The Conquest of King Árpád
In 1996, Hungarians throughout the world celebrated the anniversary of the establishment of their homeland in the Carpathian Basin in A.D. 896. However, this date is incorrect due to the fact that this conquest took place in 895. (The celebration of the millennium was postponed a year due to the fact that Budapest's first subway was under construction. It was completed in 1896.) It has been extensively debated in the past one hundred fifty years, not only just what exactly took place before, during, and after the conquest, but just who Árpád's people really were: what their origin was, what language they spoke, whom they found in the Carpathian Basin, and how many tribes or nations took part in this bold undertaking and so forth. The following may shed some light on some of these questions.
(The author is aware of the discrepancies forwarded by the German historian, Heribert Illig regarding medieval history of Europe. Should Illig's proposition prove to be true, then the dates in this study should be adjusted accordingly. In that case, Árpád's people may have conquered the Carpathian Basin 300 years earlier.)
It seems that the year 895 or 896 is arbitrary because the conquest of the Carpathian Basin was not an exclusive and singular military undertaking. According to some researchers, it was a process - perhaps beginning in 892, but no later than 895 - extending their rule over western Hungary (Pannonia, today's Dunántúl). The year 899 marks the end of their conquest; thus, the year 895 seems the most realistic. In 894, Emperor Leo of Byzantine established an alliance with King Árpád (or perhaps his father Álmos, who had already been in alliance with Arnulf the Frankish emperor since 892) against the Bulgarians. Byzantine ships carried some of Árpád's troops on the lower Danube to the battlefield. The decisive battle was fought outside of the southern Carpathian Mountains, along the Danube River, with heavy losses on both sides. It is not known whether Emperor Leo was aware of Árpád's real intentions or not, but he made peace with the Bulgarians while the fighting went on. After the Bulgarians were defeated, Árpád's people began to move into the Carpathian Basin, settling their families and livestock in the area.
Unfortunately, the origin of Árpád's people has never been satisfactorily resolved. Therefore, here is what is considered the most likely scenario: The Khazar writings contain some mention of Árpád's people; the implication is that around 820 A.D, Ügek (Árpád's grandfather) and his people were under their rule. This is probably true to a certain extent because some of the nations/tribes, but not all of them, were under Khazar rule. Indications are that the federation was composed of two major ethnic groups of people; each may have spoken a different tongue. The Sabir nations Megyer, Tarján, Jenő and the partial Gyarmat were believed to have spoken Hungarian. The two Onugor nations, Kér and Keszi, and the partial Kök-Türk Kürt nation spoke Turkish, and most likely did the Nyék nation to, which had close ties with the Sabir nations (these nations in the second group may have been under Khazar rule). It is not clear whether Álmos or Árpád married the daughter of the leader of the Nyék nation, but it slowly pulled away from the Khazar Empire sometime after the marriage. If the Onugor nations were under Khazar rule, they had no doubt pulled away by the time of the Vérszerződés (Covenant of Blood, Exhibit 16) which took place between the years 888-891 A.D. - the taking of this oath indicated that they were getting ready for the conquest of the Carpathian Basin
The Vérszerződés was an oath; two or more parties swear an oath in blood to each other, for instance, that their friendship will never be broken or perhaps to formalize the merging of two or more tribes into one nation. In the case of Árpád's people, the oath was taken by the leaders of eight nations consisting of perhaps two major languages or ethnic groups. This alliance was formed with the intention of conquering the Carpathian Basin. Taking place at a time when Árpád's father, Álmos, was still ruler, a massive undertaking was planned in advance. They agreed to the following:
Ř As long as they and their descendants were alive, they would elect a leader from the descendants of Álmos.
Ř They would all share equally in the land and goods they acquired.
Ř The leaders, having elected Álmos to be their king, made the decision of their own free will. Furthermore, neither they themselves nor their descendants should ever be excluded from the central ruling council and other leadership positions in the country.
Ř If anyone among their descendants were to become unfaithful to the king, or conspire against him and his relatives, the blood of the guilty should flow like theirs did in the oath they took to king Álmos.
Ř If anyone among King Álmos' and the other leaders' descendants were to violate the agreements which they sealed with their oath, they should be cursed forever.
Exhibit 16: Covenant of Blood by Lajos Káy
It seems like this agreement was done in the name of Democracy.
Herodotus, the Greek historian in the fifth century B.C. was probably the eyewitness to an oath-taking much like the Vérszerződés, for he describes one such event in great detail in his work on the Scythians. He wrote the following: "...a large earthen bowl is filled with wine, and the parties to the oath, wounding themselves slightly with a knife or an awl, drop some of their blood into the wine; then they plunge into the mixture a scimitar, some arrows, a battle-axe, and a javelin, all the while repeating prayers; lastly, the two contracting parties drink each a drought from the bowl, as do also the chief men among their followers."
Exhibit 17. Flag from the XI century A. D. and the Hungarian Coat of Arms
The oldest Hungarian flag (Exhibit 17) from the XI century displays four red and four white stripes, suggesting the original eight horka (head of the nations) had made an alliance with one another. These nations are represented by the eight stripes on the right side (left side facing it) of the Hungarian Coat of Arms. Some researchers believe that the number of nations which took part in the conquest may have been as high as ten. If so, they must have joined after the oath-taking ceremony and were not full-fledged participants in the undertaking.
The Sabir nations lived next to the Khazar Empire, just north of the Azov Sea. The first mention of them was in 839, when their troops appeared in the lower Danube region. This was around the time of Árpád's birth; within a couple of decades, in 862, the young prince would lead the first military venture into Pannonia. From this point onward, Árpád's people were a factor and force in European politics and history.
According to some historians, Árpád's people were forced out of their homeland, north of the Black Sea, by the advancing Patzinaks losing a great number of their families and livestock. This cannot be substantiated; yet, the string of successful military ventures beginning in the year 899 convincingly refutes this theory.
Once they established firm control over the newly acquired territory, Árpád's people held the first national convention and divided the land between themselves, according to their contract agreed upon in the Vérszerződés. The Onugor tribes chose to settle on the borders of the newly conquered homeland and were in close contact with their new neighbors. These neighbors called the newcomers Ungar or Hungar, relating them to the Huns. This is most likely where our ‘Hungarian’ name first came into being.
Still being debated is the size of the total population of the new alliance. In the past, it was believed to have been between 200,000 and 500,000 people; however, some put the figure much higher than this. Based on recent research, their numbers most likely did not reach two hundred thousand. The reevaluation is entirely reasonable. As Hungarian archaeologists excavated more and more cemeteries from the 9-11th centuries, they began to recognize that the numbers of the indigenous common people (the farmers erroneously thought to be Slavs) were far greater than they ever imagined. A scholar in 1959 came to the realization that, if these people were Slavic speakers, the language of Árpád would have dissolved into their language and the people of Hungary would not be speaking Hungarian today. The problem was, and still is, that the artifacts of these common people cannot be traced back to southern Ukraine where Árpád's people had come from.
Professor Gyula László, a noted archaeologist, has shaped an innovative theory: the possibility that perhaps the second wave of Avars (who had moved into the Carpathian Basin around 670) were, in fact, the first Hungarian speaking people. Here again, the problem was that the artifacts of the Avars and the indigenous people in question were dissimilar; they were not of the same stock biologically or culturally and these indigenous people vastly outnumbered the combined population of the Avars and Árpád's people. Furthermore, according to Chinese sources, the early Avars spoke mainly the Turkish language, although they may also have had some Mongolian speaking tribes. Some scholars believe that Árpád's people also spoke Turkish. No doubt this has some truth to it as we see it. The question is then: who spoke Hungarian? The three and a half nations of the Sabír people could not have been the language giver to all of the people of the Carpathian Basin, even if they had spoken Hungarian. The presence of the indigenous common people, the ancient settlers with their overwhelming numbers, suggests that they were speaking the Hungarian language. The language, or the languages of the Avars and Árpád's people, made their mark on the Hungarian language, but they could not ultimately change it.
Based on archaeological evidence, it can be stated that in the 10th century A. D. there were three major groups of people in the Carpathian Basin: Árpád's people, the Avars, and the common people or ancient settlers. Modern Hungarians are, therefore, the fusion of these three major groups of people.
The culture, the clothing (Exhibit 18), the structure of society, and the battle tactics of Árpád's people were typically Hun in appearance - similar to the Turkish at the time of the conquest. They were great warriors and magnificent organizers. They have created a powerful nation, which for six hundred years played a major role in European politics and history. Whether they spoke Hungarian or not, whether the name Magyar could be attributed to them or not, their accomplishment stands tall like a flag on the battlefield and their memory is written in gold in Hungarian history. In 1996, all Hungarians bowed their heads in respect and pride to the people of King Árpád! The time has come for the revision of Hungarian history, especially in regard to the origin of the Hungarians.
Exhibit 18: The clothing of Árpád’s people
In 955 A.D., the German Emperor's (Otto I) son and son-in-law (Ludolf and Conrad the Red) revolted against the Emperor, inviting the Hungarians to help. The Hungarians accepted the invitation. By the time they reached Augsburg (Germany), unbeknownst to the Hungarians, Ludolf and Conrad had made peace with Otto. The combined German forces turned against the Hungarian forces and gained the upper hand. After the Hungarians agreed to lay down their arms, they were massacred, some being buried alive. The leader of the Hungarian campaign was Bulcsú, one of the greatest leaders and military tacticians of the X century. The loss was staggering: Bulcsú lost his life and his defeat in Augsburg marked the shift in Hungarian foreign policy toward the West. From this point onward, western military ventures ended; they continued eastward towards Byzantine up until 970. Contrary to the belief still held by many, looting and pillaging were not the major objectives of these Hungarian military campaigns. They were politically motivated. Fully 94% of them were carried out in alliance with some inviting party. For example; when the people of Tuscany revolted against of Pope John X, he called on the Hungarians for help.
In 972, Géza became the Hungarian King. At this time, there were some ideological conflicts within the Christian Church which led to its dissolution in 1054 into the eastern orthodox Byzantine and the western Roman Catholic Church. Géza became the supporter of the politically charged Roman Catholic Church, and set forth a western oriented foreign policy. He sent for western priests to enter Hungary; most likely his children were educated by one of them. In order to establish a firm western alliance, Géza's son István (Saint Stephen) married Gizella in 995, the sister of the Bavarian prince Henrich, whom later became the German emperor as Henrich II.
Géza died in 997, and István inherited the Hungarian throne. He continued his father's westward-leaning policy with great enthusiasm and determination. István brought German Knights into the country, appropriating a great deal of lands, riches, and special privileges to them. His policy to exclude and intimidate the old power structure from seeking leadership roles, in violation of the Vérszerződés, led to his heavy reliance on these Knights for protection. When Pope Sylvester II ordered the confiscation and destruction of the objects written in the traditional Hungarian runic writings forbidding its use any further, the old power structure of leaders took exception to that. It was an attack on the Hungarian culture; it was the beginning of the conflict between the old and new. Koppány of Dunántúl in 999, Gyula of Transylvania in1002, and Ajtony of southern Hungary in 1003, took up arms not to defend the old way of life, but to defend the culture. These revolts were put down by István with the help of the foreign Knights. These revolts have been characterized as "anti-Christian", which is total nonsense. On the contrary, by this time the Hungarian nobility was Christian and they were very tolerant of religious differences.