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Árpád's Conquest of Hungary;

Conversion to Christianity

Around 830 A.D, a large group of Hungarians appeared in the territories next to the Black Sea between the Don and the Dnester, in Levedia. They lived there until 889 A.D. The Hungarians giving way to the pressure coming from the East, moved to Etelköz, which would be located in today's Moldavia and Bessarabia (the Republic of Moldavia).

The Hungarians get in close contact with Byzantium already in Etelköz (Atelkuzu). They were allied forces during the Bulgarian-Byzantinian Wars, in 894. The Byzantines got to know the Hungarians better, and they managed to receive more detailed information about them. Hungarian links strengthened with the Byzantines. The Byzantine world exerted a significant cultural influence upon the Hungarians. This is proved by the fact that in the contemporary tombs, also Byzantine impact can be found among Sassanide, Arab, Norman and other influences. In the tombs from the 10th century we can often observe objects of Byzantine origin or showing Byzantine characteristics. The findings are often accompanied by money of the Byzantine Emperors. Several objects with Greek inscriptions were found in the tombs. The best example is the silver-button of Piliny [34].

During the two decades after the Hungarians settled down, Hungarians remained faithful to the Byzantine Empire. They also knew that one of the main conditions of the new state's maintenance was Byzantine goodwill and recognition. This point of view was also reasonable, because they sought Byzantine aid to neutralize the German influence. The new Hungarian land belonged to the Byzantine range of influence, even though earlier it had been an organic part of the Holy Roman Empire. That is to say, the knowledge of Roman unity was still alive in Byzantium. The West-Roman Empire's territories occupied by the barbarians were always considered by the emperor's court as belonging to the Byzantine Empire. The lands of Hungary, even after the Hungarians settled down there, were viewed as belonging to the Byzantine zone of interest. The Hungarians also faced these facts. They did not oppose Greek-Catholicism (the Eastern Orthodox Church) neither during the years of settling down nor later.

On the territories of their new homeland, Hungarians found only one people in considerable number, the Slavs. They are not to be mistaken with the Slovaks. In the first half of the 10th century, the Carpathian Basin was not inhabited by the Slovaks but by the Slavs, who lived everywhere on the boundaries between the plains and mountains.

The Hungarian - Slav contact did not take place in the interior of the country. The two peoples met on the confines of the mountainous district, such as the south-western part of Transdanubia; the slopes of the Mecsek, Mátra and Bükk Mountains; the territories along the Tisza and Szamos, the Kraszna Valley and in Transylvania in the area of Gyulafehérvár. The lands lying between this area and the natural boundaries were considered of little value from the Hungarian economical point of view, and served defensive purposes because they were largely uninhabited [35].

The conquering Hungarians settled most densely in Transdanubia. Large parts of the area east of the Tisza river and Transylvania remained uninhabited for a while, since people were afraid of the attacks of their eastern neighbours. Transylvanian findings of the contemporary equestrian tombs prove that "...Central Transylvania: the middle and lower reaches of the Szamos and Maros; and the lower reaches of the two Küküll_s were occupied by the Hungarians. No other contemporary equestrian tombs were found outside of this region, which fact is serious enough to presume that no other territories were occupied at that time" [36].

The subjugated Slavs - as was the case also with the Slavs of the Elba-Odera territories, who were assimilated to the surrounding German population, - were after two or three centuries totally assimilated into the Hungarians. Many Slavic words became part of the Hungarian language by this time; words used in state and church organization, trades, and more advanced agricultural methods [37].

Only the Avars, who are mentioned by the sources before Árpád's conquest of Hungary, left significant marks on the area, along with the Slavs. Charlemagne (724-814) ordered their transfer, by their own request to the area between Szombathely and Deutsch-Altenburg (Carnuntum) in 804. The sources still mention them in the decades before the arrival of the Hungarians.

The Hungarians' ancestors were pagans. Christianity was introduced to them by Byzantine missionaries before their state founding (38). They found direct contact with Christianity in their new homeland by the way of the conquered Slavs and the captives taken during the frequent military campaigns in the West. According to Gyula Pauler, "... the pastors of the conquered managed to find the easiest way to the ears of the conquerors. The memento of these apostles was not kept by historiography but by the language. Words pertaining to the Christian religion, such as Christian, pagan, baptism, confirmation, bishop, priest, monk, saint, angel, and altar, were borrowed from the language of the Slavs (the Slovens). None of them is of German origin [39]. According to Ferenc Levárdy, the Hungarians found some ruins of the old Roman buildings at the time of their conquest of Hungary. They even found temples and priests in Pannonia and in the Szerémség [40]. Archaeological material left by the Hungarians show some Christian influence. The Christian cross appears on a few objects. Almost one dozen tombs, mainly children's burial places were found, with engraved bronze and silver crosses and necklaces. It is a fact that several Hungarian aristocrats, acting from political consideration, converted to Christianity already in the 10th century. According to Ioannes Skylitses, Byzantine historian "Bulcsú ostensibly was baptized into the Christian religion, Constantinus became his godfather, and he was honored by Patrician rank and a lot of money before returning to his homeland. In 952 Gyula, another reigning Prince of the Hungarians, went to the emperor's city, received baptism, and enjoyed the same distinctions. He returned with a pious monk, named Hierotheos, who was by Theofylaktos ordained bishop of Turkia (Hungary). He drove many people out of the barbarian straying to Christianity." Consequently the first Transylvanian bishop started his work in the 10th century and used Greek-Christian rites [41].

The Magyars took the Greek-Christian religion and used its rites. By the time of the Hungarian defeat at Augsburg (Lech Field) in 955, a Greek-Christian bishop was functioning in Hungary. The leaders, commanders and part of the nation were formally baptized.

The alliance between Constantine Porfyrogenithos (903-959) and the Hungarians was made stronger by annual taxes and "gifts" paid by the emperor. The emperor however got so much hostile and disdainful information about the Hungarians - the news of the sorrowful defeat of Bulcsú's army - that he ended the paying of such "gift-taxes". Instead, Olga, the Russian Great reigning Princess put in a claim for the "gift-taxes", after her baptism. Constantine thus managed to acquire Russia for the Greek-Christian Church. Hungary, however, turned from it. Byzantium lost its military alliance against Bulgaria, as well as the influence of the Greek-Christian Church in Hungary.

The Byzantine-Hungarian relationship became so hostile, that Taksony (son of Zoltán, Hungarian leader; 947-972) asked for a bishop from Rome to continue the spread of Christianity. Liuprand, Secretary of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I., said: "The Pope ordained a bishop for Hungary in the winter of 961-962." A Hungarian envoy of Bulgarian origin, by the name of Salk, was sent to Rome. The Pope sent Zacheus with a bulla to Hungary to be bishop there. The delegation, however, was captured in Capua by the followers of Otto. This action was supposed to accomplish the conversion of the Hungarians into the Christian organization by Otto's own bishop. The Hungarian great reigning princes were ready to build up the Christian Church's organization in the 950's and 960's. It was no fault of theirs that the attempt turned out to be unsuccessful [42].

The trend towards Christianity also meant political change. It was expressed by the mission, consisting of twelve Hungarian representatives, who in 973 A.D. were sent to emperor Otto, in Quedlingburg. The Emperor was there accepting the salutations of small populations who belonged to the German Empire's range of interest. By this way, the hostilities between the Hungarians and the German royal court ended. Bruno, the missionary bishop baptized Géza and his son Vajk, who received the name Stephen after the first martyr and patron saint of the church of Passau. However, the new religion did not take root in Géza. According to a later born legend, he considered himself rich enough to serve two gods at the same time.

Until the glory of the battles lasted, the Hungarians did not care much about the conquered territories. It is well known, that a part of the Hungarian army was badly defeated at Augsburg (Bavaria) in 955. Undoubtedly, that great misfortune forced those tribes of the nation, who led their raids on the West during the earlier decades, as well as in 955, to discontinue the attacks. For those who regularly raided the South, the defeat at Augsburg did not bring change. Only the severe defeat at Arcadiupolis in 970-971, ended the marauding on the South.

The intelligent and experienced voivod Gyula, who married Sarolta, Géza's daughter, was Géza's good advisor. With his great influence on the reigning prince, he suceeded in convincing him that there were two tasks to be solved involving the nations' future destiny: Peace must be ensured between Hungary and Germany, and a way must be found for Christianity to capture the soul of the nation.

The first converter's name was Wolfgang. He was followed by Piligrim, who sent a letter to Pope Benedict VII. around 974, in which he informed the Pope that the priests and monks had already converted five thousand Hungarians to Christianity. There was peace between pagans and Christians. Almost the whole nation was willing to embrace the Holy Faith [43].

Géza often had to resort to force to ensure the spread of Christianity. The consequence was discontent and open revolt in some parts of the country. He tried to compromize, and appeased the diehards by also offering sacrifices to the traditional gods. After the marriage of his son, he died with the knowledge that in addition to the homeland, he acquired for his nation strong ties to Europe by the adoption of Christianity.

The work of conversion was led by Archbishop Astrik.[10] There is only one source about the conversion and the organization of the new Church: the biography of Szent Gellért (Saint Gerardus). This source mentions that the first converters were Benedictine monks.

The first truly Christian King, Szent István (Stephen I, 997- 1038), wanted to tie Hungary to the Roman-Catholic Church along with the Western Roman-German cultural community, even though he had the opportunity to choose between the Roman and the Byzantine Churches. He helped to secure the Western type Roman-Catholic Christianity for his nation, but he did not make it unique. The former Bishop Gellért of Marosvár (today Csanád, Rum. Cenad) could admit Greek-Christian communities to his diocese. The king made possible the exercise of Greek rites and ceremonies in the Greek language. He provided rich donations to the Greek convents (basilicas) in the Veszprém Valley. Consequently, the Greek-Christian Church continued to live in Hungary undisturbed also after the millennium. It is also an important fact, that king Stephen, being an ally of the Byzantine Emperor while occupying Ohrida, did not bother to take expensive presents for him. Instead he took the relics of the martyr Saint George, much revered by the adherents of the Greek Christian Faith.

King Stephen, following in his fathers footsteps, "...who tyrannized over his own people, but was merciful and generous to the foreigners, especially the Christians", took the view that, "The guests and newcomers are yielding such a large profit, that they deservedly can stand on the sixth place on the honour roll of the king, since the unilingual country with one custom is weak and fallible." As a consequence, he ordered his son, Imre, to benevolently support and cherish the newcomers, "therefore they preferred to stay at his court, rather than living somewhere else" [44].

King Stephen "Often consoled the serfs of the temples, the monks, and priests with alms and donations. All of his available income was spent on pilgrims, widows and orphans. He often made donations through his envoys to the monasteries of provinces abroad" [45].

At the beginning of the 11th century, the Byzantine Emperor, Basilios II. attacked and subdued the Bulgarian kingdom. King Stephen forged an alliance with him for reasons pertaining to both internal and foreign affairs. His troops - as we know from the information of Fundatio Sancti Albani Namucensis - were fighting alongside the Byzantine troops, in the battles against the Bulgarians in 1004. After the conquest of Bulgaria in 1018, the borders of the Byzantine Empire reached the lines of the Danube and the Sava rivers and coincided with the southern borders of Hungary. This direct vicinity required that the good relationship between the two countries should not deteriorate with discrimination against the Eastern Christian Church. The Byzantine influence had to be counted in the state affairs also. It is enough to mention that the double cross of the Hungarian coat of arms is of Byzantine origin.

In the light of these historical facts, Stoicescu's theory about the adaptation of the Slavonic language by the Church of the Rumanians living in Transylvania before the Hungarians settled there, cannot be accepted. Stoicescu argues that "this important religious reform could not have been accomplished under the sceptre of Saint Stephen's Apostlic Crown."

The period is the 10th and 11th centuries, when the Slavic liturgy spread, penetrating also into Russia (46). As we have shown above, King Stephen and his predecessors did not just tolerate, but farsightedly supported the newcomers, thus also the representatives of the Greek-Christian Church and their cultic places. King Stephen was occupied with the conversion of the pagan Hungarians, and had no reasons to persecute his already Christian subjects.

There are also Rumanian authors who contradict Stoicescu in this matter. Petru Maior was of the opinion that Stephen the Saint did not fight or hinder the Rumanians' religion in Transylvania - on the contrary, they even had some privileges given by the first king of the Hungarians. In a footnote to Maior's text, Manole Neagoe remarks: "The two Churches were separated in 1059, it is therefore logical that the Rumanians were not oppressed due to their religious belief by Stephen I." (P. Maior: Istoria pentru începutul romînilor în Dachia; critical edition by Florea Fugariu, Bucarest, 1970, vol. I, p. 192) [47].

Stoicescu asserts, referring to P.P. Panaitescu, that Stephen the Saint wanted to spread Christianity because of national interests. This theory could not have been appropriate, even though he would have been reigning during the time when the civil nation's ideas occurred along with feudal and national motives. Saint Stephen's wisdom is a historical fact. He could have been wise; he could not, however, have gone ahead of his time.

Might Stoicescu not have known that there was no antagonism between different nations, nor intolerance of people because of their language at that time? After the Hungarians entered the Carpathian Basin, its ethnic picture changed: "The ethnic picture of the Carpathian basin became extraordinarily colorful, where the Finno-Ugric, Turk, Iranian, and Slavic peoples were living next to each other, on varying levels of the historical evolution" [48].

According to the law of Stephen the Saint, groups of ten villages were obliged to build a temple. If the conquering Hungarians had found temples or churches, King Stephen would not have been forced to order the "ten villages - one temple" law. The issuing of such order proves beyond all question that in Transylvania, even the pagan cultic places could have survived only in small numbers. If they had survived, Stephen would have made them - if only temporarily - Christian temples.

Moreover, if Stephen had been such a king as Stoicescu says, referring to P.P. Panaitescu, he would have used "Rumanian temples" by force for his recently converted people. However, there are no legends nor chronicles about such actions. We do not have any data either that the Hungarian state or clerical leadership, accepting the Western Church's liturgy, forced it on another, non-Hungarian people, for example on the Rumanians. In this case the resistance would have reached such a high level that it would not have passed unnoticed, without a trace in history.

The Hungarian relationship with Byzantium did not slacken until the end of the 11th century, when the Serb principality and Bulgaria, again independent, got wedged in between Hungary and Byzantium. On the other hand, Byzantium declined after the reign of the Komnenoses,[11] and in 1204, it fell to the Western conquerors. In 1261, the Palailogoses[12] restored the Greek Empire, but it could only be a shade of the Byzantine Empire. Regarding the friendly relations between Hungary and Byzantium up to the end of the 11th century, the Hungarians had a political interest in supporting the Transylvanian Greek-Catholic (Orthodox) Rumanians - or in any case, not oppressing them - if they had existed there. We do not have any data or references about this question, nor about such a population.

It is a very important historical fact that the Greek and Latin Churches were not divided until 1054. That is why we have stated above that the orthodox religion in Hungary was not exposed to persecution neither by the state politics nor by another Church. There was nothing to prevent the allegedly "native" Transylvanian Rumanians from building their own cultic places or having their own clerical organizations.

King Stephen got his crown from Sylvester II. (999- 1003). As an independent, ordained Hungarian king, he rightly founded episcopacies, abbacies and the archbishopric of Esztergom. Unfortunately, the contemporary church documents did not survive. It can only be suspected, that the first Hungarian archbishopric's deed of foundation was dated in Ravenna in 1001. According to György Gy_rffy "The foundation-stone of the Hungarian Church organization was laid in April of 1001" [49]. From our point of view the foundation of the bishopric of Gyulafehérvár is particularly important. As György Gy_rffy says, it was founded in 1009. The Transylvanian Bishop got hold of the territories of Kraszna and Szatmár counties, in addition to the "Seven castles, namely Siebenbürgen" counties: Hunyad, Fehér, Küküll_, Torda, Kolozs, Doboka, and Dés. There is no mention, however, of any existing Greek-Christian Rumanian Church, episcopacy or bishop.

It is not by the chance that we left the discussion of Anonymus' Gesta Hungarorum to the end of this chapter. The Gesta talks about the people found by the Hungarians in Transylvania by the time of their settling down: they were, among others, Blacks and the "shepherds of the Romans". Historiography identified the Blacks as the ancestors of the Rumanians, and came to the conclusion that making the Rumanians appear on stage in Transylvania during Árpád's conquest of Hungary is a serious anachronism. The Rumanians did not settle in Hungary before the 13th century, thus the good monk, Anonymus retroprojected the ethnic situation of his own era to the times of the Árpáds.

According to the notes of Roger (Rogerius) Bacon (1214-1294), "...the Blacks came from 'old Byzantium', which was located next to old Hungary and Bulgaria (i.e., Hungary and Bulgaria along the Volga). They live between Constantinople, Bulgaria and 'new Hungary'". Hungarian historians showed that the Black people had lived close to the Hungarians' Baskirian Fatherland before they got into Central and Southern Europe. While they attached themselves to the Bulgarians, they still used their own name in the 13th century. It may therefore be that Anonymus did not commit an anachronism. He probably did not talk about Rumanians, but about a people of Turk or Bulgarian origin, in ancient contact with the Hungarians; most probably on the basis of the ancient Gesta [50].

According to Köpeczi,[13] Anonymus got acquainted with the Blacks through Nestor's Russian Chronicle from the 12th century. As Nestor says; "The conquering Hungarians found Volohs (Volohi) and Slavs in the Carpathian Basin. They expelled the Volohs and subjugated the Slavs," ..."and from that time on, the land was called Hungarian (magyar; ugorszka)". Nestor meant French by the Volohs, in reality the Trans-Danubian Franks, in a wider sense every people speaking a Romance language, or those who belonged to the Holy Roman Empire.

The French crusaders met the Rumanians in the Balkans and pronounced their Greek and Slavic name as Black,even though it was spelled Blach and pronounced Vlach by the native people. The French form was used by the Hungarian chancellery, and declined as Latin words (blacus, blacci, blacorum). In the Hungarian documents written up to 1247, the French form: blak appears. The Hungarian colloquial form: "oláh", came into use after that year. It probably derived from the Greek and Slavic form "vlach", through an intermediate "volach".

Anonymus placed the Rumanians in Transylvania on the basis of Nestor. His work proves therefore that in his era Rumanians did not live in northern Transylvania.

Anonymus's work does not give any data to find out what kind of people the Hungarians could have found in Tran-sylvania. Modern archeology proves the presence of Slavs. Rumanian material remains from the 10th century, distinctly separable from that of the Slavs, were not found [51].


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