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4: The Scourge of Europe

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We are not familiar with the precise course of the Hungarian conquest. It is certain, however, that our ancestors were looking for a new home in an area previously already well known to them. During earlier, long range forays -- exploratory and looting ventures -- they repeatedly entered the Carpathian basin and even went beyond it. They were particularly familiar with the area between the Carpathians and the Black Sea, but they had visited the Balkans, the foothills of the Alps, the Vienna basin and Moravia. Their forays were undertaken either on their own or on invitation. In this region, the dissolution of the Avar Empire - according to newer information, as consequence of the ravages of an extensive draught -- left a power vacuum which a number of groups tried to fill. These groups were situated around the periphery and intermittently either fought or formed alliances with each other. They were frequently looking for "military adventurers" who could be hired for money or for other considerations.

According to the simplest version of the history of our conquest, the seven Hungarian tribes were forced out from their former home in the Etelkőz (between rivers) and were joined by the Kabars who had come from the Khazar Khanate. They supposedly to crossed the northern passes of the Carpathians, but perhaps only the Verecke pass. This theory seems to be strongly supported by the fact that the area just below the Verecke pass, the Zemplén-Szabolcs region, is particularly rich in graves dating to the period of the conquest. Furthermore, we can be reasonably certain that some of the graves excavated in the cemetery at Karos in the Bodrogkőz, are the only ones which held the bodies of men who were in the original conquest group and who were still born beyond the Carpathians in the Etelkőz.

Later, another theory became acceptable, according to which the invasion came from two directions, from Verecke and from the lower Danube, thus both from the north and also from the south. Today we believe that the majority of the conquering groups entered their new homeland through the passes of the eastern Carpathians. In both of the latter cases, in addition to Zemplén and Szabolcs, Transylvania was among the first regions to be settled. Soon thereafter, the conquering Hungarians expanded rapidly toward the west in the Felvidék, the present day Slovakia, while the subjugation of Pannonia took place only several years later. All in all, the Hungarian conquest began in 895 and was completed in 900. During this time and for another 70 years thereafter, the Hungarians still engaged in military adventures.

At this time, and for a long period of time, Europe was under a threefold pressure. In the south, from Africa, the Moors (Arabs) tried to establish themselves in or at least gather rich plunder from Iberia and Italy. In the north, the fast ships of the Vikings (Normans) circled the Continent and attacked from the south and from the north. They didn't care whether the water under their keels was salt or sweet, sea or river. In the center the wild Hungarians rampaged over an enormous area. The hooves of their horses splashed in the waters of the Baltic in the north, and of the Channel in the west. In the southwest they reached the center of Iberia and in the south they looked across the narrows to Sicily. In Greece only the Peloponesus remained inviolate and in the east only the Bosporus stopped them. Europe was slow to react. It was much more important to the European nations to fight over the detached remnants of the former Roman Empire than to unite to curtail these three bellicose people.

In spite of their repeated and long-lasting conquests, the Moors were eventually forced out of Europe and had to withdraw to Africa, which brought little joy to the resident African tribes. Those branches of the Vikings who settled far from their original Scandinavian home later participated in the formation of the Russian state, gave their name to Normandy and established a Norman kingdom in Sicily. All this at the price, however, that the few remaining groups ultimately were assimilated into the larger mass of the people conquered and organized by them.

The Hungarians, on the other hand, took solid control of their new home in the Carpathian basin. Very soon they could establish a state that was ethnically quite colorful but which was made cohesive by the language spoken being Hungarian.

These three groups, who originated from far distant regions and whose goals and aims differed widely, still served a common purpose. By being a threat to all the nations of Europe and to the entire power structure of the Continent, they hastened the reversal of the chaotic fragmentation that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Involuntarily of course, but they were instrumental in triggering the formation of the administrative bases and borders which have changed many times over the past thousand years, but which even then drew an ethnic and national outline or sketch map of Europe very much as it is today.

In the second half of the 9th century, the Hungarian forays could no longer be maintained with the same enthusiasm and they slowly came to a complete stop. It was not the bellicose spirit that was lacking. It was their paymasters, the European monarchs and pretenders using their services who slowly came to their senses. Politically, they realized that if they weakened their neighbors and their neighbors' economy by the depredations of the mercenary Hungarians, they would all suffer in the end. They also realized that the Hungarian light cavalry tactics could be opposed successfully. Responding to a ruse with a ruse they gave up responding piecemeal and city by city. They appreciated that by joining forces, this voracious people driving a wedge into the heart of Europe could be stopped. At the same time, the wiser Hungarian tribal or tribal alliance leaders realized that their foes whom they despoiled or whose money they earned with their blood had come to their senses. This realization was bilateral and mutually effective.

The restless, sanguinary Hungarians must be forced into the ranks of the Christian European nations, living within secure borders, or they must be destroyed. We must become a part of the predominantly Christian Europe or we will be exterminated. Since it is difficult to determine the accurate course of the Hungarian conquest, it follows that the history of the conquest of Transylvania also lacks precision. The more so since the Romanian national prejudice makes the continuation of archeological excavations difficult and interferes with the publication and judicious interpretation of the findings. If, however, we accept the last of the conquest theories discussed above, or if we were to completely discard the northern or Verecke theory, as some historians have, then the dominant majority of the conquerors must have reached Transylvania in the first phase of the conquest. Most of them could not remain there, since this region could not support them and their animals. The majority had to move rapidly to the more fertile parts of the Carpathian Basin and to an area more suited for a pastoral economy.

The group of conquerors remaining in Transylvania gathered in the central region, mainly along the upper tributaries of the Maros and the Szamos. Even though initially the Bulgarian neighbors were important, very soon Byzancium becomes the dominant power factor, and it was natural that the Eastern Christian Church should cast its rays upon Transylvania.

Originally Byzancium was not a target for Hungarian adventurers. They lived in alliance with it, or took tribute (peace ransom) from it. Even later, when the Eastern Empire came under attack by them, the loot gathered there was found by the archaeologists not in Transylvania, but along the Tisza, in the graves of the former marauders. Could it be that the Hungarians living in Transylvania at that time did not join the adventurers assaulting Byzancium? This suggests a certain autonomy. Was there such a thing and what was it based on? Investigation of this matter is made difficult by the fact that following the conquest, and at the time of the adventuring as well as immediately thereafter, there were two converging processes going on in Hungarian society, in its power structure and later in the territorial arrangements of its people. Before and during the conquest, the tribal separation was still pronounced, but now -- largely under Árpád's influence -- the tribes became increasingly united and combined into a tribal confederacy. Increasingly, but not entirely. The adventuring was in part certainly a tribal undertaking or the "private affairs" of two or more jointly acting tribes. The tribal confederacy dealt only with important matters affecting the entire nation. At the same time the confederation -- ducal? princely? -- had a dual power structure. The real leader was known as the gyula, while the spiritual leader was the kende.

The most likely version is that the confederacy of the conquerors was organized, still in the Etelkőz, by Álmos, and that both he and his son Árpád held the dignity of the gyulaship. During the conquest, the aged Álmos was killed in Transylvania or on Transylvania's borders. It was written that "he was not to reach Pannonia". He became the victim of a ritual regicide. Was it because the people were forced to leave their original home? Or was it to celebrate the successful conquest? Or was it simply because his term of office had expired and because the time allotted for his supreme command was over? According to one hypothesis, this time period was nineteen years which, according to the Metón cycle of the calendar, corresponds to one lunar year.

At this time, the office of kende was held by Kurszán, who also shortly became a victim of murder. He was killed treacherously, during a conference, at the dinner table, by the Bavarians. This is noteworthy since with the death of Kurszán, the dual principality came to an end, even though its memory persisted and exerted a strong, traditional, retrospective attraction. There were attempts to re-establish it. The first and principal indication for this is that -- primarily in Transylvania -- there was after Árpád a whole series of anonymous rulers during whose rule a dynasty of "gyulas" appeared, who naturally also came from the ruling family. This regional dynasty tried to establish a balance of power vis-a-vis the Hungarian centrum, looked toward Byzantium, and converted to Eastern Christianity. It is not clear just how, but the title gyula later on becomes Gyula, i.e. a personal name. Could this be the result of historiography which transposes a title into a name?

When at the end of the 10th century the adventuring came to an end, the name of Géza emerges clearly and unmistakably from the chaotic and perhaps fictional list of princely names. Géza played a major role in numerous matters which heretofore were attributed exclusively to (Saint) Stephen I, who is venerated as the founder of the country. He -- or perhaps his father -- looked for a mate of dynastic interest. The one he married was called by the pagan-sounding name of Sarolt white stoat, lady stoat or, more commonly, ermine). The father of the bride kept a princely court in the Transylvanian Fehérvár, which later became known as Gyulafehérvár. The Gyula, very powerful in Transylvania, may have been induced to accept Géza as his son-in-law because in the middle of the 970s the always powerful and dangerous Bulgarians became even more so, and managed to isolate him territorially from Byzancium. Later, Byzancium became stronger again, but at this time, in view of Géza's age, the reins of government were grasped by the energetic Sarolt. The relative independence of Transylvania was maintained under Sarolt's younger brother -- another Gyula -- and this blood relationship served to provide security for both areas. Stephen, who became Prince in 1000 and was crowned king in 1001, was not satisfied with this arrangement. He married a Bavarian princess, and what Géza could accomplish with his marriage, his son, who married westward, had to accomplish with the force of arms. First, he had to overcome Koppány in Somogy, though not because he was a pagan, and certainly not more than a partial pagan, like Géza.

The archaeologists have discovered the same type of four-apsed chapel in Bakonykoppány that was unearthed in Stephen's royal city of Székesfehérvár. It was not a religious difference that made Stephen confront Koppány, but the overthrow of the seniority-based succession that was characteristic of the Árpád dynasty in earlier times. After Géza's death, the Somogy magnate demanded the hand of the widowed Sarolt, along with the throne. After his overthrow, he was quartered and one of his quarters was nailed to the gate of Gyulafehérvár as an overt warning. This being insufficient, Stephen had to take an army against his maternal uncle. Subsequently, Stephen had to settle with another Transylvanian magnate, Ajtony, who became too independent and who had been known to "divert" the royal salt barges. Both of these campaigns are now viewed as though Gyula and Ajtony had already acted on behalf of non-Hungarian ethnic groups, Protodacians or Preromanians, and for independence from the new ambitious kingdom.

Actually, both of these campaigns were internal -- Hungarian "family fights" for power. The uncertainty or absence of sources makes it impossible to date Stephen's campaign against Ajtony with any precision. Yet the complete incorporation of Transylvania into the administrative and religious structure created by Stephen could have taken place only subsequent to it.

Alternating historical and archeological approaches, we must emphasize that from the conquest to the creation of the State, the Hungarian presence in Transylvania does not imply that a small ruling class of Hungarians had been imposed on the local population. The frequently hampered and incomplete archeological studies document the presence of a large number of lower class Hungarian settlers.


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