, Tuhutum) [...] reached a depopulated region, they remained there for a few days and fortified its borders with mighty ramparts (chap. 23). They had been there for some time when Tétény, father of Horka (Tuhutum pater Horca), learned from the local people that there was a good land lying beyond the forests (terre ultra silvane), ruled by some Blak named Gyalu (Gelou quidam blacus) (chap. 24). Tétény [...] sent ahead a clever man, {1-334.} Father Agmánd Apafarkas (patrem Opaforcos Ogmand)... Tétény's spy, scouting around like a fox, took note of that land's richness and inhabitants [...] spoke often with its master [...] and learned that the land was irrigated by fine rivers, rich in alluvial gold deposits, that there was much salt to be mined, and that the inhabitants were the vilest people in the world. They are contemptible because they are Blas and Slav people (blasii et sclavi), they have only bows and arrows for weapons [...] they are much harassed by the Cumanians and the Pechenegs (chap. 25). Leaving his companions behind, Tétény headed eastward, to the land beyond the forests, to confront the Blak leader Gyalu... Gyalu rode out to meet him and halt his advance at the Meszes passes (per protas Mezesinas). But Tétény, having crossed the forest in a day, reached the waters of the Almás (Almas)... (chap. 26). There ensued a fierce struggle in which Gyalu's warriors were defeated, and many of them were killed, while many others were taken prisoner... Gyalu fled, together with a few followers, toward his fortress on the Szamos (Zomus) River, but he was killed by Tétény's warriors near the Kapus (Copus) creek. When the people of that land learned that their master was dead, they proposed peace and hailed Tétény, father of Horka, as their new leader. They testified to their loyalty by taking an oath of allegiance at a place known as Esküllő (Esculeu).'[1]1. Anonymus, Gesta Hungarorum: Béla király jegyzőjének könyve a magyarok cselekedeteiről (Budapest, 1977), pp. 101-103. All further references are taken from this edition, with the relevant chapters being indicated in the text. The Hungarian translation is used as the source for the information on the Hungarian conquest of Transylvania; the Latin names, found in the original text, of persons and places are given in parentheses.

Anonymus' account of the Hungarian conquest of Transylvania must be assessed in the context of what he has to say about the entire Carpathian Basin. In his rendition, information regarding the peoples that the conquering Hungarians would find in the Carpathian Basin is conveyed by the Russian rulers of Kiev and Halych (Galicia) to Álmos when the latter passes through their lands (chaps. 9 and 11). According to the Kievans, 'that land is inhabited by Slavs, Bulgars, Blachs, and the Romans' shepherds.' The Galicians offer more detail on those who had lived in that land since Attila's death. Roman lords had occupied Pannonia as far as the Danube, and had settled their shepherds there. Bulgaria's master, {1-335.} the great khan (Keanus Magnus), had occupied the land between the Danube and Tisza rivers all the way to the Polish and Russian borders, and he settled Slavs and Bulgars in the region. The country was now ruled by one of his descendants, Salan (Salanus). (It is later revealed that one of the latter's military commanders bears the name Laborc.) The land between the rivers Tisza, Maros, and Szamos, reaching to Transylvania, had been occupied by Marót (Morout) and his 'Kozar' people; it was now ruled by his grandson Ménmarót (Menumorout). Galád (Glad), who came from Vidin, had seized, with the help of the Cumanians, the land lying between the Danube and Tisza, south of the Maros (chap. 11). The Kievans failed to mention the Khazars, and the Galicians omitted the Blachs, and the information given by the two sources did not cover the entire Carpathian Basin: it left out the part of Upper Hungary that lies west of the Garam River, as well as Transylvania. However, Anonymus later mentions these regions: the 'Slavs of Nyitra' are under the rule of the Czech prince, who appointed Zobor as their governor (chaps. 33–37), while Transylvania is inhabited by Slavs and Blachs, and ruled by the Blak Gyalu (Gelou) (chaps. 24–27). In chapter 50, Anonymus affirms that Pannonia is ruled by the 'Romans' and populated by 'Slavs and Pannonians'. In chapter 44, Glad's Cumanian warriors are assisted by Bulgars and Blaks in their resistance to the Hungarians. Finally, with regard to Ménmarót's domain, the 'Kozárs' noted in chapter 9 earn no further mention; instead, in chapters 50 and 51, Anonymus refers to the presence of Székelys (Siculi, Sicli).

It is obvious from these references that Anonymus had simply projected back to the time of the Conquest the ethnic and political pattern that prevailed in Hungary's vicinity in his own time, i.e. in the early 13th century. At the time of the Conquest, Pannonia belonged to the Eastern Frankish empire; only after 962, when it became part of the Germanic Roman empire, could it be considered 'Roman'. Until 895, the Slavs of Nyitra had been ruled by the {1-336.} Moravians (known to the Hungarians as 'Marót'); the Hungarians seized the territory from the Moravians, and not from the Czech prince, who took control of the Moravian lands lying beyond Hungary's borders only after 955. The case of the Bulgars is even more instructive. Anonymus was evidently not aware that at the time of the Conquest, they had an independent state and were called Nándors by the Hungarians; only after 1000, when they came under Byzantine rule, did the Hungarians begin to refer to them as Bulgárs or Bolgárs. This probably explains why Anonymus considers Salanus, Menumorout, and probably Glad as well, to be subjects of Byzantium, although he does not claim that the last two are Bulgars. It was during Anonymus' lifetime, in 1185, that the Bulgars and their Romanian and Cumanian allies shook off Byzantium's yoke; and this knowledge probably inspired him to situate these three peoples (the Romanians being referred to as 'Blaks') in Glad's domain. Of the 'states' surrounding the future Hungary at the time of the Conquest, he identifies correctly only those of the Poles and the Russians, and he judges that the influence of these two states did not extend to the Carpathian Basin.

Anonymus believed that Transdanubia, the Nyitra region, the area between the Danube and the Tisza, and Transylvania were all inhabited by 'Slavs' (Sclavus), who lacked political autonomy and were ruled, respectively, by Romans, Czechs, Bulgars, and Blaks; the Hungarians expelled these rulers and subjugated the indigenous 'Slavs'. All of the above assumptions inform Anonymus' conception of the Hungarian Conquest: the Carpathian Basin had been part of Attila's empire, and Álmos, who descended from Attila, was its rightful heir. The political forces that ruled over the region after the disintegration of Attila's empire were eventually driven out by the Hungarians and survived as Hungary's neighbours, while their Slavic subjects came under Hungarian rule. Thus, according to Anonymus, the Slavs were the only people to enjoy ethnic continuity in the Carpathian Basin; the Romans, Czechs, Bulgars, and Romanians (Blaks) did not.

{1-337.} Anonymus had no need for historical data to support his view of Hungary at the time of the Conquest; he simply noted what countries adjoined the Hungary of his day, and drew retroactive conclusions. As noted earlier, Anonymus converted toponyms into the names of Conquest-era potentates; Salán, Laborc, Ménmarót, Galád, Zobor and Gyalu must have been his inventions, for none of them figure in the sources that were available to him. Indeed, although he must have been familiar with some early variant of the 'Old Gesta', he purposely ignored the names that appeared therein, such as Marót, the latter's son Svatopluk, and perhaps Keanus Magnus. By the time that Marót was mentioned in the 'Old Gesta' as Svatopluk's father, the name's derivation from the term applied to the Moravians, 'Marót', was long forgotten, and thus Anonymus could not deduce that a Moravian kingdom had existed in the Carpathian Basin at the time of the Conquest. He therefore chose to ignore Svatopluk, relegated Marót and the great khan to a distant past, and imagined that the Hungarians encountered these figures' descendants, to whom he gave the names Ménmarót and Salán. He considered that the 'Old Gesta' was not a reliable source, particularly in its claim that the Hungarian conquerors' first stop had been Transylvania. He preferred to believe that the Hungarians had moved in through the Verecke Pass, and that the name applied by foreigners to these Magyars — Ungari, Hungari — was derived from the first locality that they occupied, Ungvár, or Hungvár. He further believed that their main enemies had been the Bulgars, and not the Moravians. Historians later speculated that Anonymus culled the notion of 'Romans' shepherds' from the 'Old Gesta'. This may not be the case, for the first authentic reference to this dates from 1147, when Odo de Deuil, who had travelled across Hungary, situated the pastures of Julius Caesar (i.e., the Romans) in that land. Thus the information may have come from a French source, and it may well have been conveyed back by none other than Anonymus, who had pursued studies in Paris.

{1-338.} The first mention of Transylvania in Anonymus' chronicle is in chapter 11, where he refers to it by the Hungarian name Erdeuelu. He notes that it lay on the eastern border of the domain of Menumorout, the lord of Bihar, but then seems to forget about the place. It may be surmised that if Anonymus neglected to mention the ruler and people of Transylvania, it is because he was unwilling to broach the matter of that region's conquest — perhaps because he did not want to contradict the 'Old Gesta', which, as noted, indicates that the Hungarians had made their first stop in Transylvania. However, while working on his chronicle, he came across information that compelled him to take some account of Transylvania. Unwilling to alter his initial thesis, Anonymus turned history on its head; his Hungarians, instead of moving westward from Transylvania, are depicted as entering that region from the west.

In Anonymus' rendition, Árpád, who was encamped at Szerencs, dispatched three of the seven chieftains, Tas, Szabolcs, and Tétény, to confront Menumorout (chaps. 20–23). They conquered the northern part of Menumorout's domain: the forces of Tas and Szabolcs advanced to the fortress at Szatmár, while the rest of the army, led by Tétény and his son, Horka, occupied the Nyírség as far as the Ér River. When the two armies reunited at the Meszes Pass, the chieftains 'decided to draw the border of Árpád's country [...] at the point where the land ceased to be inhabited'; there they marked the frontier with a stone gate and felled trees. The story's logical continuation would be the return of Tas and Szabolcs to Szerencs after their victory, but this happens only in chapter 28; forgetting that he has already related the marking of the conquered land's eastern border, Anonymus inserts four chapters (24–27) describing Tétény's military campaign in Transylvania. He concludes that tale as follows: 'Tétény ruled in peace and with good fortune over the conquered land, which remained in the hands of his descendants until the reign of St. Stephen. Tétény begot a son, {1-339.} Horka, who had two sons, named Gyula (Geula) and Zombor (Zumbor). Gyula had two daughters, Karold (Caroldu) and Sarolt (Saroltu). King St. Stephen was the son of Sarolt. And Zombor's son was the younger Gyula (minor), father of Buja and Bonyha (pater Bue et Bucne). It was during this Gyula's rule that St. Stephen seized the lands beyond the forest. Gyula had been too proud to become a Christian and, although related to the king's mother, had often acted in a manner hostile to St. Stephen; he was therefore taken in fetters to Hungary and kept imprisoned for the rest of his life.'

Anonymus digresses in relating Tétény's Transylvanian campaign and, what is worse, becomes mired in contradictions. Tétény, unlike Tas, Szabolcs, and their relatives, disappears from the narrative. When Anonymus returns in chapter 50 to the story, begun in chapter 22, of the expedition against Menumorout, new names figure as the army's leaders, men who had previously conquered Transdanubia. Forgetting apparently that he had already related how Tétény occupied Transylvania, he now has Menumorout fleeing to that region — a curious choice, since he would have been heading straight into the arms of the Hungarian occupiers. Moreover, Anonymus fails to make good on his promise in chapter 6 to relate how the Maglód clan was descended from Tétény. Instead, he affirms in chapter 27 that the Gyulas of Transylvania descended from Tétény. The scribe credits Tétény with the conquest of Transylvania, turns Tétény's grandson Gyula into the Gyula who rules Transylvania, and says nothing about a Maglód clan. In fact, there are no documents testifying to the existence of such a clan. A clan bearing the double name Gyula-Zombor did live in the diocese of Vác during the Middle Ages, but there is no documentary evidence to link them to the Transylvanian Zsombors. With regard to Tétény's son and grandson, Horka and Gyula, Anonymus was not aware that 'Gyula' and 'Harka' (as well as another name in his chronicle, 'Kende') served merely as honorifics {1-340.} at the time of the Conquest, and became proper names only during the monarchy. Thus Tétény may have been a 'harka', and the father of another 'harka', but it is not known whether he was related to two subsequent 'harkas' who lived in the mid-900s and whose proper names were Kál and Bulcsú.

While it is evident that Anonymus had converted honorifics into the real names Gyula and Horka, the source of the name Tétény is less clear: he may have borrowed it from a Hungarian family's legend, or from the locality, on the Danube, called Tétény. Gelou was an authentic personal name as well as a toponym that is noted in the chronicle: the fortress of Gyalu, at the confluence of the Szamos and Kapus rivers. This Hungarian name, of ancient Turkic origin, occurs as a toponym in other regions of Hungary as well. Curiously, Anonymus did not choose a royal castle — such as Kolozsvár or Doboka, both proximate to the scene of his story — for the seat of the Transylvanian Blak leader. Instead, he opted for the Transylvanian bishop's castle at Gyula — perhaps because it was the closest major fort in relation to the Almás River and the Meszes Pass, and because it sounded similar to the leader's name, Gyalu.

The derivation of the term 'Blach' is somewhat clearer. The most likely source is the early 12th-century Russian chronicle of Niestor, which Anonymus either consulted or learned about from the Hungarian entourage of Prince András when the latter served as Galicia's ruler between 1188 and 1190. According to Niestor, the Hungarian conquerors encountered Volohs (Volohi) and Slavs in the Carpathian Basin: 'The Slavs were the earlier inhabitants, but their land had been occupied by the Volohs. Then the Hungarians (Ugri) expelled the Volohs, appropriated the land, and settled down among the Slavs, making the latter their subjects; ever since, the land has been known as that of the Hungarians (Ugorska).'[2]2. D.S. Lihachova, . [The Old Russian Chronicle] (Moscow, 1950), p. 21. The significance of 'Volohs' is revealed in an earlier passage of the chronicle, when Niestor, listing the peoples of Europe, situates the Volohs near England; thus, for Niestor, 'Voloh' identified the French, and, {1-341.} more broadly, all the peoples who spoke neo-Latin or belonged to the Roman empire. However, Anonymus could not know that Niestor's Volohs were one and the same as the 'Romans' who, in his own chronicle, were expelled from Transdanubia by the Hungarians, and he therefore situated them elsewhere in the Carpathian Basin. This is why, in chapter 9, he makes separate mention of the 'Blachs' and of the 'Romans' shepherds'. He evidently associated the latter with the Germanic Roman empire, observing that even in his own day, 'they continued to graze upon Hungary's wealth'; thus he held them to be important foreigners, and not mere shepherds. As for Niestor's Volohs, Anonymus noted the similarity between their name and that of the Vlach-Romanian elite in the Bulgar-Romanian empire; and since he believed that there had been indigenous Slavs in Transylvania, he conveniently identified their masters with the Volohs who, according to Niestor, had ruled over Slavs and been expelled by the Hungarians.

Anonymus referred to the Blaks as soldiers in Glad's domain, which lay between the Danube, Tisza, and Maros rivers. Therefore, in his view, the Blaks were not oppressed commoners but rather the ruling elite or at least armed 'freemen'. There has been some speculation that Anonymus' Blaks were the Turkic people who are mentioned in medieval sources as bearing the same name and living east of the Carpathians, but this hypothesis does not bear the test of scholarly scrutiny. Judging from his account of Glad, Anonymus could only have been referring to the Vlach-Romanian warriors of the Bulgar-Romanian empire, who were assisted by the Cumanians. This would have been consistent with his belief that the Hungarians had driven out of the Carpathian Basin the Slavs' former masters, and that, in his day, the latter could only be found along or beyond Hungary's frontiers. In fact, this picture coincided to some extent with the situation in Anonymus' time: the Bulgar-Romanian empire, founded in 1185, had a common border with Hungary along the upper reaches of the Lower Danube, and reliable {1-342.} sources indicate that there were Vlach-Romanians living in the Southern Carpathians.

As noted, Anonymous drew on Niestor to conclude that Gelou's people were a mixture of Slavs and Blaks (Blasii, Blaci). In Anonymus' account, there are Slavs in almost all regions of the Carpathian Basin, but they are always depicted as being the subjects of another people: Salán the Bulgar settled Slavs between the Danube and the Tisza, the Czech Prince imposed his rule over the Slavs of Nyitra, the Slavs and Pannons of Transdanubia were ruled by the 'Romans', i.e. by the Germanic Roman empire, and the Transylvanian Slavs were ruled by a Blak. The masters were expelled by the Hungarians, the Slav commoners stayed put. When Anonymus wrote his 11th chapter, he apparently knew nothing about the inhabitants and rulers of Transylvania, and he was directly inspired by Niestor's chronicle to apply the standard formula to that region. He entertained two notions regarding the Romanians. The first, that the Bulgaro-Romanian empire included Vlach-Romanians, was accurate; the second, that they were one and the same as Niestor's Volohs (i.e, the Franks of Transdanubia), was patently false.

His confusion is underscored by his inconsistent spelling. In chapter 9, he assigns to the Balkan Romanians the name 'Blach', which has a Greek tonality; this name was also used by literate Byzantines and at the papal chancellery (e.g. Rex Bulgarorum et Blachorum). However, in chapters 24–26, which deal with Transylvania, he adopts two further spellings: he refers to Gelou as a Blacus, dux Blacorum, and to Gelou's people as Blasii et Sclavi. The name 'blacus' has a French ring, and, in fact, on their way across the Balkans, French crusaders had encountered the Romanians. The latter's Greco-Slavic name was spelt 'Blach' and pronounced 'Vlach', but the crusaders pronounced it and spelt it 'Blak'. This French variant was subsequently borrowed by the Hungarian chancellery and declined as in Latin: blacus, blacci, {1-343.} blacorum. The first trace in Hungarian sources of this ethnic designation is the phrase, terra [...] exempta de Blaccis, in a court document dating from 1223. The forest of the Blaks and Pechenegs (silva Blacorum et Bissenorum) is mentioned in a royal document (the Andreanum, see below) drafted in 1224 but known only from a transcription made in 1317. Around 1231, German knights at the papal court forged a Hungarian royal document (purportedly dating from 1222) in which there is reference to the terra Blacorum; the more Byzantine-style terra Blachorum figures in this document's papal endorsement. Only the French-style 'Blak' figures in Hungarian documents until 1247, when the Hungarian vernacular term Oláh first appears; it was derived — probably via the variant Volah — from the Greco-Slavic Vlach. The plural of the word Oláh, Vlasi (= Olasz, which means 'Italian' in Hungarian) had been used earlier in the vernacular to refer to neo-Latin peoples — but not to the Romanians. However, after 1247, the Hungarian chancellery would only use the terms Olacus and Olachus, which were Latinized versions of the vernacular Oláh.

It is likely that Anonymus was aware of the Hungarian chancellery's name for the people that he had called the Blaks of Transylvania, for from chapter 24 onwards he employs the French spelling. On the other hand, in chapters 9 and 25, he also uses the spelling Blachi and Blasii, which indicates that he was familiar with the pronunciation of the Greco-Slavic Vlach and of the Slavic plural Vlasi; it was thus in imitation of Niestor that he located the Vlach-Romanians in Transylvania. In light of the above, the thrust of Anonymus' account is not that northern Transylvania was inhabited in his day by Vlacho-Romanians, but the very opposite: that they had been driven out of the region, or, more precisely, that they did not live there.