Hungary Politics and Society under Stephen's Successors
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
Figure 2. Hungary in A.D. 1200
Source: Based on information from C.A. Macartney, Hungary: A Short History, Chicago, 1962, 24.
Stephen died in 1038 and was canonized in 1083. Despite pagan revolts and a series of succession struggles after his death, Hungary grew stronger and expanded (see fig. 2). Transylvania was conquered and colonized with Magyars, Szekels (a tribe related to the Magyars), and German Saxons in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In 1090 Laszlo I (1077-95) occupied Slavonia, and in 1103 Kalman I (1095-1116) assumed the title of king of Croatia. Croatia was never assimilated into Hungary; rather, it became an associate kingdom administered by a ban, or civil governor.
The eleventh and twelfth centuries were relatively peaceful, and Hungary slowly developed a feudal economy. Crop production gradually supplemented stock breeding, but until the twelfth century planting methods remained crude because tillers farmed each plot until it was exhausted, then moved on to fresh land. Gold, silver, and salt mining boosted the king's revenues. Despite the minting of coins, cattle remained the principal medium of exchange. Towns began developing when an improvement in agricultural methods and the clearing of additional land produced enough surplus to support a class of full-time craftsmen. By the reign of Bela III (1173-96), Hungary was one of the leading powers in southeastern Europe, and in the thirteenth century Hungary's nobles were trading gold, silver, copper, and iron with western Europe for luxury goods.
Until the end of the twelfth century, the king's power remained paramount in Hungary. He was the largest landowner, and income from the crown lands nearly equaled the revenues generated from mines, customs, tolls, and the mint. In the thirteenth century, however, the social structure changed, and the crown's absolute power began to wane. As the crown lands became a less important source of royal revenues, the king found it expedient to make land grants to nobles to ensure their loyalty. King Andrew II (1205-35), a profligate spender on foreign military adventures and domestic luxury, made huge land grants to nobles who fought for him. These nobles, many of whom were foreign knights, soon made up a class of magnates whose wealth and power far outstripped that of the more numerous, and predominantly Magyar, lesser nobles. When Andrew tried to meet burgeoning expenses by raising the serfs' taxes, thereby indirectly slashing the lesser nobles' incomes, the lesser nobles rebelled. In 1222 they forced Andrew to sign the Golden Bull, which limited the king's power, declared the lesser nobles (all free men not included among the great Barons or magnates) legally equal to the magnates and gave them the right to resist the king's illegal acts. The lesser nobles also began to present Andrew with grievances, a practice that evolved into the institution of the parliament, or Diet.
Andrew II's son Bela IV (1235-79) tried with little success to reestablish royal preeminence by reacquiring lost crown lands. His efforts, however, created a deep rift between the crown and the magnates just as the Mongols were sweeping westward across Russia toward Europe. Aware of the danger, Bela ordered the magnates and lesser nobles to mobilize. Few responded, and the Mongols routed Bela's army at Mohi on April 11, 1241. Bela fled first to Austria, where Duke Frederick of Babenberg held him for ransom, then to Dalmatia. The Mongols reduced Hungary's towns and villages to ashes and slaughtered half the population before news arrived in 1242 that the Great Khan Ogotai had died in Karakorum. The Mongols withdrew, sparing Bela and what remained of his kingdom.
Data as of September 1989
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