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István Lázár


A Brief History

Translated by Albert Tezla

Copyright © István Lázár, 1989

Reproduced by permission



1. The Prehistory of the Region
2. One Must Descend from Some Place
3. “From the Arrows of the Hungarians”
4. Saints out of Wolves
5. Cursed and Blessed Kings
6. The Fleur-de-lis and the Raven
7. In the Wan Light of the Crescent
8. Hey, Thököly and Rákóczi
9. Maria with a crown, Joseph with a Hat
10. Hang the Kings!
11. The Compromise and the Millennium
12. From Sarajevo to Trianon
13. The Red and the White
14. Death Bend
15. Almost Half a Century, or My Lifetime


List of Kings
Foreign Queens of the House of Árpád


Horsemen. On short-legged, shaggy, brawny horses sweating mud, they climb upward among the mountains, following a path edged with dense pine forests. They stop on the height of the pass, in the dividing ridge. They look ahead intently and cock their ears to the rear. Are they the advanced guard or the main force? Are they only soldiers or everyone together: the elderly, children, women, and wagons loaded with belongings? Are they forging ahead, bent on conquest? Are they fleeing in defeat? Let’s not begin with questions or inquire about details, circumstances, or causes, whether we know the answers or not.

Horsemen. On their shoulders, reflex bows composed of layers of sheets of horn cemented together with glue rendered from fish, hide, and bone, strengthened with coils of stag’s sinew, and their tips and grasps made of antlers. On their left side, bundles of iron-tipped arrows in quivers; on their right, oriental sabers with curved, single-edged blades. Their saddles are high and rise sharply in front and back. This saddle and the Avar-type stirrup make it possible for both hands to be free in battle with reins flying to tear along hurling a shower of arrows in an attack on their enemy or, half-turned on their horses, to do so backwards fleeing from a superior force or feigning flight deceptively. They have become one with their horses, like centaurs; their horses, on pressure from their knees or on command, wheel, stop dead, and start off.

Horsemen. Their hair braided into pigtails held together on two sides by brass disks, those of the chiefs by gold ones. At their waists, the many studs on their leather belts as well as the embossed, stamped and paunchy U-shaped plates on leather satchels containing their smaller belongings flash in the sunlight. They are hardy, like the wolves on the plains. They are fond of splendor, like the potentates of the East.

They are forging ahead from the east toward the west, meanwhile having to cross the mountain range from north to south. They are the ones about whom the chant of supplication fearfully concluded at this time in the monasteries and churches of Christian Europe with two lines: “From the arrows of the Hungarians...”, the precentor shouted to Heaven, and “... spare us, Oh Lord!” the choir boomed thereupon.

Árpád’s Hungarians.

They stand high on the ridge of the Carpathians in the Verecke Pass. On the border of an unfamiliar world? Definitely not. They have roamed there before. Perhaps, as their legends claim, this is the land of their forefathers, and thus a reclamation of a lawful ancient inheritance. Or did the flattering authors of chronicles only later think or contend that this was what they thought? We do not know. Did early bands precede them by generations perhaps? We do not know. But we know for certain that they had been in this area during the preceding year and the years before. The scene spreading out below is familiar to them. Down below await water they have tasted, grazing meadows for the cattle they have tested, and land for their plows and vegetable seed-beds they have found to be rich and fertile.

They have come to settle down.

That part of the Hungarian armies led by Árpád - as we know and believe today - crossed the Verecke Pass and parallel passes in A.D. 895 and descended to the fields of the Carpathian Basin which seemed to be defendable.


At this same time, around the decade of the 890s, France was emerging from the ruins of Charlemagne’s empire. Giving the Normans, who were long believed to be invincible, a lesson in defeat, the Capetian dynasty was establishing its power. In the west, the German Carolingians were also struggling with the Normans; in the east, they were seeking an ally against the Moravian-Slavic state of Svatopluk. (We shall see whom they found.) Not long ago, the other branch of the Carolingians had driven the Arab conquerors from the south with the help of Byzantium, and they were now dividing the Italian Peninsula between themselves and the pope. About that time, no small part of the Iberian Peninsula had long been in the hands of the Moors (Arabs); at this time, a certain Abdullah ruled the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba. Already apparent was that intellectual effervescence through which the center of European learning was to blossom in this Islamic world. In Scandinavia, first one and then another Viking (Norman) king had become a Christian, although paganism struck back for a long time in the divided and restless population of the Danish-Norwegian-Swedish trinity. A Norwegian king happened to be ruling across the Channel on Irish soil. Alfred I, the English king, had to conclude a humiliating peace with the incursive Danes, abandoning East Anglia to them, in order to gain time to build a fleet, organize a standing army, and strike back. On the Adriatic-Dalmatian seacoast, Ragusa (Dubrovnik), Zara (Zadar), Spalato (Split), Trau (Trogir), Cattaro (Kotor), and Bar were already veritable city-states. On Russian soil, the challenge of the Varangians (Vikings) promoted the concentration of power among the princes with the participation of the Varangians, who, assimilating, became Slavs. In Byzantium, Leo (the Wise) VI’s tripartitum of laws was being diligently prepared, while the border marshes of the kingdom were everywhere in flames.

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