Finding Batu’s Hill at Muhi: Liminality between Rebellious Territory and Submissive Territory, Earth and Heaven for a Mongol Prince on the Eve of Battle*
Stephen Pow and József Laszlovszky
Central European University
This study offers a reconstruction of a crucial event of pan-Eurasian historical significance—namely, the Battle of Muhi in 1241—by focusing on two primary source accounts of Batu Khan ascending a hill shortly before the battle. The two sources are not related to each other, and they represent two fundamentally different source groups related to the battle. By using a complex analytical approach, this article tries to identify the character and significance of the hill in question—something made difficult by the fact that there are no hills or mountains near the battlefield today. The attested purposes that Mongol rulers and troops had for ascending mountains are explored for clues. A hypothesis emerges according to which Batu likely ascended two different types of hill, one being a small mound (kurgan) of the type which characteristically dotted Hungary’s landscape around the battlefield. The other hill, which he ascended for religious ritual purposes, was probably one of the more prominent features in the area of Szerencs about thirty kilometers from the site of the clash. Several earlier attempts to identify the hill are now revisited in this study with two different types of approaches. Combining a unique range of textual accounts with recent archaeological findings, we suggest a drastic and perhaps more accurate reinterpretation of the course of events leading up to the important battle than the interpretations which have been proposed so far. Furthermore, by looking closely at the different narrative structures of the sources we can identify attempts by medieval authors of Central European and Asian texts to contextualize this event within their general interpretations of the battle. Thus, the main arguments of this article cross real and figurative frontiers in contemporary accounts of the episode and in their modern interpretations. This research forms part of an interdisciplinary research project carried out by a group of scholars dealing with the historical, archaeological, and topographical aspects of the Battle of Muhi.
Keywords: Mongol invasion of Europe, Batu, Mongol Empire, Battle of Muhi, battlefield archaeology, kurgan, Kingdom of Hungary