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Medieval Hungary

At the beginning of the 10th century, the Slavic population got under the influence of the formulating Hungarian state. After their bitter defeat in the Western Europe, migrant and offensive Hungarians gradually had to switch to domesticated way of life and began to devote the organization of their state under the leadership of the Árpád dynasty.

Exploiting the living tradition of Great Moravia, they created a new state in the Carpathian basin – Hungary. From the Slavic inhabitants they took over methods of cultivating the soil, learned several crafts and, at least in part, the organization of a state. The Ugro-Finnish Hungarian language absorbed many Slovak words connected with agriculture, habitation, spiritual life and state administration.

St. Stephen (Stephen I.) of the Arpád family became the significant organizer of the Hungarian state and the first king (1000 – 1038), he created centralized, organized and uniformly administered state. From his reign, Hungary was a strong state. At that time, the territory of Slovakia formed a principality bestowed upon younger members of the Arpád family. By the end of the eleventh century it became, for nearly one thousand years, an integral and the most developed part of Hungary.

Exact process of inclusion the present territory of Slovakia in the Hungarian State is not examined for lack of sources.

Map of Medieval Hungary in 11th century:
Map of Hungary in 11th century

During the 11th through 15th centuries the region experienced a time of economic growth and cultural advancement. The amount of arable land increased, the economy improved, as did the crafts, trades and mining. The towns obtained freedoms and privileges from the ruler or from the secular or ecclesiastical authorities.

One thing that struck the development of Hungarian state, was the invasion of Tatars/Mongols in 1241 and 1242. Tatar troops plundered, completely looted south-western Slovakia and laid waste to the Hungarian country. After Tatars left the country, the famine completed the misery. Only well-fortified castles resisted the Tatar invasions.

Map of Mongol Invasion in 1241:
Map of Mongol Invasion in 1241

Following this, king Béla IV. started to build a network of Gothic castles throughout the country. The cities grew, numerous castles and roads were built and the pace of settlement in the region quickened. At the invitation of the rulers and the landlords settlers came from abroad, predominantly from Germany. They brought new civilizing forces with them. Some of them were gradually assimilated while others created relatively compact German regions which were preserved down to the twentieth century.

Map of Medieval Hungary in 13th century:
Map of Hungary in 13th century

The towns became centers of economic prosperity. Some of them became rich as a result of long-distance trade along the Danube trade route between west and east (Bratislava, Trnava); others, on the trade route between the Black Sea and the Baltic, had contacts with Transylvania and Poland (Kežmarok, Košice, Levoča).

Especially important for Hungary were the numerous mining towns and villages in Slovakia since mining represented a traditionally important branch of the economy. Its golden age can be traced back to the hegemony of the Anjou’s in the fourteenth century when precious metals from Slovakia prevailed in the European markets. Silver mining, mainly in the region around Banská Štiavnica and gold from the Kremnica mines represented about a quarter of the output of these metals from European mines. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Slovakia was again the most important world producer and exporter of copper. From 1335 sought-after golden coins were struck in Kremnica – the Kremnica Ducat (Kremnický dukát). The mint has operated down there until the present as the oldest in Europe.

Economic development established the place for a rich spiritual and artistic life. Even today, the land of Slovakia richly documents medieval, Romanesque rotundas and churches, castles and fortresses as well as jewels of the Gothic churches in Bratislava, Košice, Bardejov, Levoča and Prešov, sculptures of the Madonna, altar panel paintings and wall paintings, exceptionally numerous in Spiš and Gemer. It is possible to consider the gothic altar, created by Master Paul for the church of St. James in Levoča, unique among the significant, monuments of gothic art.

In the 13th century the power of large aristocratic families increased. Matúš Čák was one of the most powerful magnates on the territory of Slovakia. He was the real ruler of the present territory of Slovakia and acted as an independent governor. Matúš Čák, whose seat was Trenčín Castle, was called “The master of river Váh and Tatra Mountains”.

The last monarch of the Árpád dynasty Andrew III. suddenly died (most likely he was poisoned) in 1301 and his death started up the anarchy in the country. So, in the 14th century there was again a period of anarchy and fights for the throne, it continued untill the year 1491, when king Vladislas Jagellonský closed the agreement with the Habsburgs, under which if Jagiellonian’s or Habsburg’s clan die off in male tail, the throne in all the countries will accrue to the second clan.

The role of education significantly increased in 14th and 15th century. Important cities maintained schools, but for university study, however, it was necessary to travel abroad, especially to Italy (Padova, Bologna), to Paris or, after the mid fourteenth century, to Prague and Vienna or, still later, to Krakow. In 1467, a university began construction in Bratislava, the Academia Istropolitana, founded according to the model of the University of Bologna by King Mathias Corvinus Hunyadi, a propagator of the new ideas of renaissance humanism in Hungary. Even if the university soon closed, its existence nevertheless shows the development of the region, which tried to keep pace with the most civilized regions of Europe. This favorable trend of development was weakened at the end of the fifteenth century by several negative circumstances, especially the expansion of the Osman (Ottoman) Empire.

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