Béla III of Hungary
Bela III from the Illuminated Chronicle
|King of Hungary and Croatia|
|Coronation||13 January 1173|
|Spouse||Agnes of Antioch
Margaret of France
|Issue||Emeric of Hungary
Margaret, Byzantine Empress
Andrew II of Hungary
Constance, Queen of Bohemia
|Father||Géza II of Hungary|
|Mother||Euphrosyne of Kiev|
|Died||23 April 1196 (aged 47–48)|
reburied at Matthias Church
Béla III (Hungarian: III. Béla, Croatian: Bela III, Slovak: Belo III; c. 1148 – 23 April 1196) was King of Hungary and Croatia between 1172 and 1196. He was the second son of Géza II of Hungary who granted him a separate duchy, which included at least Croatia and central Dalmatia, around 1161. In accordance with a peace treaty between his elder brother, Stephen III, and the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos Béla moved to Constantinople in 1163. He was renamed Alexios and received the new court title of despotes. He was betrothed to the Emperor's daughter, Maria. Both the Byzantine Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary demanded Béla's patrimony, causing a number of armed conflicts in the following four years. Béla-Alexios, who was designated as Emperor Manuel's heir in 1165, took part in the Byzantine campaigns against Hungary at least three times. After the birth of Emperor Manuel's son, Alexios, Béla-Alexios's betrothal to the Emperor's daughter was dissolved in 1169. He was deprived of his title, and received the inferior rank of kaisar.
Stephen III died on 4 March 1172 and Béla was unanimously proclaimed king. Before returning to Hungary, he pledged that he would not make war against the Byzantine Empire. Lucas, Archbishop of Esztergom accused him of simony and denied to perform his coronation. With Pope Alexander III's approval, the Archbishop of Kalocsa crowned Béla king on 18 January 1173. He came into conflict with his younger brother, Géza whom held in captivity for more than a decade.
Béla reoccupied the provinces lost to the Byzantine Empire during his predecessor's reign in 1180 and 1181. Taking advantage of the internal conflicts within the neighboring countries, he invaded the Byzantine Empire in 1183 and in 1193 and the Principality of Halych in 1188, but his conquests were lost in short time. He promoted the use of written records, contributing to the development of the Royal Chancery in Hungary. His royal palace in Esztergom was the first example of Gothic architecture in Central Europe.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Reign
- 3 Family
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Notes
- 6 Sources
- 7 Further reading
Childhood (c. 1148–1163)
Béla was the second son of Géza II of Hungary and his wife Euphrosyne of Kiev. The date of his birth was not recorded. He must have been born around 1148, because studies of his skeleton show that he died at the age of about 49.
When writing of Béla, the contemporaneous John Kinnamos referred to "the territory which his father, while still alive, had apportioned to him", showing that Béla received a distinct territory as an appanage from his father. Kinnamos described Dalmatia "as Béla's heritage", proving that Béla's patrimony included the central parts of Dalmatia—Šibenik, Split, and Trogir—which had for decades accepted the suzerainty of the Kings of Hungary. Ferenc Makk, Gyula Moravcsik and other modern historians agree that Béla also received Croatia from his father. Whether Géza II also granted Syrmium to Béla is uncertain: it was part of Béla's patrimony, according to Florin Curta and Warren Treadgold, but Makk and Paul Magdalino say that Béla acquired it only after his father's death. Treadgold writes that Géza II also granted Bosnia, which connected Dalmatia and Syrmium, to Béla. The exact date of the Géza II's grant cannot be determined. Makk says that Béla received his duchy from his father around 1161.
Géza II, who died on 31 May 1162, was succeeded by his first-born son, Stephen III. He seems to have confirmed Béla in the possession of his patrimony, because Kinnamos referred to the land which was "long before granted" to Béla by his father and brother. Stephen III was expelled from his kingdom by his uncles, Ladislaus II and Stephen IV, who were assisted by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. Stephen III returned to Hungary and regained his crown by force in the middle of 1163. There is no record of Béla's activities during this period, suggesting that he remained neutral.
Emperor Manuel concluded a peace treaty with Stephen III in summer 1163. The Emperor renounced the support of Stephen III's uncle, and Stephen III agreed to send Béla to Constantinople and to allow the Byzantines to took possession of Béla's duchy, including Syrmium. The Emperor also promised that he would give his daughter, Maria, in marriage to Béla.
"When [Emperor Manuel I] came [to Belgrade] and realized that it was then imposseible for [Stephen IV] to rule the Hungarians' land (for already they had hastily installed [Stephen III] son of [Géza II] again), he turned to something else. As stated, he desired with all his might to lay claim to Hungary, which is situated in the midst of the western nations. He therefore intended to unite in marriage Béla, who was [Géza II]'s son after [Stephen III], to his own daughter Maria."
Despotes Alexios (1163–1169)
Emperor Manuel dispatched Sebastos George Palaeologus to escort Béla to the Byzantine Empire. Béla arrived in Constantinople around the end of 1163. He was renamed Alexios, and the Emperor granted him the honour of despotes ("lord"), which had up to that time exclusively used by the Byzantine Emperors. His betrothal to the Emperor's daughter was also officially announced.
Stephen III invaded Syrmium in summer 1164. Emperor Manuel led his armies against him, stating that he arrived "not to wage war on the Hungarians but to recover his land for Béla", according to Kinnamos. Béla-Alexios—along with his uncle, Stephen IV, and their distant relative, Stephen—accompanied the Emperor during the campaign. Before long a new peace treaty was concluded, forcing Stephen III again to renounce Béla's duchy. A Byzantine army occupied Syrmium, which was organized into a Byzantine theme, or district. The towns in Dalmatia remained under Stephen III's suzerainty.
Stephen III launched a new invasion against Syrmium in spring 1165. Emperor Manuel directed the counter-attack, and Béla again accompanied him. After the imperial army recaptured Zimony (now Zemun in Serbia), Béla persuaded the emperor to prohibit the execution of the captured Hungarian soldiers. In the meantime, an Byzantine army also occupied Dalmatia. A new peace treaty between Stephen III and Emperor Manuel followed, which confirmed the Emperor's suzerainty in the lands pertaining to Béla's duchy. Dalmatia and Bosnia were converted into Byzantine themes.
Emperor Manuel ceremoniously nominated his daughter and Béla-Alexios as his heir, and forced the Byzantine lords to swear an oath of fidelity to them in autumn 1165. Only the Emperor's cousin, Andronikos Komnenos, dared to condemn this act, asking "What madness is this of the emperor to deem every Roman male unworthy of his daughter's nuptial bed, to choose before all others this foreigner and interloper to be an emperor of the Romans and to sit above all as master?", according to the nearly contemporaneous Niketas Choniates. Béla-Alexios participated at the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church where the Emperor and the Ecumenical Patriarch Luke Chrysoberges were also present in spring 1166. He accompanied protostrator Alexios Axuch who led a Byzantine army against Hungary in retaliation of a new Hungarian invasion of Syrmium.
Manuel I confirmed a decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch which declared void a marriage between kin to the seventh degree on 11 April 1166, although his daughter and Béla-Alexios were within this degree of relationship. He even proposed a marriage between his daughter and the new King of Sicily, William II, in autumn 1166. The contemporaneous Rahewin writes that Béla-Alexios "claimed the kingdom" of his brother with Emperor Manuel's assistance, causing a new war between Hungary and the Byzantine Empire in 1167. Many Hungarians joined and served Béla-Alexios, stating that "the Kingdom of Hungary belonged to him by right", according to the chronicle of Henry of Mügeln. In the Battle of Sirmium, the Byzantine army annihilated the Hungarian troops on 8 July 1167. The ensuing peace treaty, which put an end to the period of wars between Hungary and the Byzantine Empire for the control of Béla's patrimony, confirmed the dominion of the Byzantine Empire over central Dalmatia, Bosnia and Syrmium.
Kaisar Alexios (1169–1172)
Emperor Manuel's wife, Maria of Antioch, gave birth to a son named Alexios on 14 September 1169. In short, the Emperor dissolved his daughter's betrothal to Béla-Alexios and deprived him of the title of despotes. Béla-Alexios was granted the rank of kaisar, which was inferior to his former title. Upon the Emperor's initiative, Béla-Alexios's married the Emperor's sister-in-law, Agnes of Antioch, in spring 1170.
Béla-Alexios and his wife went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the first half of 1170. In Jerusalem, they donated 10,000 bezants to the Knights Hospitaller in compensation for their hospitality. In the charter of grant, he styled himself "Lord A., Duke of Hungary, Dalmatia and Croatia", showing that he considered his inherited titles more important than the honor that the Emperor had recently bestowed upon him.
Béla's brother, Stephen III died on 4 March 1172. Arnold of Lübeck, who was staying in Esztergom at that time, recorded a rumor suggesting that the young king had been poisoned by Béla's supporters, but no other source verify this hearsay. Stephen III's widow, Agnes, left Hungary, although she was pregnant when her husband died.
In short a Hungarian delegation visited Emperor Manuel and Béla in Sardica (now Sophia in Bulgaria), asking that "Béla be dispatched to them as king", because "when Stephen died, the pricinple of justice looked toward him", according to Kinnamos. Kinnamos writes that Béla "promised an oath to observe for the whole course of his life whatever would be beneficial to the emperor and the Romans" before Emperor Manuel proclaimed him king. A letter of 1196 by the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos says that on the same occasion Béla pledged that he would never support the Serbians against the Byzantine Empire.
Béla and his wife soon departed for Hungary and they arrived in Székesfehérvár in late April or early May. The "dignitaries of the Hungarian kingdom" unanimously elected Béla king, according to an 1179 letter of Pope Alexander III. Choniates also writes that Béla was crowned "without trouble with the kingly diadem of Hungary". However, his coronation was actually delayed, because Lucas, Archbishop of Esztergom denied to perform the ceremony. He accused the king of simony because Béla had given a precious cloak to his delegate. Pál Engel, Ferenc Makk and other historians say that Archbishop Lucas actually feared that the influence of the "schismatics" would increase under Béla, but their view have not been universally accepted. The Archbishop seems to have attempted to promote the interests of Béla's younger brother, Géza. However, the majority of the barons and prelates—including Ispáns Ampud and Denis—remained loyal to Béla.
Béla sought the assistance of the Holy See against the unbending archbishop. Finally Pope Alexander III authorized the Archbishop of Kalocsa to anoint Béla king and "place the crown on his head". Béla's coronation took place on 18 January 1173. The unification of the so-called "Greek" and "Latin" crowns into the Holy Crown of Hungary seems to have occurred during the reign of Béla.
Archbishop Lucas fell into disgrace with Béla who ignored him in the first years of his reign. For instance, Béla's first-born son, Emeric, was baptized in 1174 by the Archbishop of Kalocsa, although administering sacraments to members of the royal family had always been the Archbishops of Esztergom's privilege. On the other hand, Béla issued a charter confirming the right of the Archbishop of Esztergom to crown the Hungarian monarchs.
A Bohemian chronicle—Continuatio Gerlaci abbatis Milovicensis—narrates that Béla imprisoned his younger brother, Géza. However, Géza escaped from the prison and fled to Austria accompanied by Stephen III's judge royal, Lawrence in 1174 or 1175. After Duke Henry Jasomirgott refused to extradict Géza, Béla launched plundering raids into Austria in alliance with Soběslav II, Duke of Bohemia. In 1176 Béla sent reinforcements to Emperor Manuel against the Seljuks, but the allied forces suffered defeat in the Battle of Myriokephalon on 17 September.
Géza attempted to persuade Duke Soběslav to assist him to meet Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, but the Duke seized him and handed him over to Béla III in 1177. Béla soon sent his brother to prison and also put their mother, Euphrosyne, in confinement. In retaliation for Géza's seizure, Emperor Frederick I nominated Frederick against Soběslav as Duke of Bohemia, ordering Leopold V, Duke of Austria, who was Béla III's brother-in-law, to assist his appointee. Béla threatened Duke Leopold to invade Austria, forcing him to return to his duchy.
Expansion and reforms (1178–1193)
Andrew, Archbishop of Kalocsa, who had been a favorite of Béla, insulted him around 1178. Béla soon deprived the Archbishop and his supporter, the Provost of Székesfehérvár Chapter, of their office and seized the revenues of the archbishopric. Pope Alexander III supported the prelates, punishing Béla with ecclesiastic sanctions. Béla III reconciled with Archbishop Lucas of Esztergom, who was willing to absolve him and excommunicated Andrew of Kalocsa. The conflict ended with a compromise mediated by the Holy See: Archbishop Andrew asked the monarch's pardon and the King restored him.
Béla promoted the spread of the Cistercians in Hungary. Upon his invitation Cistercian monks arrived from Pontigny and other great Cistercian monasteries of France, who set up the Egres Abbey in 1179, the Zirc Abbey in 1182, the Szentgotthárd Abbey and the Pilis Abbey in 1184. The building of a lofty royal castle in Esztergom started under the auspices of Béla in the 1180s. Following Byzantine patterns, the new cathedral was erected near the castle at the same time. Nevertheless, Béla was almost continuously wandering throughout the country. For instance, an inscription of a brick testifies that Béla sponsored the baptism of a German "guest settler" in Bulkeszi in Bács County (now Maglić in Serbia).
In the imperial court of Constantinople, Béla learnt the importance of a well-organized administration. Béla "introduced the same form of addressing petitions as was customary in the Roman and imperial court", according to the Illuminated Chronicle, suggesting that the Royal Chancery began functioning as a separate office during his reign. In one of his charters of 1181, he emphasized the importance of written records, ordering that a charter were to be issued of all transactions proceeding in his presence.
The Byzantine Emperor Manuel I died on 24 September 1180. Within six months, Béla restored his suzerainty in Dalmatia, but no detailed contemporaneous accounts of the events was recorded. The citizens of Split in Dalmatia "returned to Hungarian lordship" soon after Manuel's death, according to the 13th-century Thomas the Archdeacon. Zadar also accepted Béla's suzerainty in early 1181 at the latest. Historian John V. A. Fine writes that Béla recovered Dalmatia "seemingly without bloodshed and with imperial consent", because the Byzantine authorities preferred his rule in the province to the occupation of Dalmatia by the Republic of Venice.
The details of the reconquest of Syrmium are also obscure. Andronikos Komnenos accused the mother of the young Byzantine Emperor, Alexios II, of inciting Béla—her brother-in-law—to ravage the region of Belgrade and Barancs (now Braničevo in Serbia) in May 1182, implying that Béla had by that time occupied Syrmium. In the same month Andronikos Komnenos captured Béla's sister-in-law and had her murdered by the end of the year. Taking advantage of the emerging anarchy in the Byzantine Empire, Béla advanced as far as Niš and Sardica in the first half of 1183. In the latter town, he seized the cascet containing the relics of Saint Ivan of Rila and ordered it "to be transported with great honors to his land and to be laid down with honor in the church" of Esztergom, according to the saint's Life from the Sofia Prologue. Makk writes that Béla withdrew from the regions to the south of the Danube, but historian Paul Stephenson say that Béla preserved these lands.
Andronikos Komnenos murdered Emperor Alexios II in late 1183. The contemporaneous Eustathius of Thessalonica writes that the new Emperor's opponents sent letters to many monarchs, including Béla III, urging them to attack the usurper. According to Ansbert and other Western European chroniclers, Béla invaded the Byzantine Empire in early 1185. After the fall of Andronikos I in September, Béla was willing to conclude a peace treaty with the new emperor, Isaac II Angelos. He gave his daughter, Margaret, in marriage to Emperor Isaac and granted the region of Niš and Barancs to his son-in-law as her dowry. The relics of Saint Ivan of Rila were also returned to Sardica on this occasion.
Béla married Margaret of France, a sister of Philip II of France, in summer 1186. According to a list completed around that time, Béla's revenues amounted to almost 170,000 marks. If the list is reliable, his income surpassed the revenues of the contemporaneous Kings of France and England, but the reliability of the amount provided in the list is questioned, for instance, by historian Pál Engel.
Orio Mastropiero, Doge of Venice, laid siege to Zadar in 1187, but the Venetian fleet could not seize the well-fortified town. Vladimir Yaroslavich, Prince of Halych, fled to Hungary at the end of 1188 after his boyars threatened him to murder his wife. Roman Mstyslavych, Prince of Vladimir-in-Volhynia, soon occupied Halych. Urged by Vladimir Yaroslavich, Béla invaded Halych and expelled Roman Mstyslavych from the principality. He soon imprisoned Vladimir Yaroslavich and granted the occupied principality to his younger son, Andrew. Béla adopted the title King of Galicia in token of his conquest of the Principality of Halych.
The German crusaders marched through Hungary under the command of Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor in summer 1187. Béla welcomed the Emperor and dispatched a troop to escort the crusaders across the Balkan Peninsula. At the Emperor's request, Béla released his imprisoned brother, Géza, who soon joined the crusaders and left Hungary. Béla mediated a peace treaty between the two emperors (Frederick I and Isaac II) whose mutual mistrust almost caused the outbreak of a war between the German crusaders and the Byzantines.
After a fire destroyed Esztergom, Béla invited French masons to rebuilt the royal palace and the cathedral in about 1190. For they introduced new architectural forms, the new royal palace and cathedral became the earliest examples of Gothic architecture in Central Europe. Coins depicting a two-barred cross, which was primarily used in the Church of the Byzantine Empire, were minted from around 1190, suggesting that the so-called "double cross" became part of the Hungarian royal heraldry under Béla III
Vladimir Yaroslavich escaped from his captivity in early 1189 or 1190. With the assistance of Casimir II of Poland, he expelled Béla's son from Halych and regained the principality by the end of August. However, from the early 1190s Béla focused on the Balkan Peninsula where the authority of the Byzantine Empire had weakened after the Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion. Béla and his son-in-law, Isaac II, met in Philippopolis (now Plovdiv in Bulgaria) and in Syrmium in 1191, but the results of their discussions remained unknown. Upon Béla's initiative, the Holy See approved the canonization of Ladislaus I of Hungary, which was celebrated in Nagyvárad (now Oradea in Romania) in 1192.
Béla III invaded Serbia at the turn of 1192 and 1193. Emperor Isaac II demanded his withdrawal threatening him with war. At the same time Doge Enrico Dandolo made a new attempt to occupy Zadar, but failed.
Last years (1193–1196)
Béla granted Modruš County in Croatia to Bartholomew of Krk, a member of the Frankopan family, in 1193, which is the earliest certain example of the grant of an office as a hereditary dignity in the Kingdom of Hungary. Next year Béla appointed his eldest son and heir, Emeric, who had already been crowned, to administer Croatia and Dalmatia. A united Bulgarian, Cumanian and Vlach army defeated the Byzantines in the Battle of Arcadiopolis in 1194. Urged by his son-in-law, Béla was willing to assist the Byzantine Empire, but his campaign was cancelled because Isaac II was dethroned by his brother Alexios III Angelos in April 1195. Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor was willing to launch a campaign against the Byzatine Empire on behalf of the dethroned Isaac, but Béla prohibited his subjects from joining him.
On the other hand, he himself took the cross in token of his will to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. He could not fulfill his oath, because he fell ill and died on 23 April 1196. He was buried in the Székesfehérvár Cathedral. His remains were confidently identified by archeologists during 19th-century excavations, because contemporaneous source—Richard of London—wrote of Béla's exceptional height. His skeleton shows that Béla was 190 centimetres (75 in) tall. Béla's remains were reinterred at the Matthias Church in Budapest, with those of his first wife Agnes.
|Ancestors of Béla III of Hungary|
Béla's first wife, Agnes was the daughter of Raynald of Châtillon, Prince of Antioch and his wife, Constance of Antioch. She was born in about 1149 and died around 1184. She was renamed Anna in Constantinople at the time of her marriage in 1170.
Béla's and Agnes-Anna's first child, Emeric, was born in 1174. His sister, Margaret, who was renamed Maria in Constantinople, was born in 1175. At the age of nine or ten, she was given in marriage to the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos who was about 30 at that time. Her husband died in 1204, before the Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Margaret-Maria married one of the leaders of the Crusade, Boniface of Montferrat, who seized Thessaloniki after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Historian Makk writes that she married Nicholas I of Saint Omer after the death of her second husband in about 1210, but scholar Peter Lock says that Saint Omer's wife and Margaret-Maria were not identical. The second son of Béla and Agnes-Anna, Andrew was born around 1177. His two younger brothers, Solomon and Stephen, did not survive infancy. Their younger sister, Constance, became the wife of King Ottokar I of Bohemia in about 1198. A third daughter of Béla and Agnes-Anna, whose name is unknown, died in infancy.
After the death of his first wife, Béla proposed to Theodora, a granddaughter of Emperor Manuel I's sister, Theodora Komnene. However, a synod of the Byzantine Church forbade her marriage in 1185, because she had entered a nunnery. At the turn of 1185 and 1186 Béla asked for the hand of Matilda of Saxony, a daughter of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, but Henry II of England—her grandfather—hindered this marriage. Finally Béla married Henry II's widowed daughter-in-law, Margaret of France, in summer 1186. She was the daughter of Louis VII of France. Queen Margaret survived her husband and moved to the Holy Land after his death.
Béla was one of the most outstanding monarchs of Hungary in the Middle Ages. His "rule not only represented the apogee of the kingdom of the Árpádians, but also marked the end of an epoch", according to historian Pál Engel. His establishment of the Royal Chancery contributed to the "expansion of written records" in Hungary: the first charters which were issued by barons appeared in the 1190s. According to a contemporaneous list of Béla's revenues, his yearly income amounted to almost 170,000 marks (about 23 tonnes of pure silver). If the list is reliable, his income surpassed the revenues of the contemporaneous Kings of France and England, but the reliability of the amount provided in the list is questioned, for instance, by historian Pál Engel.
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- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bela III.". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 662.
Béla III of HungaryBorn: 1148 Died: 23 April 1196
|New creation||Duke of Croatia and Dalmatia
Title next held byEmeric
|King of Hungary and Croatia