ÁLMOS AND ÁRPÁD



Anthony Endrey

(Excerpts)

 

Under these circumstances, the first and foremost task for the Magyars was to achieve complete national unity. Realizing this, the leaders of the seven Hungarian tribes came together to elect a supreme ruler with full authority over all the people.

 

The Hungarians elected Álmos, the “gyula”, who traced his descent from Atilla, king of the Huns, and, as the early Hungarian chronicles of the Christian era later put it, “had received the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The “gyula” was the supreme commander in times of war and probably exercised most of the powers of the kende in peacetime. Arab sources dating from the ninth century state that the Hungarians ‘obey in everything to commands of the gyula’. It was the gyula who had the real authority among the seven tribes.

 

Álmos thus became “fejedelem” (ruler, king) of the entire nations and the command of the army was entrusted to his son Árpád. Álmos was an elderly man at the time of his elevation to supreme authority and it is likely that the military abilities of his son played at least as great a role in his election as the wisdom of his years and the eminence of his genealogy. The election of Álmos was accompanied by a solemn act, known in Hungarian tradition as “the Treaty of Blood” (vérszerződés), in which the leaders of the seven Hungarian tribes swore allegiance to him and his descendants by letting their blood mingle in a cup filled with wine and drinking from it. At the same time, Álmos undertook to give all the others a fair share in the lands to be conquered and never to exclude them and their progeny from his counsels. This solemn treaty became one of the cornerstones of the Hungarian constitution and was frequently invoked in the Christian era whenever the Hungarian nobility asserted their rights against the sovereign.

 

Around 950 the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenetus writes, that the Magyars elected Árpád their first ruler, raising him up on a shield. Since Constantine’s information clearly came from a contemporary Hungarian source, it seems that the major event from the point of view of Hungarian public opinion was the conferring of the supreme leadership of the army on Árpád which probably took place in the presence of a mass-meeting of warriors and to their universal acclaim. Such meetings were customary among steppe peoples on important occasions and the raising up of Árpád on a shield confirms that a large multitude of Hungarians must have been present. However Árpád became sole ruler (fejedelem) of the Hungarians only after Álmos fejedelem died. Indeed he was the first ruler in the Carpathian Basin.

 

Having settled their leadership problems with the approval of the entire people, the Magyars quickly turned to solving the tasks ahead of them. The first problem was how to loosen the grip of the three powers encroaching on the Carpathian Basin. The armed forces of the Hungarians, substantial as they were, were not strong enough to attack all three adversaries at once and Árpád therefore resorted to the well-known strategy of playing off one enemy against another. To the Magyars, the Moravians, Franks and Bulgars were all intruders in what they regarded as their own inheritance, “King Atilla’s country”, and they did not hesitate to combine diplomacy with military maneuvers to ensure the eviction of these foreigners. The opportunity to take the first step in this direction came in the spring of 892 when Arnulf, the Easter Frankish Emperor, asked for the help of the Hungarians against Svatopluk whose kingdom pursued an expansionary policy at the expense of German territories. The Hungarians willingly obliged and together with the Franks, they devastated Moravia in that year. Svatopluk, however, did not easily give in and so Arnulf also concluded an alliance with the Bulgars. Surrounded by enemies on every side, Svatopluk turned to the Magyars and sought their assistance. The latter gladly seized the opportunity to administer a blow to their other enemy and sent an expeditionary force, which attacked the eastern marshes of the Franks in 894. During this operation Svatopluk died unexpectedly and his sons immediately began to feud with one another. Greater Moravia collapsed. The Franks were weakened by their Moravian wars. Árpád realized at once that he was presented with a historic opportunity, which might not come again and he decided to make his move. Before withdrawing the bulk of his army from Etelköz, however, he had to secure his southern flank. This involved the neutralization of the Bulgars whose young and energetic ruler, Simeon, had high ambitions himself, expanding his frontiers.

 

Fortunately for the Magyars, Simeon’s aggressive policies soon involved him in a war with Byzantium and early in 895, the Byzantine emperor Leo Grammaticus invoked the help of the Hungarians. From Árpád’s point of view, such a request could not come at a better time. He quickly concluded an alliance with Byzantium and sent a Hungarian force under his son Levente into Bulgaria. Levente conducted a brilliant campaign, occupying the Bulgarian capital and taking many prisoners. At the same time, a Byzantine army entered Bulgaria from the south. Whilst Simeon was thus engaged, Árpád felt he could safely move the bulk of the Hungarian army into the Carpathian Basin. Leaving part of his forces and the usual frontier guards in Etelköz and after making a diversionary move towards Kiev destined to conceal his real objective and hold off the Kievans at the same time, Árpád crossed the northeastern passes of the Carpathians in the autumn of 895. The Hungarian Conquest began.

 

(In the “Foreword” of his book Mr. Endrey writes: “According to the earliest Hungarian chronicles, the ancient Magyars were a free people and governed themselves as a community. It is the march of this community through history that I have endeavored to trace in these few pages… The first two chapters of this book which deal with the origin and early history of Hungarians, are based on my more detailed examination of these questions in my work “Sons of Nimrod: The origin of Hungarian”. (The Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1975). None of the conclusions expressed there have been refuted or even seriously challenged and my more recent researches have confirmed them in every major detail. I therefore feel justified in putting them forward as reasonable probable facts and not merely as hypotheses.”)

 

(Anthony Endrey; Hungarian History Part One, The Hungarian Institute, Melbourne, 1982)

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