Múcska (2017 Congress)

Vincent Múcska
(Department of General History
Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia

“Theory and Practice of Legitimizing of
Royal Rulership in Early Medieval Hungary:
The Arpadian Dynasty”

Abstract of Paper
To be Presented at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2017)

Session on “Rulership in Medieval Central Europe
(Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland):
Ideal and Practice”

Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and
the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Mildred Budny and Florin Curta
2017 Congress Program

Abstract of Paper

[Published on 14 March 2017]

Theory and Practice of Legitimizing of Royal Rulership in Early Medieval Hungary:
The Arpadian Dynasty
Vincent Múcska, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia

The characteristics of royal rulership can be specified according to traditional sources (charters, letters, chronicles, etc.). In addition, characterizing its nature in Early Medieval Hungary can also be based on several sources unique for Hungary: above all the law-codes and the “Admonitions” of Stephen, the first Hungarian king, for his son, in the Libellus de institutione morum.

Previous investigations, based mainly on the above-mentioned traditional sources, interpreted royal rulership in Hungary of the 11th and 12th centuries usually as patrimonial kingship. Within this system of government, the ruler’s power was allegedly based on his property – patrimonium – which was by far the largest in the country: he had the most lands, serfs, and servants. From this point of view, the “state” and the king’s property should be as inseparable as the “state” and the king’s power.

Recent researches, based largely on methodological impulses of the history of ideas, have not completely rejected this concept of the functioning of royal rulership in the early centuries of the Hungarian Kingdom, but have, according to interpretations of the second group of sources, pointed to other factors which formed it: namely the sacral and charismatic features of kingship and the building of a ruler, dynastic, and related state ideology.

The decisive watershed for the process was the acceptance of Christianity by the Arpadian Dynasty in the second half of the 10th century and, with it, the gradual establishing of the unified Christian monarchy during which Prince Geza, and especially his son (Saint) Stephen – the first Christian king of Hungary – dissolved the system in which the power had been divided between several chieftains (princes) and, in its stead, established a centralised control of the country. The Christianization of the princeship and kingship, together with an early medieval understanding of the ruler as the rex et sacerdos, became the main ideological basis of legitimizing the rulership of the first Hungarian king as well as – with sufficient property and military force – a reliable support in its difficult enforcement, as it is well known in other early medieval kingdoms.

From an international point of view, the process meant recognizing the king’s title by the most important period authorities of Latin Europe – namely, the emperor and pope – and accepting his person into the family of Christian rulers. This monocratic model of the application of royal power endured in Hungary during the whole two centuries under consideration here, and it was significantly more stable than in the surrounding countries. It was radically restricted only in the first third of the 13th century.