Hunor and Magor

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The hunt of the White Stag, from the Chronicon Pictum, 1360.

Hunor and Magor were, according to a famous Hungarian legend, the ancestors of the Huns and the Magyars. The myth was promoted by the medieval historian Simon Kézai in his Gesta Ungarorum (1282-85). Kézai's aim in providing a common ancestry for the Huns and the Magyars was to suggest historical continuum of the Kingdom of Hungary with the Hun Empire. Magyars led by prince Árpád had conquered the area in the 890s. The territory had previously been held by Attila the Hun in the 5th century. Kézai thus tried to prove that the Magyars were simply reclaiming their ancient homeland as descendants of Attila.[1]

The myth[edit]

In Kézai's version, the twin princes Hunor and Magor were the sons of Nimrod son of Tana and were born in Scythia.[1] (The Chronicon Pictum makes them sons of Iaphet, rather than of Nimrod son of Tana.) Hunters like their father, they were on a hunting trip when they saw an ethereal white stag before them (the Csodaszarvas) and chased it across the Sea of Azov. Finding the newly discovered region to their liking, they decided to stay and married the two daughters of Dula, King of the Alans. From them descended Attila the Hun and High Prince Álmos, the father of Árpád.[2]An earlier version of the legend appears in the Byzantine History of Priscus:

"While the hunters of this tribe were as usual seeking game on the far bank of Lake Maeotis, they saw a deer appear unexpectedly before them and enter the swamp, leading them on as a guide of the way, now advancing and now standing still. The hunters followed it on foot and crossed the Maeotic swamp the swamp surrounding the Straits of Kerch, which join the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, which they had thought was as impassable as the sea. When the unknown Scythian land (Crimea) appeared, the deer disappeared. . . . The Huns, who had been completely ignorant that any other world existed beyond the Maeotic swamp, were filled with admiration of the Scythian country, and, since they were quick of mind, believed that the passage, familiar to no previous age, had been shown to them by the gods. They returned to their own people, told them what had happened, and persuaded them to follow along the way which the deer, as their guide, had shown them. They hastened to Scythia. . . . Soon they crossed the huge swamp and like some tempest overwhelmed the various tribes."[3]

There are also similarities with the Martenitsa legend recorded by Vasil Stanilov.

Influence[edit]

Political[edit]

The myth was also employed by later writers, most notably István Werbőczy, who used it to extol the Hungarian nobility in his highly influential collection of Hungarian customary law, the Tripartitum (completed 1514, first published 1517). According to Werbőczy, the Hungarians, as descendants of Hunor and Magor, were of 'Scythian' origin and subject to 'Scythian' law. "The Hungarians inherited their moral values and customs from the 'Scythians', who had once defeated even Darius and Alexander the Great. Their true vocation was war, which was the only activity that was noble enough to suit them." The nobles were free and equal; the peasants were the descendants of those who had been condemned for cowardice in battle and whose punishment had been commuted from execution to losing their social rank.[4] Werbőczy thus used the Hunor and Magor myth to justify Hungarian serfdom.[5] Werbőczy's ideas were eagerly adopted by the Hungarian nobility and became the charter of common law for three centuries. [6]

The nobles particularly cherished their 'Scythian' identity. According to Engel:

It made the nobility inclined to think in terms of historical fictions and to cherish illusions. They thought that they had the right to rule their subjects without having to meet any obligations. It also involved an extreme respect for traditions, and gave birth to what was an early form of 'nationalism'. The nobility's ideology overvalued everything that was, or was thought to be, ancient, and regarded everything that seemed strange or unusual with aversion or even hostility [...] The nobility also took delight in hearing about 'Scythian' values, for they imagined they recognised their own virtues in them. Among the petty nobility the ideal of martial simplicity must have become especially popular, for it made a virtue out of their misery and illiteracy."[7]

Literary[edit]

János Arany retold the myth in his poem Rege a csodaszarvasról (Legend of the Miraculous Hind).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Engel p.121
  2. ^ Molnar pp.10-11
  3. ^ Priscus, Byzantine History, fragment 10.
  4. ^ Engel p.350
  5. ^ See also Paul H. Freedman Images of the Medieval Peasant (Stanford University Press, 1999) p.120 ff.
  6. ^ Molnár p.83
  7. ^ Engel pp.351-2

References[edit]

  • Pál Engel The Realm of Saint Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary 895-1526 (I.B. Tauris, 2001)
  • Miklós Molnár A Concise History of Hungary (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

See also[edit]