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Mongol Horrors in Hungary 1241

In 1241 – 42 the Mongol invasions of Hungary caused widespread destruction Recently, a house filled with the charred remains of murdered victims plus a forgotten treasure reminds us of these horrors.

Mother and children found in a burned oven hungary 1241
Mother and children found in a burned oven hungary 1241

“Not much later, the news came that the Tartars had taken at dawn the said Tǎmaşda, the village of the Germans, and all those whom they did not keep alive were beheaded by the sword with horrendous cruelty. Hearing this, my hair stood on end, my body shivered with fear, my tongue stuttered miserably, for I saw that the inevitable moment of dreadful death was menacing me. I already beheld my murderers in my mind’s eye; my body exuded the cold sweat of death.”[1]

These days, we are used to photos and videos of the near total annihilation of villages in Iraq and Syria caused by Daesh. That this is not something new, a recent archaeological discovery in a medieval village near Kiskunmajsa in Southern Hungary is witness to.

Coins from Kiskunmajsán, Hungary 1241
Coins from Kiskunmajsán, Hungary 1241. © Ujvári Sándor

Here a plough recently turned a cache of silver coins and other jewellery up. Archaeologists later found the remains of burned down dwelling filled with the charred bodies of people, mostly children. The treasure included 250 silver coins as well as a number of rings. Most of the coins date from the early reign of King Béla IV (1235 -1270), which means that the destruction and killings can be dated to the Mongol Invasion in 1241 – 42. Other similar finds near Cegléd and Szank tell of similar horrors. At Szank the remains of 17 women and children were found inside a house, which had been burned down together with another treasure. The same was the case at Cegléd, where the corpses of a woman and two children were found. They had tried unsuccessfully to hide in an oven of their house, while being under attack. Elsewhere other bodies were found, which had unceremoniously been thrown into a ditch. A few years back another such gruesome find was done near Szank where a burned-down house revealed the remains of at least 17 women and children. Finally, a new grisly discovery at Kiskunmajsa was published the other day by the museum in Kecskemét. Including more than 250 silver coins, the hoard had obviously never been recovered. The remains of the owners and their children were found, once again burned to death.

Mongolian Invasion

Ring from Kiskunmajsán, Hungary 1241. © Ujvári Sándor
Ring from Kiskunmajsán, Hungary 1241. © Ujvári Sándor

There is no doubt the Mongolian invasion of Hungary in 1241 caused wide scale destruction, especially in the east and Central parts of Hungary. It is known that the Hungarian king, Bela IV hade received news about the Mongols. However, he and his entourage believed that it was just one of the usual nomadic raiding parties, which they were used to deal with. Subsequently, this mistake turned out to be rather costly as the Mongols attacked in a coordinated fashion. On the 11th of April 1241, the royal army was annihilated at the battle of Muhi after having passed through the Verecke Pass in March.

Second ring from Kiskunmajsán, Hungary 1241. © Ujvári Sándor
Second ring from Kiskunmajsán, Hungary 1241. © Ujvári Sándor

As usual the numbers of troops engaged in battle vary between different sources and estimates vary between 30.000 – 70.000 Mongols versus 10.000 – 80.000 Hungarians, who were encamped behind circled wagons. Several modern historians have speculated that Chinese firearms and gunpowder weapons were deployed by the Mongols at the Battle of Mohi and credit the Mongols with introducing gunpowder and canons to Europe. Whatever was decisive, the Hungarian army was annihilated and the king only escaped by the utmost luck.

Afterwards, Hungary lay wide-open for the Mongols, who proceeded to occupy the Great Hungarian Plains and the Carpathian and Transylvanian mountains. This occupation was without doubt accompanied by wide-scale destruction and devastation of the countryside. Nevertheless, historical controversy still surrounds the impact. Loss of life has thus been estimated between 15 – 50% with a more conservative estimate ranging between 15 – 25%. Scholars, who argue for the lower estimates, claim that the feat to kill as many people was beyond the technological means of that day. Others point to the fact that more than 800.000 people wre killed inside 100 days during the Rwuanda genocide. Whatever the conclusion it is known that people fled in droves into the marshes or up into the mountains barricading themselves behind old earthwork fortresses or any other kind of natural defence line, which might be found further west. Another option were the many fortified churches and monasteries, which dotted the region.

Until recently many scholars believed the horror given voice by the Italian priest, Master Roger, was perhaps more of a literary convention than a proper report of what took place. Occasionally, though, hoards would be found which could be precisely dated to the period leading up to 1241, signally the fact that people had died and did not return to recover their buries treasures. Hoards dated to this period seemed to be more prevalent.  However, the recent finds have literally fleshed out the horrors inflicted on the villagers during 1241, which resulted in a large number of deserted villages, especially on the Great Plain.

It is a curious fact that these finds would probably never have occurred had the building of motorways not taken place across the landscape south-west of Budapest – only sparsely repopulated after the destruction of the countryside and the villages in the 13th century.

In the autumn 2016 the local museum at Kecskemét plans to exhibit the finds from the region.

NOTES:

[1] From: Master Roger’s Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tatars
In: Anonymus, notary of King Béla. The Deeds of the Hungarians. Edited, translated and annotated by Martyn Rady and László Veszprémy and Master Roger’s Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tatars, Translated and annotated by János M. Bak and Martyn Rady. CEU Press, 2010. p. 205.

VISIT:

Kecskeméti Katona József Múzeum

SOURCES:

Szenzációs tatárjáráskori régészeti leletek Kiskunmajsán
(Press release)

Material remains of the Mongolian invasion and development led archaeology
By József Laszlovskzy
In: Hungarian Archaeology 2012 spring

Medieval treasure and mass grave discovered from the time of the Mongol Invasion – Blogspot by Zsombor Jékely

READ MORE:

central europe in the high middle ages coverCentral Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland. c. 900 – c. 1300
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Series: Cambridge Medieval Textbooks
Cambridge University Press 2013

 

 

Anonymus, notary of King Béla The Deeds of the Hungarians and Master Roger’s Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tatars CoverAnonymus, notary of King Béla. The Deeds of the Hungarians and Master Roger’s
Epistle to the Sorrowful Lament upon the Destruction of the Kingdom of Hungary by the Tatars
Edited, translated and annotated by Martyn Rady, László Veszprémy and János M. Bak
CEU Press 2010

 

 

FEATURED PHOTO:

Mohi Memorial Park. Source: Panoramio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Material remains of the Mongolian invasion and development led archaeology

By József Laszlovskzy

In: Hungarian Archaeology 2012 spring