Stephen II of Hungary

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Stephen II
Stefan II węgierski.jpg
Stephen II depicted János Thuróczy's Chronicle of the Hungarians
King of Hungary and Croatia
Reign 1116–1131
Coronation c. 1105
Predecessor Coloman
Successor Béla II
Spouse A princess of Capua
Dynasty Árpád dynasty
Father Coloman of Hungary
Mother Felicia of Sicily
Born 1101
Died 1131 (aged 29–30)
Burial Várad Cathedral (Oradea, Romania)
Religion Roman Catholic

Stephen II (Hungarian: II. István, Croatian: Stjepan II., Slovak: Štefan II; 1101 – early 1131), King of Hungary and Croatia, ruled from 1116 until 1131. His father, King Coloman, had him crowned as a child, thus denying the crown to his uncle Álmos. In the first year of his reign, Venice occupied Dalmatia and Stephen could not restore his rule in the province. His reign was characterized by frequent wars with neighbouring countries.

Early years (till 1116)[edit]

Stephen and his twin brother, Ladislaus were sons of King Coloman of Hungary by his queen, Felicia of Sicily.[1][2] According to the Illuminated Chronicle, they were born "in the year of our Lord 1101."[3][4] Stephen was named after the first king of Hungary, who had in 1083 been canonized, implying that he was considered as his father's heir from his birth.[5] A document written in Zadar in or after 1105 makes mention of "Stephen, our most renowned king" along with Coloman, proving that the latter had his four-year-old son crowned king.[6][7][8]

Álmos and Béla are blinded
Álmos and his son, Béla are blinded on Coloman's order (from the Illuminated Chronicle)
Coloman had Álmos seized
Coloman had the blind Álmos imprisoned before his death (from the Illuminated Chronicle)

By the child Stephen's coronation, Coloman demonstrated his intention to secure the succession for his son.[8] Coloman's ambitious brother, Álmos—who had already in 1098 rebelled against the king—opposed this plan and left Hungary.[9][8] He first sought the assistance of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, next Duke Boleslaw III of Poland.[9][10] Having all his efforts ended in failure, Álmos submitted to Coloman and returned to Hungary.[11] He made several abortive attempts to dethrone Coloman in the following decade.[9][12] In order to bring to an end the permanent menace presented by these plots to Stephen's succession, Coloman had Álmos and Álmos's little son, Béla blinded.[13][14]

Having fallen gravely ill in early 1116, Coloman also had his blinded brother imprisoned.[15][14] The Illuminated Chronicle narrates that the dying king "instructed his son and his great men"[16] to invade Rus' in order to take vengeance for Coloman's failure in the siege of 1099 of Peremyshl (Przemyśl, Poland).[15] Coloman died on 3 February 1116.[9]


Wars and internal conflicts (1116–1127)[edit]

Stephen's coronation
Stephen is crowned king in February 1116 (from the Illuminated Chronicle)

Stephen was crowned king in Székesfehérvár in the month of his father's death.[17] His peaceful succession proves that the safety measures Coloman had implemented to prevent Álmos from aspiring the throne were effective. [18][19] Upon his counsillor's advice, Stephen initiated a meeting with Vladislaus I, Duke of Bohemia, in order to improve the two countries' relations which had deteriorated in the previous decade.[20][21] The two monarchs met on the river Olšava, which marked the border of their realms.[21] However, the lack of mutual confidence hindered the opening of negotiations, and even led to armed conflicts which evolved into a battle on 13 May.[21] In the battlefield, the Bohemian army inflicted a serious defeat on Stephen's troops.[9] The contemporaneous Cosmas of Prague blames the young king's advisors for the fiasco, but late medieval Hungarian chronicles—all completed under kings descending from Stephen's opponent, Álmos—write that the king acted without consulting his advisors "for he was of an impetuous nature".[22][23]

The Hungarian people are prodigious in energy, mighty in strength, and very powerful in military arms—sufficient to fight with a king of lands anywhere. After the death of their king, Coloman, their princes sent to Duke Vladislav to renew and confirm with the new king, named Stephen, their ancient peace and friendship. ... Vladislav came to the River Olšava, which separates the realms of Hungary and Moravia. Immediately, the Hungarian people, innumerable as the sands or drops of rain, covered the whole surface of the land in the field of Lučsko, like locusts. ... But, as scripture says, "Woe to the land whose king is a child." Their princes, through their inborn pride in themselves, strayed from the duke's peaceful words and sent replies more to stir up strife than to bring the kiss of peace.

Cosmas of Prague: The Chronicle of the Czechs[24]

Doge Ordelafo Faliero, who had conquered the island in the Gulf of Kvarner in the last year of Coloman's reign,[25] returned to Dalmatia at the head of the Venetian fleet in May 1116.[26] He vanquished, on 15 July, the Hungarian troops which had arrived to relieve Zadar.[26] Thereafter all towns—Biograd na Moru, Šibenik, Split, and Trogir—surrendered to Venice, terminating Stephen II's suzerainty on the coastline of the Adriatic Sea.[9][27] The Hungarian troops defeated the Venetians (Ordelafo Faliero himself died fighting against them at Zadar) in 1117 or 1118, which enabled Biograd na Moru, Split, and Trogir to again accept the sovereignty of the Hungarian monarch.[25] However, the new Doge Domenico Michele in short invaded and reconquered all Dalmatia.[21] A five-year truce, which was concluded in 1117 or 1118, confirmed the status quo: the seizure of Dalmatia by Venice.[21]

Bořivoj II's tomb
Tomb of Bořivoj II, Duke of Bohemia—he fought against Hungary, but died in exile in Stephen II's court

Stephen's troops launched a plundering raid into Austria in 1118, provoking a counter-attack by Leopold III, Margrave of Austria in the same year.[21][28] Bořivoj II, Duke of Bohemia supported Margrave Leopold and pillaged the northwestern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary.[21][29] Even so, Duke Bořivoj fled for Hungary and settled at Stephen's court after his brother, Vladislaus I dethroned him in 1120.[29]

Stephen married an unnamed daughter of Robert I of Capua, in the early 1120s.[30] Historian Paul Stephenson writes that Stephen's marriage alliance with the Normans of Southern Italy "must have been partly directed against the Venetians".[31] For the Norman Princes of Capua had always been the Popes' staunch supporters during the Investiture Controversy, his marriage also suggests that he continued his father's pro-Papal foreign policy.[30]

Stephen's cousin—the daughter of his blinded uncle, Álmos—Adelaide, whose husband Soběslav had been expelled from Moravia arrived in Hungary in early 1123.[32] According to Cosmas of Prague, Stephen "kindly received her ... acknowledging her as his relative",[33] which implies that his relation with his uncle were also cordial around that time.[32] In the same year, the young king launched a military expedition against the Principality of Volhynia in order to assist its expelled prince, Iaroslav Sviatopolchich to regain his throne.[30] Iaroslav Sviatopolchich was assassinated at the beginning of the siege of his former seat, Volodymyr-Volynskyi.[30] Stephen decided to continue the war.[34] However, according to the Illuminated Chronicle, his commanders menaced him with choosing a new king, forcing Stephen to lift the siege and return to Hungary.[35][36]

Cosma, of the line of Paznan, stood up before the King and said: "Lord, what is this thing which you are doing? If with the death of a multitude of your soldiers you take the castle, whom will you appoint as its lord? If you choose one among your nobles, he will not remain here. Or do you wish to abandon your kingdom and yourself have the dukedom? We barons will not storm the castle. If you wish to storm it, storm it alone. We are returning to Hungary and we will choose for ourselves a king." Then by order of the nobles the heralds announced throughout the camp that the Hungarians should return as speedily as possible to Hungary. When the King thus saw himself justly deprived of the help of his people, he returned to Hungary.

Stephen's seal
Seal of Stephen II

Taking advantage of the absence of the Venetian fleet from the Adriatic Sea because of a naval expedition in the Levant, Stephen invaded Dalmatia in the first half of 1124.[30] His charter confirming the liberties of Split and Trogir in July 1124 evidences that the central regions of Dalmatia gave in to him.[38][31] However, the Venetian armada returned and forced the Dalmatian towns to surrender one by one.[31] According to the Historia Ducum Veneticorum, only the citizens of Biograd na Moru "dared resist the doge and his army", but "their city was razed to its foundations".[31]

According to the Illuminated Chronicle, the blind Álmos, "fearing death at the hands of King Stephen",[39] fled to the Byzantine Empire.[40][41] Many of his partisans followed him and Emperor John II Komnenos settled them in a town in Macedonia.[42] The Byzantine John Kinnamos confirms that the emperor "regarded" Álmos "favorably and received him with kindness".[43] He adds that Stephen "sent his envoys to the emperor and demanded that" Álmos "be expelled from"[44] the Byzantine Empire, but his request was rejected.[42][45] The sources do not specify the date of Álmos's flee, but it seems to have occurred in about 1125.[42] Historian Ferenc Makk writes that Álmos was forced to flee from Hungary, because he had taken advantage of Stephen's failures in Volhynia and Dalmatia and conspired against Stephen.[41]

Stephen met the new Duke of Bohemia, Sobeslav—whose wife was Adelhaid, the daughter of Álmos—in October 1126.[38][46] The two monarchs' meeting brought an end to the hostilities between the two countries.[38] Around the same year, also concluded an agreement with Archbishop Conrad I of Salzburg.[38][46]

Last years (1127–1131)[edit]

According to the Byzantine chronicler Niketas Choniates, the citizens of the Byzantine town Braničevo "attacked and plundered the Hungarians who had come to" the Byzantine Empire "to trade, perpetrating the worst crimes against them."[45][47] In short, Stephen decided to wage war against the Byzantine Empire.[48] The Illuminated Chronicle relates that the childless Stephen "so ordered the succession to the throne that after his death the son of his sister Sophia, by name Saul, should reign".[49][50] The chronicle does not specify the date of this event, but Ferenc Makk says that Stephen most probably designed Saul as his heir in the first half of 1127, before storming the Byzantine Empire.[49]

Emperor John II Komnenos
Mosaic portrait of the Byzantine Emperor of John II Komnenos in the Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)

Stephen broke into the empire in the summer.[51] His troops took and sacked Belgrade, Braničevo and Niš, and plundered the region around Serdica (Sofia, Bulgaria) and Philippopolis (Plovdiv, Bulgaria) before returning to Hungary.[51][52] In retaliation, Emperor John II marched against Hungary in 1128, defeated the royal troops in a battle at Haram, and "captured Frangochorion, the richest land in Hungary" (now in Serbia).[53] Stephen was not able to participate in the fights because "he happened to be sickly in body and was recuperating someplace in the midst of his land",[54] according to John Kinnamos.[53] The Illuminated Chronicle recounts that his illness was so serious that "all expected his death."[53][55] The chronicle adds that "traitors"[56] even elected two kings, the "Counts Bors and Ivan".[53][57] Stephen had Ivan executed and expelled Bors from his kingdom as soon as he regained his health.[57]

John Kinnamos writes of a second campaign by Stephen against the Byzantine Empire.[58] The Hungarian troops, supported by Czech reinforcements under the command of Duke Vaclav of Olomouc, took Braničevo by storm and destroyed its fortress.[59] Emperor John II Komnenos was forced to retreat and conclude a peace treaty.[60] Historian Ferenc Makk writes that the treaty was signed in October 1129.[60]

Going to Branitshevo for a second time, [Emperor John] made haste to rebuild it. Since some time elapsed in the task, the army, suffering from winter weather and lack of necessities, was in severe distress. When he learned this, the Hungarians' king decided to cross the Danube as quickly as possible and attack them unexpectedly. In the Hungarians' land, however, there was a woman, a Latin by birth, outstanding in wealth and other distinction. Sending to the emperor, she revealed what was being planned. Since he was unable to engage them with an equivalent force, because as stated his army had already been overcome by disease and lack of necessities, he fortified the city where possible and withdrew.

John Kinnamos: Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus[61]

For many years, Stephen believed that his cousin, Béla had died after being blinded on the orders of Stephen's father.[57][39] Having learnt, around 1129, that Béla was alive, the king "rejoiced with great joy",[39] according to the Illuminated Chronicle.[57] He even granted Béla Tolna and arranged Béla's marriage with Helena of Rascia.[60][62]

The Illuminated Chronicle recounts that Stephen showed blatant favoritism towards the "Comans", identified as Pechenegs or Cumans by historians, who had arrived in Hungary in the 1120s.[63][57][64] In his last years, he even tolerated the crimes they committed against his subjects, causing a revolt.[63] Before his death, Stephen "laid aside his royal state and took the habit of a monk",[65] according to the Illuminated Chronicle.[66] He died of dysentery in the spring of 1131.[64] No source recorded the exact date of his death, but most of his biographies writes that he died on 1 March.[67] He was buried in the Várad Cathedral (Oradea, Romania).[66]


According to the Illuminated Chronicle, Stephen had no "wish to marry a lawful wife but took to himself concubines and harlots".[71][34] However, his advisors, "grieving that the kingdom was in a sorry state and the King without a heir",[72] persuaded him to marry.[34] They chose a daughter of the late Robert I of Capua as their monarch's wife.[34] Her name was not recorded.[73] Stephen died childless.[62]

The following family tree presents Stephen's ancestors and some of his relatives who are mentioned in the article.[73]

Géza I
unnamed Synadene*
Felicia of Sicily
Eufemia of Kiev
Stephen II
A Capuan princess
Béla the Blind
Kings of Hungary

*Whether Géza's first or second wife was his children's mother is uncertain.


  1. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, pp. 149, Appendix 2.
  2. ^ Font 2001, p. 78.
  3. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 146.104), p. 132.
  4. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 149.
  5. ^ Font 2001, pp. 25, 78-79.
  6. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 150.
  7. ^ Font 2001, p. 79.
  8. ^ a b c Makk 1989, p. 14.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Bartl et al. 2002, p. 28.
  10. ^ Makk 1989, pp. 14-15.
  11. ^ Makk 1989, p. 15.
  12. ^ Engel 2001, p. 35.
  13. ^ Kontler 1999, pp. 65-66.
  14. ^ a b Makk 1989, pp. 15-16.
  15. ^ a b Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 148.
  16. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 151.107), p. 133.
  17. ^ Makk 1989, p. 18.
  18. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 151.
  19. ^ Font 2001, p. 83.
  20. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 152.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Makk 1989, p. 19.
  22. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 153.109), p. 134.
  23. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, pp. 152-153.
  24. ^ Cosmas of Prague: The Chronicle of the Czechs (3.42.), pp. 230–231.
  25. ^ a b Makk 1989, p. 17.
  26. ^ a b Stephenson 2000, p. 203.
  27. ^ Fine 1991, p. 289.
  28. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, pp. 153-154.
  29. ^ a b Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 153.
  30. ^ a b c d e Makk 1989, p. 20.
  31. ^ a b c d Stephenson 2000, p. 204.
  32. ^ a b Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 154.
  33. ^ Cosmas of Prague: The Chronicle of the Czechs (3.51.), p. 238.
  34. ^ a b c d Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 155.
  35. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 156.
  36. ^ Engel 2001, p. 49.
  37. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 155.110-111), p. 134.
  38. ^ a b c d Makk 1989, p. 21.
  39. ^ a b c The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 157.112), p. 135.
  40. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, pp. 156-157.
  41. ^ a b Makk 1989, p. 23.
  42. ^ a b c Makk 1989, p. 22.
  43. ^ Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus by John Kinnamos (1.4), p. 17.
  44. ^ Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus by John Kinnamos (1.4), pp. 17–18.
  45. ^ a b Fine 1991, p. 234.
  46. ^ a b Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 157.
  47. ^ O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniates (1.17) , p. 11.
  48. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 158.
  49. ^ a b Makk 1989, p. 24.
  50. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 158.112), p. 135.
  51. ^ a b Treadgold 1997, p. 631.
  52. ^ Fine 1991, pp. 234-235.
  53. ^ a b c d Makk 1989, p. 25.
  54. ^ Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus by John Kinnamos (1.4), p. 18.
  55. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 158.112-113), p. 135.
  56. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 158.113), p. 135.
  57. ^ a b c d e Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 159.
  58. ^ Stephenson 2000, p. 208.
  59. ^ Makk 1989, pp. 26-27.
  60. ^ a b c Makk 1989, p. 27.
  61. ^ Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus by John Kinnamos (1.5), p. 19.
  62. ^ a b Engel 2001, p. 50.
  63. ^ a b Spinei 2003, p. 253.
  64. ^ a b Makk 1989, p. 29.
  65. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 159.113), p. 135.
  66. ^ a b Kristó & Makk 1996, p. 160.
  67. ^ Makk 1989, p. 135.
  68. ^ Kristó & Makk 1996, pp. Appendices 1-2.
  69. ^ Wiszewski 2010, pp. 29-30, 60, 376.
  70. ^ Norwich 1992, pp. 332-333.
  71. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 154.109-110), p. 134.
  72. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 154.110), p. 134.
  73. ^ a b Kristó & Makk 1996, p. Appendix 2.


Primary sources[edit]

  • Cosmas of Prague: The Chronicle of the Czechs (Translated with an introduction and notes by Lisa Wolverton) (2009). The Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 978-0-8132-1570-9.
  • Deeds of John and Manuel Comnenus by John Kinnamos (Translated by Charles M. Brand) (1976). Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-04080-6.
  • O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniatēs (Translated by Harry J. Magoulias) (1984). Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-1764-8.
  • The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle: Chronica de Gestis Hungarorum (Edited by Dezső Dercsényi) (1970). Corvina, Taplinger Publishing. ISBN 0-8008-4015-1.

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Bartl, Július; Čičaj, Viliam; Kohútova, Mária; Letz, Róbert; Segeš, Vladimír; Škvarna, Dušan (2002). Slovak History: Chronology & Lexicon. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Slovenské Pedegogické Nakladatel'stvo. ISBN 0-86516-444-4. 
  • Engel, Pál (2001). The Realm of St Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895–1526. I.B. Tauris Publishers. ISBN 1-86064-061-3. 
  • Fine, John V. A (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth century. The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08149-7. 
  • Font, Márta (2001). Koloman the Learned, King of Hungary (Supervised by Gyula Kristó, Translated by Monika Miklán). Márta Font (supported by the Publication Commission of the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Pécs). ISBN 963-482-521-4. 
  • Kontler, László (1999). Millennium in Central Europe: A History of Hungary. Atlantisz Publishing House. ISBN 963-9165-37-9. 
  • (Hungarian) Kristó, Gyula; Makk, Ferenc (1996). Az Árpád-ház uralkodói [=Rulers of the House of Árpád]. I.P.C. Könyvek. ISBN 963-7930-97-3. 
  • Makk, Ferenc (1989). The Árpáds and the Comneni: Political Relations between Hungary and Byzantium in the 12th century (Translated by György Novák). Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-5268-X. 
  • Norwich, John Julius (1992). The Normans in Sicily. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-015212-8. 
  • Spinei, Victor (2003). The Great Migrations in the East and South East of Europe from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Century (Translated by Dana Badulescu). ISBN 973-85894-5-2. 
  • Stephenson, Paul (2000). Byzantium's Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900–1204. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-02756-4. 
  • Treadgold, Warren (1997). A History of the Byzantine State and Society. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2630-2. 
  • Wiszewski, Przemysław (2010). Domus Bolezlai: Values and Social Identity in Dynastic Traditions of Medieval Poland (c. 966–1138). Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-18142-7. 
Stephen II of Hungary
Born: 1101 Died: March 1131
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Hungary
Succeeded by
Béla II
King of Croatia