One of most significant intellectual phenomena in European history starting from the eighteenth century is the way evolving national consciousnesses function and the presence of nationalism that developed thereof. In Hungarian history and historiography this multifaceted development began in the nineteenth century.

This paper addresses a Hungarian historical phenomenon, the House of Árpád as well as the (history of the) interpretation of the claim that the House of Árpád is a national dynasty. A peculiar mixture of faith, knowledge and interpretation appears here, thus scholarship, imagination and identity become blurred together. Faith, for many, makes knowledge meaningful, while knowledge often does not give meaning to faith. In the case at hand, both the presumptuousness of scholarship targeting certainty and the fable-like features of the nationalized past will be seen.

 

The House of Árpád: Changing Names

The further we go back in time, the more insecure our historical knowledge becomes, and the less verifiable facts there are. This uncertainty or, more accurately, the lack of clear-cut evidence makes it possible to replace statements based on factual information with various theories or imagination. Thus, we are not in the position to contend that what we say is a historical fact. It is more reasonable to talk about the level of acceptance of assumptions.

The above propositions more or less apply to the case of the House of Árpád as well. As a matter of fact, we can merely talk about what the kings of the Árpád dynasty were called in various periods, and we know little about what they called themselves.

It appears that the designation of the House of Árpád originated with Jesuit historiographers of the 18th century, although these learned clergymen cannot be considered true historians by today’s standards. According to György Pray (1723–1801), Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (905–959) was right in claiming that Árpád had been the first reigning prince of the Hungarians. Another Jesuit historiographer, István Katona (1732–1811) did not agree and accepted the statement of Anonymus, a notary and chronicler at the turn of the 13th century, according to which Álmos had been the first prince of the Hungarians.[1] The terms “House of Árpád” and “Árpád era” were coined by Ferenc Károly Pálma (1735–1787) but it was Katona who popularized them.[2]

We can thus state with certainty that the expression House of Árpád (Árpád dynasty) might have existed prior to the eighteenth century but it had not been in general use.

Obviously, the question arises about what the members of the family ruling from 1000 to 1301 called themselves? The chronicle of Simon Kézai, produced towards the end of the 13th century, that is, when Hungary was still ruled by kings of the Árpád dynasty, calls the ruling family the Clan of Turul (“de genere Turul”).[3] He is the only one who called them by that name but there is no trace of anyone ever having protested the designation.

However, we need to remind ourselves again that our knowledge is very limited. Somebody once said that this was like trying to reconstruct the image of a 1000-piece puzzle from a few elements that we have found.[4]

According to our present knowledge, the kings of the Árpád dynasty referred to themselves, from the 12th century on, as “the family of the sainted kings”. If this is true, it was presumably so because in the Christian world-view the cult of the saints played a highly significant role and there had been several saints among the members of the family.[5]

If we want to give a temporal representation of the above, the fragmented and insecure nature of our knowledge becomes even more apparent. “The family of the sainted kings” can be viewed as a non-specific, commonplace designation linked to Christianity. Kézai mentioned the Clan of Turul almost three hundred years after Saint Stephen ascended to the throne, while the Jesuit historiographers started referring to the dynasty as the House of Árpád almost five hundred years after the dynasty had perished. From a cultural anthropological point of view, the concept of time was different then from what it is now in the 20th and 21st centuries, therefore the rhythm of time needs to be measured somewhat differently. It should be noted, however, that if we consider a generation to be thirty years, first 10 and then 15 to 16 generations passed by between the first and the second designation change, respectively. And we know practically nothing about what happened in the meantime.

These changes in terms, extended over centuries, show well that it is the prevailing view of the given period rather than the internal logic or linguistic world of a historical era that counts.

 

What Made the Dynasty Hungarian?

The House of Árpád is generally regarded as a Hungarian dynasty and a Hungarian ruling house. Moreover, the flag with the Árpád stripes is still used by many as a national banner. This seems particularly true in view of the succeeding dynasties. The Angevin (Anjou) kings, the kings of different houses and the kings of the Jagiellonian and the Habsburg dynasties for that matter are not considered to be Hungarian.

We need to stop again at this point. Just as the designation House of Árpád is a projection from five hundred years later, thinking in national terms is also a practice that was non-existent in the era between the years 1000 and 1301.[6] As a matter of fact, it was only in the last quarter of the 18th century that the modern concept of nation began to take shape in Hungarian culture. It came alive during the Reform Era (1825–1848) and it became an all-encompassing reality during the sequence of events of 1848–1849.

The developing and already developed national world-view makes the interpretation of the concept of “Hungarian” possible from a variety of perspectives. Originally, during the Reform Era, there were two dimensions. One of these was linguistic, according to which national content was secured by the national language and national culture. It is not a coincidence that Hungarian became the official language of Hungary only in 1844. The other factor that became important was the identification with a cause considered to be of a national nature, which could be either a cultural or a political issue. This is what allowed the generals executed at Arad in 1849 by the Habsburg victors to be included among the martyrs of the nation even though some of them did not speak or use Hungarian as a first language.

Later ethnicity became increasingly important in the concept of nation: whether the person in question was of Hungarian descent.

Obviously, the culture-based and ethnicity-based approaches to Hungarianness could come into conflict: Sándor Petőfi and Lajos Kossuth, for example, who are both of Slavic descent, are not Hungarian from an ethnic point of view. The ethnic principle became deeply entrenched in the concept of the nation by the 20th century.

Thus, if we want to call the rulers of the House of Árpád Hungarian, we would like them to meet the criteria of Hungarianness that are filled with contradictions and did not even exist prior to the 18th century.

 

Language

Between 1000 and 1301 Hungary had twenty-three kings. We know since the 18th century that they were without exception male members of the House of Árpád. It is of no consequence for me that some of them were not considered to be lawful kings by their opponents. What matters is that they proclaimed themselves as kings of Hungary. Let is see the list[7]:

 

Hungarian Kings of the Árpád Dynasty

Ruler Ruled
(Saint) Stephen I 1000/1001–1038
Peter (Orseolo) 1038–1041
Samuel Aba 1041–1044
Peter (Orseolo) 1044–1046
Andrew I 1046–1060
Béla I 1060–1063
Solomon 1063–1074
Géza I 1074–1077
(Saint) Ladislas I 1077–1095
Coloman, the Possessor of Books 1095–1116
Stephen II 1116–1131
Béla II, the Blind 1131–1141
Géza II 1141–1162
Stephen III 1162–1172
Ladislas II 1162–1163
Stephen IV 1163–1165
Béla III 1172–1196
Emeric 1196–1204
Ladislas III 1204–1205
Andrew II 1205–1235
Béla IV 1235–1270
Stephen V 1270–1272
Ladislas IV, the Cuman 1272–1290
Andrew III 1290–1301

 

We have no credible information about the language these people spoke. We know that the laws and charters issued by them in their royal capacity were written in Latin[8], which corresponded entirely to the European cultural norms of the time. Thus, they used Latin in their official documents but they presumably spoke several languages in private. It seems very likely that Italian was not a foreign language for Peter Orseolo, who was born in Venice, and for Andrew III, who grew up in an Italian environment. Similarly, Géza I, born in Poland, was presumably familiar with the Polish language.

It would be difficult to claim that the courts of the 23 rulers were linguistically homogeneous not only because there are no reliable data at our disposal about the private use of language(s) of these people but also because it seems certain that more than one language had an impact on their native linguistic culture.

Thus, it seems obvious and realistic to assume that the ruling members of the House of Árpád did not consider Hungarian as their exclusive language.

 

The National Cause

Let us now see the adherence to the national cause as a prerequisite of belonging to the nation.

These men were without exception kings of Hungary. This means that their role in public law mandated for them to represent and personify the country or the kingdom all the time. In this sense they were certainly Hungarian kings, just as much as the Angevin (Anjou) kings, the kings of different houses as well as the kings of the Jagiellonian and the Habsburg dynasties, who were also enthroned kings of Hungary.

According to legend, when Joseph II was asked why, in spite of his enlightened way of thinking, he was not in favor of the republic, he answered: “I am a royalist by trade.” We can convert Joseph II’s statement for our purposes and say: a Hungarian king is a Hungarian king. At best we can state that, other than other kings, the kings of the House of Árpád were only kings of Hungary, had no other royal titles, were habitual residents of Hungary and, in this sense, were national kings. Nevertheless, this argument is not too convincing, either, because the country had a ruler of the Angevin (Anjou) dynasty who was king of Hungary only (Charles Robert), and some of those Hungarian kings who had other royal titles were also habitual residents of Hungary (Louis I, the Great; Vladislas II and Louis II).[9] Thus the only possible argument for the national nature of the House of Árpád is a contrived one, resting on shaky legs.

It must be emphasized again that the entire issue of the Hungarian or national character of the House of Árpád is a retrospective construction. Nevertheless, it seems that the rendering of Hungarian history in a national garb with hindsight was an inevitable consequence of the rise of the modern concept of nation.

 

Ethnicity

Let us now examine the next component of modern national thinking, namely the ethnic aspect. To what extent can the kings of the House of Árpád be considered ethnic Hungarian?

In my opinion, we need to look at the mothers to answer this question even though we know that the logic of the era acknowledged only the paternal line. My initial assumption is that the mother is certain while the father is only regarded as such. In what follows, we are going to discuss what we know about the mothers of the male rulers of the Árpád dynasty.[10]

 

Mothers of the Rulers of the House of Árpád

Ruler Mother’s name Mother’s ethnicity Mother’s ancestry or dynasty of origin
(Saint) Stephen I Sarolt (Transylvanian) Hungarian a Transylvanian gyula[11]
Peter (Orseolo) Gisella, Ilona or Maria Hungarian (Géza’s daughter) Transylvanian gyulas and the House of Árpád
Samuel Aba NDA NDA NDA
Andrew I NDA Hungarian (possibly of the Clan of Tátony) NDA
Béla I NDA Hungarian (possibly of the Clan of Tátony) NDA
Solomon Anastasia Jaroslo Slavic (of Kiev, with a Swedish mother) Rurik and Yngling dynasties
Géza I Richeza Slavic (Polish) Piast dynasty
(Saint) Ladislas I Richeza Slavic (Polish) Piast dynasty
Coloman, the Possessor of Books Sophia of Looz Belgian (of Limburg and Namur) NDA
Stephen II Buzilla Italian (Sicilian) Hauteville dynasty
Béla II, the Blind Predslava Slavic (of Kiev) Rurik dynasty
Géza II Ilona Slavic (Serbian) Uroš dynasty
Stephen III Eufrozina Slavic (of Kiev, with a mother of Novgorod) Rurik dynasty
Ladislas II Ilona Slavic (Serbian) Uroš dynasty
Stephen IV Ilona Slavic (Serbian) Uroš dynasty
Béla III Eufrozina Slavic (of Kiev, with a mother of Novgorod) Rurik dynasty
Emeric Agnes-Anna de Châtillon Byzantine (of Antioch) NDA
Ladislas III Constance of Aragon Spanish (of Aragonia, with a mother of Castilia) Barcelona dynasty
Andrew II Agnes-Anna de Châtillon Byzantine (of Antioch) NDA
Béla IV Gertrude German (of Merania) Andechs-Merania dynasty
Stephen V Maria Laskarina Byzantine (of Nicaea) Laskaris dynasty
Ladislas IV, the Cuman Elizabeth the Cuman Cuman NDA
Andrew III Tomasina Morosini Italian (Venetian) NDA

 

In spite of the sometimes questionable data the table shows that the kings considered to be Hungarian were hardly, if at all, Hungarian on an ethnic basis. Let us not overlook the fact that there was also a cumulative ethnic admixture on the parental side, therefore it is safe to say that the ethnic character that could originally be regarded as homogeneous was gradually reduced over the given three centuries.

The marriage strategy conformed to the European norms of the time and marriages were based on political power considerations rather than love. Therefore, it is not suprising at all that non-Hungarian elements were more dominant from an ethnic point of view. The kings of Hungary were right in doing what they did and behaved in the way a European ruling family of the time had to. From the perspective of the Hungarian state, the kings would not have done a good job precisely if they had perceived continuity on the basis of some sort of endogamy.

In summary we can say that the kings of Hungary of the Árpád dynasty do not meet the requirements according to which, in a retrospective concept of ethnicity, they can be regarded as Hungarian. They did not even consider themselves to be of the House of Árpád. The term is also a later invention. Their official language was Latin and not Hungarian, and in their private life they probably used a variety of languages. We can safely assume that all the kings learned their mother’s language as well in order to be able to converse with her. As rulers they represented the country and the kingdom and not the nation. As for their origin, especially with the passing of time, they became less and less homogeneous.

It is a fact, however, that they were kings of Hungary who were also habitual residents of the country. Many of them were buried in Székesfehérvár[12], and their skeletal remains are almost inseparably mixed together just as their Hungarian ethnicity was with other ethnicities in their time.

 

Official Historiography and the “National Dynasty”

On the basis of the institutionalized historiography that can be considered official, we can form a fairly good picture of the approaches to the House of Árpád in various historical periods. We are especially lucky to have access to a book on the history of the research on the Árpád era written at the end of the 20th century. The author of this work[13] is Gyula Kristó, a professional researcher of the period who died in 2004. As he put it, “the Árpád era (895–1301) is the period of Hungarian history that has been researched most thoroughly and for the longest time. This particular and outstanding interest is due to a number of circumstances. First and foremost the Árpád era had the situational advantage that the earliest overviews of that period which can be considered scholarly to some extent were already completed in the 18th century. Moreover, when the national perspective became dominant in the depiction of historical processes, the Árpád era was given more emphasis, since it was the period of the so-called “national” dynasty. And last but not least, since most Hungarian institutions and the entire organization of the state can be traced back to the Árpád era, the curiosity or increased interest regarding the origins also favored the study of this era.”[14]

It is a matter of debate whether the Árpád era is indeed the most extensively studied era in Hungarian history. What is much more important from our point of view is that the word “national” appears in quotation marks in the passage cited above, reflecting in a way the state of the art of the study of history. The use of inverted commas is entirely legitimate and proper because according to our present knowledge and in our current terms there is no attestable justification for projecting the modern concept of nation into the distant past.

Kristó’s work to some extent frees me from having to give a detailed review of the history of the terminology related to the Árpád era, thus I will limit my discussion to a sketch of the major points.

Official historiography had been far from free of the projection of the concept of nation into the distant past. Hungarian historiography began to become institutionalized in the 19th century and it was also then that it started to conform to the norms of contemporary German scholarship. People of this era were thinking predominantly in terms of national content and interpreted everything through the lens of the recently developed concept of the nation. They perceived the entirety of Hungarian history as national history in the modern sense.

It is no wonder then that at the time of the 1896 millennium festivities, commemorating 1000 years of Hungarian settlement as well as timeless national greatness and glory, leading historian of the time Henrik Marczali stated the following: “One cannot review the history of the Hungarian nation in the kingdom of the House of Árpád with a historical sense without being in awe of the greatness of the path that the Hungarian people had taken under the leadership of the national dynasty more than four hundred years ago.”[15]

The way Marczali used these terms was the accepted, general practice of the era as the works of other historians of the time, for example those of Lajos Szádeczky and Vilmos Fraknói, show.[16]

Hungarian historiography in the interwar years also used the concept of national dynasty. Bálint Hóman’s and Gyula Szekfű’s multiple-volume book entitled Magyar történet [A Hungarian History] was considered to be a representative achievement of Hungarian historiography at the time. The work was published several times and reflected the level of general historical knowledge of the Horthy era. Bálint Hóman who authored the pertinent parts used the concept of national dynasty as a matter of course. A single example will suffice to illustrate this: “Our first national dynasty produced two concepts of foreign policy in terms of Realpolitik, if we do not extend our discussion to the universal concept of peace and the occasional glances toward the East. One of these was the concept of an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire encompassing all German and northern Italian territories, which served defense purposes against possible threats coming from the east. The other concept was the anti-imperial alliance of people living on the eastern edge of the western cultural region (Poles, Hungarians, Croatians and possibly Bosnians) looking expansively toward the east, with the participation of German regional princes unsatisfied with the emperor and some other western power, such as the papacy, France, Venice or Naples. The principal representatives of the first concept were, after the Mongol invasion, kings Béla IV, Sigismund and then Matthias I, Corvinus. The second concept, expanded by the beginning of the thirteenth century into a major power bloc and again appearing as an imperial framework, was primarily supported by the sons of Béla III, and, after 1324, Charles I. The greatest supporter was Louis I, the Great.”[17]

The approach of Hóman and Szekfű was influenced by the school of the history of ideas. Accordingly, “contemporary historiography, taking advantage of the methodology of cultural history, also known today as the history of ideas, considers the history of the nation as a single organic process.” The authors believed that in human history, “it is the spiritual content that principally controls and provides a measure for everything else. According to modern historiography, the history of the human race is nothing but the history of the human soul.”[18] Consequently, their historiographic creed was to historically examine the eternal Hungarian soul. They could not help regarding the House of Árpád as a national dynasty.

I do not claim that Hungarian historiography in the interwar years was excessively dominated by the history of ideas, but I do say that the mainstream represented by Hóman (and Szekfű) wrote in this spirit, and it had a great impact.

The biggest challenge to the history of ideas approach was posed by historical materialism or the Marxist concept of history, particularly after 1945 when it became imposed. Marxists interpreted the past primarily along the lines of class antagonisms and material-economic conditions. The concept of nation had no place among the key categories. Marxism projected the terminology of productive forces, the conditions of production, classes and class antagonisms back to periods in which these terms could not have a clear meaning. The category of nation was of no importance to them and therefore they did not apply it in their historical analyses, except for the case of national sovereignty (Aladár Mód). The reference to the House of Árpád as a national dynasty disappeared from the discourse or appeared only incidentally, as shown by the works of Emma Léderer or Lajos Elekes.

Starting at the end of the 1960s, particularly in the publications of Jenő Szűcs and Pál Engel, there appeared a need to cautiously go beyond the tenets of Marxism. At the same time, it was also recognized in scholarly circles that the 19th-century concept of nation was inadequate as an interpretive category of the House of Árpád, the early medieval period or the Middle Ages in general. A new historical discourse began to evolve, as a result of which Gyula Kristó could put the attribute “national” between inverted commas.[19]

The above greatly abridged historiographic review shows how much the so-called scholarly terminology changed over the years. The only thing we can say with certainty is that according to our present state of knowledge the use of the national category is unjustified. Please note the occurrence of “certainty” and “knowledge” in the previous sentence. Both are fundamental values in scholarly thinking. It is not the changing of views that matters but that the shifting of one view from another should be rationally justified taking into account historical connections and attestable conceptual differences.

 

Unofficial Historiography and Historical Interpretation

Those engaged in the interpretation of history outside the established structure still like to refer to the House of Árpád as a national dynasty.[20] We come across the concept of the “Hungarian national dynasty” almost everywhere.[21] There are a number of authors with their ideas appearing in various forms. Instead of elaborating on the individual characteristics, I will try to reconstruct the line of thought they all share.

Some find differences between the individual members of the national dynasty. They believe that, from a national perspective, even the House of Árpád had some members who were not fully reliable and therefore cannot be viewed as true Hungarians. An example of this is the work of the archeologist Kornél Bakay. In his view, “in the past fifty years historians have glorified King Peter (Orseolo) giving the impression that ‘heathen and barbaric’ Hungarians were the conservative ones as compared to the progressive and highly successful King Peter. In fact, this was the reason behind the palace putsch, which put Samuel Aba on the throne. Contemporary Germans called him an usurper even though Samuel Aba was our first national king to defend the country from the armies of the German Emperor. King Peter ruled with a Germanic rage and introduced the sovereignty of the Hungarian kingship [sic! – A.G.]. The betrayed King Samuel Aba lost the battle at Ménfő and while trying to escape, foreign captives caught him and turned him over to the Germans. Emperor Henry, for the first time since Prince Álmos, had the Hungarian king executed! In effect, Samuel Aba was not a pagan. However, the mean and villainous Pope Leo III excommunicated the Christ-following Hungarian ruler who had churches built and wanted to return to old Christian purity, as opposed to the immoral and depraved Pope and the prelates. He held free men in high regard even if they were of lower orders.”[22]

Why is it necessary then to depict the kings of the House of Árpád, in whatsoever way, as Hungarian? When interpreting history in an unofficial context, the concept of national identity has unique functions even if the writers differentiate between the members of the House of Árpád from a national viewpoint.

One of the goals is to prove that what is foreign, i.e. non-Hungarian, is destructive to the Hungarians. Obviously, this assumes some kind of a permanent, undefined national essence, a self-governing Hungarian character that foreigners want to deprive us of and destroy.

Apparently, depicting the rulers of the Árpád dynasty as Hungarian entails the assumption that this hardly definable “Hungarian essence” actually exists as well as the rejection of anything that can be considered foreign.

In this logical-theoretical context the primary historical enemies are the Habsburgs. This is well illustrated by the following quote: “As we attempt to locate the grave of Prince Árpád in Óbuda and Fejéregyháza, we immediately walk into the House of Habsburg. It was in the Habsburgs’ interest and upon the command of their Emperor that parts of the town, which had survived the Turkish devastation and was the site of and a witness to the very beginnings of the Hungarian State, were destroyed and blown up along with Hungarian fortresses after the expulsion of the Turks to make sure they would no longer deserve special mention. This was the case even at the time of the uncrowned king, Emperor Joseph II, to prevent us from being able to rebel like the Kuruc people. Strangely enough, the person issuing these orders was viewed as the king of Hungary by some. (…) Initially, the name Kuruc was applied to the crusading holy army. From the moment it was set up, attacking this army was regarded as a pagan act even within the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom. Thus the Habsburgs’ accession to the Hungarian throne is an ungodly, inhuman and illegal act for two reasons: not only because of the Hungarian Constitution, which bans the transfer of the Hungarian Kingdom by way of a marriage contract, but also because of the exigencies as well as the civil and religious wars resulting from the attacks against the crusading forces.” The author concludes that in the case of the Habsburgs, “it is not only a matter of an idiotic family’s sensitivity but of the villainy of a spiritual system that attacked our country and our people, wishing to expand in this direction.”[23]

The equation is clear: on one side we have the kings of the Árpád dynasty impersonating Hungarian interests and Hungarian essence, and on the other we find the strangers (Habsburgs), who opposed Hungarian interests and systematically destroyed everything that could be considered Hungarian.

This train of thought is clearly expressed by an author who wrote the following: “As contemporary sources pointed out, two sharks, two world powers – the German and the Turkish – were gobbling up Hungary at that time. Yet, the most tragic issue was not that they split the country into two parts, but that the throne was taken over by foreign kings, the Habsburgs, who – unlike the similarly foreign Angevin monarchs, who at least fought with all their heart and soul to raise the country – were fueled by a foreign mindset and by their hatred for the Hungarians, and having violated and betrayed their royal oath, they would not fight for elevating Hungarians and Hungary to a higher plane, but for destroying and oppressing the nation and the country behind a royal mask. Do we stray from the truth if we come to the conclusion that with the Habsburgs assuming power the age of each king and the time they spent on the throne almost doubled in length because this way they could enable a dominant group of an external, secret power [my emphasis – A. G.] to gain control over Hungary? Was it this open and secret attacking force that had been besieging the country for centuries, destroying it with its disguised armed forces in an effort to exert an influence and, if possible, colonize it, while it was the very knowledge and experience of these secret powers that made the country protected or somewhat more protected against the devastating assaults of the same secret powers?

If we reject the above theory, we are left with no explanation for the Habsburgs’ mysterious and logically inexplicable assumption of power over Hungary, or for the fact that the Habsburg kings lived and ruled twice as long as the House of Árpád did. Similarly, we have no explanation for the mysterious phenomenon that while the kings of the House of Árpád faced almost continuous external and internal conflicts under which the country shuddered like the heart after a series of fatal infarcts, the executioner Habsburg kings, who took on the role of Hungarian kingship deceptively, only pretending to act as the supreme representative and defender of Hungarian people, were able to rule practically without a hitch – though amidst general hatred – with a view to suppressing the country for the benefit of foreign interests and driving it towards its death. Only with the above hypothesis can we explain how this period of foreign rule shrewdly enforced upon Hungary could last over four centuries with the only actual threat being the Hungarian people’s repeated fights for freedom against foreign oppression – a situation unparalleled in world history.

Once, in the olden times, particularly during the Age of Árpád there was a life-threatening zone of death surrounding the Hungarian kings and the throne. According to historical evidence, with the Habsburgs’ accession to the throne, this death zone no longer threatened the kings; instead, it was transferred onto the Hungarian people, large masses of whom were destined to destruction and annihilation. Historical facts prove the dreadful consequences of the four hundred year long evil and treacherous rule of the Habsburgs: Hungarians were exterminated from purely Hungarian-populated areas, they were subject to constant self-alienation and made to bleed to death in foreign wars serving foreign interests, there was a continuous settlement of foreign and hostile peoples with the aim of overshadowing and oppressing the longtime resident Hungarians, and there was a persistent incitement and arming of these hostile nations against the Hungarians, who had admitted and accommodated them. At the same time, there was an endless effort even more destructive than genocide, namely the political and spiritual battle against the soul, spirit, traditions, self-defense awareness, sense of origin and of companionship of the Hungarian people. In short, the ultimate purpose of this battle was to destroy the Hungarian people’s national identity, knowledge, and culture, and to expel the Hungarians – having already removed them from power – from all public and academic fields, i.e. to complete the intellectual disarmament and intellectual destruction of the Hungarian people.

To wit, although the Habsburgs were anointed ‘Kings of Hungary’, they behaved as conquerors even if they never conquered Hungary with arms. They came to the throne by an ‘election’, and this election was the result of crooked means, bribery, cheating and pressure. This could give rise to the tragic situation that for a period of four centuries the country’s own crowned kings conducted a disguised, vicious war against the Hungarian people. In other words, Hungarians became a subjugated and oppressed people in their own country without having been actually conquered. This brought about the great change, and this is how the history of Hungary took a bitter turn along its fault lines.”[24]

This argumentation suggests that the Habsburgs were backed by some kind of external, secret forces that, through their magic powers, could even prolong the lives of the Habsburg rulers. This line of thought also implies that the Hungarians have become the victims of a spiritual Satan. Hungary is struggling in the trap of external forces and thus carries no responsibility for the shaping of its history.

In another place, contrasting the Houses of Árpád and Habsburg as a historical overview, the same author comments: “If there is a royal house anywhere in the wide world which can be viewed by its people and its country with blessings and deep gratitude, it is the Hungarian royal House of Árpád. There is no other ruling family that has done as much for its people as the Árpád dynasty. Therefore, honoring and loving them is deeply embedded into the soul of the Hungarian people despite the fact that the depredations of the last few centuries have practically erased the House of Árpád from the memory of our people.” The secret forces put an end to this dynasty and helped foreign rulers to power. They did this because “they were the true kings of the nation and their merits are immeasurable:

– they took our country back from the conquerors after the Avar Empire had been destroyed;

– they saved the Hungarians from the nation-destroying oppression of the expanding foreign rule;

– they expelled the encroaching Slavic conquerors who had split the country into six parts;

– they reunited the country and the nation;

– they sustained the nation in the midst of four centuries of bloody tempests;

The nation owes the House of Árpád eternal gratitude.”[25]

Being under the control of secret background forces, the antinational, alien attitude of the Habsburgs manifested itself also in the Habsburg’s endeavors to wipe the kings of the Árpád dynasty out of people’s memory or at the least to diminish their role. The following statement illustrates this line of interpretation: “Now we can better understand why it was of such great importance for the Habsburgs and the pro-Habsburg forces to falsify history, what is more, to abase the House of Árpád and eradicate all traces of their glorious reign from our memory by making the old capital city disappear and sink into oblivion. This struggle for power, still going on today for some reason, must be brought to a stop by revealing and disclosing the truth about this historical territory, which has remained divided by the political power lines that are almost impossible to approach from a scholarly viewpoint. One way to do this, for example, is by letting the public know that the rulers of the House of Árpád and their predecessors differed from the other European, mainly western rulers in that they did serve their people. They triggered persecution and secret destructive machinations by those enraged rulers in spite of the fact that several members of the House of Árpád became the saints of the Catholic Church and that by its marriage practices the House of Árpád became affiliated with just about every ruling family in Europe. This battle over the distribution of power among the supreme forces, the depredations of the Turkish conquest, the anti-Hungarian activities of the Austrian rulers despite their being Hungarian kings, and their strongly nation-destroying ordinances were all suffered by the Hungarian people.”[26]

Other authors also share the view that the purpose of the Habsburgs was to destroy the culture of the Hungarian nation, and in this they enjoyed the help of some traitorous collaborators.[27] In their opinion, it is no wonder that Hungarian national memory about the Árpád dynasty is fragmentary, faded, and lacking the luster it would deserve.

Thus, showing the House of Árpád as a national dynasty assumes a national essentialism and results in a xenophobic form of narration. The supporters of this type of narrative believe that everything or nearly everything that happened during the reign of the Habsburgs in terms of spirituality is nothing but the destruction or an attempt at the destruction of this essence. Therefore, they regard themselves as the discoverers of the real essence. They show little concern for refuting the accumulated scholarly material; instead, they choose to demonstrate their assumed rectitude.

If this is what they think, it seems logical to come up with a different concept concerning the origins of the Hungarian people. This is why today the theory on the Scythian-Hun origin and even the Sumerian-Hungarian and Etruscan-Hungarian linguistic affinities are accepted and proclaimed. In some instances even Jesus Christ is fitted into this range of cultural origins.[28]

The following passage is a good example of this way of thinking: “The individuals forcibly delegated here were aliens; they represented a foreign ideology, and served as tools for the destruction of our country. For example: although formerly his approach to history remained within the boundaries of reality, after a luncheon with Emperor Franz Joseph Ármin Wamberger, the Emperor’s favorite, began to proclaim the Asiatic origins of the Hungarians, suggesting that the arrival of Árpád’s people in the Carpathian Basin represented the emergence of all Hungarians. The effect of his work and that of similar Viennese favorites was equivalent to a spiritual Mongol invasion.”[29]

The easily decodable anti-Semitic reference in the cited passage[30] implies that the dark forces behind the nation-destroying Habsburgs are in fact Jews who want to take away Hungarian national identity and this is why they destroy Hungarian culture, this is why they denigrate the role of the House of Árpád, and this is why they develop theories of origin that would exclude Hungarians from the leading nations of the world. The nation-destroying Jewish influence exerted over and embraced by the Habsburgs appears in other forms as well. One author writes as follows: “Let us study the mysterious history of the Habsburg family. We can find the solution if we trace the past of the Rothschild family back to its origin. There was once a Rothschild family. It all began in a small, irrelevant exchange bureau vegetating in an alley in the shadow of the really great ones. As a matter of fact, the actual holder of power was the Fugger family!

The Fugger family gradually subjected all large financial dynasties to its control; however, this ongoing battle eventually weakened them. They needed a secret confidant who was not known to the others and whose travels were not even noticed by the defeated (but not yet exsanguinated) competitors. They needed a little ally who would remain unnoticed everywhere. He would carry out all the reconnaissance operations and missions (by this time the Fuggers had already designated emperors and popes) and would make do with small morsels of the large ‘internationalized’ businesses’ cake – the friendly relations of the elephant and the mouse.

The ‘mouse’ was slowly and patiently growing stronger and larger. The secret missions earned him a solid profit. In the meantime, he slowly got to know all the royal houses of Europe as a result of these reconnoitering jobs. He also became acquainted with the secret services of the Vatican, of the Porte and, eventually, of all of the rulers of the world. Secret services have always needed money and intelligence. It was the ingenious invention of the Rothschilds to combine the finances of the secret services, the opposing secret services! It all started with minor deals and, backstage, it eventually grew into a gigantic, global financial empire. Then this empire, as is usually the case, started out on its own path and by now it has gained independence. Not that it became completely independent! It was just no longer controlled by the Rothschilds alone.”[31]

Carrying this line of thinking to its logical end, one may arrive at the conclusion that the Habsburgs were Jews themselves, and that explains their intent to destroy the nation. The “Habsburgs as Jews” motif actually appears in the writings of some supporters of the alternative interpretation of history. A representative of this group wrote: “The problem with the Habsburg family was not that they descended from the wealthy Roman Jewish Pierleone family and that they bought the ruined Habsburg fortress in Switzerland and the inherent German imperial privileges from the money of a Genovese family member. (Meyers Konversatione Lexikon, 1875) It was a much more significant fact that those members of the family who still lived according to the Talmud helped them rise to power so that the family, after losing its decision-making ability, could become a toy in the hands of the bankers and their global political projects. This can be clearly demonstrated throughout Hungarian history as well. The transmission of their spiritual characteristics is also apparent.”[32]

At this point, this line of thinking comes to a conclusion: everything the national dynasty had created was destroyed by the Habsburgs, who pursued an anti-national policy not only because they were backed by the Rothschilds, but also because there was Jewish blood in their veins. In the guise of the Habsburgs, the real enemies of Hungary are the Jews.

This might have taken us too far from the idea of the House of Árpád as a national dynasty. Yet another present trend has emerged, and it is diametrically opposed to academic historiography, which is undoubtedly belligerent and has a distinct anti-establishment edge. This latter forms a basis for the ethos of those who represent the opposition in the specific field and enables them to create the exiting vision of an alternative path. They do this even at the price of remaining outside the accepted forums of scholarship.

***

Perhaps this story has also shown that a question of interpretation can have a number of consequences. The retrospective nationalization of the House of Árpád cannot be dismissed by simply stating that the dynasty in question did not conform to any national criteria in the modern sense of the term. This issue is much more complex than that.

In parallel with the emergence of a Hungarian national consciousness, Hungarian nationalism also appeared in various forms and contents. (I use the term nationalism in a descriptive sense). This nationalist approach to history merely demonstrates how the intellectual power of modern national consciousness is able to rearrange and reinterpret the past retrospectively along its own coordinates. One way to do this is by working on the basis of scholarly norms developed along with but partly independently of the modern concept of national consciousness, just as traditional historiography did during the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. Alternatively, it can abandon the scholarly norms and create a mostly imaginary world, which, contrary to all appearances and expectations, has connections primarily to the present, not to the past, i.e. it responds to currently arising demands, not to the logic of the past.

Imagination is the common feature of both national consciousness and nationalism. The question is whether or not we link, in terms of concept and content, the flights of fancy to what we know for sure. The alternative, non-scholarly approach to historical interpretation aims to prevent its narrative from being restricted by proof or provability. It is based on faith and presents faith as knowledge. It strengthens and, at the same time, serves a form of nationalism: the Hungarian thought and sentiment based on faith and imagination.

Adults need fables just as much as children do.

As a secular faith, nationalism needs mythology and fable just like the world of religious faith. The association of the House of Árpád with nationalism serves as a good example.

[1] Anonymus (Latin for ’unnamed’) is noted for his Latin-language work Gesta Hungarorum [The Deeds of Hungarians], the most detailed description of the arrival of Hungarians to the Carpathian Basin. According to Hungarian chronicles, Álmos, Árpád’s father, was the first head of the Hungarian tribes from around 850.

[2] The history of the terms is discussed by Szabados, György: 907 emlékezete [The Memory of 907]. Tiszatáj 61 (2007), No. 12, pp. 64–70. http://www.lib.jgytf.u-szeged.hu/folyoiratok/tiszataj/07-12/szabados-2.pdf.

[3] Turul is a mythical bird of prey, probably based on a large falcon, of pre-Christian Hungarians, which in shamanistic lore was believed to be a divine messenger resting upon the tree of life connecting the earth with the netherworld and the skies. The image of the bird appears today in the coat-of-arms of the Hungarian Defense Force (MH), as well as in those of the Counter Terrorism Center (TEK) and the Constitution Protection Office (AH) as an ancient Hungarian symbol of power, strength and nobility. The symbolic bird used to be favored by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party – Hungarist Movement in German-occupied Hungary in 1944–1945 as well; therefore its appearances in present-day Hungary are not without political controversies.

[4] The puzzle metaphor has become commonplace but it might be attributable to historian Pál Engel who died in 2001. http://beszelo.c3.hu/01/02/07engel.htm.

[5] The list of sainted and beatified persons of the House of Árpád is rather voluminous. The first of them was Saint Stephen, the founder of the realm and the last one was Blessed Elizabeth of Töss, the daughter of Andrew III, who died thirty-seven years after the last king of the House of Árpád. http://www.katolikus.hu/legend.html.

[6] Jenő Szűcs discussed this problem as early as in 1970. Szűcs, Jenő: A nemzet historikuma és a történetszemlélet nemzeti látószöge (hozzászólás egy vitához) [The Historicity of the Nation and the National Perspective of the Approach to History. Comments on a Debate]. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1970.

[7] The table is based on Kristó, Gyula and Makk, Ferenc: Az Árpádok. Fejedelmek és királyok [The Rulers of the Árpád Dynasty: Princes and Kings]. Budapest: Szukits, 2000. I have also consulted Gujdár, Noémi and Szatmáry, Nóra (eds.): Magyar királyok nagykönyve. Uralkodóink, kormányzóink és az erdélyi fejedelmek életének és tetteinek képes története [The Great Book of Hungarian Kings. An Illustrated History of the Life and Deeds of Our Rulers, Regents and the Princes of Transylvania]. Budapest: Reader’s Digest, 2012.

[8]The approximately ten thousand documents of the Árpád era, obviously not all of which are of royal origin, include some issued in Greek (the charter of the Veszprémvölgy Convent), and there are also some that contain historical linguistic artifacts of Hungarian (the charter of the Tihany Abbey issued in 1055). Obviously, it also needs to be taken into consideration that some of the “officials” of the royal chancellery came from abroad. An example of these is a scibe under the code name Herbert C, who had previously worked for the chancellery of the Holy Roman emperors.

[9] The above-mentioned monarchs reigned as King of Hungary in the following intervals: Joseph II (1780–1790), Charles (I) Robert (1288–1342), Louis I, the Great (1342–1382); Vladislas II (1490–1516) and Louis II (1516–1526).

[10] The following sources have been used for the list of the queen mothers: Estók, János: Királynék könyve. Magyarország királynéi, kormányzónéi és fejedelemasszonyai [A Book of Queens. Hungary’s Queens, Ruling Princesses and Princesses of Transylvania]. Budapest: Helikon, 2005; Dümmerth, Dezső: Az Árpádok nyomában [In the Footsteps of the Rulers of the House of Árpád]. Budapest: Corvina, 2003. The dynastic background of the queens has been researched by Beatrix Nagy. I am grateful for her contribution.

[11] Gyula is the title borne by the second-ranking chief of tribal Hungarians.

[12] Székesfehérvár (Latin: Alba Regia, German: Stuhlweißenburg), the center of present-day Fejér County located in central Hungary, used to be the seat of Hungarian kings in the Middle Ages. It is the Saint Stephen Basilica of Székesfehérvár, one of the largest cathedrals of medieval Europe, where thirty-seven kings and thirty-nine queens consort were crowned and fifteen rulers buried.

[13] Kristó, Gyula: Magyarország története 895–1301 [A History of Hungary from 895 to 1301]. Budapest: Osiris, 1998, pp. 295–303.

[14] Kristó 1998, p. 295.

[15] Marczali, Henrik: Magyarország története az Árpádok korában (1038–1301) [A History of Hungary in the Era of the Árpád Dynasty (1038–1301)]. Budapest: Athenaeum, 1898, p. 667.

[16] Szádeczky, Lajos: Az erdélyi fejedelemség politikájának vezéreszméi [The Leading Ideas in the Policies of the Principality of Transylvania]. Erdélyi Múzeum 10 (1893), No. 3, p. 147. http://epa.oszk.hu/00900/00979/00051/pdf/EM_1893_10_03_145-152.pdf; and Fraknói, Vilmos: A Hunyadiak és a Jagellók kora (1440–1526) [The Era of the Hunyadis and that of the Jagiellonian Rulers]. Budapest: Athenaeum, 1896, pp. 169–170.

[17] Hóman, Bálint and Gyula Szekfű: Magyar történet [A Hungarian History]. Budapest: Egyetemi, 1936, vol. II, p. 159. The kings of Hungary mentioned reigned in the following intervals: Béla IV (1235–1270), Sigismund (1387–1437); Matthias I, Corvinus (1458–1490); Béla III (1172–1196) and Charles I (1308–1342).

[18] Quoted by Kristó 1998, p. 298.

[19] Terminological changes usually take place slowly. We can still come across references to the House of Árpád as the national dynasty without inverted commas even though it is not treated as such as far as the meaning of the term is concerned. One such example is the blurb of Csorba, Csaba: Árpád örökében [In Árpád’s Heritage]. Budapest: Officina Nova – Magyar Könyvklub, 1996.

[20] I wish to express my particular thanks to Ferenc Kanyó, who helped me review the literature of unofficial historical interpretation.

[21] See Bunyevácz, Zsuzsa: A kazárok nem zsidó etnikumuak voltak [The Khazars Were Not of Jewish Ethnicity]. Hunhir.info, April 15, 2012. http://hunhir.info/index.php?pid=hirek&id=52484.

[22] Bakay, Kornél: A magyar királyeszme az Árpád-korban [The Concept of Kingdom in the Age of the House of Árpád]. In Professoribus salutem. Találkozások neves torténészekkel [Professoribus salutem. Meetings with Prominent Historians]. Szeged: Belvedere meridionale, 2001, pp. 101–111. Bakay and two co-authors wrote an alternative school textbook in 2004. http://mek.oszk.hu/02100/02161. Because of its anti-Semitic content the textbook was sharply criticized. http://tte.hu/_public/nyagy_laszlo_alternativitas_hatara.pdf The author of the critique, László Nagy, claimed that the book advocated the ideas of the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party – Hungarist Movement of German-occupied Hungary in 1944–1945. Bakay used to be an MP candidate of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) and received a government medal in 2013.

[23] Darai, Lajos: Kitagadott Árpád-örökség? [A Disinherited Heritage in the Árpád Dynasty?]. Acta Historica Hungarica Turiciensia 24 (2009), No. 2, pp. 45–46. http://epa.oszk.hu/01400/01445/00002/pdf/acta_hist_01445_2009_2.pdf.

[24] Grandpierre, K. Endre: Magyarok titkos története [The Secret History of Hungarians], No. 1 – Királygyilkosságok. Hogyan haltak meg a magyar királyok [Royal Murders. How the Hungarian Kings Died]. Budapest, Titokfejtő, 1991, pp. 37–38. http://maghon.weebly.com/uploads/2/0/0/3/20035969/grandpierre_k_endre_-_magyarok_titkos_tortenete.pdf.

[25] Grandpierre, K. Endre: Árpád kirekesztése az Árpádházból, avagy a magyar királyok új rendje [The Exclusion of Árpád from the House of Árpád, or A New Sequence of Hungarian Kings]. In Történelmünk központi titkai [The Central Secrets of Our History] No. 8. Budapest: Titokfejtő, 1996, pp. 11 and 15. http://www.magtudin.org/Grandpierre_K._Endre_Tortenelmunk_kozponti_titkai_8.pdf.

[26] Darai, Lajos: Miért fontos, miért nehéz szent városunk kutatása? [Why Is It Important, Why Is It Difficult to Do Research on Our Holy City?]. Zürichi Magyar Történelmi Egyesület [Hungarian Historical Society of Zurich]. June 16, 2011. Lecture notes, pp. 11–12.

[27] Németh Noszlopi, Péter: Az Árpád-kori Buda nyomai a Pilisben [Traces of Árpád-Era Buda in the Pilis Mountain]. Budapest, Püski, 1998; and Mesterházy, Zsolt: A magyar ókor [Hungarian Antiquity]. Budapest: Kárpáti Ház, 2002.

[28] A number of scholars refuted the linguistic claims of alternative theories of Hungarian ancient history. See, for example, Komoróczy, Géza: Sumer és magyar? [Sumerian and Hungarian?]. Budapest: Magvető, 1976; Pusztay, János: Az „ugor-török háború” után [After the “Ugric–Turkish War”]. Budapest: Magvető, 1977.

[29] Tömöry, Zsuzsa: Magyar-etruszk rokonság kérdése magyar szemmel [The Question of Etruscan-Hungarian Kinship from a Hungarian Perspective]. http://www.szittya.com/ETRUSZK.htm.

[30] That is, by making a reference to the polyglot, traveller, internationally acknowledged turkologist and dictionary writer Ármin Vámbéry (1832–1913) using his original last name (Wamberger) instead of his Hungarianized and official surname, to make his foreign (Jewish) descent conspicuous.

[31] Elek, Attila: Kossuth kudarcot vallott, Orbánnak sincs sok esélye [Kossuth Failed, Orbán Does Not Have Much of a Chance Either], Független Szabad Europa, August 5, 2010. http://szabadeuropa.shp.hu/hpc/web.php?a=szabadeuropa&o=heti_tema_2010_08_05__A1xd.

[32] Szatmári, István: Mi törtent Mohács után? [What happened after Mohács?]. Online document. http://www.magtudin.org/Mohacs%20utan.htm. Other examples of the appearance of the “Habsburgs as Jews” motif include: http://magyarmegmaradasert.hu/kiletunk/harcaink/item/3003-a-habsburgok-zsid%C3%B3-sz%C3%A1rmaz%C3%A1sa; http://hu.metapedia.org/wiki/A_Habsburgok_zsid%C3%B3_sz%C3%A1rmaz%C3%A1sa; http://hu.metapedia.org/wiki/Habsburg-h%C3%A1z.