Historical Legends of the Tatar Invasion in Hungary (1241–1242)

Barta Zsolt

Historical Legends of the Tatar Invasion in Hungary (1241–1242)

(45th Meeting of the PIAC, Budapest 2002)

In 1241 the Mongol troops, sent by Ögödei khan to the west, arrived in the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom. The Hungarian troops were defeated by the Mongol army on the spot of the so-called “Muhi” battle, after which the Mongols, parting into two, occupied a large part of the country. Some of them started chasing the Hungarian king, Béla IV, while the larger part of the Mongols aimed at seizing the towns and castles.

Numerous popular legends and stories were bom during and short after the Mongol invasion telling about the Mongols’ cruelties and about the flight and hiding of the population. There are several stories speaking about the pursuit of King Béla IV as well as about his magical escape. One can find interesting similarities between the Hungarian folklore stories about the siege of castles and towns and Rašid ad-Din Khvarezmi’s report on the military expedition. In some sagas even the name of Batu khan and Sübe’etei appear. In addition, the name of the former person has been kept in several geographical toponyms too, for instance hence the expressions “Batuhalma” and uBotahalma”.

The memory of the Mongol invasion of Hungary was not kept in the Mongol general knowledge. It is only in The Secret History of the Mongols, where one can come across a reference to the “madzsar” people and the “keral”, the latter most probably being the distorted name of the Hungarian king, Béla IV. It is the Franciscan friar, Johannes De Plano Carpini, who also mentions the cemetery in his work, the one raised for the Mongol warriors, soldiers who died in Hungary. However, we do not know anything more about it.

In my lecture I will systematize and introduce the Hungarian myths and folklore stories in connection with the Mongol campaign, especially focusing on the ones undoubtedly born in the time of the events of 1241–1242.