{1-277.} Conquest, Settlement, and Raids

'... et ab ungerorum
nos defendas iaculis.'

Moving westward from the Don region, the Hungarians reached the Danube Delta between 832 and 836. Their temporary settlement area, which they called Etelköz ('Atelkuzu'), eventually extended to the valleys of the Dniester, Prut, and Seret rivers. The archaeological evidence, though ambiguous, is probably indicative of their passage: for instance, in the older section of the 'common people's' cemetery at Căpreria, in Moldavia (shallow graves, on an west-east axis, holding personal accessories, trepanned skulls, and 'Saltovo-type' pots), or at another cemetery in Moldavia, at Braneşti, where traces were found of distinctively Hungarian rites. Some graves, with horses, that are more likely Hungarian than Pecheneg have been found in southern Moldavia at Friedensfeld/ Mirnopole and Sabalaţ/Szadovoj; the grave at Frumusika/ Frumuşica yielded bow-stiffeners made of bone, an iron-studded quiver, and seven arrowheads, all of distinctly Hungarian character. Graves that are arguably of Hungarian origin have been found even in Moldova (Holboca, Moscu, Probotă, Grozeşti).

In the case of certain isolated burial places dating from the 9th–10th century — 'nomadic' graves, with horse and plain weapons such as quivers and arrows — it is difficult, and at times impossible to ascertain whether they are of pre-900, Hungarian origin, or of post-900, Pecheneg provenance. According to the reputable report of Constantine Porphyrogenetos, written around 948, the Pechenegs' domain had already stretched at that time for fifty years as far as 'the lower reaches of the Danube, opposite Dristra' [now Silistra] ). This, however, does not preclude the presence of Hungarians, in the 9th century, in Moldova or in the Lower Danube region. A number of finds are arguably of Hungarian origin. At {1-278.} Probotă (Prut valley, north of Iaşi), the incomplete grave of a man (with bundled horse-skin) yielded a quiver holding seven typical arrowheads. Similar discoveries have been made at Grozeşti, as well as at Moviliţa (Ialomiţa valley, north of Bucharest), where a quiver held six diamond-shaped arrowheads. The report on a find at Tirgşor (Muntenia) attributes Hungarian origin to a lyre-shaped, bronze clasp.

In 862, Hungarian mounted warriors traversed the Carpathians and raided Pannonia (Hostes ... qui Ungri vocantur, regnum ... depopulantur).[21]21. Annales Bertiniani, a. 862. They had come at the invitation of their ally, the Moravian leader Rastislav. The following year, the Eastern Frank King Louis retaliated by forging an alliance with the Bulgars, whose Khan Boris-Mikhael sent mounted troops (cum auxilio Bulgarorum ab oriente venientium) to help beat Rastislav into submission. That set a pattern of confrontation in the Danubian region which lasted for some twenty-five years: Hungarians and Moravians against Bulgars and Franks. The Hungarian Conquest was one of the factors that upset this military balance. In 881, Svatopluk received assistance both from the Hungarians' Kabar auxiliaries and from a Hungarian force that advanced as far as Vienna (Primum bellum cum Vngaris ad Veniam, Secundum bellum cum Cowaris ad Culmite).[22]22. Annales Iuvavenses maximi, a. 881. Two years later, Svatopluk suffered a punishing blow from the Bulgars. In 892, when Svatopluk once again refused to pay obeisance to the Franks, he could still count on his Hungarian allies — but also on Bulgar retaliation. Emissaries, sent by the Franks to request assistance from the Bulgars in Belgrade, had to travel along the Sava to avoid capture by Svatopluk's forces. The situation took a decisive turn in September 892, when Khan Vladimir informed Arnulf's envoys that the Franks could no longer count on his military aid in the Carpathian Basin; the Bulgars were only prepared to halt salt deliveries to the enemy. The Frank delegation was still there when Simeon ascended to the Bulgar throne; once a hostage of the Byzantines, he vengefully {1-279.} prepared for war. In response, the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI's envoy Niketas Skleros met on the Lower Danube with the Hungarian ruling princes Árpád and Kurszán, and they agreed to form an alliance. As a result, a Hungarian force, led by Árpád's son, Liüntika (Levente), was ferried across the Danube by the Byzantines and attacked Simeon's Bulgars from the rear. Simeon suspended his campaign against Byzantium to turn against the Hungarians. Defeated by the latter, he sought refuge in the castle at Dristra (Silistra).

That same year, in 894, Hungarian warriors advanced into the Carpathian Basin and Pannonia to aid Svatopluk against the Bulgars' Frankish allies. When they learned of Svatopluk's death, the Hungarians pulled back, though apparently only as far as the region of the Upper Tisza. In spring 895, Árpád followed with his army and, after some skirmishes on the Great Plain, brought the Bulgars' rule to an end.

When the Hungarians arrived to settle in the Carpathian Basin, they encountered little resistance on the part of the Bulgars. The latter had demonstrated their capability to attack Moravians north of the Garam, but that did not necessarily mean that they had ever stationed significant forces farther north than Belgrade. It took no more than ten days for mounted men to cross the broad plain (Avar[or]um solitudo) lying between the Moravian and Bulgar borderlands (Vulga[ro]rum fines). In the fateful period 894–899, the Bulgars maintained but a few outposts, such as the fort at Csongrád, each manned by some 100–200 soldiers.

Having hurriedly made peace with Byzantium, the Bulgars concentrated their forces to defeat Liüntika's Hungarians. Their new allies, the Pechenegs, simultaneously launched attacks on the Hungarian encampments in the Etelköz. The ensuing, massive withdrawal by the Hungarians ended in the 'conquest', or rather settlement, of what became their permanent homeland.

{1-280.} The route taken by the Hungarians is recorded in their 11th-century chronicle, the Gesta Ungarorum. Their flight stretched over three months. Pursued by the Pechenegs (the Hungarian name of the Pechenegs, 'besenyő', derives from the Old Hungarian 'bese', meaning 'eagle'), who slaughtered their horses and livestock, the Hungarians flooded through the Eastern Carpathian passes and forests into the haven of Transylvania (Exinde montes descenderunt per tres menses et deveniunt in confinium regni Hungariae, scilicet in Erdelw). There, they and what was left of their herds could rest and regain strength (In Erdelw igitur quieverunt et pecora sua recreaverunt). There is no reason to question the lore of the Hungarian ruling family, according to which one of the ruling personages, Álmos, died before he could reach Pannonia; he was sacrificed, in Khazar fashion, while in Transylvania, presumably because of the defeat suffered at the hands of the Pechenegs (Almus in patria Erdelw occisus est, non enim potuit in Pannoniam introire).

In their flight from Bulgaria, the remnants of the defeated Hungarian armies had no alternative but to seek refuge in Transylvania; the narrow passage on the south bank of the Lower Danube was guarded by strongly-manned Bulgar fortresses at Vidin and Belgrade.

Both ancient Hungarian legend and written sources indicate that the 'conquering' Hungarians first stop was in Transylvania. From there, they made their way up the valley of the Maros and Sebes-Körös — and perhaps also through the Meszes Gate — towards the Great Plain.

After a year or two, a Hungarian 'expeditionary' force of some 5000 horsemen conducted a campaign that left a major mark on European history and left Italy in a weakened state for an entire generation. On 24 September 899, the Hungarians crossed the Brenta River on horseback to confront a Lombard army that (according to a contemporary Italian source) outnumbered them by {1-281.} three to one. The result was a crushing defeat for the king of Italy, {1-282.} Berengar I. They occupied Mosaburg (Zalavár) and Pannonia shortly thereafter, and in 902 they annihilated (usque ad solum) the Moravians — something that the Eastern Frankish empire and its Bulgar allies had been attempting in vain for some fifty years.

On 4–5 July 907, Bavarian forces engaged the Hungarians near the former stronghold of the East Frankish Duke Braslav (Bresalauspurc-Pressburg, Pozsony), and suffered defeat. Their casualties numbered in the thousands and included Prince Luitpold and nineteen of his counts as well as Theotmar, Archbishop of Salzburg, with two of his bishops and three abbots.

The Hungarian warriors were evidently bold and resourceful. They shot off volleys of arrows even as they swam across the swift-flowing Brenta. They carried full equipment when, at dawn on July 5, they crossed the Danube at Pozsony. In the ensuing decades, they crossed the Danube, Sava, Po, Inn, Lech, Iller, Rhine, Rhône, Seine, Loire, Elbe, Weser rivers countless times. Yet some Hungarian as well as non-Hungarian historians blithely ignore this evidence and maintain that the conquering Hungarians were held back for many years by lesser waterways in the Carpathian Basin...

In the aftermath of the Battle of Pozsony, the Hungarians seemed unstoppable. On 3 August 908, at Eisenach, they crushed the Thuringians, killing in the process Burckhart, the Marquess of Thuringia, and Rudolf, Bishop of Würzburg. In 910, they divided and defeated the principal forces of the Eastern Frankish empire: on June 12, at the Lech plain near Augsburg, they disposed of a Swabian-Alemanni army (Count Gausbert was a casualty), and ten days later, at Rednitz, they defeated the Franks, killing the Frankish commander Prince Konradin Gebhardt. The army of Henry I of Saxony suffered the same fate in the summer of 919, and so did the forces of Rudolf, Prince of Burgundy, in the fall. In the winter of 920–921, on a battlefield between Brescia and Verona, they prevailed over the Burgundian and Lombardian enemies of their ally, Berengar I. Pressing forward, they dealt in 924 a punishing blow to the forces of Raymund III, Count of Toulouse. And so it went until 15 March 933, when, near Riade, the Hungarians suffered their first major defeat. All these events were accurately recorded by their enemies at the time. Yet historians who give credence to Anony-mus's Gesta maintain that the Hungarians had failed to prevail over the Bihar leader 'Menumorout'...

Back in 900, on June 29, the Hungarians had attempted the impossible and laid siege to Venice; to halt their advance, the defenders had to stretch a chain across the Canal Grande. They laid waste Vercelli and Modena at a time when Mosaburg still stood in Pannonia. The Moravian fortresses must have been well defended, for the Franks and Bavarians captured only one of them, at Dovina. By the time of the Battle of Pozsony, many Moravians had changed sides, braided their hair in the pagan manner, and fought shoulder to shoulder with the Hungarians. The Hungarians captured or burned down Verona, Bergamo, Brescia, Pavia, Piacenza, Tarentum, Lucca, and Beneventum; and, in the west, Altaich, Augsburg, Freising, Fulda, Brema, Basel, Sankt Gallen, Verdun, Châlons, Reims, Nîmes, Narbonne, Besançon, Malmédy, as well as Tournai. These were the warriors who, according to Anonymus and his imitators, could barely manage to seize Zemplén, Szatmár, and Doboka, and who could prevail at Bihar only in the final phase of their conquest, after a long siege, and then only by negotiation...

They covered great distances on horseback: across the Rhine, to Burgundy, in 913; along the Weser valley to Bremen and Denmark in 915; in 917, back across the Rhine to Alsace and Lorraine. In 922, they raided Apulia, reaching as far as Otranto and Tarentum in early February, and on their way back ravaged the environs of Naples and Rome. Two years later, the Hungarians crossed the Pyrenees into the province of Barcelona before returning along the Rhône valley and across the Rhine. In 926, they advanced along the Loire as far as the Atlantic Ocean, and one of {1-283.} their northern detachments reached the English Channel. Serving as the Pope's allies, they battled in Tuscany and around Rome in 927. They laid siege to Constantinople in April 934, then marauded through Macedonia and Thessaly. The following year, they were back in Burgundy and Aquitania. In the course a great campaign in 937, they plundered Lorraine and French Aquitania as far as the seacoast, then swept through Burgundy into Italy, where they ravaged the environs of Capua, Nola, Naples, and Beneventum. In 938, they were back at Rome. In the summer of 942, the Hungarians advanced across northern Italy and the Provence into Spain. They raided Byzantium and Hellas in April 943, and four years later they were once again in Apulia, where they devastated Otranto and Lerino. So often did they cross the Carinthian Alps on their way to Italy that their route was known for centuries as the strata ungarorum. In 951, another raid took them across northern Italy to Gallia. Three years later, the Hungarians conducted another major campaign in northern France. After suffering a defeat in 955 at Augsburg, they stopped raiding western Europe, but continued to harass Byzantium. They reached Constantinople on 3 April 959, came back in 961, and once again in 968, when they pillaged the environs of Thessaloniki as well. The question bears restating: how could these Hungarians have had trouble covering the few kilometres, on level land, that separate Vámospércs from Gálospetri and Szalacs, Ártánd from Bihar, Nagylak from Sajtény, as is argued even today by some historians and archaeologists who choose to rely on Anonymus?

The Hungarians' 'adventures' must not be embellished or idealized. Their goal was treasure and slaves, plunder and prey. The rampaging Hungarians brought dreadful destruction to Europe's towns and villages, churches and monasteries, and they were deservedly condemned by the public opinion of their day. It remains that they were no worse or more destructive than the Vikings, notwithstanding the attempts of historians in northern {1-284.} Europe to explain that the latter were driven to 'heroic deeds' by economic necessity. It is clear by now that the western raids were conducted not by 'the Hungarians' as a whole but by their rulers, clan chiefs, and the latter's 'professional' soldiery. They often entered into strategic alliances with one or the other of Europe's warring kings, and in this respect the moral outrage of contemporaries was somewhat selective. Their military tactics rested on rapid, concerted operations by well-disciplined, mounted soldiers. To understand the Conquest, it is important to put the Hungarians' military capability in the context of the balance of power of the Danubian region.

Since, by 895, the Hungarians had already buried one of their ruling princes in Transylvania, there may well be archaeological evidence of their presence from that period onwards. A coin, minted under the Bavarian duke Berthold (Hrahtoldvs) (938–947), indicates that in subsequent years and decades, Hungarians from Transylvania participated in the western military campaigns. The coin, which has a serrated rim, was unearthed at Torda — the only such find in the Carpathian Basin — and once belonged to the collection of József Kemény.

The small but noteworthy communities implanted by the Bulgars in Transylvania did not even have the option of fleeing from the Hungarians, who came in overwhelming force. As the cemetery at Csombord testifies, they came under Hungarian rule but continued to use the burial ground into the early 10th century. Similarly, the Moravians, who fell under Hungarian rule a few years later, kept on burying their dead at Staré Mĕsto, Mikulčice, and other cemeteries. The Bulgars at Maroskarna, however, were supervised — as will be seen — by local, armed Hungarians.

With the emergence of the Árpád dynasty after Kurszán's death, a new clan became the repository of 'Turkia's second sovereignty'. There is no indication of the time when the ruling gyulas transferred their headquarters and residence to the middle Maros {1-285.} valley. The gyula must have been in charge of eastern and southern affairs, for he directed the raids against Byzantium in April 934 and April 943. The early phase of their 'independent' policy toward Byzantium is evoked by the Byzantine solidi and silver coins (left as gate-money for the afterworld, or sewn on garments as ornaments) that were found in Hungarian graves in the Maros-Tisza-Körös region.

In the Hun and Avar periods, ruling princes moved between their residences along the Maros valley, and recent excavations indicate that the gyulas did likewise. Their summer residence, which dates from the mid-900s, had by the end of the century become the capital of Transylvania's new rulers, complete with a Roman fort built of white stone, a round church, and a palace: the gyulas' Fehérvár (White Castle), or Gyulafehérvár.