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Transylvania during the Mongol Invasion

According to János Túróczi,[16] in 1241 the Tatars (Tartars or Mongols) of Genhis Khan marched into Hungary with four armies, 500,000 armed men [56]. The main body of their army marched through the Verecke Pass to the Tisza Valley. The other three armies attacked from Transylvania. While the Tatars retreated from the Great Plain and the Maros Valley, they devastated Transylvania to a very large degree. They destroyed everything that had got in their way. The Partium and Transylvania suffered the biggest losses and most casualties.

In his memorandum, Carmen Miserabile (Miserable Song) Rogerius, of Italian origin, the Dean of Várad, wrote that when he had escaped from Tatar captivity, and had been travelling through Transylvania, he was hardly able to find a man there; he did not see anything but "heaps of ruins" in Nagyenyed, Torda and Gyulafehérvár. "On the Eve of the Tatar invasion the Hungarian armies were fighting on the Balkans serving the interest of the Hungarian aristocracy and the Papacy. The Papacy, however, did not recruit Western forces against the Tatars in 1240-1242... The struggle against the Mongols was strongly hindered, since the German feudal nobles, serving their own interests in Northern and Eastern Europe, in agreement with the Papal State, led their troops against the divided Russians" [57].

Without any allies and also separated from each other, Hungary and Poland were attacked by the Mongols, who, after breaking the Russian resistance, turned with full force against the two countries.

King Béla IV. (1235-1270) tried to organize the defense of the country, but failed. The King's desperate efforts were seen with malicious joy by the nobles who felt offended due to the strengthening of the King's power. They put their soldiers at the king's disposal with considerable delay and reluctance. The murder of Kötöny, Cumanian leader, turned the Cumanians away from Béla IV., even though the responsibility did not rest with the King. The King could not mobilize an army of satisfactory numbers, until the very last moment, when the Mongols had already broken into the country, and the danger had become overwhelming.

The army of King Béla IV. could not resist the Mongols, whose horsmen swarmed all over the Tisza area. The Tatars and the Hungarian cavalry fought on the battlefield of Muhi, near the Sajó stream in April 11th, 1241. The battle ended with the total destruction of the Hungarian Army. The King escaped with extreme difficulties. His death would have meant the final destruction of Hungary.

After the battle of Muhi the country was in complete ruins. The number of slaughtered people could be counted in ten-thousands. Most of those who survived were hiding in the deep forests and marshes and were waiting for the day of salvation.

Fortunately, the Mongol Chief Khan, Ogotaj died unexpectedly. Since Batu Khan, the Commander in Chief of the Mongol army, now in Hungary, wanted to be present and take part in the power struggle, following the death of the chief khan, hastily withdrew from the country and returned to Mongolia.

At the end of May 1242, there were no Mongols left in Hungary. The work of reconstruction could start.

King Béla's first task was the reorganization of the country's defenses. He realized that the Mongols had not been able to capture the Hungarian fortresses. He organized a castle system on the border zone, and urged his nobles to build more fortified castles. He founded a new capital at Buda with a splendid royal palace and churches on the Castle Hill (part of modern Budapest).

After the Mongol withdrawal, King Béla immediately started to re-build the country, building new fortified castles of stone also (in Transylvania: Dés, Kolozsvár).

The King sent Vajda (Voivod) L_rinc to Transylvania "...to gather his people, and arrange everything, by using his authority, that he finds useful to his country". L_rinc tried his very best to fulfill his duty. He transfered ploughmen and soldiers to the depopulated areas from the territories that suffered less. He also encouraged people from abroad to settle in the devastated territory.

In his letter to the King, the Transylvanian Bishop Gallus, wrote that in the year of 1246 it was hard to find people in Gyulafehérvár and the city's surrounding areas. He asked the King to take the people, who lived or were willing to live on the episcopal properties out of the authority of the voivods and county sheriffs. He, the Bishop of Transylvania, would have been in this case their only master. The King fulfilled his wish.

The Mongol invasion decimated the population, therefore foreigners had to be hired to do the reconstruction. What kind of nationality did they have? Where did they come from? The new dwellers, who were brought to the episcopal and unoccupied royal properties, migrated with their flocks from the Balkans. They were Vlachs, ancestors of today's Rumanians [58]. Most of them ran away from the political discords and battles going on in the Balkan Peninsula. They were led by Bulgarian and Serb kenez-es.

During the times of Charles the Anjou (Charles I.) (1307-1342), especially in 1335, they were also invited to Transylvania. In 1370 some of their nobles moved, because of political unrest, from Bulgaria, as well as from the western areas of Wallachia, to Transylvania [59].

The Szamos and Maros valleys were Transylvania's main military routes during the Mongol invasions. These valleys were inhabited by Hungarians. Every enemy, marching through the area, ravaged mainly this people. The Saxons found shelter in their forts and fortified towns, while many Székelys were hiding in the forests. The farming people of the undefended villages always became easy prey of the enemy. That is why they could not and did not grow sufficiently in number. That is why they later were forced to welcome foreign settlers.

King Béla, "the second state founder" settled the Johannite (Maltan) Order of Knights between the Lower Danube and the Olt, which teritory also had been devastated by the Mongols. Their presence, from the year 1247, meant defense for the territory.

The Christian churches, devastated earlier by pagan insurgents, were replaced by new ones. Saint Stephen's orders were reissued by Saint Ladislas I. He ordered that the burned out or devastated churches had to be rebuilt by the congregations. "The churches which were ruined because of their old age must be reconstructed by the bishop." These churches were rebuilt by the time of the Mongol attack (1241). It was hard to find a village without a temple. The churches, however, were mostly robbed, burned and destroyed by the Tatars. The cathedrals of Gyulafehérvár and Nagyvárad had to be rebuilt. The village churches also had to be rebuilt from their ruins. Again, we have no information about the reconstruction of any Greek-Catholic (Orthodox) church in this period in Transylvania. There weren't any.

After the Mongol attacks fortified stone and brick churches were built that could have been used for defensive purposes. Their construction was regulated - under the king's inspiration - by the propriety relations. "Every proprietary recognized the mental and material advantages of the patronage's right." The number of parishes in the 13th century exceeded that of the 11th century. We do not know about Rumanian parishes and church building proprietaries. Thus, in the Hungary of the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly in Transylvania, Hungarian churches made earlier of wood and mud were reconstructed because they were completely destroyed by the Tatars. The reason was not that assumed by Radu Popa, Rumanian historian [60]. The brick and stone churches mentioned by him are newer. They are churches re-built after the Tatar devastations. If there were some Rumanian churches made out of bricks or stones after the Tatar attack in Transylvania, it would mean that they were built in that period, - they could not have been built before the Tatar invasion.


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