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4: Saints out of Wolves

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The remnants of the army headed homeward from Augsburg. Although the loss of human life was not disastrous, internal relations in the homeland were undergoing realignment. Change was occurring in part, perhaps, because the Kabars and other ethnic groups that had joined the Hungarians also participated in the marauding raids, and thus also in the defeat at Augsburg, in significant numbers, while the leading ethnic group, the Hungarians, had remained more entire. (True, the men lost in the war hardly left an irreplaceable void. Polygamy was still common, and the custom of levirate whereby the oldest brother of the deceased warrior was obliged to marry his widow, to raise his children, and to beget additional offspring, still existed. Thus the capacity of women to bear children and the rate of infant mortality determined almost exclusively the increase in population.)

The remnants of the army headed homeward from Augsburg. What was their final destination? We know this much, that the leading circles of Hungarians still kept dual lodgings, changing dwelling-places in winter and summer, leading a nomadic life. In keeping with the custom of the peoples from the Steppes, they also maintained marshes in the Carpathian Basin, that is, uninhabited zones of land all around, with marsh gates and with auxiliary forces stationed there to guard the borders. The process of laying out these marshes was easy in a region broken up by mountains, and also in the south where rivers and swamps protected them. This was also the case in the west, at the feet of the Alps. At this time, the upper marshes along the Danube stretched somewhere into the Vienna Basin.

While we know all this, our information is, in certain respects, less than that about earlier times. The traces of the frequent raids survived, often in the form of chief warriors' names, in the chronicles of the affected regions which at first were filled with lamentation but later with exultation. News about the Hungarians withdrawing to their borders was more rare, the facts fewer.

What was the situation in Europe in the second half of the tenth century? Across the Channel, King Edgar was the first to rule all of England. On French soil, the Capet dynasty was supplanting the Carolingians; it had strong dukedoms, and a weak royal house. The German (Saxon) Otto I, the victor at Augsburg, was more than a match for his own princes; waging war in all directions, he became so powerful that in 962 he had himself crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome. His son, Otto II, married the daughter of the emperor of Byzantium-it raised a dream of reviving the Roman Empire. On the Iberian Peninsula, the ousting of the Moors was invariably the aim. In Scandinavia, in addition to the growing separation of the Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes, the counteractions of the pagan opposition hindered Christianization; with the age of Norman (Viking) marauding raids in Europe coming to an end, the nimble ships turned northward: Erik the Red reached Greenland, his son America at Labrador. Byzantium temporarily gained ground, while leaders distinguishing themselves against the Arabs seized the imperial throne with hands stained with each other's blood. On Bohemian (Moravian) soil, a complicated German-Slavic mudwrestling match went on in the disintegrating kingdom of Greater Moravia, which actually never existed; Prague developed into an important European city and was a bishopric from 972 on. On Polish soil, too, Christianization gained momentum, and a monarchy formed over the small principalities. On Russian soil, the endless metamorphosis of power factions could barely be followed; here the slow expansion of Christianity came from Byzantium, and its effect can be felt to the present day in the development of the region.

What is the most striking feature of this fleeting panorama? It is the raising of the cross in the sky throughout Europe, and the subjugation of lesser power centers, although setbacks mark both processes. Meanwhile, conversions, Christianization-particularly its western course-served to unify: it strengthened what is termed "supranational" in peoples. In the centralization of power and in the organization of worldly dominion, the integrating role of ethnic groups grew rather secretly, one can say, unconsciously. To the Hungarians' good fortune, it was precisely those among Árpád's descendants holding the greatest power who recognized both the direction and importance of these processes.

At the same time, our facts about this more peaceful time are, as we mentioned, more limited. This much is certain, however, that during the generation following Augsburg, Gyula, the leader of Transylvania, the eastern part of the country enjoying considerable independence, cast an eye upon Byzantium; he welcomed missionaries from there, became a Christian himself, and founded a bishopric. Looking westward instead, Taksony, the chief prince and man of armed peace, sought political tranquillity with the Germans but did not commit himself with respect to religion. Meanwhile, "old-fashioned" military campaigns were occasionally launched both east and west, but the age of marauding raids was irretrievably over. And those Hungarians with the most restless blood had no opportunity to set sail for new continents, as the Vikings had; nor could they return to the former homeland, as the Moors had to Africa. If not expressed as clearly as the nineteenth-century poet, Mihály Vörösmarty, will in his hymn entitled Szózat, the same conviction was already rooted among the most foresighted Hungarians:

No place exists for you

In the whole world but this;

Fate's hand may bless or damn you:

Here must you live or die.

Taksony's son, Géza, who was chief prince from 970 to 997 -perhaps he also wore the title of king at the end of his life-was willing to become a Christian, but he continued to participate in pagan rites, and, according to one story, when his attention was called to this fact, he replied haughtily: he was such a wealthy lord that he had enough treasure to sacrifice abundantly to two gods.

Géza's son, Vajk, who received the name Stephen on becoming a Christian-the same as his father's, though thereafter he used his new and not his old name-was prince from 997 to 1000 and king from 1000 to 1038. His coronation could have taken place on December 25, 1000 or on January 1, 1001, with a crown sent by Pope Sylvester II, or by Otto III, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, according to another opinion.

Stephen defeated Koppány, and had his body quartered for his rebellion and had the parts nailed on the gates of the country's four cities. This episode occurred later, however. First, let us see how the date of the coronation may have been chosen, which was, in certain respects, only a formal but still indispensable ceremony for Stephen. Was the day accommodated to the pagan holiday of the winter solstice occurring a couple of days earlier, though at this time it was not accurately determined, so that the pagan part of the population -the majority- would understand once and for all who their ruler is? Or exactly the opposite, to December 26, to the Christian name day of Deacon Stephen? After all, Taksony's son, Géza, and then Géza's son, Vajk, hardly received the name of the early missionary and martyr in Jerusalem accidentally. Or, instead, was the commencement of the new, the second millennium according to the Christian calendar to which the papacy attributed unparalleled importance at this time taken into account? Whichever one of these or all three together was the case, Stephen's coronation was carefully planned not only as a binding political and religious act but also as a pure ceremony.

With what date can we begin this historical epic poem broken into prose that Stephen I, the Hungarian king, undoubtedly deserves? With 997 or 1000 or the year of the final event when King Ladislas I, who was also raised to the ranks of Rome's saints not much later, had sainthood conferred on Stephen, his son, Prince Emeric, and Emeric's tutor, Bishop Gerard (Gellért), simultaneously on August 20, 1083?

We shall not begin with any of these. The prose epic poem is not our genre. And anyway, not wanting to diminish Stephen's greatness, we must not stress dates or narrower time periods. Passage from Taksony to well after Stephen was constant, despite every breach and regression. The Hungarian nation was not founded by a single act nor by a single ruler, though Stephen's reign was very long, extending over more than four decades. What commenced in the middle of the tenth century bestowed enough tasks upon a whole line of rulers, even to the extinction of the kings of the House of Árpád, to the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Still, Stephen's lifework is so significant that he cannot be described simply as one of the figures in a long historical process.

Taksony and then his son, Géza, already saw the triumph of the cross in Europe; they themselves, however, were leading a people, a conglomeration of peoples, who remained steadfastly pagan in their beliefs. Taksony and his son perceived that some other, stronger sword would carve out ever more power, territory, and population everywhere in Europe for itself; that mass migration would abate; that security would no longer be provided by mobile manpower but by walls and the producers and valuable goods they protected. They themselves, however, were leaders of a social class -their own military retinue- that was so restless and accustomed to constant changes of place that they remained subject to their will. Walls could hardly be found in the new homeland in the Carpathian Basin, unless they were odd, foreign Roman ruins. Craftsmen lived in exactly the same fragile villages as the plowing and planting peasants did, and a goodly number of valuable objects wound up in pagan sacrificial places as gifts to the gods or were buried, in keeping with pagan rite, in graves.

How could one hang on and create security here? When necessary, Taksony even gave up some of his newly gained territory; for example, the Vienna Basin, where the border marshes ran farther in and more to the east. However, we can, it seems, only guess at his political thinking and plans for action: he was maneuvering, gaining time-for his descendants.

The wife of Taksony's son, Géza, was a Christian; she was Sarolt from Transylvania, Gyula's daughter. Géza gave his own daughters in marriage to Boleslaw (the Brave) I, the ruler of Poland, to Samuel Aba, the leader of the Kabars, and to Otto Orseolo, the Doge of Venice. For his son, Stephen, he chose Gisela, a princess of Bavaria, as bride. This unheard-of deliberateness elevates Géza so high in our esteem because we do know that he still had not changed as much in his heart as in his politics. He became a Christian, but only half-heartedly: he made his offerings in two directions. But, we think, we suspect, this was hardly a tactic on his part: he did not want to deceive the gods or the people by appearing to be a Christian externally and a pagan internally. It was simply that: that was what he was like. His feelings still pulled him back; listening to his intellect, he looked ahead.

Recently, a belief entered the realm of probability, to the effect that the foundations of many structures reputed to be from Stephen's time had already been laid down by Géza. And this can be extended symbolically. In the founding of the state, no matter how long this process took, the roles of the two rulers, Prince Géza and Géza's son, King Stephen, were unquestionably enormous. Géza handed down the decision. The burden of execution was bequeathed to Stephen.

The son and grandson of half-pagan Géza were both canonized by the Catholic Church. With cause? Definitely. But probably not entirely for what was ascribed 10 them in the writings of the legend makers in the monasteries. Some sources described Stephen and especially Prince Emeric as pious souls. Actually, there was hardly a Hungarian king who was more iron-handed than Stephen, and Emeric, as far as we know, died while hunting wild boar.

The reign of Stephen I began with Chief Koppány, the lord of the southwestern part of the country, putting his rule in jeopardy while Stephen was still prince. By right of levirate, Koppány demanded that Stephen's mother, Géza's widow, Sarolt, become his wife. And, of course, he laid claim to the throne. Since we know that Koppany was not Géza's brother, he could have been his cousin. Perhaps he was the son of Taksony's other son, whose name is not known. But he could also have been the descendant of another Árpád branch. (Here history is obscure because the chronicles were written mostly by the lettered slaves of the victors, who, crudely correcting the facts at times, were capable of falsifying genealogy, of amending points of legality, and of altering disasters and victories to their opposites; they redrew maps, made documents disappear; they distorted the tales in accordance with changing interests.)

Later, with the Géza branch dying out without progeny, the male line of the Árpáds continued through the descendants of Taksony's other son. However, Stephen defeated Koppány and his clan with his own military retinues and the German knights taken into service at his court before his coronation. The chronicles saw this conflict mainly as the struggle between the still pagan and the already Christianized parts of Hungary. Although this motive played a role-and will frequently return in the wars for the Hungarian throne -the real opposition was more related to power than to faith. Two lines of succession had collided: who should succeed to the throne, the oldest male within the ruling house or the son of the deceased ruler?

In 1002, Stephen had to wage war against Gyula of Transylvania. One can hardly speak of a pagan rebellion here: Gyula, we remember, had been a Christian for a long time. Later -the year is not known- Stephen defeated the chief of the southern region of the country, Ajtony, who was also an Eastern Christian. However, when Vászoly attacked him -who was probably Koppány's brother, but at the time of his clan's rebellion still so young that he evaded the bloody reprisal -it again seemed that pagan-Christian hostility was flaring up. Moreover, it also appeared especially if Vászoly's campaign can indisputably be put immediately before Stephen's death -that he was preparing for nothing more than the sacral murder of the king in compliance with pagan customs, when he made his attempt on Stephen's life precisely in the fortieth year of his reign. (According to another, more romantic hypothesis, every nineteenth year, power crises, rebellions, and emerging pretenders to the throne disturbed the reign of the House of Árpád with such consistency that this seemed to prove the survival among the pagans of the lunar year used by many ancient peoples and equivalent to nineteen solar years [Metonic cycle]; in this case, Vászoly rose against his royal nephew after the passage of two lunar years.)

Stephen had Vászoly's eyes gouged out and hot lead poured into his ears. His three sons, Andrew, Béla and Levente, escaped to Poland. They were to return home from there some day.

Amid the terrible domestic and foreign wars, which, however, never reached a tragic scale, Stephen had the means and strength to organize and build the state. His most important act in the secular sphere was the elimination of the earlier tribal and clan structure. He appropriated two-thirds of the lands belonging to the clans, made them the estates of the royal crown and their people the servants of castles, and divided the country into some fifty counties. The mobilizable people of the counties, under the leadership of ispáns (bailiffs), served territorial defense. The land and people ruled by the chief prince's tribe, supplemented by the new crown lands and their inhabitants, were independent of the counties, and, at the same time, supplied the economic support and manpower for the king's standing army.

An extremely strong central power was necessary for this enormous appropriation. Obviously, the land was then sparsely inhabited, and only a small portion was under cultivation; furthermore the abandonment of dual quarters (winter along the rivers and summer amid good pastures) and the cessation of what remained of the nomadic way of life opened up large territories. In choosing ispáns, the king placed his trust in foreigners dependent only on him and in a few leaders of the ancient clans -this way, the two checked and balanced each other.

Laying the foundation of the church structure paralleled that of the secular reorganization. The new decanal districts and the counties were more or less identical; ten bishoprics came into being, and the one in Esztergom immediately and the one in Kalocsa shortly became archiepiscopal sees. Stephen was generous in granting privileges and estates to the Church. While earlier the Greek Orthodox rite spread predominantly east from the Danube and in some places actually crossed into former Pannonia, Géza and then Stephen steadfastly assisted the conversion and organizational activities of the Roman Church. The fact that Stephen founded a Greek monastery for nuns in Veszprém Valley for the Greek princess chosen as wife for Emeric was not inconsistent with this policy.

We know about Stephen's correspondence with the famous French Benedictine center, with Abbot Odilo at Cluny: he asked for relics of saints for Hungarian churches. But one of the chief centers of domestic religious life, the Abbey of Pannonhalma, molded its life and rules after the example of the also Benedictine Monte Cassino, in Italy.

In the course of his major measures in religious matters, Stephen transformed the custom relating to the markets. He decreed that markets be held every seventh day sanctified in compliance with the commands of the Church. Thus the name of this day was first vásárnap (market day) and then vasárnap (Sunday) in Hungarian. Every group of ten villages had to build a church, and two households, or families, were obligated to perform socage service in its support, with a stallion and a mare, six oxen, two cows, and thirty small animals.

It is worth visiting a church from the time of Stephen or one not much later but still constructed at his command. The nave of the Romanesque church at Karcsa erected of ashlar and built in the thirteenth century, is surprisingly small. A closer look reveals that today's chancel, built of bricks and having a three-quarter arch, was a much earlier, eleventh-century village church that was attached to the new nave as a chancel during its expansion in the thirteenth century. It is impossible, we should think, that this tiny round church met the needs of ten villages for two hundred years. Could the pagan tradition have remained this strong, attendance at Mass so small? They were, perhaps, content to have the roof only above the priest and the altar and people stand about in the open during the contemporary Mass.

The tragedy of Stephen -and of the entire House of Árpád and of the nation as well -was that among the children of the king who ruled for forty-one years only a single son reached adulthood, who himself died as a young successor to the throne. According to written sources of the Church, Emeric led such a saintly life that he vowed chastity with his Greek (Byzantine) wife, and they never consummated their marriage. Was this so? Who knows? In the light of what we know about the temperament of the members of the House of Árpád or the political prudence with which they wove their dynastic marriage bonds, we are inclined to doubt it. Would the only adult son of Stephen have behaved this way whom Géza so carefully prepared to rule and who himself so carefully groomed Emeric for his future independent life and his reign with fatherly and kingly advice? (We can consider Stephen's Book of Exhortations [Intelmek könyve] to his son as the first known Hungarian literary work.) A son whom his father had already entrusted with the leadership of the army while he was quite young in order to strengthen his stature as successor to the throne? Collateral succession to the throne always, and in this age particularly, concealed great perils, and not solely for the "defeated" family.

It is, however, a fact that Emeric remained childless, and became, in 1031, the victim of a hunting accident (perhaps a murderous attack?). We even know the date of his death: September 2. But we do not know his age at the time.

After Emeric's death, Stephen designated his sister's son, Peter Orseolo, as his successor; he summoned him to his court and prepared him to rule. His other sister's husband, the Kabar Samuel Aba, wore the honorific of palatine (in case of need, the palatine replaced the

king). In 1038, Peter ascended the throne. However, internal opposition ejected Peter, who had to depend heavily on foreign lords, and in 1041, the opposition made Samuel Aba king. By 1044 he also had to fight internal rebellion, over which he could triumph only by murdering fifty lords mercilessly. Emboldened by this, Peter returned with the help of the troops of Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor. Samuel Aba fell during one of the battles for the throne - a treacherous assassin killed him. The crown again belonged to Peter for two years, but he was forced to flee in the fall of 1046. Then his successor, Andrew I, one of Vazul's sons, had him apprehended and blinded. Hereafter, the descendants of Vazul of the House of Árpád sat on the royal throne of Hungary for a quarter of a millennium. However, fortune reversed itself. In the age of marauding raids, those who wanted to increase their power in the neighboring regions called on Hungarian auxiliary forces for assistance; then a balance of power largely prevailed for a period of time in East European territories surrounding the Carpathian Basin; in the middle of the eleventh century efforts to make vassals of the Christianized and settled Hungarians occurred ever more frequently.

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