The settlement of the Hungarians and the rule of Szent István (Saint Stephen) 896 - 1038

The true origin, dating back thousands of years, of the Hungarians has never been fully clarified by science. One of the prevailing theories - that their ancestral home was located on the Asian side of the Ural mountains, and their predecessors belong to the Finnish-Ugric family of the Ural peoples - is verifiable linguistically. They may well have split away from their northwestern kinfolk at an early stage, while in the first half of the first millennium B.C. they were to be found southwest of the Urals, grazing their animals in the eastern Hungarian ancestral homeland (Magna Hungaria, Bashkiria) located along the river Volga. One thousand years later they joined the mass movements of peoples, traveling to the steppes (Levédia and Etelköz area) where the rivers flow into the Black Sea. They may well have established contacts with Turkish peoples, but archeology can present only Turkish elements (onogor - this is where the word Hungary comes from) from those areas.

One group of scholars considers that Hungarians reached the Carpathian Basin as early as in the 7th century as part of the renewed waves of the mass migration of peoples, but it is certain that from the middle of the 800s they were familiar with the area as their fighters, at times allies of the Franks and then of the Morva tribes, engaged in battle for territory. Here they learnt not only of the excellent natural potential of the Carpathian Basin, but also about the weak points of the allies, and the power vacuum that had developed in the region. These factors as well as in an effort to seek refuge from the attacks of the Turkish Pechenegs were instrumental in prompting them, in the year 895, to set off together with their women, children and animals toward the Carpathian Basin in search of a new homeland.

vérszerzödésLegend has it that prior to the great venture, the occupation of the new homeland, the heads of the seven Hungarian tribes, espousing eastern customs, sealed their alliance with a treaty sealed in blood, and in the person of Árpád chose a prince from among themselves. Árpád was successful in carrying out the huge task facing the tribes-people archeological finds confirm that the organized resettlement of the about 500,000 Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin was achieved at the cost of relatively few casualties.

In their new abode the conquering Hungarians continued their way of life supplementing animal grazing with tilling of the land, while their warriors - similarly to the Vikings - pushed forward into Europe to plunder. Finally German King Otto dealt them a blow at the battle of Augsburg (955) which stopped further forays.

Árpáds descendants realized that a precondition to the survival of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin was the need to establish a European pattern of settled existence. This principally meant the espousal of Christianity and the establishment of a state organization. Árpáds great grandson, Géza (died 997), had himself christened, but according to chronicles he continued to make sacrifices to heathen gods, although he made his son, the later Saint Stephen, a genuine Christian ruler. He invited the foremost German baptists of the age to educate him, entertained German knights at his court, and requested that Gizella, sister of the Bavarian king, be betrothed to his son.

Géza achieved his goal, and his son King Stephen I (997-1038) pursued his fathers policies, building up a strong, Western-style Chirstian state in the Carpathian Basin. He made respect for the tenets of Christianity obligatory for all subjects of the state, established a church organization encompassing the entire country, and obliged the settlements to build churches and organize themselves into dioceses. He settled monks in Hungary, who apart from disseminating the new faith taught local inhabitants about gardening, wine cultivation and various handicraft skills. They laid the foundations of a literate strata which provided for the establishment of the legislative and administrative system in keeping with the age.

magyar koronaIn the year 1000 Stephen had himself crowned king. He asked the pope in Rome to send a crown for the service, thus stressing his commitment to Western-type Christianity. One by one he overcame those tribal chieftains who resisted the new religion and system, confiscating their properties and establishing in lieu the counties under the control of the king. These - as a matter of course with a number of changes over the centuries - form the basis of the country's system of public administration to the present day.

As a result of the tremendous activities of Stephen (who was canonized in 1038) the new homeland, captured in 895, was transformed into a modern, Christian and European state which in the kings own lifetime was strong enough to defy the hegemonic aspirations of the Holy Roman Empire and to defeat campaigns launched by Emperor Konrad II.


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