Faith, Scripture, and Reason: The Debate between Transylvanian Sabbatarians and Christian Francken

Réka Újlaki-Nagy
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 4  (2021):653-674 DOI 10.38145/2021.4.653

In this study, I present two Sabbatarian texts which were written in response to texts by Christian Francken. Based on the argumentation in the Sabbatarian texts, I try to clarify which writings by the German philosopher they were responding to. I offer an explanation of the ferocity of the Sabbatarian response, and I clarify the reasons why the Sabbatarians found it so important to respond to Francken’s ideas. My analysis of the Sabbatarian texts shows persuasively that Francken’s attacks were related to the basic and specific teachings of the Sabbatarians. The challenge presented by fashionable philosophical trends at the time compelled the Sabbatarians to face not only the benefits but also the dangers of following the ratio in the interpretation of Scripture. Sabbatarian texts arrived at a solution (by drawing a distinction between the concepts of ratio and philosophy) which, although formulated earlier in the established churches, was still undeveloped in the Transylvanian Antitrinitarian movement out of which Sabbatarianism grew.

Keywords: Sabbatarianism, philosophical skepticism, early modern atheism, ratio

One of the most infamous apostates of the late sixteenth century, the German free thinker Christian Francken, visited Transylvania twice, in the middle and late 1580s, and taught at the Unitarian College in Kolozsvár (today Cluj, Romania).1 He noted several times in his writings that he had intentionally chosen this part of Europe instead of taking one of the other posts which he had been offered with better salaries because in Transylvania he hopes to “find people that Diogenes was looking for with a torch in broad daylight.” Had his goal had been to make money, he writes, he would have chosen another region.2 This self-confident claim must be treated with reservations, as there was practically no other place in Europe where he would have been able to move freely to propagate his teachings, and he would not have found such openness for his bold ideas elsewhere in Europe. Francken tried to spread his criticism of Christian churches among the deniers of the Trinity in the guise of Aristotelianism. This philosophical trend seemed familiar to the Transylvanian Antitrinitarian elite, most of whom had been educated in Padua.3 However, this social stratum was open to a wide variety of new ideas, not just those coming from philosophical skepticism. Fashionable trends competed with one another, and the circle of potentially interested parties overlapped. Since the spiritual elite consisted primarily of aristocrats, who were also supporters and patrons with political power and influence, winning them was a serious challenge. Antal Pirnát considered the Sabbatarian debate with Francken a struggle for support and positions.4 Although with his presence and work in Transylvania Francken not only aroused interest but also provoked hostility in many,5 only Sabbatarians reflected on this in voluminous written texts. These texts try to reach and convince the abovementioned target audience. One of them indicates in its title the reason why it was written: some “great and noble” people had begun to follow a kind of human, Aristotelian reasoning which questioned the authority of Moses and other holy people of ancient times. The main disseminator of these dangerous misconceptions “gives great courage to many great and noble men to their peril.”6 Sabbatarian texts argue with Francken (though without referring to him by name) and not with the aristocrats, whom they address indirectly, presumably in an effort to avoid provoking resentment among them. Thus, it is repeatedly emphasized that the addressees are the deceived people and their “master,” “with the exception of those pious, God-fearing gentlemen and noblemen who do not believe in such lies and seek” to live gracefully.7

Sabbatarianism in the 1580s and early 1590s was still a relatively recent, evolving initiative which looked back on a history of only a few years. Theological debate formulated in polemical-apological writings was seen as a means of perhaps averting the threat to the very existence of Sabbatarianism.

I work in my inquiry here from the hypothesis that Francken attacked the area of the religion that was most sensitive to the Sabbatarian faith. Francken’s attack was not deliberately directed against the Sabbatarians. His works written in Transylvania imply a much broader target audience, and their intellectual horizon included new ideas in terms of philosophy, nonadorantism, and politics. Although Francken could not have regarded the Sabbatarians as remarkable opponents, the anger which one discerns in the Sabbatarian texts and also the length of these texts can be interpreted as indications that the Sabbatarians felt threatened by his ideas. The purpose of the analysis I offer here, therefore, is to identify the areas in which Sabbatarians found Francken’s attacks the most troubling and how they defended themselves against his ideas. I do this by placing reading the Sabbatarian apologies as polemical texts in debate with Francken’s writings. Although Bálint Keserű, Antal Pirnát, and Györgyi Máté have shown that the Sabbatarian texts are reactions to Francken’s provocative writings, they do not offer any in-depth analysis of the disputed issues or their theological background. Though one cannot speak of a nuanced exchange of ideas among the disagreeing parties, since we have only the responses of the Sabbatarians to Francken’s writings but no response from Francken to their polemics, the Sabbatarian texts nonetheless offer a clear indication of the impact of Francken’s ideas.

I begin with a discussion of Francken’s writings, or more narrowly, the texts which seem, on the basis of the Sabbatarian texts, to have been met with such alarm among the Sabbatarians. I then consider the ways in which the ideas found in his writings were recast and rephrased in the Sabbatarian texts, and I consider the Sabbatarian arguments against his tenets.

Francken’s Most Debated Texts

The most important among the text by Francken to which the Sabbatarian polemical writings respond are the Argumenta XXII in Sacram Mosis Historiam and the Disputatio inter Theologum et Philosophum de incertitudine religionis Christianae. In addition, the Sabbatarian texts also seem to have responded to some of the ideas from his Praecipuarum enumeratio8 and Spectrum diurnum Genii Christiani.9

The theses of the Argumenta10 have survived along with their refutation by Franciscus Junius, a French professor from Heidelberg. According to Antal Pirnát, the original document was written before 1587, and it was probably taken by Transylvanian students on their study trip to Heidelberg.11 The 22 theses published in the appendix to Junius’ writing attack the authenticity of the story of creation and the authority of Moses, setting Aristotelian physics as the only reasonable worldview. The original document was written presumably as a reaction to the so-called judaizer practices that Francken encountered in the court of János Gerendi.12 Gerendi was the leader of the abovementioned group formed from the aristocratic elite. He was in contact with the most prominent promulgators of Antitrinitarianism, and he supported them financially and also with his political influence. At the time Francken visited him, he was celebrating Sabbath and also observing certain dietary restrictions, presumably for reasons other than the reasons which guided dietary restrictions among the so-called Sabbatarians.13 Based on the experiences gained during the visit, Francken promised in a letter to him that he would deal in more detail with the beliefs concerning the writings of Moses.14

The other important work by Francken on the subject is the Disputatio, written during his second stay in Kolozsvár around 1590.15 This is perhaps the work in which Francken went the furthest in questioning the foundations of Christianity and belief in God. He himself later declared it a dangerous, atheistic, blasphemous text.16 It was written in the form of a dialogue between a Philosopher and a Theologian. Lech Szczucki aptly called it a “deaf-mute dialogue,”17 as it is only the philosopher who responds to the theologian’s arguments. The theologian does not even seem to understand his opponent’s objection, who does not accept the Holy Scripture as the authoritative basis for the debate, and he (the theologian) founds his arguments over and over again on the infallibility of Scripture. Consequently, the Philosopher begins most of his replies by pronouncing the theologian’s arguments logically defective. The philosopher’s answers in the Disputatio (presumably Francken’s own voice)18 blame his opponent for ignoring rationality and disregarding the rules of logic and argumentation. According to the philosopher, theologians do not derive the less known from the known, but infer it from an uncertain premise and thus commit the classical fallacy of petitio principii. Divine revelation can only be proved from the words of the Scripture, which are precisely what the philosopher requires proof for. Thus, an argument based on divine revelation is only an argument for those who want to believe it.19 This oft repeated accusation is so irritating that it demands the reader’s attention and reflection. This may have been the case for the Sabbatarians as well.

Sabbatarian Texts Written against Francken and the Issues Debated

On the divine wisdom of the prophet Moses

Two polemical texts are included in the Sabbatarian codices that were written against Christian Francken and his followers. One is the On the divine wisdom of the prophet Moses and the worldly wisdom of Aristotle and the various reasonings of men that were now brought forth by the noble orders and presented as true knowledge against the prophet Moses and against the knowledge and understanding of many old saints, presumably written by András Eőssi and surviving in two early Sabbatarian manuscript collections.20 The first part of the text is for the most part a reply to Francken’s criticism of the biblical history of creation, while the second chapter targeted the three other main camps (secta) of those who were seen by the Sabbatarians as having erred: adherents of popery, the followers of Luther, and above all, the Adorantists (Antitrinitarians who accepted the adoration of Christ), called demetriades. The name of the latter group derives from the Unitarian bishop Demeter Hunyadi, who forcibly compelled his followers to accept the worship of Jesus. The literature dates this Sabbatarian text between May 31 and July 8, 1592 and treats it as a reply to Francken’s Argumenta.21

The text mentions two critiques by Francken and offers polemical refutations of them.

The first critique by Francken discussed in this Sabbatarian text concerns the person and credibility of Moses, who according to Francken (as paraphrased in the Sabbatarian text) “talks a lot but proves little.”22 This is not a specific contention found in one of Francken’s works. Rather, it can be seen as a summary of the Argumenta, as this work is in general a questioning of the credibility of Moses and the first chapters of the Bible. One finds a similar line of reasoning in the Disputatio, in which Francken repeatedly states that only those believe the absurd stories of Moses who want to believe them.23

Francken’s criticism of Moses and his laws constituted an attack on the greatest authority for the Sabbatarians. The Sabbatarian apology is trivial. It consists mostly of arguments based on the authority of the Bible: Moses was recognized as a divine messenger by the people living after him, by prophets, saints, apostles, and Christ himself. They referred to him as a supreme authority and did not correct his writings. The same is not true of Aristotle, who never enjoyed such acceptance and authority. Moses’ divine mission was demonstrated by the miracles which had taken place before the eyes and ears of an entire people on Mount Sinai and throughout the wanderings in the wilderness. In contrast, Aristotle authority was not proven by any divine miracle or extraordinary phenomenon. The divine origin of the prophecies of Moses are also confirmed by their fulfilment. Everything that Moses said came true, and this could be continuously verified.24

The second problem discussed by the Sabbatarian author in detail is the question of who Cain feared after he killed Abel, as he was the only living son of the first human couple according to the Bible.25 The answer, according to the author, lies in the characteristics of biblical genealogical tables. The author of Genesis mentioned only the genealogy of the godly, the “holy branch,” i.e. of those who were the ancestors of the Messiah, because he knew that God took no delight in murderers. This way of thinking can be observed in the way in which the text mentions that Cain took a wife but does not specify who his wife was. As a consequence, we do not know of any brothers or sons who were evil, nor do we know of any women. The first God-fearing son of Adam was Seth, who is part of the genealogical table. According to the author, another answer may have been Cain’s state of mind following the murder. God gave him “a terrified heart” because of his deed, and ever since, one who spills innocent blood “dreads even the rustling leaf of the tree,” like Lamech who committed a murder similar to the one committed by Cain.26

The author addresses Aristotle: “This does not mean that man existed on other lands in this earth.” And he continues: “God did not have another creation beyond from Adam, despite what you say, Aristotle.”27 These quotations suggest the existence of a theory of creation assuming parallel creations on different continents with different “Adams.” The “critique of Aristotel” formulated here is thus ambiguous. The surviving documents do not contain any reflection by Francken on the story of Cain, however, such an idea wouldn’t be surprising from him, given his critical attitude to the Mosaic narrative.

It seems, however, that the Sabbatarian author struggles against an allegorical theory of creation very similar to the concepts of Jacobus Palaeologus. Palaeologus, who was born in Chios and completed his literary work in Transylvania, propagated co-Adamism or multiple Adamism, a theory that presumed parallel creations (in opposition to the literal understanding of the story of creation) in his treatise entitled An omnes ab uno Adamo descenderint (1573).28 Nevertheless, he did not go so far to question the veracity of the creation story, nor did he mention this view in his later works.29

The Sabbatarian text calls the opponent Aristotle, which, according to the secondary literature, is a reference to Francken.30 It is also conceivable, however, that the author is confronted with a mixture of fashionable ideas in which, although Francken’s influence is obviously felt, Palaeologus is also implicitly present (despite their otherwise appreciative attitude towards the Greek scholar). If the promotion of this theory of creation was nevertheless connected to Francken, it could only be true in the 1580s, since in Disputatio, which was written later, Francken denied the necessity of divine creation. According to the philosopher of the Disputatio, the creation and functioning of the world can be explained on the basis of the immanent reasons operating it, without the acceptance of a concept of God, a primary reason, or the creatio ex nihilo.31

Towards the end of On the prophet Moses, the author informs us that the disseminator of these false theses denied the existence of God and the Devil, as well as resurrection.32 The latter accusation is also present in the next Sabbatarian text, and it is an unambiguous allusion to Francken. The Devil is not discussed explicitly in the abovementioned works by Francken, but he partially explains his view on resurrection and the afterworld in a short work addressed to Gerendi.33 He claims in this work that literary immortality “is the eternal life all of us must wish for our true friends… We all love the other eternal life [the one in the afterworld] but a secret natural instinct makes us suspect that it is rather uncertain and we would not readily trade one for the other, even if it were possible.”34

The Sabbatarian position follows a traditional Christian argumentation, according to which human nature (conscience and the fear of death) suggests and proves the existence of an afterworld. Francken reverses this line of reasoning, arguing that it is precisely human nature that bears witness to the immortality of the soul and the afterlife. The desire for happiness and immortality can only be a result of the imperfection of nature.35

Francken’s most provocative charge, which the Sabbatarian author does not explicitly mention though he defends his faith against it, concerned the ratio. The philosopher of the Disputatio disputed the actual use of ratio by theologians. This charge obviously disturbed the Sabbatarians, as they were the successors of an Antitrinitarian tradition in which the ratio became increasingly important and the effort to follow it became more and more pronounced. Correspondence with ratio in their view was a condition of true faith.

The Sabbatarian text responds to the charge of neglecting reason with a kind of differentiation in the concept of the ratio. This distinction between divine and human ratio appears in the title and runs throughout the text. Understanding Scripture depends on approaching it with human or divine wisdom. This is, in fact, a rejection of Francken’s claim, which is only willing to accept rational and natural philosophical arguments as the basis of the debate on religion and theology. Thus, the Sabbatarian author does not directly refer to Scripture as the absolute authority, but rather claims that the mere notion of following reason does not mean the same thing to him as it does to his opponent. Decisive authority for him is divine wisdom, which obviously includes the perceptive capacity of the mind, but also conceals the written and oral revelation that does not contradict it. Thus, contrary to Francken’s method inclining to rationality, the Sabbatarian author when dealing with religious issues may allow himself, under the pretext of divine wisdom, to use other (even scriptural) arguments that fit into his concept of divine wisdom.

As can be seen from the responses in the Sabbatarian text, the polemic treatise On the prophet Moses… is not a direct reply to Francken’s Argumenta. This finding is confirmed not only by the mention in the Sabbatarian text of ideas that are not found in the Argumenta (e. g. Cain’s fear), but also by the fact that there are no issues in it that are not present in Francken’s other works.

The Complaint of the Holy Scripture

The second, undated Sabbatarian apology against Francken is entitled Complaint of the Holy Scripture against those who started to hate it out of obstinacy, the love of the world or other reasons due to human wickedness (hereinafter Complaint).36 The first 18 arguments (out of 37 arguments for the existence of God) of the theologian of Disputatio are thematized and cited in this text. However, like the other Sabbatarian polemic writing mentioned above, this text cannot be considered merely an answer to the Disputatio, since the Sabbatarian author also fights against thoughts of unspecified origin and ideas known from Francken’s other works. The author does not even refer to a particular work, but his most commonly used formula of address is the plural “your Sophists also say,” which may also apply to ideas spread orally.

It could be claimed that the preface of the Complaint is a response to the preface of the Disputatio, but one should be careful with this claim, since Francken’s main argument against Christian theologians discussed here (that religion cannot be supported by an absolutely certain and doubtless argument) can be found also in his Spectrum.37 He asserts that the arguments supporting religion are only of a probable nature, and since probable arguments can be refuted and human cognitive abilities vary, this explains the existence of the many religions.38 He sees the reason for the existence of religion itself in fear of punishment, which suppresses the mind and allows it to be dominated by distorted beliefs.39 Although he is highly critical of religions, he does not reject them completely. In his view, religions are useful tools for society, as they hold people in check and make them easy to control.40

The Sabbatarian author formulates this utilitarian thought of Francken, according to which religion is merely a tool, with these words: “religion was only invented for the foolish people.”41 According to him, bad interpretations lead to the creation of errant religions, but this does not change the substance of God’s word. A true fact may be interpreted in many ways, depending on influencing factors and interests. He takes an example from Transylvanian social practice: if a case is taken to the Diet, Saxons and Hungarians interpret it in different ways according to various factors. However, the truth of the case is independent of the Hungarian and Saxon interpretation, as the truth stands in and of itself. One must make efforts to find the truth, the true religion, and one must look for it at the right place (that is, in Judaism).42

As a counterattack, the Sabbatarian author accuses Francken of covert atheism. He attributes to him a reduced image of God that could not have originated from the Disputatio, which rejects even the idea of a God based on the smallest dogmatic minimum, but which must have been closer to the concept of God of the Spectrum and was probably spread orally by Francken’s followers. The Spectrum still keeps a reduced, so-called Anselmian concept of God (“quo nihil sit melius aut maius” – “argumentum Anselmianum” of Anselm of Canterbury) and protests against the charge of atheism.43

The Sabbatarian charge is as follows: “You say that the kind of God you promote with your disciples and Sophists, just to refute the accusation that you are a denier of God, does not feel anything, does not talk to those on Earth, does not take care of or hurt anyone, just sits calmly and is not angry with anyone.”44 Although the Sabbatarian author sensed the difference between atheism and Francken’s concept of God, he thought that Francken’s defense against atheism was artificial, apparent objection. According to him, the existence of a God that Francken’s worldview allows cannot be demonstrated with any argument.45 The author does not tolerate any other image of God or concept of revelation than the one announced in the Old Testament. This means that, as opposed to the theologian of the Disputatio, among others, the Sabbatarian author is against the natural religion. He believes that without oral revelation, nothing is sufficient to prove the existence of a true God.46

The criticism in Francken’s works that seems to have irritated the Sabbatarian author the most was probably the one concerning Moses and the revelation of the law. It is no coincidence that both Sabbatarian texts deal with this issue at the greatest length. The first text indicates this in its title, and although the title of the second one suggests that its author defends all of Scripture, he also reduces his defense to the person and writings of Moses. The previously mentioned Argumenta is entirely a questioning of the history of creation written by Moses and of his intentions and capacities. Francken formulated his arguments in a very provocative way, presenting Moses as someone who “can hardly avoid the stamp of ignorance,”47 who “does not understand what he is saying,”48 who “demonstrates his total lack of astronomical knowledge” or “any kind of meteorological knowledge,” and who “presents God as an ignorant God who does not foresee anything,” “either because he did not know that there is also air in nature or because he did not want his Jews to know this, and he claims—not only falsely but entirely improbably—that birds were created from water”49 and “man is similar to God in body, so Moses believes that God is also a body.”50 These statements constituted an attack on the books of the Scripture that were considered most authentic and important by the Sabbatarians and even went so far as to mock the greatest biblical authority, Moses, and present him as ignorant and of dubious intentions.

In his first eight arguments of the Argumenta, Francken sets out in his objections to the history of creation with references to details of astronomy, which the Sabbatarian author formulates in the following words: “As the son cannot be born before the father, the day cannot exist before the Sun. But the Sun was created on the fourth day, so it cannot have existed on the previous three days, because the Sun and the Moon make and divide the day and the night.”51 The Argumenta states that the cause of the days is the sun, and light is the quality and attribute of the sun, not a substance but an accident. However, the effect cannot precede the cause, just as the son cannot precede his father, and the accident cannot exist without the subject to which it belongs.52 Darkness does not precede but simply follows the existence of light.53 He repeatedly refers to the relationship of the part to the whole and claims that the whole cannot be created without its parts.54

The Sabbatarian reply to this is not particularly detailed. It is limited to the distinction between “dies” and “Sol.” According to the Sabbatarian author, at the beginning of creation, on the first day, the duration of a day was determined. The day had some light, but not as strong as later from the sun. Thus, on the first three days, day was separated from night in a way that a furrow separates two pieces of land: it is not as evident as if a great stone had been put between the two to signal the demarcation.55

Not only the Argumenta, but also the first point of the Disputatio discusses the revelation, claiming that there is no evidence for it. Accordingly, the Sabbatarian response is also detailed. The Sabbatarian author seeks to list a number of arguments in defense of divine revelation, the most significant of which he considers to be human remembrance. The existence of generations and empires is built on collective memory, preserved through letters, oral testimonies, and historical chronicles. Nor can the existence of Aristotle be proven in any other way unless we give credit to the writings that perpetuate his memory.56 In addition to written memory, however, there is also an oral memory, survived purely only among Jews. The yearly festivals and rites with historical narratives served as aids to keep memories alive and pure.57 In order to prove the authenticity of the revelation and the writings of Moses, the author also tries to use psychological arguments. Contrary to the “sophist” charge, according to which Moses wrote and acted arbitrarily, he tries to prove that, like the other prophets, Moses did nothing to seek his own glory. According to the Sabbatarian author, it would be understandable if Moses had attributed the law to himself, issued in his own name to seek his own glory, but he never did.58 If the law had been merely a fiction of Moses, it would not have been able to persuade an entire people to follow it. After his death, there would have been little compulsion or reason to obey such a law,59 just as it would have been pointless to suffer in the desert for 40 years without any result if Moses had been the originator of all this. It is a well-known argument that it would have been foolish for the prophets to endure persecution and torture for something they themselves knew was not true.60 Scripture cannot belong solely to Moses, because the covenant had begun with Abraham. Moses only continued an existing tradition. If the writings of Moses had been created arbitrarily, the prophets of later ages would have pointed out the unauthentic parts.61 The author defends only the prophecies of Moses against the accusation by Francken that they were not fulfilled. According to the philosopher of the Disputatio, if the facts prove that the prophets were not mistaken, it is due to chance or the existence of magical powers.62 The Sabbatarian author, on the other hand, believes that the prophecies had been fulfilled “point by point,” and this can be verified empirically. The miserable fate of the Jews, foretold by Moses as a consequence of their disobedience, is still clearly perceptible.63

The essence of the revelation for the Sabbatarian author is the law, so it is particularly offensive to him that Francken considers biblical law and other religious laws equal.64 The philosopher of the Disputatio claims that the laws of different nations are equally useful tools of social order, of controlling people.65 Although they are not of divine origin, they teach us honesty when interpreted properly.66 Francken finds a parallel between Moses and other lawmakers who lied and claimed that they had received their laws from gods, e. g. Zoroaster from the Good Spirit, Lycurgus from Apollo, Mohammed from Gabriel, etc.67

In contrast, the Sabbatarian author believes that although divine laws (such as the laws of Adam and Noah) existed outside the mosaic law, they survived only among the Jews and the Caldeans.68 Every other law is just human fabrication. He proves this with yet another psychological argument: the omission of human writings does not have an effect on the human soul, as opposed to Scripture, which influences our soul. If you keep its teachings, you will feel good. If not, you will be filled with fear:69 “It is not possible that the dead Moses does this in the human heart, that he creates a movement and sensitivity… He bears his blessed and damned effects in his conscience, whether he wants to or not… he cannot remove it.”70 The hour of death or dying is a great sign of this functioning, as even the “atheist” feels “the sting of eternal death” and is horrified.71

The Sabbatarian text mentions several so called “sophist” criticisms related to the authenticity of the Holy Scripture which are not found in Francken’s writings. One of these criticisms was that believers in Scripture cannot even say when these books were given the names Scripture and Bible.72 The Sabbatarian author tries to give a historical answer, but he is a bit misinformed (according to him, the texts were given these names when the Septuagint translation was completed), and he concludes his line of reasoning with a logical argument: the late appearance of a name is not an argument against the authenticity of the object of the name, just as the New World discovered by the Spanish had existed for a long time, regardless of the fact that it only received its name recently. However, the answer points out that the author considers the Hebrew Scripture to be the Bible and not the Christian one.73

Similarly, the origin of the “sophist” argument that the historical events portrayed in the Bible are not mentioned by other nations is unknown. According to the Sabbatarian author, it is only natural that the revelation was given to only one nation, the nation that was willing to pass it on. Each nation tried to record and pass on the glory of its own nation and not that of others, if it knew writing at all (except the Chaldeans).74 Nevertheless, the lack of such texts in other nations does not demonstrate the inauthenticity of Scripture. Just because Mohammed does not write about Attila’s acts and Vlach (Romanian) chronicles do not mention King Matthias, these people and their deeds existed.75

Another criticism by Francken which constituted a keen attack on essential aspects of the faith for the Sabbatarians concerns the Jewish people as the chosen one (Disputatio, arguments 3–5). The philosopher argues “on the basis of rationality” that God cannot be closer to one people than to another. If he created all people, he nurtures them all. Everyone is his property, and he takes care of everyone. He must teach everyone if he wants everyone to convert. It is also clear that every nation refers to its own divine miracles and exceptional treatment, and every nation considers itself God’s people and its law divine law.76

The Sabbatarian text clearly and firmly defends the Jews as the chosen people. It mentions the usual Sabbatarian argument according to which the revelation and its interpretation were given to the Jews and it asserts the Jews the guides of the blind in this matter, but it also describes the Jews with stereotypical characteristics as an exceptional, blessed nation. They handle work and money wisely and have learned longsuffering and patience at the cost of much misery.77

To reinforce his proofs, Francken ends his Disputatio with a catalogue enumerating ten theses from ancient atheist philosophers. The Sabbatarian author saw in this catalogue the machination of contrasting philosophy and religious faith.78 He rejects this attempt by stating that philosophy is not necessarily blasphemous. Because of the oblivion of true memory among their fathers, the philosophers in question could no longer learn of God. The Sabbatarian author also devaluates his opponent’s skills and character with pejorative words, contrasting him with the ancient “sophists,” who pursued philosophical reasoning on a higher level:

But wise men with a true mind could differentiate between the grunt of a drove of pigs and the song of the nightingale. Read the writings of Coriphees attacking atheists: the philosophy of Lactantius, Philippus Morneus, Joannes Bodinus, Philo. See what Josephus answers to Appion the Grammaticus when Appion had the same opinion of Moses as you do. Read old histories that I cannot even enumerate. Were all philosophers atheists? Plato, Socrates and the others.79

Although Sabbatarian texts do not have a positive view of philosophy in general, it cannot be stated that they were expressly anti-philosophical. Towards the end of the apology under discussion, the following statement can be found: “Philosophy is thus double: true and false. One is for my followers, one is for yours.”80 The abovementioned “grunt of a drove of pigs” and the “song of the nightingale” thus signify the two kinds of philosophy or wisdom, true and false.

One long Sabbatarian treatise begins with the theoretical distinction between human and divine wisdom and brings philosophy into the discourse:

[Those erring] do not make a difference between the two kinds of wisdom, as the wisdom of this world is worldly, the wisdom of the spiritual person is heavenly… That is what Lactantius thinks when he writes: The sages of the world are rightly called philosophers, as they seek wisdom throughout their lives, but they never find it, because they do not search it where it can be found, for out of the nations under the sun God had given it unto one nation.81

This latter text gives us the Sabbatarian key to true philosophy and wisdom: the Jewish oral tradition, or in other words, the Jewish interpretation of Scripture.


Christian Francken’s works written in Transylvania are of historical and philosophical significance on the European level, especially his Disputatio inter Theologum et Philosophum de incertitudine religionis Christianae, the first theoretical atheist work in the history of European philosophy.82 The most significant reflection on the works of the German philosopher, at least from the perspective of the length of the texts, came from the Transylvanian Sabbatarians. Therefore, it would be reasonable for the secondary literature to place more emphasis on these polemic texts. Although the impact of the texts discussed above remained local due to their inaccessibility in terms of language and the fact that they remained in handwritten manuscripts, the ideas in these texts were nonetheless significant for the formation of a religious community balancing between Christianity and Judaism.

As is clear from the discussion above, the ideas in Francken’s writings which were made the object of criticism by the Sabbatarian author(s) concerned four main theological topics: the existence of God, the authenticity of Scripture and the law, the authority of Moses, and the privileges of the chosen people. Most of these issues, especially the last three, are particularly emphatic teachings for the Sabbatarians. In the defense of these teachings, they could not have relied on other denominations. These were theological issues which for the Sabbatarians were the foundations of true religion and faith on which they built their entire system of teachings. It is thus understandable that they came to the defense of these ideas.

In addition to opposing certain attacks on Scripture and the belief in God, the most important part of the Sabbatarian defense was that the provocative ideas claiming to follow the ratio were considered human reasonings by them. Although they may have experienced the presence of the philosophy of Francken as a serious threat and may have detected its influence, this threat did not entail a devaluation of rationality or a total rejection of philosophy by them. In the search for effective answers, they had to make their own way without the help of their spiritual predecessors. They did not choose a solution that subordinated ratio entirely to the text of Scripture, but avoided the accusation of anti-rationality by drawing a distinction between philosophy and the concept of ratio.

The interaction and influence between the Sabbatarians and Francken could not have been deep or long-term. It was reciprocal in the sense that it stimulated discussion and debate on both sides. Thanks to the law-oriented spiritual trends of the time in Transylvania, Francken was thoroughly immersed in dissecting the authenticity of the Holy Scripture, especially the books of Moses and the law. The result, in turn, forced Sabbatarians of the 1590s into a defensive stance and prompted them to face the challenges of following the ratio.


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Pokoly, József, ed. Magyar Protestáns Egyháztörténeti Adattár [Hungarian Protestant church history database]. Vol 8. Budapest: Magyar Protestáns Irodalmi Társaság, 1910.

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Régi Magyar Költők Tára XVII. század [Collection of Old Hungarian poetry]. Vol. 5, Szombatos énekek [Sabbatarian songs]. Edited by Béla Varjas. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1970. (=RMKT XVII/5)

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Szabó, Miklós, and Sándor Tonk. Erdélyiek egyetemjárása a korai újkorban 1521–1700 [Early modern academic peregrination of the Transylvanians 1521–1700]. Fontes Rerum Scholasticarum 4. Szeged: JATE, 1992.

Szczucki, Lech. W kręgu myślicieli heretyckich [Among heretical thinkers]. Wrocław–Warszawa–Gdańsk: Ossolineum, 1972.

Szczucki, Lech. “Philosophie und Autorität: Der Fall Christian Francken.” In Reformation und Frühaufklärung in Polen: Studien über den Sozinianismus und seinen Einfluß auf das westeuropäische Denken im 17. Jahrhundert, edited by Paul Wrzecionko, 157–243. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977.

Szczucki, Lech. “Filozófia és tekintély (Christian Francken esete)” [Philosophy and authority: The case of Christian Francken]. In Két XVI. századi eretnek gondolkodó (Jacobus Palaeologus és Christian Francken), translated by István Varsányi, and Tibor Schulek, 83–124. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1980.

Újlaki-Nagy, Réka. Korai szombatos írások [Early Sabbatarian writings]. Fiatal Filológusok Füzetei 7. Szeged: SZTE, 2010.

Újlaki-Nagy, Réka. “Sabbath-Keeping in Transylvania from the End of the 16th Century to the Early 17th Century.” In Sabbat und Sabbatobservanz in der Frühen Neuzeit, edited by Anselm Schuber, Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte 217, 167–200. Göttingen: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2016.

Újlaki-Nagy, Réka. “Judaizing and Identity in the Earliest Transylvanian Sabbatarian Writings (1588?–1621).” Wrocław Theological Review 26, no. 1 (2018): 41–60.

Veress, Endre. A paduai egyetem magyarországi tanulóinak anyakönyve és iratai (1264–1864) [Registers and documents of Hungarian students at the University of Padua]. Budapest–Kolozsvár: Stephaneum, 1915.

Veress, Endre, ed. Annuae Litterae Societatis Jesu de rebus Transylvanicis temporibus principum Báthory (1579–1613). Fontes Rerum Transylvanicarum 16. Budapest–Veszprém: Egyházm. Nyomda, 1921.

1 The most important literature on Francken from the perspective of this inquiry: Pietrzyk et al., Antitrinitaires polonais; Pirnát, “Christian Francken egy ismeretlen munkája”; Keserű, “Christian Franckens Tätigkeit”; Szczucki, “Filozófia és tekintély”; Simon, Die Religionsphilosophie Christian Franckens (1552–1610?); Simon, “Filozófiai ateizmus”; Simon, “A kleitomakhoszi ateista-katalógus recepciója”; Biagioni, The Radical Reformation; Francken, Opere a stampa.

2 “His, inquam, et multis aliis vitae commoditatibus reiectis, in Transylvaniam rediit, non aliam certe ob causam, quam quod experientia didicerat, citius hic, quam alibi inveniri homines, quales Diogenes clarissimo die quaerere lucernacula sua solitus fuit.” Spectrum diurnum Genii Christiani Francken, apparens malo Simonis Simonii Genio, Kolozsvár, ca. 1590. Published in Simon, Die Religionsphilosophie, 183–203. Original numbering: 47–49. See also the 33.

3 See the list of Hungarians who studied at the University of Padua in Veress, A paduai egyetem. Concerning the peregrinatio academica of Transylvanian students, see Szabó and Tonk, Erdélyiek egyetemjárása; Szabó. “Az erdélyi unitáriusok”; Lovas, “Unitáriusok egyetemjárása.”

4 Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok és antitrinitáriusok.” The Sabbatarian references to the spread of Francken’s ideas among the elite are consistent with the accusations made by the Calvinist theologian Franciscus Junius, who claimed that Francken, as the servant of Satan, spread his ungodly views among the students of Kolozsvár and like a bat “flies around the houses of the mighty people in darkness.” Pirnát, “Christian Francken egy ismeretlen munkája,” 109.

5 For example, the Bishop Demeter Hunyadi ironically refers to Francken’s followers as “deep minded” in one of his sermons. According to him, the rich and mighty, in particular, are more likely to be tempted by this aberration. The deceived people question the authority of the Scripture, mock those who suffer for their faith, do not believe in miracles, in the existence of Devil, in the religion itself, claim that the function of the religion is to tie or bind the poor, and contend that the world is eternal and belief in the soul is nonsense. Possár. “Újabb adatok,” especially 187–88. There are other references to individuals who came under Francken’s influence. See Pázmány Péter összes munkái, vol. 3, 13; Cf. Balázs, “Trauzner Lukács ‘megtérése’,” 12; Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok,” 371. The secondary literature identifies the person referred to here as Lukács Trauzner, the son-in-law of Ferenc Dávid. Related to this, see Giovanni Argenti, leader of the Transylvanian Jesuit Order: “tandem, inquam, ex Arianismo in atheismum praeceps actus, tantum profecerat, ut in mundi fabrica et gubernatione Aristoteli potius, quam Moysi credendum esse existimaret. Hinc cum aliquando philosophi Ethicam percurrisset, ea de re ad amicum scribens: ‘Etiamsi, inquit, libri omnes sacri amitterentur, nihilominus tamen homo suae saluti consulere posset, si vel Ethicas ab Aristotele traditas praeceptiones observaret.’ Licet autem privatim de Deo, uti atheus sentiret, religionemque nihil aliud esse, quam populare frenum a sapientoribus excogitatum arbitraretur; publice tamen Arianismum, in quo consenuerat, profitebatur.” Veress, Annuae Litterae Societatis Jesu, 97. I would like to express my gratitude to József Simon for the data mentioned in this paragraph.

6 RMKT XVII/5, 513, 515.

7 Ibid., 515.

8 Praecipuarum enumeratio causarum, cur Christiani, cum in multis modis religionis doctrinis mobiles sint et varii, in Trinitatis tamen retinendo dogmate sint constantissimi, Kraków, 1584. Modern edition: Szczucki, W kręgu myślicieli heretyckich, 256–67.

9 Spectrum diurnum Genii Christiani Francken, apparens malo Simonis Simonii Genio, Kolozsvár, ca. 1590. The manuscript is preserved in Archives of Székesfehérvár City with County Rights, the deposit of Ferenc Vathay, fol. 17–49. Published in Simon, Die Religionsphilosophie, 183–203.

10 The manuscript was considered missing for a long time, until Antal Pirnát found Francken’s theses and their refutation in a collection of theological treatises of Franciscus Junius in Debrecen (“Confutatio argumentorum XXII, quae olim a Simplicio in Sacram Mosis historiam de creatione fuerunt proposita, et nostro saeculo ab hominibus prophanis atheisque recocta imperitis obtruduntur.” In Francisci Junii Biturgis Opera Theologica I. Genevae, 1613, 99–120). The Latin theses and their Hungarian translation were published by Pirnát, “Christian Francken egy ismeretlen munkája,” 107–19.

11 Ibid., 109.

12 See Dán, “Judaizare”; Újlaki-Nagy, “Judaizing and Identity.”

13 See Pirnát’s study cited above and from the same author “Gerendi János és Eőssi András.” See also Újlaki-Nagy, “Sabbath-Keeping.”

14 Pokoly, Magyar Protestáns Egyháztörténeti Adattár, vol 8, 158–60; Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok és antitrinitáriusok,” 369–70.

15 The final form of Disputatio is thought to have developed in 1593. See Biagioni, The Radical Reformation and the Making of Modern Europe, 116–18. The manuscript is kept in Biblioteka Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, signature Mss. Akc. 1955/220. Modern edition: Simon, Die Religionsphilosophie Christian Franckens, 151–82. The work was found by Bálint Keserű in 1972 in Wrocław.

16 Keserű, “Christian Franckens Tätigkeit,” 79. The arguments are typical erudite libertarian ideas and bear a resemblance to the mysterious and undated text of De Tribus Impostoribus. See the debate on whether Francken can be linked to this work: Biagioni, “Christian Francken e le origini” and Simon, “Metaphysical Certitude.”

17 Szczucki, “Filozófia és tekintély,” 114.

18 Biagioni, The Radical Reformation and the Making of Modern Europe, 118.

19 Disputatio, the first argument of the philosopher.

20 Mózes prófétának Istentől származó bölcsességéről és Arisztotelésznek ez világi bölcsességéről és az embereknek külemb-külemb okoskodásokról való írás melyet most ez világi fő rendek némelyek elővettek és igaz tudománnak mondanak Mózes próféta ellen és az régi sok szentek tudományok és értelmek ellen. One of the collections is the codex Mátéfi Kissolymosi, kept in the Kalocsa Cathedral Library under the signature Ms 303 (21 509). The other collection is in the Library of the Romanian Academy Cluj-Napoca with the title Szombatosok régi könyve or Árkosi kódex, signature MsU. 1290. There is no significant difference between the two variants. The critical edition of the text was published in the Volume 5 of the seventeenth-century series Régi Magyar Költők Tára, on pages 513–18.

21 Pirnát, “Christian Francken egy ismeretlen munkája,” 107.

22 RMKT XVII/5, 513.

23 Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok és antitrinitáriusok.” The first argument of the Disputatio.

24 RMKT XVII/5, 513.

25 See Gen 4:14.

26 RMKT XVII/5, 514–15.

27 Ibid, 514.

28 Codex Máté Thoroczkai, Biblioteca Academiei Romane, Cluj-Napoca, MsU 1669-XIXb, 720–21. Modern edition: Szczucki, W kręgu myślicieli heretyckich, 243–44. Hungarian edition: Balázs, Földi és égi hitviták, 135–36. On the history of non-adamic creation theories, see Livingstone, Adam’s Ancestors; Livingstone, “The Preadamite Theory.”

29 Cf. Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok és antitrinitáriusok,” 370; Pirnát, Die Ideologie der Siebenbürger Antitrinitarier, 75–76. Szczucki warns that the co-Adamism of Palaeologus formulated in this work should be treated with reservation, as he makes no mention of it anywhere in his later woks. Szczucki, Filozófia és tekintély, 60.

30 According to Pirnát, the literary education of the Sabbatarian author was too superficial for him to have realized that these arguments did not come from Aristotle. He assumes a fictive dialogue in the background of the text that the Sabbatarian author may have read. Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok és antitrinitáriusok,” 370; Pirnát, “Christian Francken egy ismeretlen munkája,” 107.

31 Disputatio, arguments 27–35. Szczucki, Filozófia és tekintély, 114–15. According to Simone Simoni, Francken wrote a text on this subject with the title Theses de materia prima. Simon Simonius, Appendix, last page.

32 “What could be a more dangerous knowledge than one who dares to say that there is neither God nor Devil, nor resurrection, but as Aristotle says, so it was and will be.” RMKT XVII/5, 515.

33 The title of the work is Oratiuncula. Published in Elek, “Gerendi János és Franken Keresztély,” 37.

34 Pirnát, “Arisztoteliánusok és antitrinitáriusok,” 386–87.

35 Disputatio, 15th argument.

36 This text has survived in the codex Árkosi, forming a separate unit of text and copied with strikingly clear, easy-to-read letters. Published in Máté, “A szentírás apológiája.” Máté presumes that the text was written in the mid-1590s. Ibid., 192.

37 Disputatio, first page. Spectrum in Simon, Die Religionsphilosophie Christian Franckens, 192–94.

38 Szczucki, Filozófia és tekintély, 114, 118; Simon, “Politikai vallás,” 124.

39 Praecipuarum, introduction; Disputatio, 8. argument and Kapaneus Statius’ statement in the atheist catalogue. See also Simon, “Politikai vallás,” 123.

40 Disputatio, 8. argument.

41 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 200. The Sabbatarian author is outraged when he describes the libertine, drunking, and carefree life advocated and practiced by the so called sophists and their master. He calls Francken a giddy, childish man, deficient since his childhood, who does not care about good reputation, honor, or humanity, and he contends that the spirit of the Devil dwells in him and that his teachings and the teachings of his adherents are “some giggles over wine” and “lies clanging like a dulcimer.” He also insists that Francken’s followers are hypocrites, flirtatious rogues, ship sails, reeds etc. Ibid., 204–6. According to the secondary literature, many of these expressions refer to Francken’s dense changes of religion as signs of some sort of opportunism. The philosopher of the Disputatio does not explicitly claim that he supports seeking joy and pleasure, but he defends all such positions attacked by the theologian (arguments 12–18) with such vehemence that the Sabbatarian author might easily have read the text as an implicit endorsement of libertine ways. Although the philosopher tries to occupy a neutral position in connection with the issues, he declares that seeking pleasure is not contrary to the law of nature or rationality. The law of nature dictates: “Do what is useful for you and brings you pleasure!” (the thirteenth and sixteenth arguments of the philosopher), “as wise nature instilled us with a desire for pleasure for good reason,” and it is only human laws that forbid it. Thus, Francken implicitly defends practices like homosexuality, the abandonment of unwanted children, the cult of the phallus, and the creation of bordellos (the sixteenth and seventeenth arguments), and this obviously met with outrage.

42 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 201.

43 See the twenty-second answer of the philosopher. Simon, “Politikai vallás,” 121–22, 124. According to Simon, Francken distinguishes between the political and metaphysical use of the term “atheist.” The Latinized form of the Greek term became fashionable in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe. A dispute arose between Simon and Mario Biagioni about the contemporary meaning of the terms atheist and skepticism. See Simon, “Metaphysical Certitude” and Biagioni, “Christian Francken Sceptical.” See also Simon, “Philosophical Atheism”; Simon, “Se a hit, se a nevelés.”

44 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 195.

45 According to the author, if Scripture is not true, then there is no god, because there is no other who has professed to be the creator of the world. “Thus, you are atheists, as you do not believe me to be true [the personified Scripture is speaking].” Ibid., 195.

46 Ibid., 195.

47 Pirnát, “Christian Francken egy ismeretlen munkája,” 114.

48 Ibid., 115.

49 Ibid., 116.

50 Ibid., 117.

51 Ibid., 203–4.

52 Ibid., 114, 115.

53 Ibid., 114.

54 Ibid., 115.

55 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 204.

56 An example offered by the author of how remembrance works and for its imprints in later times is the story of the wrestling between Jacob and the angel. In remembrance of this event, even thousands of years later, the Jews do not eat the sciatic nerve of some animals. The other example is the Shavuot, the feast of the giving of the law. This feast also proves that Jews celebrate the revelation of the Torah not only on the basis of Scripture, but also because of the experiences of their fathers. Ibid., 198.

57 Ibid., 195–98, 202.

58 Ibid., 197.

59 Ibid., 198.

60 Ibid., 196–97.

61 Ibid., 199.

62 According to Simon, while the philosopher attacks the rationality of his opponent’s faith and argumentation, he himself uses irrational means in his reasoning (e.g. magic).

63 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 196.

64 Ibid., 199.

65 Similarly, he treats religions and ritual customs equally, the so-called heretics in the same way as the ecclesiastical authority, since in his view they unjustly place themselves above the other, since after all, the faith of none of them can be proved. Disputatio, arguments 19–21.

66 Ibid., sixth argument.

67 Ibid., first argument.

68 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 200.

69 In the omitted section, the author refers to suicide as a consequence of breaking the law. This is, according to the secondary literature, an intimation to Francken, who repeatedly blackmailed his Catholic superiors by threatening to commit suicide when they doubted the sincerity of his re-Catholicization. Szczucki, “Philosophie und Autorität,” 242. Cf. Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 190.

70 Ibid., 199.

71 Ibid., 200, 205.

72 Ibid., 202–3.

73 Ibid., 192.

74 Ibid., 200.

75 Ibid., 203.

76 Disputatio, arguments 4–5.

77 “You claim that Jews are fools. Cheat him, if he is fool! If he is fool, why do you borrow money from him? Why does he have more money than other nations, when it has no heritage at all? […] For he does not want to press clay for noble people, that is why he does not ask for his inheritance. He does not even want to rebel foolishly, seeing that not one, not two nations, but all the nations under the Sun hate him for the religio, and he does not want your lies turned into truth, because than they would go fool […] From experience, they have learned the profit of peaceful sufferance.” Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 205–6.

78 See the responses in the Sabbatarian text to the atheist catalogue in Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 200–1. On the role of the atheist catalogue in the Disputatio, see Simon, “A kleitomakhoszi,” 80–82. See also Keserű, “Christian Franckens Tätigkeit, 76–77.

79 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 201. A similar dispraise can be found on the page 206: “The ratio that you feel too strong against Moses is just child’s play, as you are only the children of old sophists, your Fathers were the bucks….” Unlike Sabbatarians, Francken believed to have philosophical tools that the philosophers of Antiquity did not yet possess, and with these tools, he thought himself able to refute belief in God on a metaphysical level. See Simon, “A kleitomakhoszi” 88.

80 Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 204.

81 Újlaki-Nagy, Korai szombatos írások, 32. Cf. Divinarum institutio, second book, fifth chapter. Lactantius here declares that pagans and philosophers seek wisdom in the wrong places. However, he does not claim that only the Jews possess correct knowledge of God. Cf. Máté, “A szentírás apológiája,” 202.

82 Concerning this claim, see the monograph by József Simon, Die Religionsphilosophie Christian Franckens.


A Small Town’s Quest for Modernity in the Shadow of the Big City: The Case of Senj and Fiume

Veronika Eszik
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 4  (2021):706-736 DOI 10.38145/2021.4.706

Most of the theories concerning modernization and a number of trends in the historiography treat the big city as the most important arena of modernization, an arena which, thanks to our grasp of an array of social and economic transformations, can be made the ideal subject of studies on the processes and consequences of modernization. From this perspective, the small town becomes a kind of abstraction for backwardness, failed attempts to catch up, or a community that simply has remained unaffected by modernization. Thus, the study of the dynamics of modernization in smaller urban settlements from a new perspective which attributes genuine agency to them may well offer new findings and insights. In the historiography concerning the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the recent imperial turn has shown a perfectly natural interest in the peripheries of the empire, as it has striven to untangle the intertwining strands of local, regional, national, and imperial loyalties found there. The research on which this article is based, which focuses on Senj (Zengg), a small seaside Croatian city, is shaped by this dual interest. Senj’s resistance and adaptation to top-down initiatives of modernization can be captured through its conflict with the city of Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia), which is not far from Senj and which before World War I belonged to Hungary. In this story, Fiume represents the “mainstream” manner of big-city modernization: it became the tenth most active port city in Europe over the course of a few decades. The area surrounding the city, however, was not able to keep up with this rapid pace of development. In this article, I present the distinctive program for modernization adopted by the elites of Senj, as well as their critique of modernization. Furthermore, the history of the city towards the end of the nineteenth century sheds light on the interdependencies among the cities of Austria–Hungary, interdependencies which were independent of legal or administrative borders. By analyzing relations between Senj and Fiume, I seek to offer a nuanced interpretation of the conflict between the two cities, which tends to be portrayed simply as a consequence of national antagonisms.

Keywords: anti-modernism, scaling urban modernity, urban history, Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Fiume, Senj

For both contemporaries and historians, the explosion of urbanization in the second half of the nineteenth century seemed a fundamental process the study of which, it was hoped, would yield insights into the essence of the great transformation called modernization. The industrializing metropolis, which was expanding at an unprecedented rate, was seen by scholars (sociologists, social psychologists, historians, urbanists) as a kind of laboratory. With regards to the writing of history, this understanding of the big city has survived to the present day in an array of trends in the historiography.1

Regardless of their actual size, small towns figured in this modernization-discourse only as the counterexample of or counterpoint to the metropolis: as an ideal type, they represented everything against which urban modernity could be defined. In the eyes of critics of the big city, they offered a cohesive community instead of an atomized society, a space of serenity instead of overstimulation, breathing room instead of congestion, a human scale instead of exaggeration, a stable value system instead of a crisis of values, or in other words, a space which was thriving from the perspectives of health care, intellectual and moral prosperity. In contrast, in the eyes of admirers of urban modernity, the small town was defined by its shortcomings. As a space that had been left out of the process of modernization, it was seen as stagnant or in decline. These two visions2 thus idealized or, by simply applying the label “backward,” ignored the specific trajectories of small-town development. Apart from the top predators in the urban networks (i.e. the most rapidly developing), other cities seemed motionless, doomed to stagnation, or frozen in the pose of preservation of values, and historical scholarship rarely sought to uncover the distinctive dynamics of their processes of modernization.

In 2008, the Journal of Urban History devoted a thematic issue entitled Decentering Urban History to the problem of small towns. In the introductory study to the issue, James J. Connolly criticized the secondary literature on urban history for focusing predominantly on metropolises and for having “failed to distinguish between the metropolis and the smaller, more peripheral cities in meaningful ways.”3 In other words, according to Connolly, while there is no shortage of case studies on cities that occupy a secondary place in the urban hierarchy, many of these studies either describe these cities as counterexamples to the big city or simply insist on difference in size. And yet it was precisely the process of urbanization in the second half of the nineteenth century that made it essential to draw a conceptual distinction between “small” and “big.” In theoretical works on modern urban life, this separation of settlements into big city or small city appears at the same time as the process itself, i.e. towards the end of the nineteenth century. The long-standing topos of the opposition between nature and city (a topos often attributed to Rousseau) was enriched with a new shade of meaning when the modern metropolis began to become such a striking phenomenon in the European urban network. It was no longer simply a matter of the ways in which, in contrast with the rural lifestyle, the huge crowds thronging into the cities allegedly exerted a corrupting influence and city life in general was physically unhealthy. Now, the industrializing city was seen as a threat to urban values themselves.4 It thus became necessary to consider what made a city good and how the modern city could be good to live in. The arguments used in the discourses against city life shifted away from praise of rural communities and towards a positive reassessment of the small town, and the array of theoretical works on urbanization began to raise questions concerning the ways in which the city could be improved or perfected.5

This theoretical body of work, however, in no way compensates for the dearth of historical research which describes the settlements which fell on the lower levels of the urban hierarchy as communities which were capable of taking action. Small towns reacted to change in a variety of ways: their strategies depended on their experiences, resources, and demographics, as well as on the trades and professions in which their populations specialized. These towns offered an array of different economic imaginaries,6 mindsets that were highly dependent on the settlements’ intellectual capital. The town under investigation in this paper showed willingness to take initiative. Senj’s (Zengg by its Hungarian name)7 reaction to radical transformation was twofold: on the one hand, the town’s intellectuals turned to an idealized past to find support for their community and reinforce their identity in times of transition. This anti-modern gesture was complemented, however, by their plans for the future, an alternative vision of urban modernity which included a critical perception of the dominant model: Fiume’s (today Rijeka, Croatia) way of development. When facing change, Senj showed both resistance and adaptation, and its strategies drew on both traditionalism and innovation. The aim of this article is to examine these complex techniques, which made the town resilient to the potentially destructive forces of modernization.

Over the course of the past two decades, researchers focusing on the history of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy have realized that very little attention has been paid to distinctive patterns and strategies of small-town modernization, and they have also realized the potential insights the study of these patterns and strategies might yield. Naturally, representatives of the so-called imperial turn8 in the historiography have looked with interest at the peripheries of the empire, as they have striven to untangle the intertwining strands of local, regional, national, and imperial loyalties found in these regions. Research which has adopted this perspective as its point of departure found less that was of interest in the development of the large imperial or national capitals than it did in the histories of the diverse regional centers on different levels of the urban hierarchy. Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and Zagreb came to be seen as “cosmopolitan cities with a small range of influence,”9 and they gradually acquired the accoutrements of major international cities. At the same time, smaller urban centers which did not follow the patterns of globalizing urbanism had the potential to reveal more about the functioning of the multiethnic empire.10 From the perspectives of ethnic, denominational, and occupational makeup or culture and urban planning, they may have been more colorful in the Central European context in which one of the defining elements was heterogeneity, a heterogeneity of which the homogenizing centers offered the least evidence.

My research, which focuses on Senj, a small seaside Croatian city, is shaped by this dual interest: I investigate the town’s resilience and its role in a multilayered urban network. The town’s resilience reminds us that there was life outside of the metropolises, and the role it played in the urban network sheds light on the ways in which local experiences of urban modernity and modernity as otherness can modify macro-level political indicators such as election results. There is ample evidence in the secondary literature showing that nationalist mobilization is more successful when social and ethnic cleavages overlap, but a reverse logic is also of interest. When access to modernization is uneven among different national communities, it soon becomes apparent that modernization is a power tool, and this realization can influence political loyalties as much as national feelings of belonging can.

Senj, a settlement of roughly 3,000 people, is not far from the city of Fiume, which, over the course of only a few decades, became the tenth most active port city in Europe.11 Not surprisingly, the area surrounding the city, the Croatian Adriatic littoral, was not able to keep up with this rapid pace of development. However, Senj’s response, a program of conservation and modernization, went well beyond simple efforts to catch up. Representatives of the community developed a vision which was based on a kind of middle road between the extremes of growth into a bustling metropolis and stagnation. They thus sought to transform the position of the town, which was increasingly excluded from large industry and global trade, into an advantage. This vision had elements of nostalgia and anti-modernism, but it also offered an alternative vision of the future.12 The city also used the most modern tools to propagate this vision, from the budding regional and national press to the cultivation of a thriving array of associations.

The history of Senj at the end of the nineteenth century also sheds light on the close connections among and interdependence of the cities of the Habsburg lands, regardless of legal boundaries. Although Senj was separated from Fiume by an administrative border, as Senj belonged legally to Croatia while Fiume belonged to Hungary within the dual state, its opportunities for growth and development were determined far more by the port city than by Zagreb, which was gradually becoming the Croatian national capital. Vienna and Budapest also had an increasing influence on Senj’s fate, as the two capital cities played a fundamental role in the multilevel decision-making structure of the empire. The tension between Fiume and Senj has usually been characterized in the secondary literature as a consequence of national antagonisms, but it is quite clear that everyday life in cities along the (Hungarian-)Croatian coast was shaped as much or more by their different opportunities and their varying access to the infrastructure than it was by the national question. Thus, the focus of this essay is not on the discourses of nation-building which were prominent at the time, but rather on local discourses and strategies related to modernization.

As the only seaport in Hungary, Fiume played a major role in the national economy, and the Hungarian state made significant investments to improve its infrastructure and industry and make the city competitive with similar port cities across Europe as quickly as possible.13 The rapid growth to which the city bore witness is perhaps most clearly illustrated by the fact that, between 1867 (the year of the Austro-Hungarian Settlement) and 1891, the population of this “merchant, sailor, and fisherman town” tripled, and from the perspective of the population of the city that was engaged in industry and traffic, it was the second most industrialized city in Hungary after Banská Štiavnica (Selmecbánya).14

The secondary literature has attempted to place the city, which was linked to the Hungarian crown as a corpus separatum, in the Hungarian urban hierarchy, although it is difficult to find a single category in the various classifications which adequately describes its role and functioning:

The situation and urban roles of Fiume […] were special in the Dualist era; legally it was an exclave of Hungary and the authority of its administrative institutions did not reach beyond the boundaries of the town. Being the only seaport of Hungary, it enjoyed substantial support from the Hungarian state. […]. As regards the volume of its urban functions, it is at the top of the order of the county centres […] its hinterland was nevertheless not in the neighbouring areas—from which it was separated by administrative borders, orographic obstacles and the lack of transport infrastructure, and even by language differences—but in its far-away motherland.15

This characterization of the city as isolated begs for nuance. The position of Fiume can hardly be assessed simply on the basis of its place in the Hungarian urban hierarchy. After Zagreb, it was the second most industrialized city in Croatia as well.16 More importantly, its modernization had a massive regional influence also. The investigation of the latter makes perceptible the effects of industrialization on the transformation of the urban network across the state-legal frameworks. True, Fiume belonged to the Hungarian crown, but it still played a vibrant role in the network of Croatian cities, and it exerted a strong influence on the seaside settlements in its vicinity.

This influence was mostly a consequence of the fact that all of the infrastructure investments flowed into Fiume. Through its railway connections and the development of its harbor, the city had an unsurmountable advantage over the neighboring port cities, which earlier had been in roughly the same position. Senj was the biggest loser in the concentration of resources. Prior to the construction of the railway that connected Fiume with Zagreb and Budapest (1873), the city had been a major commercial center thanks to the Josephina,17 a historic road which connected Senj with the city of Karlovac (Károlyváros). Senj resold the goods arriving on this route through its flourishing harbor. However, with the spread of the use of steamships, both the commercial and the main industrial profiles of the town were pushed into the background, and the urban elite, which relied largely on shipbuilding, lost its source of income and thus its status. In this difficult situation, the patrician layer in Senj redefined its role and developed various strategies to address the crisis. In the first part of this essay, I focus briefly on the narratives concerning this shift, including specific visions of the path to urban change for Fiume and Senj, and in the second and third sections, I focus on the solutions that were suggested.

As I shall show, the elites of Senj adopted strategies that raised the struggle of the town to national significance in at least two respects. First, Senj and the surrounding Lika-Krbava County became the core area of the Croatian Party of Rights, the main opposition force in the Croatian parliament (the Sabor)18 until the 1880s. The Party of Rights and its leader, Ante Starčević (often called “The Father of the Nation”), advocated for the integrity of Croatian lands and more political and economic independence for the country. The national movement thus found its most loyal voters and adherents in the area under investigation. Second, the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was in almost continuous contact with decision-making circles in Vienna, Budapest and Zagreb, resolved to advance the cause of small-scale industry. The rescue of the handicraft industry seemed a prudent self-defense strategy for the industrial association of the city, which had been left out of the capitalist manufacturing industry and indeed had even had to deal with issues which had arisen because of abuses and mismanagement in this sector. This strategy was consistently represented at the national level with the mediation of the Zagreb Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

I have drawn primarily on articles from the local press, though I also examine the oeuvre of Vjenceslav Novak, perhaps the most significant writer of the region and age, as well as the documents of the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Due to the town’s extremely limited opportunities to assert political interests, the chamber came to play a remarkably important political role too. Though no archives of the chamber survived, thanks to its active maintenance of ties and contacts with various decision-making bodies (the Royal Hungarian Maritime Authority, various ministries, the local government, the Zagreb Chamber of Commerce and Industry, etc.), we have an array of admittedly scattered resources on the basis of which we can arrive at a relatively clear understanding of the work of the institution as an instrument for lobbying, to use a word from today’s political parlance.

Perceptions of Senj’s Loss of Position

Though at one point a flourishing hub for commerce and sailing ship-building and also an episcopal and a military center, Senj was plunged into crisis by shifts in trade routes and the increasing use of the steamboat, which slowly came to replace the sailing ship. Traffic on the aforementioned Josephina had begun to decline with the construction of the Trieste railway line, but it dropped dramatically with the completion in 1873 of the railway line between Karlovac and Fiume. As the table below shows, Senj had not recovered from the consequences of this diversion of traffic even several decades later. The city started to see some transitional improvements in 1905, due primarily to the strengthening of a single company, Hrvatsko parobrodarsko društvo, which was founded in 1902. Although the economic crisis of the 1870s and then the agricultural crisis contributed to the sustained decline in traffic, the major factor was quite simply the fact that Senj had lost much of its hinterland: areas that traditionally had transported their goods to the port city were able to reach Fiume more quickly and at less expense.


Table 1. Traffic in the Senj harbor, 1859–1910, tons/year19














* Concerning the interpretation of the peak value of 1905, a comparison with Fiume is useful: according to the calculations of Márton Pelles, the total traffic in the Hungarian port in 1905 was 1,500,000 tons. Pelles, “Üzleti és nemzeti érdekek,” 158.

In the meantime, the steamship had completely transformed the world of maritime trade. The fleet of steamships was not only more reliable, faster, and able to carry far heavier loads, it was also very capital intensive.20 It was precisely for this reason that the only shipping companies that were able to remain in business in the empire were the ones which enjoyed some form of state support. The Hungarian state decided to devote most of its support to two large companies based in Fiume: the “Adria” Royal Hungarian Sea Navigation Company, which was engaged in long-distance trade, and the Hungarian-Croatian Steamship Company (commonly known as Ungaro-Croata), which handled coastal shipping.21 The shipping companies which were entirely reliant on private capital in general, including the various consortia of Senj traders, were not able to compete with them. Steamships, moreover, could only be built in shipyards with adequate mechanical and financial resources, and the traditional shipyards, most of which were family businesses, went out of business one by one, not only in Senj but also in Fiume.22

The transformation of traffic patterns and industry also brought about changes in the hierarchy of cities in Croatia. Most of the 17 settlements which were recognized as cities showed only modest growth in the Dualist Era according to all indicators of urbanization. In contrast, Karlovac, Sisak (Sziszek), Senj, and Bakar (Buccari) did not even enjoy modest growth. Karlovac and Sisak were adversely affected by railway policy, while Senj and Buccari by both the advent of the railway and transformations in the maritime sector.23 In the case of Senj, demographic indicators offer clear evidence of this process, and not only in moments of stagnation, but rather as a trend in population decline which lasted until 1890 (see Table 2). Migration to the New World, a common concern for nationalists across the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, was proverbially the most striking phenomenon precisely in Lika-Krbava County.


Table 2. Population shifts in Fiume and Senj, 1869–191024







Growth 1869–1880

Growth 1880–1890

Growth 1890–1900

Growth 1900–1910






















Several of the documents of the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was searching desperately for solutions to slow the population decline, offered diagnoses of varying lengths of the problems that the city faced. An 1885 letter to Ban Károly (Dragutin) Khuen-Héderváry25 offered a dramatic picture of the situation of the city:

The city of Senj, which was known for its famous and very busy market on the Croatian coast not so many years ago, is facing a rapid decline in trade today and, and deprived of its greatest strength […], the city fears that it will have an even darker future if some change does not save it from the fate of the other seaside harbors which were once engaged in trade but today are dead.26


The contrast with the praise which was showered on Fiume in the Hungarian press, Hungarian literature, and Hungarian scholarship is striking.27 Given their very different fates, the two Adriatic cities offered perfect examples of the bustling modern big city on the one hand and the traditional small town which was unable to keep up with its rival on the other. Of course, both smallness and bigness are relational and subjective. We use these categories as they appear in local narratives about the two settlements’ fates, narratives which repeat the abovementioned clichés about modern urban living while also offering local modifications of these general visions.

One of the most elaborate among these narratives can be captured in the literary works of a Senj-based circle,28 mainly in the writings of the most outstanding writer of realist novels in Croatian literature, Vjenceslav Novak, who was born in Senj. His 1899 novel Posljednji Štipančići [The last of the Štipančić line], for instance, offers the story of the decline of a Senj patrician family. Juraj Štipančić, the last son of this family, leaves the family house, and in Zagreb, he cannot “resist” changing his name to the conspicuously Hungarian name György Istvánffy. In several of his works, Novak deals with the problems of his “homeland,” narrowly understood, or in other words, Senj and the Croatian coast.

Particularly interesting from the perspective of this discussion, however, is the mental map that emerges from his works, a map on which the Velebit mountain range, which surrounds Senj, is essentially a line which separates two worlds. The mountains hold Senj, a town which is stuck in its traditions, in their embrace, isolating it not only from the rest of Croatia, but also from the rest of Europe and, indeed, the world. In Novak’s works, Vienna, Bratislava (Pozsony), Prague, and London stand in sharp contrast to the seaside county, the marginality of which is eloquently captured in a Croatian word borrowed from Hungarian, the adjective “varmeđinski,” an adjective which means something like “of the shire” and which comes etymologically from the Hungarian word “vármegyei,” which could be translated as county but which has feudal and provincial overtones.29

What a difference there is between a poor life by the sea and the swirling whirlpool of other human lives! […] Here, man and nature are got to know from the songs and stories born by meager hearths, while there, the human soul besieges the peaks of wealth, the sciences, the arts, and cultivation […]!30

The spaces which acquired symbolic meaning as the embodiments or symptoms of backwardness and the absence of modernity were the closed interiors and ruins of houses that had either been abandoned or were being demolished, spaces from which the realms of fantasy were the only refuge (music, the sciences, or more precisely, the study of Darwinism).31 The Senj of the last son of the Štipančić line emerges as a town from which there is no escape, an insular city (surrounded by a literal wall) with only a narrow grasp of the word outside, a place of passivity and suspicious resentment of anything new. By using this small-town topos, Novak places the city of his birth alongside the small towns of Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, or even Chekhov. Thus, nostalgia and the critique of modernization are articulated with the help of modern expressive tools which fit well into the most recent literary trends of the time.

The novel about the small town also offers a portrayal of the slowness of life in the city. The sense of time standing still is again in sharp contrast with the world of the modern industrial city, in which the sense of the fast pace of life is one of the most salient elements, or the sense of rush and hurry,32 which is even more subjective. In the city of Senj as depicted in Novak’s novel, in contrast, the bora (a strong north to northeastern wind) forces the denizens of the harbor town to take shelter in their homes, and it mercilessly tears the sails of the ships, much as it has for centuries. But this century is different from the previous ones, for this century is moving at a breathtaking pace. Senj’s exclusion from all this, of course, is a loss only from a certain perspective. In the depictions of cities in the Senj literature and in some of the local press, traditionalism is an ambivalent concept which includes not simply elements of backwardness but also the preservation of values. In Posljednji Štipančići, the lost golden age has an appealing allure, although the attempts to recapture this allure is sometimes caricature-like. The image of the city as a stronghold with a heroic military past which put up brave resistance to the Ottoman Turks and then flourished as a prosperous commercial center is clearly a lofty vision somewhat distant from the realities of everyday life. According to Valpurga, the mother in the ancient patrician family, the men of Senj were once a good head taller than the men of the city today, and the women took silver buckets with them when they went to the well for water.33 Putting the caricature aside, Senj was home to the established patrician families which had founded, in 1835, the oldest reading circle and printing-house of South Slavic countries, and the other cultural institutions in the town or the active associational life suggest that, as a community, the city did indeed try to preserve genuine values.34 Under the difficult economic circumstances that the city came to face, it fell on the cultural institutions of Senj (or to use the term which has become part of our parlance today, the civil sphere) to safeguard something of the city’s positive self- image, and naturally this local patriot effort to maintain the town’s identity turned to the more beautiful moments of the settlement’s past for affirmation.

Radiša (Brave Worker), a Senj newspaper which was launched in 1875 (but which had gone out of print within a year), published a three-part series of articles entitled “What was the City of Senj Like Then and What is it Like Today?” by theologian, philologist, and grammar school instructor Ivan Radetić. The text strikes a nostalgic tone while also rebuking the denizens of the city who were incapable of moving and who even hampered the growth of the town, “moving in crab-like steps.” Radetić writes with praise of the alleged virtues of the city in the past, including its cohesive power and the tendency to put the individual pursuit of happiness to the side in favor of the common good, a tendency which, Radetić claims, stands in contrast with the individualism of his era. In his assessment of the situation at the time, however, he does not blame the difficulties that the city faces entirely on external factors:

Because of Senj’s position, it is destined to bring commerce to the sea. The sea has raised many cities, but Senj must always have been among the first. But today, trade in the city not only will not grow, it will decline. What is the reason for this? Perhaps the railroads that were built in the area. […] The other cause of the crab-like steps which hinder the development of Senj is the population of the city itself. The old people of Senj were united in everything, they were brave, ready to work, and they lived together like a single big family […]. But now! nothing but dissension, envy, hatred, and conflict.35


In Radetić’s narrative, selfishness and the rejection of anything new appear as habitudes the origins of which are essentially the same, habitudes which are caused by a narrow horizon and a lack of culture and cultivation:

With the exception of the few officials and the priest […] the majority does not concern itself with the common industrial worker and merchant class. […] People who have never explored the big world and have never striven to see it through different eyes cannot know anything of the development which is underway in the rest of the world. They sincerely believe that if their selfish and personal aims are achieved, everything is just fine.36

Such people, Radetić seems to suggest, are easy to deceive, because they have no knowledge of the processes going on around them, and they see anyone who wants to bring about change as an enemy. Thus, the more cautious no longer dare mention “development,” as they fear that if they do, whatever initiatives they may seek to take will be severed at the roots. The newspaper saw it as the mission of the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry to foster a sense of cooperation and to bring about unified, rapid action.

The image one gets of Senj on the basis of the various sources can be described, a bit summarily, as a traditionalist cityscape, with consideration, of course, of all the contradictions in this compound word. The symbolic counterpoint to the city of Senj was Fiume, the glittery, bustling harbor city, which was seen and depicted as such in the spheres of public life in Hungary, in which it was celebrated as the triumphant result of modernization. However, if one considers sources on Fiume that are from the area around the busy harbor town, one stumbles across a very different perception of the city. In these texts, Fiume, which, in contrast with Senj, was enjoying dynamic growth and had been rapidly transformed, with significant state assistance, into a node in the capitalist economy, is not portrayed in unambiguously positive terms. In a memorandum that was composed in May 1886 and was sent by the Senj chamber to the Zagreb government and the Hungarian Royal Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Commerce, the development which Fiume was undergoing is characterized as an exaggerated, unnatural, even harmful process. The memorandum called attention to the recurring problems caused by congestion because of the limits of the railway junction, which led to stockpiles of good that did not make it to their destinations, and it drew the following conclusion: “While Rijeka is, to put it in vulgar terms, drowning in its own fat, the harbors in Bakar and Kraljevica are declining dramatically because of lack of use.”37

One finds similar perceptions of Fiume in sources from the city itself. In the periodical La Difesa, which was the first organ of the press published by the Italian Autonomous Party of Fiume (it was launched in 1898), one regularly found articles advocating the interests of local artisans and calling attention to the shift in the mindset of the city:

[…] When commerce with the sailing ship was flourishing, the people of Fiume were frugal, hardworking, and dignified. […] The change in their mentality was attributed to the decline in the use of the sailing ship, and it was believed that they became vulnerable and easy to manipulate as a result of the tensions arising from the precariousness of their incomes and the unfavorable political events. This was the beginning, it was said, of the era of grand inaugural ceremonies, banquets, and political promises, which has lasted now for 30 (!) years. Those who call for autonomy complain that the benefits of the improvements

have been skimmed not by them, but by government confidants: small retailers and artisans are out of work and are compelled, in their penury, to rely on charity, and those who own ships are more likely to register their vessels in Trieste.38

Distasteful luxury investments, signs of excess, and the unhealthy inundation of consumer goods are recurring elements of the negative image of Fiume as the city increasingly came to dominate economic life on the Croatian coast. This narrative differs from the usual criticisms of industrial centers, which tend to focus on neighborhoods allegedly thronging with impoverished, penurious crowds and characterized by unsustainable hygiene and moral depravity. The classic formulation of the latter perception of the urban world is coupled in Lewis Mumford’s work with a critique of the vision of industrialization as an indisputably salubrious development.39

Because of the distinctive features of the local context, a narrative emerged concerning Fiume which differed from this classic understanding of the city. Due to the scarcity of space, the city never really had neighborhoods which were home exclusively to the working class.40 Rather, for the most part, the industrial workforce commuted to the city to work in the factories. As new urban spaces could only be created by transforming parts of the sea into land, the square meters of space that were won through this process served functions both in the local industries and as symbols of the city’s rapid development. The natural surroundings of the city prevented haphazard growth, as there were essentially literal barriers to expansion in every direction. Precisely for this reason, an interesting local variation emerged of the critical perception of the industrial city, which did not simply borrow or recycle the tropes of the anticapitalistic phobia of urbanization which, by then, were well worn and intermixed with several general commonplaces.41

This local variation complained more about the industrial port than about industrial neighborhoods. The widespread use of the steamship instead of the sailing ship was unquestionably a change which was met with a nostalgic-romantic sense of loss and an attachment to the old way of life over the new, even if the new was more efficient and more profitable. A Hungarian doctor on one of the frigates captured these sentiments in his description of the changes that had taken place (he also notes straightforwardly that steamships are simply ugly, as they ruin the cityscape with their chimneys):

As the navy slowly crossed the sailing ships off the “list” of vessels in its fleet, the age of chivalry faded and vanished just as quickly from the sea. […] The mission of the armored ships is also beautiful and glorious […]; but it does not attain the heights of the life of the now bygone era of the sailing ship, which was full of struggle, danger, sacrifice, and hardship, but which was, above all, wondrously beautiful.42

In summary, in the first decades after the Croatian-Hungarian Settlement, the hierarchy of cities in the coastal region was completely rearranged, and this rearrangement led to new readings of Fiume, the city which emerged as the victor of this process, and Senj, which was one of the biggest losers. Both cities bore witness to dramatic changes, and these changes were met with sensitive reactions. Distinctive local versions of the capitalist critique of industrial cities were formed, as was a narrative of the “backward city,” which both bewailed the lack of modernization while at the same time placing emphasis on the alleged importance of preserving values from the past.

“Nest of Grocers, Tailors, and Cobblers” from a Sense of Inferiority to the Strategic Representation of the Craft Industry

The reference to professions in the title above is from Novak’s novel the Posljednji Štipančići. It comes from the mouth of the father figure in the book, and it has a decidedly derisive tone. It is meant as a characterization of the inferiority of Senj, a city in which one could hardly find any truly sophisticated representatives of the new urban class alongside the artisans whose professions are mentioned so dismissively. However, if one ignores the derisive overtones, the characterization is in fact a relatively accurate description of the social composition of the city. According to the 1900 census, the proportion of people who were involved in artisanal trades and commerce in Senj was very high (43.55 percent).43 Since there was only one manufacturing institution—a tobacco factory44 founded in 1894—in the city at the time (and initially it was merely a subsidiary of a parent company in Fiume), handcrafts and artisanal trades really did dominate the city’s economy. If one examines the situation in Lika-Krbava County as a whole, the picture is even clearer. Under the new county law passed in 1886,45 counties were required to submit a comprehensive annual report to the government with the most important statistics affecting the area. In the annual reports of Lika-Krbava County, under the heading “Industry,” most of the time, one finds simply the comment that, “in the absence of a railway junction, there is no industry in the county,” and the permits which were issued are listed, for the most part permits for small-scale industries (such as brewing).

Under the circumstances, the advocacy work of the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry focused primarily on two areas. First, the Chamber tirelessly composed innumerable submissions and requests for the construction of a railway junction and the modernization of the port, though to no avail.46 Over time, it took on another role, mainly through the work of its most dedicated secretary, Sebald Cihlar. It undertook to protect small-scale, traditional handicrafts from the rise of manufacturing industry. The Chamber also sought to accomplish this mission at the national level. In 1884, for example, when the new law concerning industry was being negotiated by the chambers of commerce and industry, it was the Senj Chamber that pushed for the convocation of another national assembly to be held as soon as possible, where the only topic would be the protection of small industry. The assembly was indeed held, and several issues concerning industry were regulated. The Senj Chamber was given the task of developing regulations for certain professions (for instance chimney sweeping and tavern keeping). Obrtnik (Craftsman), the chambers’ central Zagreb newspaper, regularly reported on the initiatives of the Senj Chamber.47

A law on chambers of commerce and industry was passed in 1868 which applied to Croatia-Slavonia, and a similar law was passed applying to the Military Frontier a year later.48 However, the Senj Chamber did not begin operations until 1876, making it the youngest of this type of advocacy body in the country. One of the reasons for the delay is found in the difficulties surrounding the demilitarization of the Frontier.49 Senj sought to carry out the advocacy work to serve its own interests as a free royal city and as a harbor town, and it was less eager to accept responsibility for the economic problems faced by the communities in the border region. It was thus slow to establish a chamber. The second reason lies in the fact that the city of Bakar was also a possible candidate as the seat for the chamber, so the Senj patricians in the Sabor had to fight to protect their hometown’s status. The issue of the location of the seat of the chamber was important in part because half of the members of the chamber were elected from among the denizens of the city which was chosen to function as the seat. Thus, these representatives would be able to keep local questions on the agenda, and they would be able to form a unified interest group within the chamber.50

As an institution, the chamber “functioned as a link between the state administration and the practical world of everyday life, and the chambers served as legal representative bodies of the interests entrusted to them in opposition to the bodies of state administration.”51 In the sub-dualist system, Croatia had limited autonomy in its handling of its financial affairs. With the approval of the bans, lord lieutenants were put at the head of the counties, as a result they could not really put up much opposition. Given the lack of income, the city leadership hardly had any room for maneuver, so the various forms in which the chambers were able to represent the interests of the trades and the cities constituted the legal channels through which local interests could be communicated to the various organs which actually made decisions. The given organs had to respond to them, in contrast with the problems raised in the local organs of the opposition press.

In 1888, at the request of the Lord Lieutenant of Lika-Krbava County, Chamber Secretary Sebald Cihlar drew up a proposal to deal with the crisis in Senj which was also something of a summary of his ten years of work as a member of the chamber. Though he had previously been involved in the struggle for the modernization of the city’s infrastructure,52 Cihlar clearly considered, according to this proposal, the preservation of the town’s handcrafts and the improvement of the quality of small-scale production a priority, and he did not even mention the situation of railways and ports. He presented his position as a stance in favor of the presentation of values, which he characterized as necessary due to the aggressive expansion of large-scale industry. The crisis in the craft industry was a complex social problem, in his view, because a great wealth of knowledge and expertise would be lost, as would the dignity stemming from mastery of these crafts, a dignity (or to use his word, pride) which earlier had been characteristic of the denizens of Senj and which indeed had helped sustain them (he claimed) in the face of adversity.53

After giving his diagnosis, Cihlar made four suggestions to improve the situation. First, he proposed providing a subsidy or loan of 15,000–20,000 Hungarian forint as a form of emergency aid which could be used by the “local industrial class” for the purchase and storage of raw materials. He also pushed to have the army become a permanent customer of the Senj craft industry, as “army orders would provide permanent business for artisans […]. In addition, it would encourage [them] to unite, and together, they would be better able to compete with big industry.”54 Cihlar also suggested that only artisans with a formal license should be allowed to work, as this would offer some assurance of quality control. Finally, he proposed the establishment of a vocational school, and he offered praise for the development of vocational education in Zagreb, which had been launched at the initiative of Minister of Culture Izidor Kršnjavi. Given the traditions in Senj and the potentials of the city, Cihlar recommended setting up a vocational school for the wood industry.

Calls for the protection of small industry in the face of cheap industrial mass production and its allegedly soullessly uniform production methods are hardly an unfamiliar phenomenon in the history of industry and urbanization. Camillo Sitte based his theoretical ideas concerning modern urban planning on this very notion of preservation of values, and these ideas, originally formulated in 1889, were made well-known by Carl. E. Schorske’s dramatically influential essay concerning urban architecture in Vienna at the turn of the century. Sitte argued against the rationalized space of the big city and in favor of the city community created by the handcraft and artisanal industries (and therefore necessarily less monumental in scale). One of the very clear social implications of this urban development project was the potential safeguards it would provide for the layer of people engaged in small industry, whose source of income was threatened by industrialization. Sitte’s ideas were a source of inspiration for others too. Numerous antimodernist narratives which were critical of the big city drew heavily on his arguments.55

What is most important from the perspective of the discussion here, however, is not the relevance of these considerations in the larger history of ideas so much as the simple fact that both the community of a small city and the administrative body which served as a representative of its interests came to very similar conclusions on the basis of lived experiences. They formulated a distinct vision of urban modernization which took local considerations into account, and they arrived at decisions concerning local interests independently. This bears an interesting affinity with the thoroughly-researched German context, where there was a clear parallel between the decline of the prominence and influence of small, independent artisans and the increasing emergence of a particular ideological-political posture of popular anti-modernism.56

This autonomy suggests that what we refer to as urban modernization is not actually a single, uniform process, but rather a combination of processes which are at times different both in their emphasis and their pace. In the case of Senj, for instance, the town had far more intellectual capital than it did real capital (put simply, money). While the intellectual capital of the city paid close attention to the dynamics of modernization and even worked out alternative paths, attempts to bring real capital to Senj remained largely unsuccessful throughout the period under discussion. If there was a single characteristic of Senj which would throw into question the topos of the small town as a space of stagnation, it was its intellectual and cultural potential. The episcopal seat is a case in point. The four bishops who served between 1868 and 1914 were highly educated, broad-minded intellectuals who represented the grandiose heritage of the episcopate, which had been founded in the fifth century and had functioned continuously ever since. Juraj Posilović, one of the bishops, rose to the position of the archbishop of Zagreb. Another, Antun Maurović, had been the rector of Zagreb University before his appointment to Senj. The fathers of the other two (Vjenceslav Soić and Roko Vučić) were sea captains from the region.57 Two future bishops grew up experiencing the decline of their fathers’ social standing as well as the florescence of the intellectual climate offered by Senj’s schools and churches. These figures show how a town of 3,000 dwellers can be a place of national influence and authenticity at the same time.

The grammar school (which stood out as excellent even on the national level), the very active work of the associations, as well as the literary life and organs of the press all show very clearly that the denizens of the town had access to an array of impulses that formed their economic and political imaginaries. In discussions of the complexity of modernization with regards to other settlements, it may be prudent to devote some study to the disharmonic movement between material and intellectual capital. An imbalance between the potentials of a given community and the actual opportunities it has may be a common feature of urban settlements which find themselves in the second row.

In the texts discussed in this essay, emphasis on the benefits of the handcraft industry is mixed with antimodernist views, or in other words, the advocacy activity of the chambers harmonizes with the critique of large-scale industry and capitalism in the readings of the city presented in the previous section. The case of Senj is hardly without precedent, but it has one distinctive and important feature. The main railway line, which bypassed Senj, was officially built by a “foreign” government, and Senj was separated from its rival (Fiume) by an administrative border. In the final section of the essay, I address the political implications of these factors.

The Success of the Party of Rights in Senj

It is gratifying that the Fiume periodical Bilancia has provided a prominent space for the publication […] of last year’s report of the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Bilancia has thus made clear that it is of the following view: economic expansion in Fiume has not played even the slightest role in the economic conditions in the territories represented by the Senj Chamber […], and on the basis of the report, it was not capable of drawing any other conclusion than that the circumstances in the area under the jurisdiction of the Chamber are “regrettable and embittering” because the crop was bad.58


The sense of indignation in the passage cited above was the dominant tone of Novi List, the periodical published by the oppositional Party of Rights in Sušak (Szusák, direct neighboring city of Fiume, and today part of it, at the time beyond the Hungarian border and thus belonging to Croatia)59. The article captures the frustration with the failure to recognize the process which I have described in this essay: the concentration of capital in Fiume was one of the most important factors in the economic life of the whole region.

It was easy and, to some extent, justified to blame not only capitalism in general but also the economic policy of the Hungarian government for the lag in modernization. The struggle which Senj had waged for decades for a railway connection60 and the similarly fruitless efforts to develop the harbor appeared as problems with nationalistic overtones. According to this narrative, the Hungarian government was discriminating against the settlements on the Croatian coast and had essentially usurped Fiume and made the city a tool in the service of Hungarian nation building. A discourse emerged under sub-dualism which strongly resembled the discourse which was often used by the Hungarian pro-independence opposition in the Austro-Hungarian context: among the peoples of the empire, the ruling nations were at an advantage in an unfair competition in which they controlled the imperial economy to promote their own interests, and in doing so, they prevented the other nations of the empire from developing and flourishing. The implication was obvious: the city could only hope to find solutions to the difficulties it faced if there were some change in the power relations among the major players in the larger political arena. The fact that the town of Senj and the surroundings remained an “oppositional nest” for the entire half-century of the Dualist Era is due in no small part to this insight, which also explains the fact that, by the 1880s, the area had become the most important base of support for the Party of Rights.61

The rhetoric of the Party of Rights never failed to include allusions to Senj’s bygone golden era, and thanks to the efforts of the politicians from the seaside who managed to gain some influence in the larger political framework, a circle emerged in Zagreb which represented the problems faced by the region. At the beginning of 1879, Andrija Valušnik, a representative of the Party of Rights, spoke up in support of providing the resources necessary for the proper maintenance of the seaside roads, and he noted the essential interests of the merchants for whom the railway was both distant and expensive and therefore also practically inaccessible. This issue made the disadvantages of the system created by the Compromise clear quite early on, disadvantages which included a cumbersome bureaucracy and the continuous transfer of responsibility to other administrative organs, as the Hungarian and the Croatian governments debated the issue of who was responsible for the maintenance of the roads in question for years.62

In the 1880s, three elections were held in Croatia-Slavonia. In all three (they were held in 1883, 1884, and 1887), the city of Senj sent a representative of the Party of Rights to the Sabor. In 1884, the Party of Rights won in four of the nine electoral districts in the county. In the elections held in 1887, which were infamous because of the influence of Khuen-Héderváry (who used forceful tools to ensure that the ruling party would prevail), the victory of the Party of Rights constituted a particularly remarkable feat. After the electoral reforms in 1888, the party was unable to repeat this triumph,63 but the seaside was still home to the aforementioned periodical Novi List, which was unquestionably one of the major organs of the oppositional press.

It is perhaps emblematic, from the perspective of this essay, that Josip Gržanić, who is infamous for having physically attacked the Ban in the Croatian parliament in 1885, was the representative of the Party of Rights from Senj. He is remembered today primarily for this dramatic episode, but perhaps more important from our point of view is the fact that he was socialized in the intellectual milieu (the grammar school in Senj) out which several individuals who were later prominent as Party of Rights activists also came, including for instance Fran Folnegović, who earlier had also represented Senj in the Sabor.64 Before he became active in national politics, Gržanić was the city notary, and as such, he did a great deal to further the foundation of the Senj Savings Bank. The creation of this financial institution was a fundamental precondition for the development of a capitalist economy in the region, which was difficult in part simply because the area was lacking in capital.65

Josip Gržanić was the leader of the Party of Rights in Senj in 1883, when, in the course of anti-Hungarian and anti-modernization disturbances a protest broke out.66 The demonstrators painted over the bilingual Hungarian and Croatian coats of arms on the local customs office and then tore them down and threw them in the sea, cheering both Croatia and the Party of Rights all the while. The people who were identified, in the investigation which was launched in the wake of the protest, as the “principal culprits” and instigators were all familiar names, including Gržanić and Vjenceslav Novak, but also Ladislav Krajacz, who was perhaps the most esteemed wholesale dealer in Senj and also one of the founders of Ungaro-Croata and who served, between 1886 and 1893, as the major of the city.67

The whole coastal region around Senj became one of the core areas of the wave of protests which were growing increasingly strident at the time and spreading to the villages, while the other major area where there were similar shows of discontent was the surroundings of Zagreb. This would suggest that the two large, modernized cities played roles in fomenting tensions and kindling sentiments of exasperation. In the case of the coastal region, the feelings of discontent could perhaps be explained the presence of nearby Fiume, which was seen as a display of Hungarian dominance. However, this would hardly explain the signs of frustration in the area around Zagreb. Thus, if perhaps cautiously, one could hazard the conjecture that, alongside the efforts that were being made to whip up feelings of national pride, the difficulties faced by these areas because of the transition to capitalism had a similarly decisive impact on the popularity and successes of the political opposition. This explanation seems all the more plausible if one simply takes into consideration the processes in question and the circumstances that shaped the fate of Fiume. It seems perfectly likely that Fiume would have come to play a dominant role in the region even if, in the course of the negotiations concerning the Compromise, the proposal made by the Hungarian side, according to which the city would have fallen under shared administration, had been accepted. Indeed, it probably would have risen to a position of prominence and influence in the region even if it had been put under exclusive Croatian control. Economic logic dictated that Fiume would develop very rapidly, regardless of the political constellation. The emergence of a capital intense structure (i.e. the development of factory industry and global commercial ties) radically transformed the network and hierarchy of the cities, raising some central places to new positions of dominance, while other cities, which earlier may also have flourished, would, according to all the indicators of urbanization, lag far behind.

Thus, the antagonisms which found expression in the discourses of nationalism were in fact fueled in no small part by the tensions created by modernization. There is, of course, an explanation for the conflicts which emerged which identifies ethnic attachments and passions as the primary factor, and this explanation was meaningful to the actors at the time as well. And yet both cooperation and conflict among the various (national) communities within the empire were also shaped to no small extent by the degree and pace of the processes of modernization which affected them.

This insight also furthers an understanding of the popularity of the Party of Rights among the denizens of Senj. It explains why the earlier-cited report issued after the events of 1883 identified Josip Gržanić as a figure with socialist sympathies.68 In other words, the successes of the opposition should not be attributed entirely to the appeal of anti-Hungarian political agitation. Rather, it was also a sign of the discontent of a community which was not satisfied with the central government and which felt itself both excluded from the benefits of modernization and directly exposed to its many disadvantages.


My primary goal in this essay was to consider the regional reactions to the growth and development of the city of Fiume, which have only rarely been made the subject of scholarly inquiry or have been presented in the secondary literature as expressions of national antagonisms. The struggle of the city of Senj was significant in the local context, but it also offers an example of how a small city formed its own distinctive vision of modernization. It thus adds a layer of nuance to the image of a peripheral city which was seen, overly simplistically, as doomed to decline. After showing how industrialization and infrastructural development in Fiume shaped the fate of its Adriatic neighbor, I examined three phenomena that can be interpreted as responses to this transformation. First, two new understandings of the city emerged which drew on the experiences of the industrial city: one can be interpreted as a critique of the modern city, while the other was the image of the traditional city which suffered from a lag in modernization or which sought to shield itself from the drawbacks of modernization. The second phenomenon I analyzed, which was tied in part to these identity-forming narratives, was the decision by the community of the city to embrace and support traditional artisanal crafts, a decision which led to concrete lobbying efforts. This task was undertaken by the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Finally, I offered a brief discussion of the political consequences of the situation that emerged. Support for the political opposition in the region was fueled not only by the national issue but also by the socio-economic transformation. All three phenomena suggest that the social changes ushered in by industrialization and, within this, the emergence of industrial capitalism (which meant a more intense concentration of resources in a smaller number of communities) were for the people at the time part of a clear process against which, in various areas and at various levels, communities fought. Neither were the towns in the region around Fiume isolated from the changes which were taking place in the growing port city, nor were they merely passive victims of the transformations which were taking place in the emerging new world. Rather, these towns developed their own paths towards modernization.

Archival Sources

Hrvatski Državni Arhiv [State Archive of Croatia] (HDA)

Izvještaji upravnog odbora županije ličko-krbavske, 1894–1918.

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archives] (MNL OL)

K 228 Kereskedelemügyi minisztérium; Tengerészeti, hajózási és vízépítési szakosztály iratai, 1889–1911.


Printed sources

Gáspár, Ferencz. A Föld körül VI: A tengerészet lovagkora [Around the world VI: The chivalric era of the navy]. Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1907.

“Izvještaj senjske trgovačke-obrtničke komore” [Report of the Senj Chamber of Commerce and Industry]. Novi List, August 1, 1903.

Novak, Vjenceslav. Pavao Šegota. Zagreb: Matica hrvatska, 1888.

Novak, Vjenceslav. Posljednji Štipančići [The last of the Štipančić line]. Zagreb: Matica hrvatska, 1899. Accessed on Sept 10, 2018, https://lektire.skole.hr/lektire.skole.hr/djela/vjenceslav-novak/posljednji-stipancici.

“Pomorstvo nasijeg doba” [The marine of our times]. Novi List, March 2, 1900.

Radetić, Ivan. “Senj kakav je negda bio i kakav je sada” [Senj as it was once and as it is today]. Radiša. List za Pouku i Zabavu, (sec. 1 – 3.) January 2, 9, and 16, 1875.


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Tönnies, Ferdinand, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Leipzig: Fues‘s Verlag, 1887.

Turkalj, Jasna. “Senj i senjani u pravaškom pokretu 1880-ih godina” [Senj and ist dwellers in the rightist movement oft he 1880s]. Senjski zbornik 30, no. 1 (2003): 287–320.

Turkalj, Jasna. “Pravaški pokret u brinjskom kraju 1880ih godina” [The rightist movement in Brinje at the end oft he 1880s]. In Identitet Like: korijeni i razvitak, edited by Željko Holjevac, 405–26. Zagreb–Gospić: Institut društvenih znanosti Ivo Pilar, 2009.

Varga, Bálint. The Monumental Nation: Magyar Nationalism and Symbolic Politics in Fin-de-siècle Hungary. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016.

Volkov, Shulamit. The Rise of Popular Antimodernism in Germany: The Urban Master Artisans, 1873–1896. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.

Vranješ-Šoljan, Božena. Stanovništvo gradova Banske Hrvatske na prijelazu stoljeća: Socijalno-ekonomski sastav i vodeći slojevi 1890–1914 [Urban population of the Croatian Kingdom in the 19th century: socio-economic composition end the elites 1890–1914]. Zagreb: Školska knjiga–Stvarnost, 1991.

Wakeman, Rosemary. A Modern History of European Cities: 1815 to the Present. London: Bloomsbury, 2020.

Walker, Mack. German Home Towns: Community, State and General Estate 1648–1871. Ithaca–London: Cornell University Press, 1971.

Weck, Nadja. Eisenbahn Und Stadtentwicklung in Zentraleuropa: Am Beispiel Der Stadt Lemberg (Lwów, L’viv). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020.

Zucconi, Guido. Una città cosmopolita. Fiume e il suo fronte-mare nell’età dualistica (1870–1914). Rome: Viella, 2008.

Zsigmond, Gábor. “A fiumei magyar tengeri kereskedelmi gőzhajózás kialakulása” [The development of Hungarian maritime commercial steam shipping in Fiume]. Kút 6, no. 1–2 (2007): 56–74.

Zsigmond, Gábor, and Márton Pelles. The Hungarian Maritime Trade History of Fiume (1868–1918). Pécs: Pro Pannonia, 2018.

1 Ferdinand Tönnies is perhaps the individual most responsible for the popularity of this interpretation, though it then enjoyed the support of the modernization theorists he inspired. The central place theory also favored this interpretation, as did the cultural turn in urban history, which concentrated on multiple or cosmopolitan identities. On the level of world-systems theory and global history, megapolises were put center stage. Connolly, “Decentering Urban History,” 3–4.

2 Trains of thought that seek to avoid the extremes cited above can also perpetuate this dichotomy, for example in Simmel’s classic narrative, the small town is given a dual role (as a site that provides space for the individual but puts limits on his freedom), but it still remains static, as opposed to the dynamically changing character of the big city. Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life.”

3 Connolly, “Decentering Urban History,” 3.

4 The classic version of this vision is Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.

5 Bourillon, “La détestation de la ville,” 5–8.

6 Much as they do today. See Lorentzen and van Heur, Cultural Political Economy of Small Cities.

7 Regarding the use of place names, I use the standard English names (assuming there is a standard English name for a given settlement) to make them easily identifiable. Fiume is an exception, since its name today, Rijeka, refers to a city changed in its structure, as it incorporates the neighboring town of Sušak. However, when citing a source, I use the name used in the source.

8 Cole, “Visions and Revisions of Empire.”

9 This somewhat cumbersome English translation of the Hungarian term “kis hatótávolságú világváros” is meant simply to refer to cities which were connected to the European transport network and were connected by the railway to at least one capital or a foreign trade center. Frisnyák borrows the term from Pál Beluszky, who originally used it to refer to Budapest only: Frisnyák “Budapest Európa,” 182.

10 Authors who deal with the reassessment of the peripheries in the urban history of the region include Gantner et al., “Backward and Peripheral?” The recent publication of a large number of works on the history of Lemberg can also be regarded as a sign of this increased interest in the subject: Fässler et al., Lemberg, Lwów, Lviv; Czaplicka, Lviv; Prokopovych, Habsburg Lemberg; Mick, Lemberg, Lwów, L’viv; Weck, Eisenbahn und Stadtentwicklung; Hein-Kircher, Lembergs “polnischen Charakter.” Varga discusses the symbolic role of cities on the border areas of a national territory imagined as an ideal: Varga, The Monumental Nation. Catherine Horel chose 12 small and medium-sized towns with different statuses as subjects of study explicitly “to counter the disproportionate attention that the largest cities in the empire receive.” Horel, Multicultural Cities. One of the theoretical foundations of Rosemary Wakeman’s monograph is criticism of metropolis-centered urban history writing: Wakeman, A Modern History.

11 Zsigmond, “A fiumei magyar tengeri,” 58. Following the Settlement concluded by the Austrian and the Hungarian parts of the Habsburg Empire (1867), the Hungarian-Croatian Compromise (1868) redefined the relationship between landlocked Hungary and maritime Croatia, granting the latter limited home rule within the framework of the Hungarian Kingdom. During the negotiations, the parties could not agree on the question regarding the control of the port city Fiume, which lay on Croatian soil but was administered directly from Budapest as a so-called corpus separatum. The legal status of Fiume remained contested until the end of the era, though the city functioned as the only Hungarian seaport. All that said on the legal status of Fiume, the port city was also a microcosm of city dwellers of various ethnicities who spoke different languages and engaged in varying economic and cultural activities. On the multi-layered and tumultuous everyday urban life in Fiume, see Kirchner Reill, The Fiume Crisis.

12 As Boym has observed concerning the nature of nostalgia in general, “Nostalgia is not always about the past; it can be retrospective but also prospective. Fantasies of the past determined by needs of the present have a direct impact on realities of the future. Consideration of the future makes us take responsibility for our nostalgic tales.” Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, 13.

13 For a recently published comprehensive assessment of the city’s economic development at the end of the nineteenth century see Zsigmond and Pelles, A fiumei magyar kereskedelmi tengerészet.

14 Kassa (today Košice, Slovakia) was also on the podium, and Budapest was in fourth place. Fried, Emlékek városa, 68, 73.

15 Beluszky and Győri, The Hungarian Urban Network, 119–20.

16 Vranješ-Šoljan, Stanovništvo gradova Banske Hrvatske, 198.

17 The Josephina was built on a route which was once used by the Romans at the initiative of Joseph II. Measured by standards at the time, it was a good-quality road. It was completed in 1779, and it connected Pannonia with Dalmatia, which meant that it connected the city of Karlovac with Senj. Until the construction of the railway lines, the Josephina was the most efficient trade route to the sea for grain from Pannonia and wood from Slavonia. From the coastal towns, it was then taken to various other cities on the Mediterranean, including, first and foremost, Venice. Szavits Nossan, “Ceste Karlovac – Senj.”

18 Sokcsevits, “A Horvát Jogpárt,” 35.

19 Simunić–Brlić, “Senjsko parobrodarstvo i socioekonomske prilike,” 124.

20 Ljubović, “Senjska luka i Jozefinska cesta.”

21 On the full spectrum of shipping companies and the role of the state see Zsigmond and Pelles, A fiumei magyar kereskedelmi tengerészet.

22 Gonda, A magyar tengerészet, 81–82.

23 Vranješ-Šoljan, Stanovništvo gradova Banske Hrvatske, 201.

24 Ibid., 67, 121. Fried, Emlékek városa, 68–69.

25 The holder of title of ban was the highest dignitary in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. In the Middle Ages, the ban was the equivalent of a viceroy. In the dualist period the bans functioned as quasi prime ministers. They were appointed by the king based on the suggestion and under the condition of the approval of the Hungarian prime minister. A controversial figure of the era was ban Khuen-Héderváry (1883–1903), often considered a great modernizer as well as an oppressor of Croatian nation-building initiatives.

26 Cited in Kolar, “Senjska trgovačko-obrtnička komora,” 163–64, my italics.

27 On the narrative which proclaimed Fiume the display city of Hungarian modernization and dubbed the city “the most beautiful pearl in the crown of Saint Stephen,” see Eszik, “A magyar–horvát tengermellék.”

28 Other authors who deal with the same problems and work with roughly the same mental maps are Milutin Cihlar Nehajev (his novel Bijeg [Escape] is of particular interest), Milan Ogrizović, and Josip Draženović. The famous August Šenoa was also inspired by Senj’s glorious military past and allure of resistance against foreign forces (Čuvaj se senjske ruke [Beware of hands from Zengg]).

29 Čuljat, “Podgorje u pripovjednomu modelu Vjenceslava Novaka,” 438. There is another Croatian word which means the same thing (“županijski”), so this use of this cognate from Hungarian was not a matter of linguistic necessity.

30 Novak, Pavao Šegota, 133.

31 Čuljat, “Podgorje u pripovjednomu modelu Vjenceslava Novaka,” 439.

32 “[…] ‘Hurry’ as much as speed is intrinsic to modernity. We cannot conceive of modern society and modern capitalism without invoking, not just speed, but the desire for speeding-up, the fears and anxieties associated with acceleration […]” Mackintosh et al., Architectures of Hurry, 2. For a contemporary perception of the phenomenon, see Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life.”

33 Novak, Posljednji Štipančići, 25.

34 A monograph has been published on Senj’s rich history in civil organizations: Brlić, Lička i senjska građanska društva.

35 Radetić, “Senj kakav je negda bio,” 20. The Radiša circle partly blamed the agitations provoked by the Party of Rights for the dissent, so it was not considered a radically oppositional organ of the press. Kolar, “Senjanin Josip Gržanić,” 5.

36 Radetić, “Senj kakav je negda bio,” 20.

37 Cited in Kolar, “Senjska trgovačko-obrtnička komora,” 165 (my italics).

38 Ordasi offers a presentation of the problems discussed in the paper, as well as a summary of the source. Ordasi, “Egy betiltott kisebbségi lap,” 76–77.

39 Mumford, The City in History, 446–15.

40 Housing blocks for workers were built in the new industrial port district, but not to such an extent that they formed exclusively workers’ neighborhoods, all the more so because of the fact that, due to the lack of space, industrial and representative functions highly overlapped in the new urban landscape. On this specific urban planning see Zucconi, Una città cosmopolita.

41 Bourillon, “La détestation de la ville.”

42 Gáspár, A Föld körül VI, 9.

43 Vranješ-Šoljan, Stanovništvo gradova Banske Hrvatske, 103.

44 Despot, “Tvornica duhana u Senju,” 412.

45 Vranješ-Šoljan, Stanovništvo gradova Banske Hrvatske, 43. In contrast with the earlier county regulations (1870, 1874), this transformation was the subject of considerable discussion, as ban Károly Khuen-Héderváry followed political considerations and decided in favor of the reform in order to ensure electoral victories for the governing party. The county reports, which are held in the State Archives in Zagreb (Hrvatski Državni Arhiv), begin only with the reports from 1894.

46 The Chamber continuously came up with new solutions to the problems concerning traffic, which can be found in the archives of the Hungarian Ministry of Trade (MNL OL K 228). The requests which were sent to the Maritime Authority include one alleging an unfair competitive advantage for state-subsidized steam shipping companies (MNL OL K 228 70018/1892). One also finds a proposal of a Senj company to take over the transport of mail between Fiume and Senj for state aid (MNL OL K 228 58602/1893). The chamber calls for the restoration of the status of the city as a free port and for support for the use of sailing ships in commerce alongside steamships (MNL OL K 228 39583/1893), etc.

47 Kolar, “Senjska trgovačko-obrtnička komora,” 160.

48 The chamber law was the Sixth Act of 1868 in Hungary and the Eighth Act of 1868 in Croatia.

49 The Military Frontier was a territory which served as a defense zone against incursions of the Ottoman Empire. The zone, which had special privileges and duties, was created in the sixteenth century and was abolished once the Ottoman threat became minor.

50 Kolar, “Senjska trgovačko-obrtnička komora,” 153–55.

51 Szávay, A magyar kamarai intézmény, 441.

52 One finds a request singed by Cihlar for, among other things, the deepening of the Senj port and the conversion of areas around the shore to firm land (MNL OL K 228 84102/1891), but the Maritime Authority also entrusted him with the task of preparing a comprehensive report on sea fishing (MNL OL K 228 38809/1894).

53 Cihlar’s suggestions are included in Kolar, “Senjska trgovačko-obrtnička komora,” 169–74. Cited on p. 169.

54 Cited in Kolar, “Senjska trgovačko-obrtnička komora,” 170.

55 Schorske, “The Ringstrasse,” 29–31.

56 Walker, German Home Towns; Volkov, The Rise of Popular Antimodernism in Germany.

57 For short biographies of Senj’s bishops, see Bogović, “Moji predšasnici biskupi,” 140–49.

58 “Izvještaj senjske trgovačke-obrtničke komore,” Novi List, August 1, 1903, 1.

59 On the importance of this satellite city see Kirchner Reill, The Fiume Crisis, 27–29.

60 The struggle is described in detail, from the first proposal made by engineer Kajetan Knezić in 1829 to 1941, in Kolar, “Senjska željeznica.” Senj also offered alternative proposals after the handover of the Fiume railway, mainly thanks to the efforts of Sebald Cihlar, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, who called for the construction of a line that would connect Senj and Bihac and thus the coast and Bosnia after the occupation of the latter. As is well known, in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the concept of a Budapest-centered railway network prevailed, and in the end, Budapest was connected to Sarajevo via Brod.

61 The most comprehensive work on the Party of Rights is Gross, Izvorno pravaštvo.

62 Turkalj, “Pravaški pokret u brinjskom kraju,” 408–9.

63 Ibid., 419–24.

64 On this infamously dramatic scene but also, more importantly, on Gržanić’s entire political career, see Kolar, “Senjanin Josip Gržanić.”

65 Kolar, “Senjanin Josip Gržanić,” 8.

66 The disturbances broke out following the violation of the Hungarian-Croatian Settlement of 1868 by Antal Dávid, head of the Zagreb Financial Directorate, who placed bilingual (Croatian and Hungarian) signs on the facade of the Directorate’s building in Zagreb instead of the existing, exclusively Croatian ones. The uprising mirrored general dissatisfaction with Hungarian dominance. See Pavličević, Narodni pokret 1883.

67 Pavličević, “Senj u narodnom pokretu,” 38–39. Krajacz’s career was shaped in no small part by the fact that his financial interests lay in Fiume, not Senj.

68 Ibid., 41.


Soldiers in the Revolution: Violence and Consolidation in 1918 in the Territory of the Disintegrating Kingdom of Hungary

Tamás Révész
Research Centre for the Humanities
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 4  (2021):737-767 DOI 10.38145/2021.4.737

In November 1918, as in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a large wave of violence swept across the territory of the crumbling Kingdom of Hungary. Soldiers returning from the fronts played a key role in the acts of looting that were committed everywhere. At the same time, many of the soldiers joined the various paramilitary policing units that were being formed. In the traditional historiography, one finds essentially two attempts to explain the behavior of these soldiers. Left-leaning interpretations have tended to characterize the events as precursors to an early agrarian socialist revolution, while more nationalistic interpretations have seen them as the first steps in a national revolution. Drawing on archival sources which until now have remained unused, this essay discusses the background and motivations of the soldiers involved in the looting. It then analyses the circumstances surrounding the formation of law enforcement guard forces and the motivations of those who joined these forces.

Keywords: WWI veterans, green cadres, paramilitarism, brutalization, peasant violence, revolution

On November 3, 1918, the denizens of a small village called Adony, situated 50 km south of Budapest, held a popular assembly. The crowd wanted to raise flour rations, bring prices down to peacetime levels, and abolish the food rationing system. Last and in all likelihood not least, they wanted to open the taverns and put an end to the alcohol ban that had been in place. According to the official reports, the core of the rioters consisted of Austro-Hungarian veterans who had fought in World War I. The frightened notary, together with the merchants and landowners, appeared willing to meet their demands. Nevertheless, the crowd broke into the shops during the night and either stole or destroyed everything they found. The looters only plundered the stores owned by Jews, saying that they would break into the stores owned by Christians the next day. They never got the chance, however. A police force arrived from the barracks in the nearby city of Székesfehérvár and put an end to the upheaval. Two people were executed, and with the help of the local aldermen, a national guard was organized in the village consisting of men who had served as soldiers.1

This episode offers a clear illustration of two patterns of behavior that were typical of soldiers of Austria-Hungary returning from the fronts in early November 1918. As was the case in other successor states of the disintegrating empire, the members of the once proud Habsburg armed forces played a key role in the large-scale disturbances of the peace that were breaking out. At the same time, many of them were joining the various leftwing, rightwing, nationalist, or completely apolitical paramilitary formations which were springing up all over the country like mushrooms.

In the traditional historiography of the post-Habsburg states, one finds essentially two explanations for the behavior of these soldiers. According to the socialist revolutionary narrative, the events of 1918 were antecedents to a genuine Bolshevik revolution. The people at the heart of the disturbances were allegedly (according to this explanation) seeking to create a just communist society, but they were unable to do so in the absence of a political party to lead them.2 This leftwing narrative appeared in this blunt, extreme form almost exclusively in Hungary in the successor states, it was often intertwined with a nationalist interpretation, and the two appeared together.3

According to this latter interpretation, the soldiers who were returning from the front rejected the rule of the “oppressive” empires and strove resolutely to create nation-states. For instance, in his narrative concerning the transformation of the region in 1918, Marián Hronský contends that, following the collapse of the old system, the Slovak peasantry, filled with an elusive sense of freedom, attacked their former oppressors. The fact that members of the Slovak intelligentsia were able to quell the riots offers, according to Hronský, a clear indication of the fundamentally nationalistic nature of the uprising. He argued that the people responsible for the disturbances recognized these elites as their legitimate leaders.4 One finds similar interpretations in the traditional Romanian historiography as well. Gheorghe Iancu, for instance, argues that a “genuine Romanian national revolution took place” in November 1918, which finally brought Transylvania under the control of the Romanian-speaking majority.5

In recent decades, modern historiography has tried to provide more nuanced analyses of the interwar transformation of the region. The current literature tends to emphasize the importance of continuity, especially on the local level, and it presents the transformation from empire to nation-state as a slow and gradual process.6 This trend coincides with the emergence of new innovative studies discussing the role of war veterans in the interwar period. Most of these inquiries have dealt primarily with far-right groups which formed in the ruins of the disintegrating empires. They argue that the experiences of the returning veterans during the violent months of late 1918 an early 1919 led to their quick radicalization. These ex-servicemen continued to fight against the “internal enemies” of the nation, and their actions greatly contributed to the violent political culture of the region. In the case of Hungary, Béla Bodó published pioneering studies on Horthy’s radical rightwing paramilitaries. He argues that their actions cannot be interpreted as a mere reaction to the Hungarian Soviet Republic. He claims that the atrocities they committed were patterned acts perpetrated in a time of perceived social crisis.7

The recent scholarship also highlights the important pre-1914 roots of the violence which broke out in the region. They argue that the social crisis caused by the war (especially in its latter years) catalyzed existing conflicts.8 In the case of the former Hungarian Kingdom for example Miloslav Szabó points out the continuity of anti-Semitic political rhetoric in the territory of today’s Slovakia and its influence from the late nineteenth century to the interwar period.9

Veterans returning from the war who were apolitical or significantly less radical, however, have never really been given comparable attention in the secondary literature. Jakub Benes’s 2017 groundbreaking article on the green cadres took a new approach to the study of the armed groups, active in the hinterland of the Habsburg Empire. According to Benes, “the Green Cadres represented a major rural insurgency, […] which bore the hallmarks of peasant revolts of previous centuries but was also a bid to influence, and participate in, post-imperial national politics.”10 Benes’s study focuses primarily on Moravia, Galicia, and Slavonia and offers only a partial analysis of the events which took place in Hungary. His work has had an inspiring effect on Hungarian historians. New studies by Balázs Ablonczy, Pál Hatos, and Tamás Csiki have been published on the “forgotten revolution” in the Hungarian countryside. They persuasively point out the importance of these (neither red, nor white) peasant movements in the dissolution of the state administration on the local level.11 This essay seeks to contribute to this new trend in the literature. While it challenges the dual explanation of the traditional national historiographies, it aims to provide a better understanding of the acts committed by veterans during the last months of 1918. The first section deals with soldiers who caused upheavals and disorder. It identifies the regions and places in the Hungarian Kingdom where the violence was the most intense and sheds light on the social backgrounds of the perpetrators. The second part investigates the nature of the violence. It aims to go beyond the traditional Bolshevik and national narratives and provide a more nuanced explanation of the motivations of the rioters. The third section strives to add nuance to the picture of a “revolutionary” soldier and examine the role of veterans in the consolidation of the countryside. It focuses on the social backgrounds of the men who joined the different paramilitary formations and considers their possible motivations for doing so.

The Peasant Revolution of November 1918: A Topography of Violence

Beginning in 1917, more and more violent acts were being committed in the hinterland of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Armed groups of deserters were able to bring whole regions under their control, for the most part in Slavonia. This was less true in the territories of the Kingdom of Hungary than it was in Cisleithania, but there were several groups of deserters who were active in the valley of the Vág River and the mountainous western regions of Transylvania. In some cases, rebel soldiers were able to take control of entire city districts. On May 20, 1918, for instance, soldiers who were protesting against orders to go to the front seized and, for a short time, held the train station in the city of Pécs, a regional center in southern Hungary.12

The situation in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary became critical after the victory of the Aster Revolution on October 31, 1918. Although the regime change led by Count Mihály Károlyi, took place relatively bloodlessly in Budapest, at the news of the collapse of the monarchy, a wave of violence swept through rural areas of the country. Although the violence caused by the returning soldiers and the peasantry was typical of the entire territory of the collapsing Hungarian Kingdom, the situation was the most serious in the northern and eastern parts of the country, which were mainly inhabited by members of the national minorities.13 The upheavals lasted for about two weeks, and by mid-November, consolidation had begun in the central lowlands and larger cities of the country. However, in some areas, the Budapest government failed to hold its grip on power.14 In Transylvania, the Hungarian administrative bodies in the Metaliferi Mountains had lost almost all influence over events, and Árva County (today Orava County, Slovakia) in the north was almost completely lost to the Károlyi government. In these places, especially in Transylvania but also in the northern part of present-day Slovakia and in the eastern part of Transcarpathia, the newly formed national councils took over.15 In many places, the Hungarian administration essentially abandoned the countryside and withdrew to the larger cities, where they tried to unite the remaining law enforcement units and solidify their positions. In Hunyad County (mostly congruent with Hunedoara County today, in Romania), for example, at the beginning of December 1918, all gendarmerie units were summoned Déva (today Deva, Romania), the county seat.16 In Máramaros County (today Maramureş County, Romania), on November 10, all “at-risk” gendarmes were already stationed in Máramarossziget (today Sighetu Marmaşiei, Romania). Similar measures were introduced in the northern part of Upper Hungary. The gendarmes who had been withdrawn from Liptó County (today Liptov County, Slovakia) and Árva County were all sent to Kassa (today, Košice Slovakia), and the soldiers of Trencsén County (today Trenčín County, Slovakia) and Zsolnai County (today Žilina, Slovakia) retreated to the town of Žilina.17 The topography of violence can be observed on a micro level as well. Certain sites in the rural parts of the country were especially dangerous in the first days of November 1918.

These zones of violence can be divided into two groups. The rebels attacked buildings in which there were items valuable enough to merit looting, for the most part food, tobacco, and even money. In November 1918, the railway stations were, from this perspective, the most critical sites. The riots usually started at the train stations and then spread to the rest of the settlements. The railways were prominent sites for the disturbances for two reasons. First, most of the soldiers travelled by train, so suddenly, several hundred or even thousands of hungry, cold, and often armed soldiers would show up at the stations on the major railway lines. Second, there were usually plenty of military buildings near the train stations in which large quantities of munitions were stored.18

In the city of Kolozsvár (today Cluj, Romania), soldiers returning from the front pillaged the warehouses and train cars in the station on November 1, 1918 in search of food, clothing, and alcohol.19 In some cases (especially when the soldiers drastically outnumbered the local authorities), they took the entire station under their complete control. In Tövis (today Teiuş, Romania), a city not far from Kolozsvár, the soldiers simply disarmed the railway personnel and the small number of armed guards at the station and then looted the ammunition and tobacco depots.20

Prisoner-of-war camps which had either been abandoned or which were in the process of being dismantled were also frequent targets of the people responsible for the uprisings and upheaval. Winter was approaching, so what little food remained in these camps was valuable, as was the wood that had been used to build the barracks. In the cities in which there were, for all practical purposes, no armed forces of any consequence, the soldiers even attacked the army barracks. On November 4, for instance, the soldiers in the city of Nagyszeben (today Sibiu, Romania) looted the army barracks, together with many locals. The mob stole not only the stocks in the food depots but also the cash and the government bonds in the regiment coffers.21

In most settlements, the soldiers’ most common targets were the local stores and businesses. For example, on December 11 and 12, 1918, roughly 500 armed soldiers swarmed the streets of the city of Kaposvár (the seat of Somogy County in southern Transdanubia), where they broke into, pillaged, and set fire to many shops. Between 10 and 12 people were killed in the course of the looting.22 In many cases, the looters shouted anti-Semitic slurs. On November 1, at the news of the revolution which had taken place in Budapest, in the small settlement of Tótkomlós in Békés County rioters looted shops owned by Jews and either beat or drove off the merchants they found there. They set many of the houses owned by Jews in the town on fire, and they murdered the Jewish cantor. As it was a market day, the soldiers were joined by peasants from the area, who later chanted the following anti-Semitic taunt in front of the building of the local savings bank: “Down with the Jews, down with the rich!” “Long live the republic!”23 There were similar cases of looting and violence in northern and eastern Hungary as well, for instance in Bars Country (the territory of which today is in Slovakia) and Szilágy County (the territory of which today is in northwestern Romania), and also in Máramaros.24 Although the sources clearly indicate the places where the acts of violence were committed, they are vague with respect to the perpetrators of the these acts. It is not easy to determine the social backgrounds of the rioting soldiers because most of the available sources were written by the representatives of the state authorities. They usually described the rioters as “scum,” “shirkers,” or a mob. Some sources, however, tried to draw distinctions among the particular groups and determine who could be blamed for the violence. They mostly reported that “poor peasants,” “women,” and “soldiers” were the most sizeable groups in the rioting crowds. The inclusion of the first two groups alongside the soldiers was based on earlier perceptions about the allegedly “unreliable,” “irresponsible,” and “hysterical” elements of society. The frequent appearance of soldiers as a distinct group could be explained by two factors. First, due to the lack of civil clothing at the demobilization stations in November 1918, many veterans were still wearing their uniforms even long after they had been demobilized and had returned to their home communities. These people could appear in the eyes of the state authorities as “soldiers,” an easily identifiable group in the crowd. However, in all likelihood, the veterans did not have any separate or special agenda that differed from the goals of the “civilian” peasants of their own local communities.

Second, in many cases, former soldiers were the most radical and seemingly most dangerous perpetrators. Often, their arrival home provoked violent uprisings.25 The chief judge of Zenta (today Senta, Serbia), for example, reported that, until November 2, 1918, in many settlements in Bács-Bodrog County (today’s northern Serbia and southern Hungary), “there was nothing to complain about from the perspective of public order and safety.” When the soldiers arrived the next day, however, they were joined by shirkers, and together, they “rioted with unbridled destructiveness, set fires, looted, and stole.”26 In other settlements, returning soldiers were catalysts for disorder. In Versec (today Vršac, Serbia), for example, after the military train arrived in the station, the people returning from the front immediately began to riot. Once the news spread, they were joined almost immediately by the reservists stationed in the city, as well as the civilian population.27 Unfortunately, we know relatively little about the ethnic backgrounds of the rioting soldiers. From what sources we do have, it seems that members of all the ethnic groups living in the Kingdom of Hungary took part in the instances of upheaval and insurrection. Among the soldiers who looted warehouses and train stations, one finds young men of Hungarian, Romanian, and various Slavic nationalities.28

Fortunately, the sources contain more information about the social backgrounds of the veterans. As in the case of the 1918 German revolution, most of the participating soldiers were older reservists who had spent the second part of the war in the hinterland. We can be more or less sure about this, because at the time of the uprising, the actual frontline soldiers had not yet returned home. These veterans arrived in Hungary only in the middle of November, when the largest wave of violence had subsided.29 One finds further support for this conclusion in the fact that the crisis hotspots did not break out in the western part of the country, where most of the units returning from the front arrived, but rather in the peripheral territories of the country, which even during the pre-war period had been under a less effective state control. The relative proximity of the soldiers to their homes would explain why they were able to take the side of the rebellious peasantry almost immediately and why they apparently identified with the grievances of the people living in the rural communities around them. Soldiers stationed in the hinterland knew firsthand the hardships faced by the civilian population, as they were able to keep in touch with friends and family members much more easily than the soldiers who were stationed on the Italian or the Balkan fronts, whose correspondence was subject to the censors.30

The Nature of the Violence

It is hard to determine the motivations of the thousands of people who participated in the massive uprisings in the autumn of 1918. There are, however, some distinguishable patterns of violence. Sometimes, the people involved in the riots were not motivated simply by the desire to loot or steal. In many cases, they attacked institutions or individuals who, in their eyes, represented the authority of the old state. Some of the violence that accompanied the riots remained symbolic. Portraits of the king, for instance, were destroyed and the officers’ insignias were torn off.31 In the majority of cases, however, they did not content themselves with these kinds of symbolic shows of discontent. Rather, they beat and, in many cases, killed local representatives of the government, including clerks, mayors, and officials.32 According to some estimates, at least one third of the government clerks in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary were driven from their settlements. This was particularly common in but not restricted to the areas in which the local majority population did not regard itself as Hungarian. According to the reports, in the whole county of Maros-Torda (today Mureş-Torda, Romania), for example, all of the aldermen in the towns and villages were driven from their posts. In the area around the city of Óbecse (today Bečej, Serbia) in the south, all the clerks fled. According to the deputy lieutenants in Gömör and Kishont County (the territory of which lies for the most part in Slovakia today,) in the north, in the early days of November, district clerks, chief magistrates, and in many places even forestry officials had to flee their homes.33

The uprisings among soldiers in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary followed the choreography of a premodern peasant uprising. The acts committed by the people responsible for the upheaval can thus basically be interpreted as a kind of reactive violence.34 Like the riots carried out in other areas of the collapsing Habsburg Empire, the rebellions were not intended to usher in a new system or lay the foundations for a new world, at least initially, but rather to restore a preexisting moral order, or at least a moral order that was seen in population imagination as having existed.35 According to the peasant population and the soldiers, the local representatives of the state administration had expected them to make unjust and disproportionate sacrifices during the war.

In a November 8 report, the notary of the small town of Újléta in the Great Plain described the vulnerable position of the representatives of the state administration as follows:

When the clerks were implementing the decrees issued by the state, they roused the anger of the people. They did not give wartime aid to anyone whose livelihood was secure because the government had instructed them not to. They could not exempt any individual soldier because they had not been empowered to do so. They could not give clothing to those who were cold or bread to those who were going hungry, because, in some cases, they themselves had none to give, and if they did, they didn’t have much. First, they took the fathers for service, then the sons, and they withdrew military aid from the families of those who had fallen in battle because the state had instructed them to do so.36

In November 1918, news of the revolution in Budapest and the collapse of the monarchy essentially created a chance for the soldiers to settle accounts and seek some form of compensation for the injustices they felt, rightly or wrongly, that they had suffered. In the eyes of the peasantry (and this interpretation is arguably a motif in the traditional narrative crafted by the peasantry concerning oppressors), merchants and others in the world of commerce had also profited unfairly while, in the meantime, the majority had enjoyed none of the benefits of the war and, indeed, had fallen into poverty. In their understandings of the shifting circumstances, in general, the returning soldiers saw much beyond the borders of their own villages or the areas surrounding the towns they called home. Their visions of a just world would have been difficult to incorporate into a political party platform. The courthouses which were tied to the new liberal Budapest government fell prey to looters much as the manors and castles of the representatives of the old order did.37 This sense of justice based on the local assertion of authority also explains why certain institutions and individuals were spared. In the aforementioned settlement of Tótkomlós, for example, all the shops were looted, but the building of the bank where the farmers kept their money went undamaged.38

Many of these attacks were fueled by strong antisemitism. As was true in the case of the pogroms that were committed in the city of Lemberg (today Lviv, Ukraine), there were essentially two motivations behind these atrocities.39 Clearly, some of the attacks were fueled by envy and the desire to steal. In many parts of the country and especially in the smaller settlements, a significant proportion of the people involved in commerce were Jewish. Their shops were simply the most obvious and, often, simply the only target for the looters.40

The ideological antisemitism had deeper roots in the Hungarian countryside, however, especially in the northeastern parts of the country, where most of the atrocities took place. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the new agrarian political parties, which were very popular among the region’s Greek Catholic elite, connected the economic development of the region with Anti-Semitic ideas. They promoted selective anti-Semitism against the “foreign” eastern Jews, who were allegedly “exploiting” the local peasantry and hampering its social, economic, and cultural development. The propagated aim of this Christian agrarian movement was to achieve social justice through the quick and radical redistribution of wealth, which would be taken from the “foreigners” and given to the local peasantry. This idea was often supported by the liberal Hungarian state administration as well.41 These ideas became more and more popular during World War I. The need for “social justice” became particularly acute due to the massive economic hardships experienced by many peasants during the latter years of the war. Thus, it is no surprise that the tensions that were kindled as a consequence of the practice of scapegoating the local Jewish communities for (perceived or real) social injustices became one of the main motivations for the anti-Semitic attacks in November 1918.

In many cases, the peasantry saw the atrocities as acts of just punishment committed against the Jews for their alleged sins and wrongdoings. According to the peasantry, with its conduct both during and after the war, the Jewry of Hungary had broken an unwritten social contract which specified its place in the social hierarchy. For instance, in the case of anti-Semitic atrocities committed by Ruthenian-speaking communities, in many places, news of the alleged arming of the Jewish population was cited as an explanation (or pretext) for the acts of violence (as was true in places in Galicia).

In many settlements, the word “Jew” was understood as a synonym for “rich” or for “war-profiteer,” so the acts of violence committed against Jews were motivated both by “ideological” anti-Semitism (i.e. the identification of Jews as belonging to a different religious community) and by the perception of their economic status. Though admittedly the relationships between these perceptions are often blurred. Seemingly the latter (i.e. the perception of economic difference) was in some cases more important than the former. For instance, in Tótkomlós, all the shops owned by Jewish inhabitants of the town were looted with the exception of one, the Vogel bakery, because it was the place where “bread for the poor man was baked.” The fact that the head of the family was serving on the front at the time (and thus was doing his “fair” share) may also have played a role in the decision of the locals to spare his store.42 In other areas and especially in northeastern Hungary, where many of the local leaders in the public administration were Jewish, many of the members of the Slovak-speaking or Ruthenian-speaking population saw them as representatives of the Hungarian state. In Alsóvis (today Viştea de Jos, Romania), for example, the clerk was made the target of the anti-Semitic attacks, and he was forced by the mob to resign.43 In these areas, anti-Semitism and anti-Magyar sentiment often meant the same thing, as the majority of the Magyar-speaking elite were Jewish.44 In the spring of 1919, the invading Czech legionaries adopted essentially the same logic when they attacked the Jewish citizens of the towns in what had been Upper Hungary.45

In several places, uprisings did indeed break out as national conflicts, and the change of rule was interpreted in this context. In the areas in which the majority population was Hungarian-speaking, this often meant a revival of the anti-Habsburg traditions of 1848. For example, on October 31, 1918, in the city of Várpalota, a detachment assigned to the railway station tore off the insignia on the soldiers’ caps that were signs of the Habsburg House and demanded that the soldiers wear the cockade that was used as the symbol of the Hungarian National Council as a sign of the country’s newly won independence.46 The uprisings took on national connotations primarily in settlements in which the efforts to cultivate a sense of Romanian, Slovak, Serb, or Ruthenian national identity had met with success towards the end of the nineteenth century. In many of these communities, the local national elites were at the forefront of the groups leading the uprisings. They felt that the time had come to seize power from the Hungarian majority.

In Tornova (today Târnova, Romania), near Arad, for example, in early November, two lieutenants of Romanian nationality had the local population swear allegiance to the Romanian National Council in the church. The crowd then allegedly set fire to all the houses in the town which were home to Hungarian speakers and chose individuals from among themselves to form the new prefecture.47 At the town hall of Apahida (today in Romania) near Kolozsvár, a newly arrived Romanian lieutenant proclaimed that “power is in the hands of the Romanians,” and that from that moment on, “Romanian laws apply.” In the second week of November, the Romanian national councils around Balázsfalva (today Blaj, Romania) resolved to replace the “foreign” gendarmerie (which in many places consisted largely of Romanians) with Romanian national guards.48 In Szancsal (today Sâncel, Romania), a lieutenant in the Romanian National Guard took control of the gendarmerie barracks and proclaimed that he does not want to see any gendarmes anymore.”49 The conflicts were especially violent in regions in which the Romanian-Hungarian atrocities dated back to the mid-nineteenth century. For example, in Fehér County the Hungarian elite was in constant fear of an ethnic conflict similar to what had happened in 1848–1849. These interethnic tensions were particularly acute after the unsuccessful Romanian military campaign in the region in 1916.50 The situation was not the same in all regions of Transylvania, however. In many places, for a long time, there were clear signs of cooperation rather than conflict. In many of the settlements in the eastern part of the Hungarian Great Plain which had a Romanian-speaking majority, the atrocities committed by the soldiers did not seem to be motivated by any kind of attachment to national identity.51 In Máramaros, the Romanian-speaking population remained basically peaceful, in contrast with the pro-secession Ruthenian groups. According to one report, “the Ruthenians are already openly saying that they want to belong to Ukraine, and they are calling on Ukrainian troops for help, and then they will finish with the Hungarian population here.”52 However, the situation in the Ruthenian-speaking communities in Transcarpathia was also not uniform. Here too, Ukrainian nationalist ideas were stronger among the elites, especially in the more isolated region around the town of Kőrősmező (today Yasinia, Ukraine).

In the southern parts of Hungary, the riots and upheaval were mainly caused by soldiers from the rapidly disintegrating Balkan army, which was stationed nearby. Here too, the crisis was dire, as succinctly put in a telephone report received by the Ministry of Defense from Nagybecskerek (today Zrenjanin, Serbia): “The situation is as bad as it could be.”53 There were relatively few reports of nationalistic uprisings in the southern region, though reports of these kinds of disturbances became more frequent with the arrival of the Serb military forces. In Szabadka (today Subotica, Serbia), for example, the day before these forces arrived in the city, members of the local Slavic communities in the area stormed the army barracks.54

Serious atrocities took place almost everywhere in Upper Hungary, though there was some variation from county to county and settlement to settlement. The city of Rózsahegy (today Ružomberok, Slovakia), for instance, which according to the reports was the centre of the Slovak national movement, was in a state of complete disarray (at least according to the reports). In Alsókubin (today Dolný Kubín, Slovakia), the soldiers forced the local authorities to fly the Slovak national flag on the town hall, and in Bártfa (today Bardejov, Slovakia), the returning soldiers marched down the main street shouting, “Long live freedom! Long live Slovakia!” In contrast, according to the reports from Liptószentmiklós (today Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia), the town was calm, though it was also home to a large Slovak-speaking majority.55

In the case of Upper Hungary, however, it seems clear that in most places, the arrival of units from the surrounding countries gave new impetus to the various national movements, and the Hungarian administration only vanished completely after the occupying troops had arrived in the towns and cities. In the case of the aforementioned Árva County, it was the arrival of Polish units that strengthened the local nationalist efforts, while in the northwestern region, it was the Czech units slowly coming across the border from Moravia who gave further momentum to the Slovak nationalist cause. In both cases, these units were essentially what remained of the earlier Habsburg reserve formations, which hardly constituted a significant military force, but these units often enjoyed the support of and were joined by members the national guard forces, who for the most part were Slovak. This took place, for instance, on November 10 in Nagybiccse (today Bytča, Slovakia) in Trencsén County.56 The people who led the attacks in Upper Hungary usually targeted clerks and Hungarian civil servants. 52 clerks fled Pozsony County, the territory around Bratislava alone.57

Consolidation and Mobilization: The Creation of the Paramilitary Units

Soldiers were not only the vanguard of the uprising but also contributed to the quick consolidation of power in the countryside. These Austro-Hungarian veterans constituted the bulk of the countless new paramilitary groups formed in the region in the autumn of 1918. However, these were not always radical rightwing paramilitary groups.58 Law enforcement agencies, labor unions, landowners, and even the leaders of large factories tried to hire as many people as possible to protect themselves from the people causing the upheavals. These spontaneously formed units often clashed with one another and committed bloody atrocities. In Jósikafalva (today Beliş, Romania), not far from Kolozsvár, for example, a paramilitary squad that protected the manor house of local landowner János Urmánczy from looting staged a serious massacre and slaughtered Romanian peasants. A paramilitary group recruited by Urmánczy’s brother killed at least 20 to 30 people, but probably as many as 90. All this put the Károlyi government, which was negotiating with the Romanian delegates at the time, in a very difficult situation.59

The Budapest government quickly sensed that these groups were threatening its authority in the collapsing country, and it therefore tried to regulate the spontaneously formed paramilitary units as quickly as possible and restore its own monopoly on the use of force. On November 12, 1918, the so-called National Guard was established, under the umbrella of which most of the internal security policing units were to fall.60 The organization of national guard units proved surprisingly successful. At the beginning of December, a total of 100,000 people served in some such paramilitary unit in the Kingdom of Hungary.61 One has a sense of the importance of this force if one compares this number with the number of soldiers who were serving in the regular Hungarian army at the time, which was barely 37,000. Even the National Army under Miklós Horthy, who would soon assume control of Hungary, had less than 100,000 soldiers in its ranks. Indeed, only the Red Army organized by the short-lived Soviet Republic under Béla Kun was able to mobilize more soldiers (between 120,000 and 200,000).62

There were significant regional differences, however, within the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary. As a proportion of the local population, most national guard units were formed in the Great Plain and the central part of the country. These were usually counties which had Hungarian majorities and which were relatively close to the capital. Separate Romanian, Saxon, and Hungarian national guard forces were established in Transylvania. According to reports, at the end of November, 6,616 Hungarian national guards were stationed in the region, along with roughly the same number of Saxons and about 3,700 Romanian national guards. The number of the latter may have been higher, but in all likelihood some of the Romanian commanders no longer bothered to report these soldiers to the Hungarian authorities. Most of the Hungarian and Saxon national guards served in the larger cities, while the Romanian units tended to hold the rural areas under their control.63

For the most part, mobilization was carried out not by the official state bodies but by the municipalities, in cooperation with the officers of the remaining local military formations. In early November 1918, several calls were issued to the local press. The population was called on to defend “law and order.” An article in Dunántúl (Transdanubia), a journal published out of Pécs, informed its readership that, in order to ensure internal order and peace, the establishment of a civil guard and a national guard had been ordered in all villages, because the region was endangered by “neighbouring Slavonian-Croatian gangs of rioters.”64 These kinds of claims were not new. Before 1914, the middle class had offered similar explanations for the establishment of its shooting associations, which were allegedly founded in order to protect “law and order.”65 In 1918, law enforcement guards were usually recruited in public buildings, mostly the town hall but also in the police and gendarmerie barracks. In some places, enthusiastic military officers went out into the streets and tried to gather people. In Arad (today in Romania), people were recruited by officers in cars in front of the city cafés, where the officers present held patriotic speeches.66

Rural National Guard units were usually led by reserve military officers or career soldiers who had already served somewhere in the hinterland by the autumn of 1918. Unfortunately, we have very little information concerning the individuals who joined the National Guard. Based on the few surviving sources, most of the members seem to have had similar social backgrounds to the rioters. They were older servicemen, who had served in reserve formations at the end of World War I. Many of them were already in the hinterland in the early days of November 1918.67

The mobilization of the formations established in early November 1918 followed two patterns. Most of the paramilitary units were essentially mobilized by the old elite in an attempt to consolidate their positions.68 In the more prominent cities, they were created by renaming the replacement formations (Ersatzbattalion) of the old regiments. In Nyitra (today Nitra, Slovakia), for example, the National Guard detachments were formed out of what remained of the 13th and 62nd infantry regiments. In many cases, the national guard units in smaller settlements were established by renaming some kind of gendarmerie or police formation or even a volunteer fire brigade.69 These units used the existing gendarmerie and police infrastructure. In larger settlements, national guards were usually given lodgings in empty military barracks, while in smaller settlements, they were housed in public schools or other buildings previously used for military purposes. They then set out from these locations to patrol the area. Police and gendarmerie headquarters were also responsible for providing them with food and equipment. At the head of the emerging national guard units, one usually found professional soldiers or, in many cases, reserve officers (or in the case of villages, non-commissioned officers).70

In larger settlements, the bulk of the national guard forces consisted of university and high school students. In Kolozsvár, a volunteer corps of university students was formed in the military barracks under the leadership of former Habsburg and Hungarian officers living in the city.71 In other settlements, many of the people who served in the national guard units were students in local high schools. In Nagyvárad (today Oradea, Romania), for example, the oldest grades of the local military school disarmed soldiers arriving at the train station in the city.72 The mobilization of students followed patterns which had existed already at the outbreak of World War I. As had happened in 1914, the students, under the guidance of their teachers, marched into the nearby barracks and began to perform auxiliary services.73 It is thus hardly surprising that, in November 1918, when a crisis began to break out in the hinterland because of the soldiers returning from the front, the mobilization of students was a matter of course for both schools and the civilian authorities.

However, in November 1918, some of the paramilitary units that were formed were not created under the control of the elite from the Dualist Era. In many places in the areas with Hungarian-speaking majorities, returning soldiers replaced the local gendarmerie and created new law enforcement formations. In the village of Guta (today Kolárovo, Slovakia), for example, the returning soldiers completely took over the civilian administration, and they also selected the leaders of the National Council from among themselves.74

The role of soldiers in the change of elites was most spectacular in the peripheral areas of the country. New Romanian national guards were formed in certain areas of Transylvania, mainly in the areas with Romanian-speaking majorities. The sources suggest that most of these units were made up of returning veterans, and the equipment and clothing they used had been taken from the military warehouses they had seized.75 Romanian national guard units were usually led by members of the local Romanian elite, former Austro-Hungarian officers of Romanian nationality. In Szászváros (today Orăştie, Romania), for example, under the command of a lieutenant colonel of Romanian nationality, the members of the national guard took supplies from the barracks of the former 82nd Infantry Regiment and then set out and tried to disarm the Hungarian gendarmes. Initially, the Károlyi government supported and oversaw the establishment of the Romanian National Guard. After a while, however, most of these units only took instructions from the Romanian National Council. However, this did not mean that each national guard followed exclusively and consistently the instructions of its own political leadership.76 On November 21, 1918, in Dés (today Dej, Romania), in the central part of Transylvania, for example, a mixed Romanian-Hungarian detachment disarmed soldiers who were outraged because of their pay.77 In larger cities such as Nagyszeben, a Romanian national guard numbering 1,000 men, a Saxon national guard of 700 men, and a Hungarian national guard of 120 men were present at the same time.78

On November 16, 1918, the Hungarian government tried to reach an agreement with the Slovak National Council to maintain order. The Slovak national guard forces would have had authority over the northernmost counties, while the Hungarian national guards would have been responsible for what today is southern Slovakia. It was also agreed that Hungarian-speaking officers would serve in the Slovak national guard forces and Slovak-speaking officers would serve in the Hungarian national guard forces in order to ensure that they would be able to quell conflicts that might arise in linguistically mixed areas.79

In Transcarpathia, the region which at the time was in northeastern Hungary, the Ruthenian elite was divided. In the area around the city of Ungvár (today Uzhhorod, Ukraine), the majority accepted the plans sent from Budapest concerning the creation of an autonomous region, while a smaller group supported accession to Czechoslovakia. However, in the areas furthest from Budapest, around Máramaros, the returning soldiers, like some of their Ukrainian comrades in Galicia, established a short-lived independent state.80 At the beginning of January 1919, under the leadership of Stepan Klochurak, a 23-year-old former ensign, the independent Hucul Republic was proclaimed in Kőrősmező. Ukrainian veterans formed their own guard forces, which drove off the Hungarian national guard forces in the region. Klochurak’s ultimate goal was to join Ukraine, but the state was destroyed by invading Romanian troops in the summer of 1919.81

Perhaps the most unusual self-defence force that was created in the Kingdom of Hungary in the turmoil which came in the wake of the war was the so-called Jewish Volunteer Squadron. The squadron was founded by Adolf Strausz, who learned about the anti-Semitic atrocities which were being committed against Jews in rural parts of the country in early November. Strausz was a leading figure in the Hungarian Zionist movement, and he used his contacts to recruit reserve officers and students from the Maccabean associations to the corps. The unit, later renamed the Volunteer Police Squadron, was stationed in Budapest under the command of a Zionist engineer and captain in reserve Ármin Beregi.82 According to estimates which seem inflated, by the time it was dissolved in February 1919, it numbered roughly 2,000 soldiers, including many Christians.83

The different ethnic elites were not the only groups to establish new law enforcement formations. Representatives of the Social Democratic Party, which was gathering strength, also did. After the victory of the Aster Revolution, in the cities, the Social Democratic Party created the largest law enforcement units. In many settlements, union members formed their own self-defence units under the leadership of local heads of the Social Democratic Party. In certain working districts of Budapest and in the industrial zones of Kispest and Újpest, these units were essentially the only forces engaged in and responsible for law enforcement. Here, local union leaders simply dismantled the factory guard forces, which consisted for the most part of older soldiers who served in the reserve battalions, took their weapons, and used them to arm their own men. Thus, it is not surprising that in many places the internal hierarchy of the new workers’ guard forces was almost identical to that of the unions in the factories.84 Because they could use the existing organizational structure which had been put in place to enable workers to represent their interests, these units of workers were able to mobilize much more rapidly and efficiently than other “normal” national guard forces.

The workers played a key role in maintaining order not only in Budapest, but also in many other, smaller cities which had major industrial parks. In Debrecen, for example, the largest and most reliable law enforcement force consisted of employees who worked for the national railway.85 In some large industrial centers, workers almost completely took power from the municipalities. Their best-known organization was the Zsilvölgy National Council in Transylvania, in the mining area around the city of Petrozsény (today Petroşani, Romania). In early November 1918, this body quickly put power into the hands of the local Social Democratic Party.86 According to their report, they almost immediately dismissed the military units supervising the mines, but the council of local workers and the civilian authorities were able to maintain order.

However, the important role of trade unions in setting up law enforcement units was only rarely an attempt at some kind of revolutionary takeover. In most place, the workers’ units were able to work relatively well with local law enforcement. The government leaders had few reliable soldiers on whom they could depend in the hinterland, so they often gladly entrusted the Social Democrats with the task of securing the industrial parks. In Kolozs County (today Cluj County, Romania), the military headquarters directly called on the “socialist workers” to form their own guard units and protect their factories from the looting crowd.87 Even in the aforementioned city of Petrozsény, which was the settlement which was most at the tipping point of revolution, the three-person law enforcement patrols were assembled to include one member of the old gendarmerie, one “civilian” national guardsman, and one trade union worker.88

One might well ask why the campaigns to mobilize soldiers were so successful, to which one obvious reply would be that the establishment of self-defence units was a natural and foreseeable reaction to the waves of violence. However, the situation was more complex than this answer might suggest. No clear link can be established between the extent of the violence and the effectiveness of mobilization. The largest number of paramilitary formations were not necessarily formed in the places the riots were most destructive. As Mark Jones has already shown based on the example of Germany, violent acts in given settlements are not a precondition for intensive mobilization by public authorities. If senior officials perceive themselves or their communities as facing potential threats (a perception which is usually created by rumors circulating in the press), this perception itself is more than enough to prompt mobilization campaigns.89 There was no shortage of these kinds of rumors in the press in Hungary in November 1918. On the contrary, the newspapers contained innumerable reports of murders and robberies, not to mention claims concerning prisoners of war who were allegedly eager to take revenge.90

Alongside the fear of looters, very material considerations may also have played a significant role in the successful mobilization. In early November, the government and several municipalities offered people who were willing to serve high daily wages, which must have been particularly appealing, given the widespread postwar unemployment. It is thus hardly surprising that, when there were pay-cuts, the Ministry of Defence received numerous reports concerning frustrated guardsmen who wanted to leave the force.91

The opportunity to join the National Guard may also have been appealing simply because most of the soldiers found themselves in an unusual, precarious, and transitional situation at the end of the war. They had been decommissioned, and the process of integrating these young men back into traditional (mostly peasant) society after a period during which they had been severed from their roots for several years did not seem simple. As Tamás Csíki has suggested, the returning soldiers found themselves in a liminal position for a long time.92 In some ways, the national guard forces offered an institutional framework for this transitional situation. The young men who served in the guard forces were able to preserve their military identities and function as important members of the community again.

There may have been one other important factor behind the successful mobilization of war veterans in these paramilitary formations. As the monarchy was disintegrating, local authorities were able to reach out to civilian institutions in the hinterland, such as schools and trade unions, which had a significant number of members suitable for military service. At a moment at which the state was essentially collapsing, these institutions played a major role in shaping the daily lives of ordinary people. In the big cities, this phenomenon was most visible in the case of the Social Democratic unions. In the second half of the war, with the formation of the so-called Beschwerdekomissions, the unions began to exert a decisive influence in employment services, and they often had the final say in who would remain on the frontlines and who would be able to return home. Not surprisingly, they generally showed a bias, in their decisions, for the interests of active union members. Thus, there was rapid growth in the number of organizations which represented different interest groups, and quite understandably, the people who were exempted from service were even more closely linked to their own leaders, as they had been “saved” from service on the frontlines. The leaders of the labor unions, furthermore, had already gained considerable practical knowledge, in the course of the organization of protests before the war, of how to mobilize the members of the unions.93

In rural areas, teachers and landlords usually played the leading roles in the organization of law enforcement units. They were individuals who already had prominent roles in their communities, so it was almost taken for granted that they would be entrusted with the task of leading the various self-defence forces. Furthermore, by organizing the law-enforcement units, they were able to strengthen their positions within their communities, which was particularly important at a moment which was bearing witness to the collapse of the state. This is essentially what took place in the multinational areas as well. The local (and this was true mostly in the case of Transylvania) Romanian elite may have been motivated by a desire to create some form of armed forces as quickly as possible to serve in the place of the Hungarian gendarmes, who had been driven off. This desire to create a new armed force in some cases overrode national or ethnic considerations, as even in several settlements in which gendarmes themselves were Romanians, the gendarmerie was still expelled.94

Conclusion: Soldiers in the Revolution: Uprising and Consolidation

The massive unrest in Hungary caused largely by the returning war veterans in November 1918 fits well into the general trends of the region history in the wake of the war. Like the population of the former Habsburg and Romanov Empires, people living in the territory of the collapsing Hungarian Kingdom experienced a massive wave of violence. As was the case in Slavonia or Moravia, the riots were particularly violent in the rural, distant, mountainous regions. Here, the power of the state had often been very weak before 1914, and the local administration was further weakened in the last years of the war. The social backgrounds of the perpetrators and the victims of the violence also fit well into the general trends of the region. The riots were mostly led by Austro-Hungarian veterans who, upon having returned to their home communities, became the vanguards of the local peasant movements. Unlike the Green Cadre in Slavonia and Moravia, however, these people were not deserters. They were mostly stationed in the reserve units in the hinterland and only rioted after news arrived of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian state.

The nature of the violence in Hungary is also comparable to the acts of violence in other areas of the region. The peasant-soldiers attacked the representatives of the state and the members of the local economic and political elite. In the countryside, these attacks were mostly the results of entangled sociocultural and ethnic tensions. It would be misleading, however, simply to characterize the series of uprisings that broke out in Hungary in November 1918 as stages in either a socialist or a national revolution. For the most part, the instances of violence seem to share affinities with premodern peasant uprisings. The soldiers and peasants who committed the acts of violence were not bound by any shared ideology, nor did they have leaders who they all accepted. Essentially, the acts were motivated by the desire to address social injustices, perceived and real, that had developed during World War I. The goals of those who took part in the uprisings generally concerning local issues and grievances, and the participants did not really articulate national political demands. In this respect, there were no major differences between the areas inhabited by Hungarian speakers on the one hand and members of the national minorities on the other. In some regions, however, the national and social dividing lines coincided, and here, insurgents often expressed their demands using the linguistic toolchest of nationalism or even anti-Semitism. The events which took place in Hungary did not differ significantly from the events which were unfolding in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The acts committed by the green cadres in Galicia, Slavonia, and Moravia were similarly motivated by a desire to exact (perceived) justice on the local level. The anti-Semitic nature of the attacks was not unique either, and similar events took place in Galicia in a much bloodier form.95

The intensity of the violence depend often but not exclusively on the pre-war political developments. As has been pointed out in the recent literature concerning other cases of the region, there had long been tensions, and the hardships of war aggravated these tensions. This was most clear in the case of Transylvania, where ethnic conflicts dated back to 1848–1849 and had been reinforced by the Romanian campaign of 1916. In northern Hungary, anti-Semitic attitudes and practices had long been part of the culture of the local elites, as had the idea of taking the allegedly undeserved wealth of the Jews and redistributing it among the peasants.

Despite the many similarities, the Hungarian case has some unique characteristics. In comparison with the acts committed by the Green Cadres, the riots in Hungary in November 1918 had a much smaller impact on the country’s interwar politics. In Slavonia, some of the leaders later became legendary figures of the local folklore, and they were never really integrated into the political platforms of the newly emerging nation-states.96 In contrast, the uprising which took place in Hungary in November 1918 was more or less forgotten. There are two main reasons for this. First, while the Green Cadres ruled for months or years, in Hungary, the interim “stateless” period lasted only a few weeks. In the central regions of the Carpathian basin, the Hungarian state was able to restore its rule very soon, while in the peripheral areas, the advancing Romanian, Serb, and Czechoslovak armies had taken control by the end of 1918 at the latest. These new nation-states began to organize their public administration and suppressed any kind of uprising. Second, in Hungary, a powerful “culture of defeat” developed immediately after the Treaty of Trianon was signed in 1920. The story of a spontaneous uprising led by the “‘glorious” soldiers did not harmonize well with the stab-in-the-back narrative propagated by the interwar Hungarian regime.

The Hungarian case also demonstrated clearly that the return of millions of war veterans could contribute, admittedly, to the destruction of state power, but could also further the consolidation of state power. The local elite almost immediately perceived the situation as a deep social crisis, and it began to organize self-defense forces consisting of local soldiers. The general fear of a Bolshevik-type revolution and the collapse of the social order became a powerful mobilization tool in the hands of institutions, municipalities, and trade unions. They were able to recruit large numbers of law enforcement units in response to the wave of violence. The mobilization campaigns were so successful that there were far more people serving in the national guard forces that had been created all over Hungary by November 1918 than later served in either the so-called white or red guards put together. And the local elites had done little more, in order to assemble these forces, than use the same tools that they had used in order to mobilize the civilian population in 1914. This was all part of a larger European trend. In other parts and provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, large numbers of similar law enforcement units were created, building in many cases on the existing Bürgercorps.97 In the spring of 1919, there were roughly one million people serving in the so-called Einwohnerwehren, which were locally organized self-defence militias in Germany—far more than in the far-right Freikorps.98 In the territory of the disintegrating Kingdom of Hungary, non-Hungarian elites also sought to establish paramilitary units. These formations were also usually built on the former k. u. k. military units and the memberships of nationalist associations. The involvement of high school, university and college students was not unique at all. The Polish volunteer army recruited many young boys who were college and university students. The Burschenschaft students also participated in the Kärtner Abwehrkampf in massive numbers. They also followed the patterns of mobilization established during the first years of the war. Surprisingly, the social-democratic paramilitaries also consisted of members of existing communities, mostly the local trade union cells. Similar developments can be observed in the Ruhr region as well.99

In Hungary, however, many of these local elites belonged to the non-Magyar ethnic groups. They began to form new local guards which represented new national ideas and visions of the future. These were mostly established in the regions in which the local Slavic and Romanian nation-building efforts were powerful enough to gain traction and the Hungarian state administration was weak.

Due to the heterogeneous nature of these units and the rather conservative approach of their mobilization, the general fear of revolution does not necessarily seem to have led to the establishment of radical paramilitary groups. The violent ultra-masculine communities described by Béla Bodo fit into this trend, but they constituted a minority of the many paramilitary groups and formations established in this period. In many cases, these forces were led by moderate political forces and became tools for political consolidation.

In this sense, the acts committed by war veterans in the last months of 1918 contributed to the further collapse of the state but at the same time also reinforced some of its structures. These acts, including both violence and the quick mobilization was largely influenced by the ideological, economic, and social circumstances which had prevailed before the war. They not only mark the end of an era but also showed remarkable continuity on an institutional and personal level, especially in the more rural regions of the country.

Archival Sources

Hadtörténelmi Levéltár, Budapest [Military History Archives] (HL)

Polgári demokratikus forradalom katonai iratanyaga [Military papers of the Democratic Revolution] (HL P. d. f.)

Magyarországi Tanácsköztársaság katonai iratai [Military papers of the Hungarian Council’s Republic] (HL MTK)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archive, State Archive] (MNL OL) 

K 803. 1918–1919. évi kormányhatóságok táviratgyűjteménye (1918–1919) [Telegramm collection of the state administiration 1918–1919]

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Veszprém Megyei Levéltára [Hungarian National Archive, Veszprém County Archive] (MNL VeML)

XIV. Kratochwill Károly hadosztályparancsnok iratai [Papers of Károly Kratochwill]

Országos Széchényi Könyvtár, Kéziratgyűjtemény [National Széchényi Library, Manuscript Collection] (OSZKK)


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1 HL P. d. f.) B/10. d. 4039. 37.

2 Farkas, Katonai összeomlás, 285–305; 420–21.

3 See for instance, Matichescu, The Logic of History against the Vienna Diktat, 14 and Pascu, The Making of the Romanian Unitary National State 1918, 218–21.

4 Hronský, The Struggle for Slovakia and the Treaty of Trianon. 67–69.

5 Iancu, The Ruling Council, 23.

6 See for example the studies of the Nepostrans ERC research group: Egry, “Negotiating Post-Imperial Transitions: Local Societies and Nationalizing States in East Central Europe”; Egry, “Fallen between Two Stools?’; Kosi, “The Imagined Slovene Nation and Local Categories of Identification”; Jeličić, “To Ensure Normal Administrative Order, and for the Population’s Greater Comfort?”

7 Bodó, The White Terror.

8 Böhler et al., Legacies of Violence, 3–5.

9 Szabó, “Because Words Are Not Deeds,” 170–77.

10 Beneš, “The Green Cadres and the Collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918,” 208.

11 See for instance Hatos, Az Elátkozott Köztársaság; Csíki, “A parasztság ‘forradalma’ 1918-ban”; Ablonczy, Ismeretlen Trianon.

12 Plaschka et al., Innere Front, 97.

13 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3611. 249.

14 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3610. 190.; B/8. d. 3905. 135.

15 Ablonczy, Ismeretlen Trianon, 157–58. In the case of Transylvania see HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3625. 975.

16 MNL VeML, XIV. 9. d. 253.

17 MNL (OL, K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 5/4. ö. e. II. k. 20; 5/5. ö. e. I. k. 10, 12–13.

18 Glaise von Horstenau, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg, 762–63.

19 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 2. Telegrams of military bodies. 13. d. 2/13 ő. e. 6.

20 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d 1/1 ő. e. I. k. 1.

21 MNL OL K 803. PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 5/6 ő. e. 27.

22 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3571. 114, 119, 120, and Hatos, Az Elátkozott Köztársaság, 177.

23 Szincsok, Tótkomlós története és néprajza, 190–91; Balogh, A tótkomlósi zsidók története, 29.

24 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3421. 67; 2423. 132.

25 Csíki, “A parasztság ‘forradalma’ 1918-ban,” 136–37.

26 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3431. 81.

27 HL P.d.f. B/3. d. 3491. 253.

28 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 1/1. ö. e. I. k. 1.

29 Révész, Nem akartak katonát látni?, 60.

30 HL P. d. f. B/6. d. 3823. 332. On the maintenance of contacts among soldiers, see Hanák, “Vox Populi: Intercepted Letters in the First World War.”

31 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 5/7 ő. e. 1–4; HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3430. 283.

32 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 1/1. ő. e. I. k. 58.

33 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3450. 785; HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3421. 32. 66. 67; Hatos, Az elátkozott köztársaság, 180.

34 On the difference between reactive and proactive violence, see Tilly et al., The Rebellious Century.

35 On the use of the theory of the moral economy of violence, see Hagen, “The Moral Economy of Ethnic Violence,” 217; Beneš, “The Green Cadres and the Collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918,” 224.

36 HL P. d. f. B/6. d. 3711. 101.

37 Hatos, Az elátkozott köztársaság, 175.

38 Szincsok, Tótkomlós története és néprajza, 190–91.

39 Hagen, ‘The Moral Economy of Ethnic Violence,” 219.

40 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3421. 67; 2423. 132.

41 Szabó, “Because Words Are Not Deeds,” 170–77.

42 Balogh, A tótkomlósi zsidók története, 30.

43 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3616. 341.

44 Hatos, Az elátkozott köztársaság, 182–84. On the role of the local Jewry in Hungarian nation building in northern Hungary on the basis of the examples of Nyitra and Ungvár, see Varga, The Monumental Nation.

45 Konrád, “Two Post-War Paths,” 11.

46 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3430. 283. The tradition of the 1848 revolution was an important tool of political legitimation for the Károlyi government. See Hatos, Az elátkozott köztársaság, 244–45.

47 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3605. 16.

48 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 1/1. ő. e. II. k. 70, 73.

49 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 1/1. ő. e. II. k. 64. 65. 66. 72.

50 Ablonczy, “Sérelem, jogfolytonosság, frusztráció.”

51 Romsics, Erdély elvesztése, 1918–1947, 58.

52 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3423. 132.

53 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3424. 144.

54 HL P. d. f. B/19. d. 4661. 53–54.

55 Hronský, The Struggle for Slovakia and the Treaty of Trianon, 68; HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3424. 136. On Slovak national identity, see Nurmi, Slovakia, a Playground for Nationalism and National Identity.

56 Fogarassy, “Felvidéki gerillaharcok a Károlyi-kormány idején,” 226.

57 Hronský, The Struggle for Slovakia and the Treaty of Trianon, 70.

58 HL P. d. f. B/8. d. 3905. 135; Romsics, Dokumentumok az 1918/19-es forradalmak Duna-Tisza közi történetéhez, 170, 173–74.

59 Romsics, Erdély elvesztése, 1918–1947, 101–2. OSZKK, 301. f. 31. d. Emlékirat-töredék 1918 őszéről, 15–17.

60 Tóth and Józsa, Magyarország hadtörténete, 196.

61 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3620. 477; B/5. d. 3640. 9.

62 Bodo, “The White Terror in Hungary, 1919–1921,” 139; Révész, Nem akartak katonát látni, 197.

63 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3639. 1028.

64 “A helyzet Délbaranyában.” Dunántúl, November 8, 1918, 2.

65 Morelon, “Respectable Citizens,” 12.

66 “Vigyázzunk Arad népére!” Arad és Vidéke, November 2, 1918, 3.

67 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3449. 726–27.

68 Morelon, “Respectable Citizens,” 22.

69 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3631. 798; HL P. d. f. B/3. d. 3480. 1.

70 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3444. 581–82; MNL VeML XIV. Kratochwill Károly hadosztályparancsnok iratai 9. d. László Bartha.

71 OSZKK, 301.f. 31. d, 15–17. 

72 MNL VeML XIV. Kratochwill Károly hadosztályparancsnok iratai 9. d. Egy tatabányai bányatisztviselő visszaemlékezései, 217.

HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3631. 799.

73 See for instance Loinig, “Patriotismus und Opfersinn Die Schulen Niederösterreichs im Ersten Weltkrieg.”

74 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3421. 69

75 HL P. d. f. B/1. d. 3411. 57.

76 HL P. d. f. B/5. d. 3665. 829.; HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3586. 11. 19; Pascu, The Making of the Romanian Unitary National State 1918, 217.

77 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f. 5. 67. d. 1/1. ő. e. II. k. 90.

78 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3478. 750.

79 HL P. d. f. B/1. d. 3411. 52.; B/5. d. 3665. 835.

80 Beneš, “The Green Cadres and the Collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918,” 236–37.

81 Ablonczy, Ismeretlen Trianon, 157–58.

82 Újvári, Magyar zsidó lexikon.

83 Róbert, Egyenlő jog a hősi halálra, 106–7; Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, 350–51; Hatos and Novák, Between Minority and Majority, 79–80.

84 HL MTK 1218. Vöröskatona visszaemlékezések 128. d. 33. Kaiser Nándor.

85 HL P. d. f. B/4. d. 3637. 969; “Védjük meg Aradot!,” Arad és Vidéke, November 2, 1918, 1.

86 Romsics, Erdély elvesztése, 1918–1947, 98.

87 MNL OL K 803 PTI 606. f 2. 5. d. 2/1 ő. e. I. k. 1.

88 MNL OL K 440 PTI 607 f. 3. d 38. ő. e. 4. Minutes of the Petrozsény National Council.

89 Jones, Am Anfang war Gewalt, 336.

90 HL P. d. f. B/5. d. 3647. 244.

91 HL P. d. f. B/2. d. 3450. 769–770.

92 Csíki, “A parasztság ‘forradalma’ 1918-ban,” 139, 146.

93 Varga, Háború, forradalom, szociáldemokrácia Magyarországon, 28–38; Bódy, “Szociálpolitika és szociál­demokrácia Magyarországon az I. világháború idején,” 1459–60.

94 Romsics, Erdély elvesztése, 122.

95 Hagen, “The Moral Economy of Ethnic Violence,” 218.

96 Beneš, “The Green Cadres and the Collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918,” 221.

97 Morelon, “Respectable Citizens,” 22–23.

98 Bergien, “Paramilitary Volunteers for Weimar Germany’s ‘Wehrhaftmachung’,” 191–92; Böhler, Civil War in Central Europe, 1918–1921, 132.

99 Bergien, “Paramilitary Volunteers for Weimar Germany’s ‘Wehrhaftmachung’”; “Paramilitary Volunteers for Weimar Germany’s ‘Wehrhaftmachung’”; Révész, “For the ‘Freedom and Unity’ of Carinthia?”;


Political Readings of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution in Portugal

José Miguel Sardica
Catholic University of Portugal
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 4  (2021):768-799 DOI 10.38145/2021.4.768

The 1956 Hungarian revolution had a resonant echo in Western Europe, gaining large attention and media coverage. This article explores how the small, peripheral Atlantic country of Portugal, on the other side of the European continent (Lisbon lies more than 3,000 kilometers from Budapest), which was under the rightwing conservative dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar’s New State at the time, became interested in the Hungarian events, allowing them to be written about in the most influential newspapers. The article begins with a discussion of the basic context of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and of the Portuguese political context in the mid-1950s (the Salazarist regime and the bulk of the oppositional forces) and then offers an analysis of articles found in seven important Portuguese newspapers. Essentially, it presents a survey of the coverage of the Hungarian Revolution in the Portuguese press and explores how those events were interpreted and how they had an impact on the ideological readings and positions of the government, the moderate opposition, and the radical opposition of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP).
The 1956 revolution merited extensive coverage in the Portuguese papers, with titles, pictures, and news boxes on the front pages sometimes continuing into the next pages of a given paper or on the last page. The stories were narrated, for most part, in a lively, fluid, sentimental, and apologetic language. The New State in particular, but also moderate publications which were oppositional to Salazar, endorsed the Budapest revolutionaries and criticized and denounced orthodox communism in the form of Soviet repression, either in the name of Christendom, national independence, and the Western European safeguard against communism (in the case of Salazarism), or in the name (and hope) of a democratic surge, which would usher in strident calls for civil liberties (in the case of oppositional voices). With the exception of the press organ which voiced the official position of the Portuguese Communist Party, supporting the Soviet response against the Hungarian insurgents (and thus was in sharp contrast with the larger share of public opinion), there was a rare convergence, despite nuances in the language, in the images, narratives, messages, and general tone of the articles in the various organs of the Portuguese press, which tended to show compassion and support for the insurgents in Budapest because their actions targeted communism and tended to decry the final bloody repression, which exposed the Soviet Union as a murderous regime.

Keywords: Portugal, New State, Salazar, Hungary, newspapers, public opinion, anti-communism, opposition, Portuguese Communist Party, Cold War, 1956


During the Cold War, few major events in Eastern Europe made headline news in the West. Among the events that caught the attention of people in the West were occasions in which a “distant” and “forgotten” country in the East, behind the Iron Curtain, rose to the fore and dared challenge Soviet domination. To some extent, these occasions, which included national uprisings and anti-Soviet rebellions, were a political tool with which the West could denounce the Kremlin’s international rule. These cases included, first and foremost, the revolt in East Germany in 1953, the 1956 revolution in Hungary, and the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The events in Hungary in the autumn of 1956 had a resonant echo in Western Europe, grabbing considerable attention and media coverage. In a seminal essay authored in the aftermath of the revolution, world-renowned political scientist Hannah Arendt would make the following remarks concerning the uprising:

This was a true event whose stature will not depend upon victory or defeat; its greatness is secure in the tragedy it enacted [...] What happened in Hungary happened nowhere else, and the twelve days of the revolution contained more history than the twelve years since the Red Army had ‘liberated’ the country from Nazi domination.1

The fact that Hungary caught the attention of the media and the political world in West Germany (where Hannah Arendt lived by then), France, Italy, or the UK (i.e., the major continental powers and the closest US ally) does not come as a surprise. In this article, I deal with a case which, by comparison, is a bit eccentric. I consider how Portugal, a small, peripheral Atlantic country on the other side of the European continent (Lisbon is more than 3,000 kilometers from Budapest) and under the rightwing conservative dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar’s New State, became interested in the events in Hungary, allowing them various spreads on the most influential newspapers. Recalling the basic coordinates of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and of the Portuguese political context in the mid-1950s (the Salazarist regime and the bulk of the oppositional forces) and offering an analysis of writings from seven important Portuguese newspapers, I present a survey of the Portuguese press and its coverage of the Hungarian revolution, to explore how those events were commented and impacted on the ideological readings and positions of the government, its moderate opposition and the radical opposition of the PCP, the acronym for the Portuguese Communist Party.

Salazar’s New State exerted censorship over every form of media, though at times its visible activity could be reduced, because the intensity of the repression varied according to the nature of the national or international themes. All materials were read by the censors, who would cut the forbidden parts and force newsrooms to alter contents, with no blank spaces being allowed in printed papers. From 1936 onwards, because of Spanish republican propaganda pouring into Portugal to encourage anti-Salazarist opposition, all foreign publications and news had to be authorized before being allowed into circulation. Radio was also strictly censored, and only “friendly” broadcasters were tolerated, such as the state-owned national radio company and the Catholic broadcaster. When regular television started in Portugal in 1957, there was only a single channel, and it was state-owned and thus easily controlled by the political power.2

Despite this apparatus, in late October and early November 1956, “the Portuguese press became, overnight, a very free source of knowledge on the Eastern world, about which almost everything could be said or thought.”3 The anti-communist revolution in Hungary was seen as meriting broad coverage in the Portuguese papers, with titles, pictures, and news boxes on the front pages, sometimes spreading into the interior or even the last pages, featuring, in most cases, a lively, fluid, sentimental, and apologetic language. Due to the political orientation of Salazarism, which sought to isolate the country from any undesired foreign influence, the Portuguese press had few correspondents working directly from abroad and none placed in the capital cities of Eastern countries. For international themes, newsrooms relied on dispatches from international correspondents, transmitted through news agencies, above all France Press and Reuters. In the particular case of Catholic newspapers and public opinion, close international ties were held with the Vatican State, and Pope Pius XII’s diplomatic appeals concerning the fate of the Hungarian Catholics were the prime source for the faithful Portuguese. In 1956, information from Budapest reached Portugal via Paris, Rome (the Holy See), London, and Vienna, and the mere fact that papers could publish articles about what was unfolding in Hungary, quoting the political proclamations in Budapest and the insurrectionists’ radio broadcasts and reproducing photographs, shows that censorship allowed newsrooms to do this, since all foreign material had to be preauthorized before any public release. As for the clandestine Portuguese Communist Party, its sources varied, but there were underground ties with Spanish and French communist forces, chiefly with the Parisian newspaper L’Humanité (the official organ of the French Communist Party), which had its own correspondent reporting from Budapest.

Through most newspapers, during the days of the Hungarian revolution, Portuguese readers were provided with realistic journalism which used words such as “independence,” “nationalism,” “liberty,” “democracy,” “socialism,” “revolution,” “insurrection,” “hope,” “longing,” “fight,” “combat,” “repression,” “brutality,” “massacre,” and “death.” This vocabulary, usually absent from the Portuguese media in the Salazarist conservative, sanitized state, was displayed by Salazarist papers and also by titles where moderate oppositional voices were able to state their views. The vivacity, energy, and empathy of the language conveyed how something important was taking place far from Lisbon, on the other “enemy” side of Europe, worth following and commenting on. Not surprisingly, the New State expressed its support for the Budapest revolutionaries, but so did moderate oppositional sectors to Salazar. Both criticized and denounced orthodox communism in the form of Soviet repression, either in the name of Christendom, national independence, and the protection of Western European anti-communism (in the case of Salazarism) or in the name of (and hope for) a democratic surge, which it was hoped would be accompanied by recognition of civil liberties (in the case of oppositional voices). Apart from the official position of the Portuguese Communist Party, which supported the Soviet attitude response to the Hungarian insurgents and was in sharp contrast with the larger share of public opinion, there was a rare convergence, despite the language nuances, in the images, narratives, messages, and general tone of the articles in the Portuguese press and in the support for the insurgents in Budapest, because their actions targeted communism and the final bloody repression exposed the Soviet Union as a murderous regime.

The press survey below draws on seven Portuguese titles running at the time of the Hungarian revolution: Diário de Notícias (the best-seller generalist newspaper, broadly identified with the ideological stance of the New State), O Século (a generalist, more popular newspaper, also identified with the regime), Diário da Manhã (the official newspaper for Salazarism), Novidades (the official newspaper for the Catholic church), República and Diário de Lisboa (the two main newspapers voicing moderate liberal oppositional opinions), and, lastly, differing from all these, Avante!, the monthly clandestine title which was the official organ of the Portuguese Communist Party. The survey will focus mainly on sample readings from two moments in the unfolding of the Hungarian revolution: the initial hopes in the late October days which seemed to bear witness to the triumph of the insurrection, and the disillusionment and criticism sparked by the final defeat of the revolutionary forces in the early days of November. Additionally, attention will be paid to the laudatory publicity given to many Portuguese civic pro-Hungarian demonstrations and campaigns or acts of solidarity mounted by the national authorities and the national Catholic church.4

The Events in Hungary in 1956 and the Portuguese Context: The Salazarist Regime and the Oppositional Forces

In February 1956, the denunciation of Stalin’s crimes at the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress encouraged dissidents within Eastern Europe communist parties. In Hungary, the winds of de-Stalinization ignited old national patriotic feelings and a deep anti-Soviet resentment, and various groups of intellectuals, students, and workers started crying out for freedom and a better standard of living. Khrushchev tried to tone down the Hungarian protests by encouraging the local Stalinist party leader Mátyás Rákosi to resign. Rákosi was replaced, in July 1956, by another hard-liner, Ernő Gerő, but this only intensified audible demands for change and democratization.5

On October 23, 1956, a massive popular demonstration broke out in the streets of Budapest as protesters demanded the end of the communist rule, the withdrawal of Soviet troops, a set of reforms, free elections, and the symbolic release of Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty, the Hungarian Primate, who had been imprisoned since 1949.6 Recognizing that the appointment of Gerő had been but a mistake, the Soviet authorities allowed for a restructuring of the local government. Imre Nagy (who had previously led Hungary in 1953–55) became Prime-Minister and János Kádár became the First Secretary of the Communist Party. In the following days, from October 24 to 28, revolution seemed to have triumphed, even amidst acts of repression. Nagy called on reformists (social democrats), accepted multi-partisanship, released Mindszenty and roughly 5,000 other political prisoners, and started defending a “free, democratic, and independent” Hungary, promising to abolish the secret police and secure the departure of Soviet troops from Budapest.7

On October 29, the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary withdrew. Two days later, Prime Minister Imre Nagy went one step further, and indeed in doing so took a step too far for the Kremlin, by announcing that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. Determined to crush the Hungarian “counterrevolution,” the Kremlin decided to act decisively. On November 1, 75,000 soldiers and 2,500 tanks crossed the border into Hungary heading for Budapest.8 At dawn of November 4, they reached the capital and violently repressed all demonstrators. The Soviet invasion of Budapest lasted 48 hours, with tragic numbers. An estimated 22,000 Hungarians and 2,300 Soviet soldiers were killed or wounded. In the aftermath of the repression, 100,000 citizens were imprisoned, 35,000 were put on trial, and 26,000 were found guilty and sentenced. In the following weeks, 13,000 Hungarians were dismissed from their offices or sent to Soviet camps, and some 200,000 people (two percent of the population) fled the country.9 On November 7, János Kádár was entrusted with the Hungarian government and given the task of saving the “Popular Republic” from any “fascist counterrevolutionaries.”10 Democracy in Hungary would have to wait until the revolutions of 1989–90, more than one generation later.

The Western reaction to the Hungarian uprising was primarily determined by the ruling Cold War status quo. Notwithstanding the détente that followed Stalin’s death (in 1953), the division of Europe was “a de facto state of affairs not to be challenged through military means,” and in that division, Hungary fell behind the Iron Curtain and was deeply embedded in the geographical area dominated by Soviet rule. Thus, as historians have noted, for the West, “the costs of any direct intervention within the Soviet sphere were simply too high.”11 Even if the events which had taken place in Hungary had stirred an awakening in Western European public opinion, shattering some hopes and illusions about the Soviet model of socialism and exposing it as a form of totalitarian imperialism (to the dismay of many socialist and even communist voices), all the West was willing to do was to offer criticism of the Soviet atrocities which had been committed and make pledges that the UN would support verbal condemnations of or sanctions against Moscow.12

This was also, as will be shown, the overall tone of media reactions in Portugal, where a rightwing, ultra-nationalistic, authoritarian, conservative, and Catholic-rooted dictatorship called the “Estado Novo” (New State) had been in place since the early 1930s. Led by António de Oliveira Salazar, an elitist catholic finance professor from the University of Coimbra, the New State had survived the Nazi-fascist defeat in World War II, entering a second period of its history, from 1945 until the end of the 1950s, of internal consolidation and external acceptance.13 A staunch anti-communist, Salazar always defined the ideology spreading from the Soviet Union as “the greatest heresy of our age.”14 Thus, he was able to enter the Cold War era as a tacit member and ally of the crusade against Soviet communism, or in other words as “an anticommunist bulwark of Western civilisation,”15 allowing Portugal to become a founding member of NATO in April 1949, to enter the United Nations in December 1955, and to be a founding member of EFTA (the European Free Trade Association, a rival of the continental EEC) in January 1960, all international ties which “lessened the relative isolation of Salazar’s authoritarian regime.”16 With the consolidation of the Cold War international scenario, the 1950s were the easiest and quietest years of Salazarist rule. The regime projected an image of “benign authoritarianism.”17 The Marshall Plan financial aid fostered economic development and helped calm social unrest, and the regime managed to secure more foreign endorsements of its hold on power.18 Salazar never lost sight, however, of the necessity of intensifying ideological indoctrination and taming potential problems caused by oppositional forces.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the various oppositional factions (including the Communist Party) had coalesced against Salazarism, trying to take advantage of the pro-democratic wave of 1945. The MUD, the Portuguese acronym for the Democratic Unity Movement, was created and briefly tolerated by the regime, and the upsurge of anti-Salazarism lasted until 1949, when the opposition rallied around the presidential candidacy of General Norton de Matos. But after those initial collaborative strategies, the various sectors of the opposition seemed divided, withdrawn, and demobilized, and they had a diminished capacity to intervene.19 The consolidation of the Cold War, which split Europe and the World in half and sparked new conflicts (like the Korean War of 1950–53), led to the growing distancing between Portuguese communists and all the other oppositional forces.

The Portuguese oppositional field was indeed plural rather than singular, with dividing lines whose rigidity or fluidity varied over the course of the decade.20 Two major factions can be identified: the broad spectrum of the moderate, non-communist opposition and the clandestine opposition of the Portuguese Communist Party. Tolerated by Salazar as a sort of a “semi-legal and controlled political competition,”21 the moderate opposition was a set of liberal and old republican voices mixed with younger socialist voices, the former rallying around the so-called DDS (the Portuguese acronym for Social-Democrat Directory), led by prestigious figures such as António Sérgio, Mário de Azevedo Gomes, Jaime Cortesão, and Francisco Cunha Leal, the latter consisting of the so-called RRS (the Portuguese acronym for Socialist-Republican Resistance), led by emerging figures such as Piteira Santos and Mário Soares.22 They all voiced support for Western-type democracies, and they repudiated totalitarian communism and tried to foster a peaceful (electoral) evolution for a post-Salazarist path.23 Among their ranks, a lively debate went on concerning whether or not to seek or accept communist cooperation, since doing so would render them less tolerable in the eyes of the regime and thus make it more difficult for them to attract Salazarist dissidents.24

Persecuted as an “illegal, clandestine, and radical”25 opposition, the PCP had been created in March 1921, and it was later one of the forces fighting against Salazar’s ascent to power. Deemed an “atheist,” “revolutionary,” and “foreign” negative influence by the New State, the PCP was able to survive underground, with secret passwords and informants, a ciphered language, and some discreet typographies, and the party was able to keep a monthly newspaper entitled Avante! in circulation.26 The communist opposition went through two different periods in the 1950s. In the first half of the decade, following the capture and arrest of Álvaro Cunhal, PCP’s key figure, by the political police (in 1949), communists were dominated by internal sectarianism, ideological dogma, persecution, and purges, and the party became increasing isolated from and closed off to other oppositional factions as it clung to its revolutionary plans to overthrow Salazarism without first forging any “anti-fascist” unity.27 But in the aftermath of Stalin’s death, the international détente, and its tone of peaceful cohabitation between the two blocs, the PCP adopted a new strategy that would dominate the second half of the decade, seeking to overcome sectarianism and opening collaborative platforms with all oppositional forces in search of what was termed a “peaceful solution to the Portuguese problem.”28 This internal détente, this “transitional policy,” this openness, which was later characterized as a “rightist deviation,” was a reaction against the isolation and weakness felt inside the party and was also significantly influenced by a parallel path followed by the Spanish Communist Party.29

Such an ideological shift was introduced during the PCP’s Central Committee meeting of August 1955, where it was advocated by Júlio de Melo Fogaça, who essentially had replaced Cunhal as the leading name in the Party.30 This is why some historians contend that the PCP anticipated some of the main conclusions of the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress of February 1956, i.e., de-Stalinization, peaceful coexistence, parliamentary transition towards socialism, and collaborative platforms among communists, social-democrats, and liberals.31 In April 1956, the Portuguese and Spanish communists issued a joint note defending “peaceful,” “democratic solutions” for their countries through the rallying of the “broadest social and political forces” that opposed both Salazar and Franco.32 In October of that year, perhaps coinciding with the Hungarian uprising, the Portuguese communist Central Committee issued a document conveying the new acting line of a “vast anti-Salazarist electoral front,” which could even extend to Catholics and dissidents from fascism, and expressing criticism of past sectarian positions.33 The party’s official program in the PCP’s V (clandestine) Congress, which was held in September 1957, confirmed this line.34 Less than a year later, in June 1958, this oppositional catch-all platform would coalesce behind General Humberto Delgado and his daring campaign in the presidential elections, won, through electoral fraud, by the regime’s candidate, Admiral Américo Tomás.35 Had the Portuguese Communist Party maintained such a reformist and collaborative approach, it could have been converted into what would later be labelled a “euro-communist” party, like many similar parties in Europe, escaping the tight orthodox grip of Moscow’s tutelage.36 But in the early 1960s, Álvaro Cunhal, having escaped from prison, where he had been a critic of Fogaça’s “rightist deviation,” reentered the communist leadership and cut short that evolving path, reinstating the isolationist strategy of an armed revolution against the ageing Salazarist regime.37

Other shades or factions of opposition were also surfacing in the late 1950s. A diffuse student protest movement emerged in universities and high schools, rising to the fore and gaining the attention of the public news outlets in December 1956, when a large part of the Portuguese youth opposed a decree that threatened the autonomy of academic associations. Protesting against this was a mixture of non-partisan students, alongside others who were militants of the RRS, the PCP, and even Catholic Universitarian Youths.38 Students and Catholics would also react to the 1956 Hungarian events and show their support for the revolutionaries (as I will discuss), but their strength as an oppositional force (the latter under the label of “Progressive Catholics”) would be much more recognizable as a phenomenon in the 1960s.39

A solid postwar and internationally recognized dictatorial regime facing a feeble opposition comprised of different actors who were divided between a collaborative anti-Salazarist strategy and separate legal or revolutionary options—this was the overall portrait of the Portuguese political scenario in the 1950s. How strong was Salazar’s position, both in the international arena and within the national context? How determined and effective could the tolerated moderate opposition be? To what extent would the communist party actually be open to other elements of the anti-Salazarist front? These issues and others influenced how the Hungarian events were received, interpreted, and instrumentalized in Portugal in 1956 by the various commentators.

The Salazarist and Catholic Press Coverage of the Events in Hungary

In late October and early November 1956, three international themes made the headlines in the majority of the Portuguese press: the Suez crisis, which brought Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism in Egypt into direct confrontation with Israel, the UK, and France; Eisenhower’s reelection campaign in the United States; and the Hungarian revolution. In particular in the tense days when Budapest was the stage of confrontations between pro-democrats and Soviet forces, the Hungarian events were the domineering theme, overshadowing the other two international issues, especially within the pro-Salazarist and traditionally Catholic press, for which, clearly, Hungarian events offered an important “propagandistic breath” for a renewed “anti-communist campaign.”40

The Hungarian events were first reported on in the pro-regime newspapers in an ideological editorial published on October 23 in Diário de Notícias. The editorial, which bore the literary title “Something new on the Eastern front,” offered an analysis of the eroding dynamics of communism:

There is an evident crisis in Russia. The gigantism of the Stalinist massive construction is under severe threat […] Stalin was a bloody tsar, no doubt. But his tyranny represented unity. A harsh unity through asphyxia, but unity nevertheless [...] It would be absurd not to consider, within Western defense policy, this transformative tendency, not for premature celebrations, but for the consolidation of Western solidarity.41

Two days later, an article entitled “Budapest in Flames” (which included two photos of Rákóczi Avenue in Budapest), offered a narrative of the fighting in various areas of the city, with explicit mention of the hundreds of dead and wounded. Considerable attention was given to the symbolic act of the destruction of Stalin’s statue and to the use of unmarked Hungarian military uniforms and flags.42 Imre Nagy, the newly appointed Prime Minister, defined as “a liberal communist,” was quoted as saying that he would be enforcing “a program for the liberalization of Hungarian communism.”43 In O Século, the tone was the same, though the approach was more sensationalistic, with a large picture of Budapest’s parliament square under the “horrors” (“10,000 victims”) committed by “the Red Army.” News from Moscow made references to pressure on Khrushchev, since the Hungarian uprisings were allegedly “direct consequences of the liberalizing policies of de-Stalinization.” It thus seemed that the “democratization of Hungarian public life” was underway, especially because of the announced withdrawal of Soviet forces and the “end of repression and the political police.”44 On October 29, after the initial confrontations between revolutionaries and state authorities in Hungary, considerable space was given to international reactions to what apparently had been a victory for the insurgents. According to Nagy, events in Hungary should be understood as “a democratic movement to guarantee our independence, which is the only basis of a true socialist democracy.”45

Diário da Manhã and Novidades, the official newspapers of the regime and the Catholic Church in Portugal, adopted more conservative approaches to their reporting on the Hungarian revolution, but they were unambiguously supportive of the revolutionary forces. In an editorial by Jacques Ploncard d’Assac (a French far-right activist and counsellor to Salazar) entitled “the Red Danube,” the Portuguese readership was informed of how

[t]he Budapest leaders were surprised and surpassed by the violence of a truly nationalistic uprising. The Communist party soon understood that if such a rebellion was not immediately crushed in blood, the Hungarian communist regime would suffer the same fate experienced, 37 years ago, by Béla Kun’s first Hungarian Soviet republic.46

Instead of praising Nagy, whose “democracy” and “reformed socialism” were too radical for Salazar, publicity was given rather to both the “valiant people” of Hungary, the figure of Cardinal Mindszenty, and to Mindszenty’s radio appeals to the UN and Western powers for support. In accordance, the Portuguese Catholic Church publicly called for a mass to be celebrated in Lisbon for “the sufferings of the Hungarian heroes killed in the largest tragedy in our recent times” and for “the liberation of all the peoples enslaved by Moscow’s tyranny.”47

The counterattack launched by the Soviet forces, which invaded Hungary and smothered the nationalistic uprising, was given even greater attention by the Portuguese newspapers. Diário de Notícias informed its readers that “Hungary is totally occupied by the Soviet army, which yesterday at dawn invaded the country with massive forces,” and it offered dramatic claims concerning the pleas made by the victims: “We will be massacred”; “God save our souls.” Such “unmatched ferocity” deserved harsh international criticism, and the article quoted Adenauer’s plea for the Hungarians and Eisenhower’s urgent message to Nikolai Bulganin, the Premier of Soviet Union under Khrushchev.48 According to O Século, “Western public opinion” was unanimous in its “indignation,” condemning “in unprecedented terms the brutality and cynicism of the Soviet Union,” because the “Hungarians fought with astonishing energy [and were] willing to resist until death.”49 Large titles filled the Novidades: “Budapest is a huge brazier after massive Soviet attack.” The Vatican Radio was quoted as having said that “violence is the true spirit of communism.” And in its reporting on Cardinal Mindszenty’s decision to take refuge in the American Legation and how the Portuguese episcopate was calling for a day’s prayer for the Hungarians, the paper explained that the “humane” intentions of the Nagy government had been overthrown by a “killing machine” totally alien to any concern for “human dignity” or “respect for the will of the people.”50 Diário da Manhã offered doctrinal considerations concerning each nation’s due legitimacy in fulfilling its political self-determination:

At this moment in Hungary, one of the greatest acts of violence recorded in the saddest pages of modern history was committed, violence exercised in the name of an ideology which, even bringing with it a disgusting flow of atrocities, overcomes itself by refusing to accept that a people, entitled to its destiny, can repudiate it and expel it.51

The extinguishing of the “Nagy hope” was attentively and empathically followed not only by political and Catholic circles in Portugal but also by the broader readership of the organs of the press. On November 6, a spontaneous crowd of some 20,000 to 30,000 people filled Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon and marched up to the Portuguese parliament holding Hungarian flags, “singing in tears,” and “voicing loudly” their disgust and their solidarity with the massacred people of Hungary, with banners reading “Hungary wants freedom,” “Down with the Soviet aggression,” “Tanks cannot withstand a people’s soul,” and “Hungarian colleagues are martyrs.”52 A picture of Rossio and another of the Portuguese parliament square showed “a sea of people tarnished by indignation and demanding freedom for Hungary.”53 Portuguese Cáritas, a Catholic relief organization, had already received money (400,000 escudos), food, and clothing to send to the Hungarians by air using transportation granted by Swissair and also some 1,900 letters from all corners of Portugal praising the Hungarian cause.54 Appeals were made everywhere for the Salazarist government officially to condemn “in strong terms every cruel act committed by the invading army against the courageous people of Hungary.”55

The Portuguese government reacted by having the secretary of the Premiership issue a press declaration and also by making a formal declaration of the Council of Ministers. In the first, entitled “Portugal will be present wherever help can be given to oppressed Hungary,” the popular demonstrations in the country were greeted and very critical terms were used against Moscow:

The perfidious and sinister intervention of the Soviet Union in Hungary provoked the greatest revulsion and emotion in all the countries of the civilized world [...] The Lusitanian soul could not contain itself without letting out its cry of revolt against the infamous affront launched by the savage Russians, whose ultimate goal is to establish world domination.56

The next day, Salazar and his entire government were cited as having made a “condemnation of the Soviet aggression against Hungary” and a public offer of “every possible form of support by the Portuguese nation for the victims of Russian repression.”57 The Ministry of Defense allowed an arms parade in the Military College, with the flags of Portugal and Hungary side by side, and the Portuguese Legion (the paramilitary organization created to protect the country against the Spanish “red threat” of 1936) was instructed to collaborate with the Portuguese Red Cross in the collection of donations destined for the Hungarian people.58

The Hungarian events were carefully used by the Portuguese ruling power to issue political messages to the public and even to perform a planned indoctrination of the crowds supportive of the Salazarist regime. Addressing the pro-Hungarian demonstrators in Lisbon, Marcelo Caetano, who held the unofficial post of vice-Prime-Minister and would later succeed Salazar (in 1968), was clear about these intentions:

We are an old nation, deeply rooted in the sacred ideals of God, Homeland, and Family, ideals for which the Hungarian people has fought with valorous despair. Like Hungary, we hate any foreign dominance and any system destructive of human personality. We have witnessed with hope and anguish the Hungarian drama—which resembles the dramas of so many other countries submitted through violence to communist tyranny. One should learn the lesson that matters: to stand for the nation’s liberty, defending the civilization that we hold dear and opposing the propagation of ideologies which offend this [civilization] and the spread of imperialisms threatening our world.59

The Portuguese Catholic church was proactive in the aftermath of the Hungarian bloodshed, in no small part because of its solidarity with Mindszenty. Catholic scouts rallied parishes in Lisbon, Oporto, and elsewhere to pray for a people (the Hungarians) defined as “martyrs of faith and of human liberty.”60 At the highest level, and in accordance with the universal pledge issued by Pope Pius XII,61 the Cardinal Patriarch, Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira, called for an appeal for solidarity to be made in every mass and for a “crusade of prayer” to be held in the Marian sanctuary of Fátima on November 18, solemnly to invoke “the protection of Holy Mary” for European peace and for the “sacrificed nation of Hungary.”62

The official resolution of the Portuguese cabinet to condemn the invasion of Hungary and the solace of faith offered by the episcope and a myriad of acts by the Catholic Church in Portugal show how the country adopted a clear stance in defense of the righteousness of the Hungarian rising. The charitable donations collected by many were sent to Budapest via Switzerland or Austria, and the public authorities announced that Portugal could willingly accept and shelter 5,000 young children from Hungary.63

Despite the seriousness and drama of the events in Hungary, as shown above in the content of the news articles and in the anguished titles with which they began, there was space, at moments, for more or less satirical cartoons, a type of visual language which Salazarism did not approve of. Fig. 1 shows one example which was published in Novidades. A large intimidating bear (the Soviet Union) looks down on two smaller bears who represent two defiant “satellites” of the Soviet sphere, Nagy’s Hungary and Gomulka’s Poland. One of the little bears is holding a bottle of “De-Stalinization Vodka.” Above the drawing a caption reads “Awfully strong alcohol.”


Figure 1. Novidades, October 31, 1956, 1

Fig. 2 is also a cartoon, though a much less humorous one, published in Diário da Manhã. Russian Secretary Khrushchev and Premier Bulganin are standing on top of a Red Army Soviet tank which is crushing a delicate feminine figure representing Hungary. To the right of the image, the title reads “Red Peace!”

The four newspapers analyzed above were unanimous in their praise for the Budapest insurgents and their condemnations of the bloody Soviet counterattack. From the perspective of the international arena, both the newspapers that were more in tune with the regime (Diário da Manhã, Diário de Notícias and O Século) and those that voiced the views of the Catholic Church (Novidades) contended that the final outcome of the Hungarian national uprising clearly showed the violent proselytizing energy of Soviet communism, its “solar vocation” (a metaphor meaning that communism sought to spread its “radiating” influence) to secure the political homogenization of the “popular democracies” of Eastern Europe.64 1956 was thus proof of the dangers of communist totalitarianism, something that Salazar had always hated and warned against. For the Portuguese leader and his press spokespersons, the events in Hungary were a useful took with which to fuel the “black legend” of communism and reinforce the idea of the need for a Western Euro-American stance against it, a stance to which the New State had been a loyal and daring bulwark ever since its creation.

For die-heart Salazarists and also for the Portuguese Catholic Church, the Hungarian insurgents where above all “nationalists” and “Catholics” who had fought for the freedom of their nation against external interference and had upheld Christian faith against the atheism of the hammer-and-sickle ideology. 1956 should then be understood as a confrontation between Hungarian Catholic nationalists and international communism. The Portuguese regime wanted the Hungarian nationalists to win not only over pure communists, but also over Nagy’s reformers, whose “social democracy” or “democratic socialism” were perhaps too menacing for the ruling authoritarianism.65 It was known that Hungarian rightwing nationalist sectors had ties with Miklós Horthy, the former leader of Hungary’s nationalistic regime, who had been in power between 1920 and 1944. After his fall from power, Horthy had briefly lived in Germany before settling in Portugal in 1950. It is true that the press survey reveals no sign of Horthy’s words or noticeable attitudes in Portugal during the 1956 Hungarian crisis. But among members of the inner circle of Salazarism, he may have symbolically influenced the pro-nationalistic and pro-Catholic stance publicly adopted by the Portuguese regime.66

In Salazarist voices, the struggle for a Christian and independent nation was combined with another theme which remained implicit but nonetheless clearly present in the articles published in the press: the condemnation of the Portuguese Communist Party. The press was not allowed to make any references of any kind to that clandestine organization, but the Hungarian events were used to convey to domestic public opinion how those who followed the communist ideology were accomplices of those who had committed the bloody acts of violence in Hungary. The more the Portuguese communists could be denounced and perceived by others as mere “Moscow servants,”67 the more the clandestine PCP could be isolated in the domestic political arena, hampering any planned or possible collaboration (feared by Salazar) with other (democratic) oppositional forces, which as noted above was precisely the new strategy that PCP was trying to adopt in 1956. The violence of the Soviet Red Army response to the Hungarian revolution was seen as showing the outrages which would be committed under communism were it one day to prevail in Portugal, and the resistance by the insurgents against orthodox communism was seen as a justifiable means of saving the Hungarian nation from what, in the end, came to be its defeat at the hands of Moscow.

The Portuguese Democratic Opposition Press Coverage of the Events in Hungary

The plural, moderate, democratic Portuguese oppositional front was also captivated and troubled by the unravelling of the Hungarian drama, and it devoted considerable attention to it in its newspapers República and Diário de Lisboa. Both were old liberal titles, the former dating back to the early days of the first republic, in 1911, and the latter from 1921. Since they worked as exhaust valves and expression channels for the acceptable opposition, the authorities allowed them to run rather freely, despite the censorship screening that filtered everything that was written in the Portuguese press. At a glance, the overall editorial tone of their reports on Hungary did not differ radically from what one finds in the regime’s newspapers. Nevertheless, a more in-depth content analysis reveals two important general features. The first is that both República and Diário de Lisboa were more descriptive, objective, shrewd, and restrained in their language, and their articles offered less comment and more citations from local and international sources, thus avoiding the hyperbolic, dramatic tone of Salazarist and Catholic newspapers. The second feature is that, while praising and supporting the heroism of the Hungarian popular uprising and Imre Nagy’s attempted reforms, the articles contained a far less vehement attack on the communist ideology than the attacks found in the pro-regime press. Moderate conservative oppositional forces clearly knew what was at stake, what sharply divided Hungarian reformism and Moscow’s hard-line; those who wrote for and read República and Diário de Lisboa were sometimes republicans, socialists, and others who hesitated in openly condemning the whole of communism, because the collaboration of the Portuguese Communist Party was seen as potentially useful for internal anti-Salazarist purposes. In the end, these organs of the press still made general criticisms of the Soviet response to the Hungarian revolution, but the Salazarist and Catholic newspapers were much blunter and more categorical with their attacks on orthodox communism. As the socialist Mário Soares would claim, expressing what many other non-communist opponents to Salazar thought, “when the revelation of the Twentieth Soviet Party Congress and the events of Hungary came, the communist language and methods left me rather indifferent.”68

República’s coverage of the events of late October 1956 in Budapest was mainly drawn from dispatches coming from Vienna, Paris, or some British papers, such as Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. On October 24, after the front page title “The problems of communism: is Khrushchev preparing the Soviet Union’s democratization?,” attention was paid to Nagy’s statement concerning the “possibility of Hungary establishing democracy in all parts of the country.”69 Over the course of the next few days, the Portuguese paper continued to provide coverage of the crude facts of the Hungarian political process, referring to the many deaths that bloodied local streets, but above all how the “nationalistic” and “pro-independent” rebellion was apparently led by “various forces with diverse and contradictory ideas and goals.”70 Until October 31, República hesitated to give a specific label to the insurgents: they were referred as “rebels,” “revolutionaries,” “youths,” “democrats,” and “reformists,” and the very relationship between the new Prime Minister Imre Nagy and those forces remained uncertain. On October 31, the paper mourned the human losses of the week that had passed, underlined the political significance of Cardinal Mindszenty’s release, and praised Nagy’s solemn promises to hold “free elections” for a “new government.”71

In the early days of November, República echoed the growing feelings of expectation, anxiety, and fear kindle by the thought of an increasingly probable Soviet repressive intervention in Budapest, seemingly to crush the “patriot work” already developed by the “enthusiastic Hungarian nation,” all because the Russians were anticipating that “within a couple of months, there would be no more than a handful of communists and Hungary would eventually lean towards the West.”72 The “Hungarian drama” of Budapest’s recapture by the Red Army was reported through the sequenced reproduction of foreign dispatches issued from Hungary via Vienna and Paris or the protests in the United Nations, with strikingly less detail or drama than found in the Salazarist newspapers quoted above. The conclusion was a rather detached one: “liberals, socialists, and Titoists lost, and with them, an entire people was humiliated and disappointed,” while the Soviet Union had gained “a victory whose fruits will perhaps be poisonous in the future.”73 On the aftermath of the suppression of the Hungarian revolution, República continued to use titles suggesting that in the streets of Budapest the mood was one of “hunger, terror, and looting” and containing references to the “winter cold” and “epidemic threats,” while some final “struggles and summary executions” were still unravelling.74

While siding with the position of the Hungarian insurgents, as the liberal republican Portuguese opposition did, República was the only Portuguese newspaper surveyed (aside from the communist Avante!) in which not a single photograph of Budapest’s attempted revolution was published. And it was also the only one in which the parallel pro-Hungarian stance of the Salazarist regime was totally ignored, even to the point of making no mention whatsoever of the popular, anonymous, student, and Catholic demonstrations and charitable actions that the regime’s press was so eager to report on and praise.75 A moderate oppositional paper, República was unwilling to support the instrumentalization of the events by Salazar and his spokespersons and journalists. Therefore, the political readings were more restrained. One could refer, for instance, to a rare editorial entitled “Oppression,” which was published on November 8, in which República refers to the events in Hungary, Poland, and even Egypt to underline how the whole world seemed to be going through “a violent convulsion,” as “public opinion” everywhere indicated that people wanted to become “their own masters,” free from “the hardships of dictatorial rule.”76 In other words, the editorial referred not simply to the struggle of the Hungarians against the communists, but also, implicitly, to the struggle of the Portuguese against Salazar.

Because of this, the events in Hungary actually served as a pretext for a verbal confrontation between the regime and the moderate opposition of República, through a controversy involving the vice-Prime-Minister Marcelo Caetano and Francisco Cunha Leal, one of the leading names of the DDS, the Social-Democrat Directory. Caetano had criticized the “men in the opposition” for their “silence,” or at least lack of energy, when confronted with the “martyrdom of the noble Hungarian nation.” In an open letter published in the paper (and then printed in a small booklet), Cunha Leal replied that “no one but us, true democrats, feel in the flesh and in the soul the pain of a sacrificed people.” But because the opposition in Portugal was denied freedom of opinion and action, “we find it worthier to shut up and just pray to God, in the silence of our souls and consciences, that He may save poor Hungary.”77 Leal added that the aspirations of the Portuguese liberal opposition were very close to those of Nagy’s supporters, namely free elections, the legalization of political parties, the freedom of the trade unions, and political pluralism.78

Diário de Lisboa (the other important and tolerated oppositional paper) also started reporting on the situation in Hungary on October 24, 1956 through Austrian dispatches concerning the possibility of Imre Nagy reassuming power in Budapest.79 The following day, Yugoslav sources were quoted which suggested that the Hungarian events might lead Moscow to adopt a hard-line policy against other Eastern countries, while Nagy was labelled as the “Hungarian Gomulka” and Kádar as a “Titoist.”80 An interpretation of what was happening in Budapest followed: the “confusing situation in Hungary” was due both to the “irresponsible and criminal activity” of its past leaders and to the “misery” of Hungarian society and the “bankrupt” Hungarian economy.81 The martyrdom of the Budapest population in the Parliament Square triggered the first critical news about the Soviet responses: “men, women, and children could not do anything but await their death” as “anti-communist Hungarians who had fought to express their hate for the regime and its protectors.”82 The first photograph in Diário de Lisboa of the events in Hungary, which shows a group of demonstrators singing the French Marseillaise anthem, appeared on the front page of the October 29, issue, next to the title, “Budapest has returned to its normal life.”

After a couple of days of silence, on November 4, the theme was again raised in the oppositional newspaper with reports relying on the telegraph according to which the Hungarian capital was under siege by “Russian troops” who had “imprisoned Imre Nagy’s government.”83 In the editions of November 5 and 6, the violent counterattack and occupation of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army were reported on and characterized as “a tragedy,” “the crushing of Magyar patriotism,” preventing the “defenseless” and “brutalized” Hungarian nation from “freely securing its destiny,” away from a “set of political institutions against which it rose up in arms.”84 Particular attention was also given to the United Nations maneuvers to condemn the actions of the Soviet Union and to the humanitarian drama of the refugees fleeing Hungary towards Austria. On November 6, siding with the bulk of the Salazarist papers, Diário de Lisboa quite extensively reported on the massive pro-Hungarian rally that marched from Rossio square, in Lisbon, to the Portuguese parliament, quoting the interventions of students who cheered the crowd with the slogans “Liberty to Hungary” and “Down with Russian colonialism.” A conclusive sentence served as a moto for the newspaper coverage: “The Budapest events cannot cease to alarm all free men (if they still exist, on this ill-fated planet where we live).”85

Even with sometimes different editorial options, in the moderate oppositional newspapers’ coverage, the nationalistic cum-Catholic tone that dominated Salazarist press was secondary, and the praise was focused on some of policies and aims suggested by Imre Nagy, including free elections, a general amnesty, free trade unionism, perhaps even worker’s participation in factories and corporate management, a free press, and civil liberties. República and Diário de Lisboa did not dare to depart openly from what Nagy was promising to Hungarians and write instead on what the Portuguese should be granted, but their analysis of the 1956 drama served to remind domestic readers that Salazarism was also a repressive regime. Unlike the communists, the moderate opposition did not label the insurgents “counterrevolutionaries” or “fascists”; but unlike the Salazarists, they did not harbor any sympathies for all-out rightwing Hungarian nationalists.86 Theirs was a hope, or a longing, that somehow the Hungarian cries of freedom would inspire Portuguese cries of freedom, not against a radical leftwing dictatorship, but against rightwing authoritarian rule. And this is also the reason why Salazarism, as was shown, was so eager and keen to cast the 1956 Hungarian uprising as a patriotic recovery of national independence, rooted in Christian traditions, and not merely as an attempted social-democratic revolution.

A Dissonant Voice: the Portuguese Communist Press Coverage of the Events in Hungary

Within the Portuguese communist realm, where Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization thesis had reinforced a collaborative strategy with other oppositional forces in the mid-1950s, the Hungarian events created a paradox of surprise, shock, and unease among many, though in the end these sentiments remained hidden and stifled by the official position of obedience to Moscow’s guidelines.87 In 1956, the PCP wanted to collaborate with moderate anti-Salazarists, but the manner in which the Kremlin’s hardliners ferociously crushed reformists in Budapest compromised and darkened the very image that communists had been working to build up in Portuguese public opinion. Many anonymous militants, actually, resented the Soviet violence against Hungary and recognized the contradictions therein: how could the PCP attack Anglo-French intervention in the Suez crisis while at the same time accepting and even praising the Soviet Union’s intervention in Budapest? And could the PCP collaborate with other oppositional forces that were now closer to the Salazarist regime in their condemnations of the outcome of the Hungarian crisis? In the Portuguese context, “the PCP seemed cornered again, and the meager gains made with the non-communist opposition forces were endangered.”88

As challenging as the dilemma may have been, domestic needs or aspirations could not go against the structural loyalty or dependency that the PCP always showed towards whomever ruled the Kremlin and whatever those powers dictated.89 Thus, internal critics, disoriented or even disgusted, were silenced to avoid any possible “alignment” with the Salazarist anti-Soviet propaganda, and they were indoctrinated with the thesis that the Soviet intervention had been called upon by Hungarian communists to prevent the “fascist imperialist military offensive” from gaining momentum in Budapest behind Imre Nagy.90 Some of the internal critics may have become party dissidents who refused this official narrative, but all in all, it seems that the PCP’s Hungarian debate was insufficient to “fundamentally question the communist identity” of the party and its “close dependency on the Soviet Union.”91 Therefore, while the Portuguese organs of the press mentioned above displayed a more or less emotional solidarity with the fallen Hungarians who had supported Nagy and Mindszenty, the Portuguese Communist Party’s newspaper Avante! stood as a clearly dissonant voice, attacking the reformist intentions and defending Moscow’s intervention and its hard-line communist stance.

On the front page of Avante!’s November 1956 edition, an editorial entitled “The Egyptian aggression and the fascist coup in Hungary threaten peace” revealed the Portuguese communist interpretation of the two leading (and interrelated) international events of those days:

There is a joint plan, drawn by international reaction, captained by the leading power, the United States. The intent of these imperialists is evident: to undermine the forces of the Socialist world and to hide from general public opinion blunt acts of piracy. The fascist coup in Budapest aimed to topple the Socialist regime to give power to a fascist and capitalist government [...] The darkest forces of international reaction helped prepare this fascist coup, among them the government of Salazar, who turned our country into a saddlebag of conspirators supported by funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.92

Accordingly, Imre Nagy was characterized as a mere puppet of “counterrevolutionaries,” or in other words rightwing nationalists, perhaps in conspiracy with the remnants of the deposed Horthy regime, certainly backed by the United States to throw the whole Soviet sphere into turmoil and create a “fascist” and “capitalist” (the two words were presented as synonyms in the Portuguese communist propaganda) government in the heart of Eastern Europe, much as the United Kingdom and France were allegedly trying to do in Egypt, fighting alongside Israel against Nasser’s government. There followed a clear accusation against Salazarism, who had allowed the country to help the rebels in Hungary and had even mobilized forces to do so, thus siding with all the “international reactionary forces.” Unlike the moderate opposition gathered around República and Diário de Lisboa, the PCP openly contested Salazar’s right to support the alleged Hungarian freedom quest, inasmuch as the Portuguese people had been totally deprived of basic liberties and of any social or economic wellbeing93. In order to counter and diminish the governmental, Church, and popular initiatives of solidarity with the Hungarians, communists even printed a boycott poster that red: “Christmas 1956. While the workmen’s sons have a hungry Christmas, Cáritas sends tons of food to Hungary. Protest!”94

In December, the PCP celebrated the “failure of the national and international reactionary plans against the liberty and independence of the people” and the “victory of the forces of peace” in Hungary. The Soviet Union was praised as “a paladin of world peace,” which its enemies had tried to sabotage by interfering in Hungary and enraging “the Cold War climate,” putting an end to “the peaceful coexistence of states with different political and social regimes.”95 The events in Hungary thus had heroes and villains, victims and executioners. But the communist narrative in Lisbon reproduced Moscow’s interpretation, according to which the villains, the provocative agents, had been the people of Hungary and the despised Nagy, who had forced the Soviets to defend themselves and rightfully to cut short an illegitimate, foreign imperialist interference in the Russian pax.

In the early days of January 1957, Avante! published an entire supplement with the full interview given by János Kádár, the new figurehead entrusted by the Soviets to serve as the leader of the Hungarian communist party, to the French correspondent of L’Humanité in Budapest. According to the editorial introducing the interview, his words should be considered “the ultimate and pure version” of what had happened in those October and November days, echoing the theory of the “fascist” and “imperialist” conspiracy against peaceful communist rule in Hungary since 1949. Imre Nagy and Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty were characterized as “a hidden right-winger” and “the face of the reaction,” and public praise was given to the Soviet Union for having dealt appropriately with the “white terror,” which had threatened to compromise “the security of the whole socialist sphere” and separate the Hungarian people from its well-deserved “socialist regime.”96

Despite some possible internal divisions or dissent within the party, the interview published in Avante! indicates unambiguous support for the Soviet Union’s response to the Hungarian rising, even if the bloody intervention by the Red Army in Budapest had hurt international reputation of the communist forces, thus isolating the PCP within the Portuguese anti-Salazarist opposition. By praising Khrushchev’s final decision to crush the insurgency and, indeed, by denigrating the insurgency, the PCP, some of its militants feared, was isolating itself even more in Portuguese political life.97 These views, however, did not represent the official position of the party, which was totally loyal to Moscow.


The 1956 Hungarian revolution challenged the European status quo and awoke the hope in the West that a piece of the Soviet domino could eventually lessen its dependency on Moscow or even liberate itself from the Soviet grip. This was followed by shock, despair, and lamentation when Kremlin hardliners made it clear to the world that even in the era of de-Stalinization, Hungarian independence and democratic socialism were threats that would be crushed, as indeed they were in a blatantly repressive manner.

Despite the ruling censorship and a cautious prudence with regards to any foreign matter (in a traditionalist inward-looking country), the Portuguese press and Portuguese public opinion followed the events in Hungary with keen interest. Indoctrination against the “heresy” of communism had gained ground in nationalistic circles, and for the Salazarist regime, the most logical response was to expose the brutality of the Soviet reaction to an attempt by a comparatively defenseless nation (and also a Christian one) to assert its independence. The demonstrations and acts of solidarity came from many in the literate Portuguese middle class that consumed newspapers, including young students, members of university communities, public servants, the middle ranks of the army, Catholic organizations, and the episcopate.

Censorship was certainly eased to allow news, titles, images, and even cartoons about the Hungarian revolution to appear more easily on the pages of the newspapers. Salazar and the government wanted to let the facts and the reactions of the international community suffice as a condemnation of communism and to use the martyrdom of Hungary to show how Portugal’s nationalistic stance should be pursued in a world which lay in the shadow of proselytizing Soviet expansionism. In addition to this international reading of the events in Hungary, the regime also fashioned a domestic one to strengthen its internal solidity. It sought to profit off the splintering of the opposition as a consequence of the Hungarian crisis, with democrats criticizing (alongside Salazar) the violent Soviet response to the uprising, while the vast majority of communists felt that the Soviet response had been appropriate and the outcome of the events had been justified. An otherwise immobile regime thus went “revolutionary,” praising the movement and novelty represented by the nationalists, the Catholics, and the “democratic” insurgents surrounding Imre Nagy and siding with or finding themselves side by side with moderate oppositional voices who also stood by the Hungarian cause in order to denounce all repressive regimes, i.e., not only the orthodox communist ones, but also, indirectly, the New State dictatorship. Salazar was not unaware of this. And through the Catholic approach and carefully chosen official declarations saluting the country’s pro-Hungarian demonstrations, he instrumentalized the demonstrations, highlighting how the national newspapers were acknowledging, if not cheering for, the righteous stance of the regime in the face of the Hungarian tragedy. As one Portuguese historian writes,

Someone who travels today through the Portuguese press to examine the coverage given to the 1956 “Hungarian Spring” will be impressed by the quantity and quality of the information published in a country used to censorship [...] However, this strange freedom is only incomprehensible if we fail to grasp the political and ideological usefulness of the “exemplary” Hungarian case for Portuguese nationalists: it showed the failure of the Soviet model and, above all, alerted the country to the danger of new political alliances—namely the possibility of reifying the unitary opposition movements that had preoccupied the regime in the years after World War II.98


One must not forget that in the mid-1950s, the New State was strong enough to allow newspapers and people to use strong words like “revolution,” “independence,” “reform,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” In comparison, the openness to and tolerance or even support for the expression of these kinds of attitudes would disappear when Portugal (and Europe) was faced with another Eastern anti-Soviet rising: the “Prague Spring” in August 1968. By that time, the regime had become weaker (the colonial wars waged by Portugal in Africa started in 1961), the demands for domestic democratization by the Portuguese public were much stronger, and the “Prague Spring” sympathizers were too enraged, too influenced by the May 1968 Parisian slogans for Salazar to ride the wave or accept that the major organs of the press could or should do it.

Although critical of the ruling Salazarist status quo, the plural field of liberal, republican, and moderate socialist opposition forces did side with the regime in its responses to the news coverage of the Hungarian crisis and in its criticism of the final outcome of this crisis, even if its tone was not so openly outraged or openly anti-communist. But while in other European countries 1956 created a severe split between orthodox communists and other leftist factions, in Portugal, the events in Hungary had comparatively “little impact”99 on their mutual relationship:

The [Portuguese Communist] Party dissidents, as well as non-communist sectors of the opposition may have seen in the Soviet intervention the confirmation of their opinions or an added argument for political and ideological divergences; still, their [the Portuguese Communist Party dissidents’] public interventions were timid and fleeting.100

The pro-Salazarist press was not timid in its staunch attack on Soviet communism. The discourse in Avante!, however, which was supportive of the Soviet response and which fell on the opposite side of the Portuguese political scenario, also was not timid. Silencing internal critics, the otherwise clandestine revolutionary communists expressed a very situationist, conservative, and immobile stance towards the 1956 Hungarian uprising, criticizing all hopes and schemes for change and praising the reassertion of Moscow’s control over the Eastern country. The same thing would happen in 1968 in response to the frustrated pro-democratic attempts of Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia. In other words, while keeping its essential anti-communist stance, the New State changed its ideological attitude from 1956 to 1968 when considering the protesters. In contrast, the Portuguese Communist Party did not, condemning Dubcek in the late 1960s as it had condemned Nagy and praising Brezhnev as it had praised Khrushchev.

In conclusion, most of the Portuguese newspapers surveyed from the perspective of their coverage of the 1956 Hungarian revolution (Avante! was the clear exception) and the overall political and collective mood present a sort of a paradox or perhaps an unintended irony: that of a profoundly anti-revolutionary and anti-liberal regime—the Salazarist New State—praising and endorsing, hand in hand with the larger part of domestic public opinion (even anti-Salazarist public opinion), a foreign revolution in which the insurgents tenaciously, if unsuccessfully, fought (and died) in the hopes of winning independence.




Diário da Manhã

Diário de Lisboa

Diário de Notícias


O Século


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Rosas, Fernando. O Estado Novo (1926–1974). Lisbon: Círculo de Leitores, 1994.

Salazar, António de Oliveira. Discursos e Notas Políticas, 1928–1934. Coimbra: Coimbra Editora, 1935.

Sardica, José Miguel. Twentieth Century Portugal: A Historical Overview. Lisbon: Universidade Católica Editora, 2008.

Soares, Mário. Portugal Amordaçado. Lisbon: Arcádia, 1974.

Tengarrinha, José. “Os caminhos da unidade democrática contra o Estado Novo.” Revista de História das Ideias 16 (1994): 387–431. doi: 10.14195/2183-8925_16_13.

Ventura, António. “A crise da oposição democrática no início dos anos cinquenta.” In Crises em Portugal nos séculos XIX e XX, edited by Sérgio Campos Matos, 249–57. Lisbon: Universidade de Lisboa, 2002.

1 Arendt, “Totalitarian Imperialism,” 5.

2 Barreto, “Censura,” 276–80; Azevedo, A Censura de Salazar e Marcelo Caetano, 69–75.

3 Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 36.

4 All translations of passages from the sources listed in the bibliography and of newspaper titles, texts, and image captions are by the author of this article.

5 Kershaw, Roller-Coaster, 123–24; Judt, Postwar, 313–14.

6 Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, 392–93; Kershaw, Roller-Coaster, 124–25.

7 Palmer, Dictionary, 196; Judt, Postwar, 315; Kershaw, Roller-Coaster, 125–26.

8 Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, 394.

9 Palmer, Dictionary, 196; Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, 396; Kershaw, Roller-Coaster, 127.

10 Palmer, Dictionary, 196.

11 Best et al., International History, 233.

12 Judt, Postwar, 321–23; Kershaw, Roller-Coaster, 127–28.

13 Sardica, Twentieth Century Portugal, 65–69.

14 Such a definition of communism was presented by Salazar in a speech delivered on January 28, 1934 (Salazar, Discursos e Notas Políticas, 308) and would not be altered until his death in 1970. According to Portuguese historiography, “hostility towards the USSR was an immobile and bedrock principle of Salazar’s foreign policy and the pivotal element of his anti-communist crusade. Salazar always deemed communism a deadly threat to Western civilization, one that should be fought against by every possible means” (Pereira, “União Soviética,” 555).

15 Pinto, “Twentieth-Century Portugal,” 43.

16 Barreto, “Social Change in Portugal,” 159.

17 Pinto, “Twentieth-Century Portugal,” 43.

18 As the young oppositional Mário Soares would lament, those were the years during which Queen Elisabeth and Princess Margaret from the UK, Presidents Eisenhower (USA), Sukarno (Indonesia), and Kubitschek (Brazil), the Spanish General Franco and the NATO fleets visited Lisbon, thus legitimizing the ruling Portuguese dictatorship (Soares, Portugal Amordaçado, 199–200).

19 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 518; Tengarrinha, “Os caminhos da unidade democrática contra o Estado Novo,” 392; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 277.

20 Cruz, “A oposição eleitoral ao Salazarismo,” 777; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 241 and 273.

21 Cruz, “A oposição eleitoral ao Salazarismo,” 701.

22 Cruz, “A oposição eleitoral ao Salazarismo,” 705; Soares, Portugal Amordaçado, 195. Mário Soares, the future Prime Minister and President of post-1974 democratic Portugal, had started his political activity in the ranks of the Portuguese Communist Party. In the beginning of the 1950s, however, he became a critic of the “intolerable rigidity” of it, leading the Party to label him an “opportunist” and “renegade.” In 1951, Soares broke with the communists and went on to become one of the most important democratic socialist voices against Salazar’s dictatorship (Portugal Amordaçado, 171, 177–78).

23 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 519–22; Ventura, “A crise da oposição democrática no início dos anos cinquenta,” 255; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 277.

24 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 523.

25 Cruz, “A oposição eleitoral ao Salazarismo,” 703.

26 Cunha, “Partido Comunista Português,” 24–30.

27 Raby, “A crise ideológica da oposição,” 47; Rosas, O Estado Novo, 521–22; Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 251–54.

28 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 522; Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 268–69; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 292–93.

29 Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 352. Santiago Carrillo, a “moderate” communist, would reach the leadership of the Spanish Communist Party in August 1956, moving past the old orthodox leaders from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

30 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 522; Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 367.

31 Raby, “A crise ideológica da oposição,” 49; Cunha, “Partido Comunista Português,” 27; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 293.

32 Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 371.

33 Raby, “A crise ideológica da oposição,” 54; Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 382–83.

34 The communist party’s new program of September 1957 was entitled The Unity of Anti-Salazarist Forces. Decisive Factor for National Liberation (see Raby, “A crise ideológica da oposição,” 55; Ventura, “A crise da oposição democrática no início dos anos cinquenta,” 256).

35 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 522–23; Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 353–56; Gorjão, Mulheres em tempos sombrios, 209.

36 Raby, “A crise ideológica da oposição,” 57; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 308.

37 Tengarrinha, “Os caminhos da unidade democrática contra o Estado Novo,” 408; Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 371–372. Cunhal was elected Secretary General of the party in early 1961 with a program entitled The Rightist Deviation in the PCP 1956–1959, which harshly condemned any moderate reformist ideas.

38 Rosas, O Estado Novo, 521; Pimentel, História da oposição à ditadura, 301; Accornero, The Revolution before the Revolution, 43–46.

39 Martins, “Oposição em Portugal,” 65–66.

40 Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 392.

41 Diário de Notícias, October 23, 1956, 1.

42 Communist symbols (such as the red star) were ripped from revolutionary banners and uniforms, which then simply displayed the Magyar colors, as in Lajos Kossuth’s Hungarian revolution of 1848–49 (See Diário de Notícias, October 28,1956, 1; October 29, 1956, 1).

43 Diário de Notícias, October 25, 1956, 1 and 5.

44 O Século, October 27, 1956, 1.

45 Diário de Notícias, October 29, 1956, 1.

46 Diário da Manhã, October 30, 1956, 1.

47 Novidades, October 31, 1956, 1; November 3, 1956, 1.

48 Diário de Notícias, November 5, 1956, 1.

49 O Século, November 5, 1956, 1.

50 Novidades, November 5,1956, 1.

51 Diário da Manhã, November 5, 1956, 1.

52 Diário de Notícias, November 7, 1956, 1.

53 Diário da Manhã, November 7, 1956, 2; O Século, November 7, 1956, 2.

54 Diário de Notícias, November 7, 1956, 8. 400,000 escudos, the Portuguese currency of those days, would be the equivalent today of roughly 142,350 €.

55 Diário de Notícias, November 7, 1956, 8.

56 Novidades, November 7, 1956, 1.

57 Novidades, November 8, 1956, 1.

58 Diário de Notícias, November 9, 1956, 4.

59 Diário da Manhã, November 7, 1956, 1.

60 Diário da Manhã, November 7, 1956, 1.

61 Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 37.

62 Diário da Manhã, November 8, 1956, 1.

63 O Século, November 8, 1956, 5. There are no official numbers concerning the Hungarian refugees who entered Portugal, though it seems that there were far fewer of them than the figure of 5,000 announced by the political authorities. Some did travel to Portugal, where they rebuilt their lives, without ever returning to their home country. But others, perhaps the majority, were relocated in other countries upon entrance into Portugal.

64 Madeira, “O Sonho Húngaro,” 23.

65 Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 38; Madeira, “O Sonho Húngaro,” 30. Notwithstanding, the Portuguese ambassador to the UN, Vasco Garin, was always keen to mingle an internationalist discourse in favour of the Soviet withdrawal from Hungary with calls for “free elections,” “liberty,” and “democracy” for the people of Hungary, all of which were political rights that the people of Portugal did not have. (Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 38).

66 Miklós Horthy died in Portugal (in his exile residence in Estoril, near Lisbon), shortly after the Hungarian revolution, in February 1957, aged 88.

67 Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 38.

68 Soares, Portugal Amordaçado, 186–87. Khrushchev’s 1956 report was allowed to circulate in Portugal in a copy translated and published by anarchist circles, censorship thus “collaborating” in the denunciation of Stalin’s cult of personality, totalitarian rule, and crimes.

69 República, October 24, 1956, 1 and 12.

70 República, October 25, 1956, 8; October 26, 1956, 1; October 27, 1956, 1 and 8.

71 República, October 31, 1956, 1 and 12.

72 República, November 2, 1956, 12.

73 República, November 4, 1956, 1 (front page title); November 5, 1956, 12.

74 República, November 9, 1956, 1; November 12, 1956, 1.

75 In República’s edition of November 7, 1956, there are numerous references to international signs of solidarity with the Hungarian people still in Budapest or seeking refuge in other foreign countries, but none to what Portuguese supporters and the Catholic Church were doing in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities.

76 República, November 8, 1956, 1.

77 Leal, Coisas de tempos idos, 33–34. The text was first published as a public letter in República, November 21, 1956, 1–2.

78 Leal, Coisas de tempos idos, 34.

79 Diário de Lisboa, October 24, 1956, 1.

80 Diário de Lisboa, October 25, 1956, 16.

81 Diário de Lisboa, October 26, 1956, 16.

82 Diário de Lisboa, October 27, 1956, 16.

83 Diário de Lisboa, November 4, 1956, 1.

84 Diário de Lisboa, November 5, 1956, 9, and November 6, 1956, 1.

85 Diário de Lisboa, November 6, 1956, 1 and 3.

86 Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 39.

87 Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 349; Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 392.

88 Tengarrinha, “Os caminhos da unidade democrática contra o Estado Novo,” 396; Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 394.

89 Throughout the 1950s, as in earlier and later decades, the Portuguese Communist Party received financial aid and even printing material for its clandestine publications directly from the Soviet Communist Party or through other Moscow clients, like the Spanish, the French, and even the Czech communist parties (Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 342–43).

90 Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 349–50.

91 Ibid., 350.

92 Avante!, November 1956, 1.

93 Avante!, November 1956, 1–2.

94 Facsimile in Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 393.

95 Avante!, December 1956, 1.

96 Avante!, January 1957 (Supplement).

97 Madeira, “O Sonho Húngaro,” 35.

98 Farinha, “A Hungria em Portugal,” 39.

99 Pereira, Álvaro Cunhal, 394.

100 Madeira, Os Engenheiros de Almas, 350.

Novidades (31
Diário da Manhã (7


Figure 2. Diário da Manhã, November 7, 1956, 1



Patriotism, Nation, and Masculinity in the Official Propaganda of the Hungarian Insurrectio during the War of the Fifth Coalition (1809)

Ágoston Nagy
University of Public Service, Budapest
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):3-43 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.3

During the War of the Fifth Coalition (1809), the idea of “national war” was put into practice in the Austrian Empire. Not only the Habsburg military system was reformed, but the war was accompanied by an extensive propaganda campaign, implemented by intellectuals in the service of the Viennese Court. In Hungary, the palatine, Archduke Joseph was responsible for harmonizing the military innovations with the constitutional traditions of the country. The mobilization was carried out mainly by the partly modernized insurrectio, which obliged the masses of nobility to do personal military service in exchange for their privileges. This anachronistic means of defense tried to satisfy, lopsidedly, the demand of manpower in an age of mass warfare. Consequently, the imperial propaganda also had to be adapted to the particular Hungarian situation. This paper investigates this unique Hungarian situation, through analysing the relationship between the military mobilization of the nobility by the insurrectio and the efforts of the official propaganda to construct a valorous and patriotic self-image of the Hungarian nation. First, the study analyses the limited reforms concerning the traditional system of defence of the estates. Second, it presents how the official propaganda of the insurrectio shaped the ideal image of the “noble warrior” on national level in the periods of mobilization, war and demobilization. Third, it discusses the cult of heroes and the fallen of the insurrectio both on national and local (county) level. It argues that this cult proved short-lived in the long run because of the defeat of Austria, the shortness of the war, the uneven involvement of the counties in fighting, and so forth. The paper concludes that the insurrectio of 1809, which was the last great moment of the military mobilization and the valorous patriotic-national ideology of the nobility, did not fit the modern nation-building process and therefore has never incorporated into the Hungarian nationalism as a true “national war.”

Keywords: Patriotism, nation-building, nobility, Napoleonic wars, propaganda, Kingdom of Hungary, Austrian Empire, cult of heroes, mobilization

“Anyone who believes that this levy will also be
merely a ceremony is quite mistaken.”1
Ferenc Kazinczy


According to the passage cited above, Ferenc Kazinczy, the prominent writer, translator, literary figure, and language-reformer of his time, predicted the peculiarity of the Hungarian insurrectio, a kind of feudal levy, of 1809 some months before the war erupted again between the Austrian Empire and Napoleonic France. The insurrectio obliged above all the nobility, which made up almost 5 percent of the population of Hungary,2 to perform military service personally or by a substitute from time to time as a “blood tax” in exchange for their privileged status.3 The Kingdom of Hungary enjoyed considerable independence within the Habsburg Monarchy and had to be governed on the grounds of its laws and customs.4 The “constitutionalism of the estates” took shape during the eighteenth century when many major political issues (many of which were connected to military affairs) began to be interpreted as “constitutional.”5 Even if the ius ad bellum was reserved for the king, from the estates’ viewpoint, many military issues demanded diets.6 According to the practice of political dualism, the king was compelled to negotiate with the estates at diets on military issues.7 Consequently, in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the estates kept several military issues under tight control, including the amount of recruits and war tax (contributio) (paid by common people), the offering and regulation of the obsolete insurrectio for the king’s demand, and the provision of extraordinary and voluntary military aid (subsidium) by the nobility (and groups linked to them).8 The government had to be flexible enough to win over the consent and support of the estates for wars, which demanded diets, while also maintaining and using the political influence of the palatine. The palatine at the time was Archduke Joseph, a younger brother of King and Emperor Francis I. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Joseph turned into an increasingly autonomous leader of the country in his intermediary role, and he tried both to meet the expectations of the Viennese court and to respect the constitutional traditions of Hungary.9 He was also the commander-in-chief of the insurrectio, and under his guidance, the troops were arranged by the counties. These counties enjoyed considerable autonomy and were led by the wealthy landowning gentry. Given the stalwart constitutional traditions of the country and the politically aware and active elites of the body politic of the nobility, it was essential for the government to develop effective persuasive techniques, and this included broadscale propaganda efforts.

Between 1792 and 1815, the insurrectio was called to arms four times: in 1797, 1800, 1805, and 1809. Kazinczy’s prediction soon proved prescient. While previously the troops had been assembled, compelled to do military exercises, and then disbanded ceremonially at most,10 in the War of the Fifth Coalition between the Austrian and the French Empires (from April 10 to October 14, 1809), they were deployed against the French and their allies and suffered moderate casualties in some smaller encounters and in the Battle of Győr on June 14.11 Members of the public administrative bodies and the civilian population of Western Hungary also experienced the upheavals and dangers of war and occupation for roughly six months. In 1809, though the Hungarian theater was not as significant militarily, mobilization, war propaganda, and the engagement of the units consisting of members of the nobility were experiences of vital importance for the estate polity (Ständestaat) and society.12

In the present study, I deal with three aspects of the relations between mobilization, war, and collective identities, focusing on the official propaganda concerning the insurrectio during the war of 1809. First, I demonstrate the significance of the insurrectio within the corporative defense system, as well as the interactions of traditionalism and innovation in military affairs. I then discuss the backbone of the official “propaganda machinery” on the national level, which was institutionalized to some extent. The official and semi-official propaganda concerning the insurrectio came into being due to Archduke Joseph, and it was produced and circulated by central authorities. While considerable propaganda activities and distinctive and even different local and imperial notions of patriotism were developed on the county and imperial levels, these remained subordinate to the national level. I then show how, based on these products of official propaganda, an all-pervasive patriotic-national collective identity concept was shaped, in the center of which was placed a hegemonic, ideal image of the “noble warrior” as a distinctive version of “patriotic-valorous masculinity.”13

The Austrian “Moment” of 1809 and Hungary

After the Peace of Pressburg (1805), Austria made considerable efforts to reorganize itself to wage a successful war to come against Napoleon. First, significant personal changes were carried out in the highest governmental circles. Second, further military reforms were introduced. The standing army was modernized by Archduke Charles and a new compulsory, selective militia14 formed on territorial grounds, the so-called Landwehr, came into being in June of 1808 thanks to the initiative of Archduke John.15 Closely intertwined with these changes, perceptions of the importance of public opinion also changed, and the government undertook propaganda efforts to develop and foster a strong pro-Austrian sentiment. These measures demonstrated the resilience of the Habsburg Monarchy. Regarding Austria, the exceptionality of the war of 1809 from the perspectives of the relationship between new forms of mobilization and extensive propaganda, and new patriotic-national leitmotifs have been identified as essential characteristics by the earlier and more recent German and international secondary literature.16 The arming of the people together with the dramatic increase in propaganda intended to shape public opinion proved significant not only for German and Austrian history in general (and for the provincial history of Tyrol in particular), but also from the broader European perspective of the Napoleonic Wars.

Propaganda activities were led, supported, and encouraged by the representatives of the highest governmental circles, including for instance people such as Count Johann Philipp Stadion and Archduke John, and they were carried out by well-known intellectuals in the German cultural space, such as writer Friedrich Schlegel, publicist Friedrich von Gentz, and historian Baron Joseph von Hormayr. This propaganda fashioned and promulgated a complex patriotic-national ideology which stretched from the ardent German nationalism of the “political Romantics” through imperial patriotism to provincial and local-regional patriotisms, in line with the emerging idea of “people’s” or “national wars” (Volks- or Nationalkrieg) in a multiethnic composite state, which intended to legitimize the war with reference to alleged patriotic-national interests.17 Domestically, the propaganda was aimed first and foremost at the literate middle classes with the intention of developing popular support for a future war and mobilizing as many people as possible by means of ideological incentives to join the Landwehr, also involving social groups and strata which had been remained intact from military service before.18 Abroad, the initiators tried to legitimize the war for the political elites and the educated public, and they also strove to curry the sympathies of people in French-occupied German territories. Nevertheless, the War of 1813–15 was fought on more traditional grounds again by Austria.19 All things considered, the arming of the people and the sudden flurry of propaganda could be treated as a “moment” in two ways: it turned out to be short-lived, but it was influential from a wider historical perspective.

During the era, in the Kingdom of Hungary, military mobilization and war propaganda played a role that was no less important, but peculiar, according to its constitutional and socio-political characteristics. In particular, the mobilization of the four insurrectio produced a vast corpus of propaganda efforts in various genres. In 1809, the need to persuade the masses of the privileged boosted the emerging production of short and simple printed matter which could easily accessed and distributed due to the steady rise of literacy even among the petty nobility. Both central and local authorities, acknowledged poets, writers, and occasional rhymers were actively involved in this tremendous production, which developed a distinct martial patriotic-national ideology of corporative character on national and local levels. The Hungarian case, however, was almost entirely ignored even within the most detailed German language and international narratives.20 Thus, these narratives offered only a partial picture. The Hungarian scholarship has largely neglected the field for a long time, despite the fact that the importance of the war of 1809 (and particularly the insurrectio) was (re)discovered as early as in the late nineteenth century, and some studies were also published on the political literature.21 Nevertheless, systematic research on war propaganda based on up-to-date methods (re)started a decade ago among literary historians.22

Military Mobilization and Limits of Reforms within the Estates’ System

In the early nineteenth century, the system of defense was still built on the traditional constitutional-legal structure of the country and organized along corporative dividing lines. According to some, the standing army was introduced into Hungary by Article VIII of 1715 into Hungary. Others have pointed out that the article merely legalized the former practice regarding military issues and funding, provided that the war tax had to be offered at diets or smaller ad hoc assemblies (concursus).23 In the course of the wars with France, three means of defense could be distinguished, one permanent and two extraordinary. The “Hungarian regiments” (the elite Hussar cavalry and the infantry of lower prestige) of the regular army, whose name referred to the territory in which the forces were recruited, were the first. Regarding their organization and deployment, these were not nationalized and were at the king’s disposal. The regiments were financed by and regularly recruited from the common people by voluntary recruitment or by drafting as an extraordinary measure.24 In the period, apart from Tyrol and Northern Italy, the only land where the Habsburg government could not introduce conscription (and with that the canton and furlough system) was Hungary due to the fierce resistance of the estates,25 so the period of military service remained indefinite, which meant it was practically lifelong.

The two extraordinary means were organized on the grounds of corporative privileges. First, the “free royal and mining cities” were expected to erect “burgher guards” (which had operated sporadically before) in 1805 as an option and in 1808 as an obligation. These communal militia-like units were responsible for the maintenance of public safety and order, as well as for city defense.26 Second, the insurrectio was also preserved after 1715. It consisted of people from different communities, groups and strata, but it was appropriated by the nobility, which considered themselves the body politic, the country (regnum), or the nation (natio) in its narrower corporative political sense.27 As historian Zoltán Tóth has pointed out, the “norm of estates” referred to certain communities based on moral judgments and expressed a segmented concept of society. Class stratification (based on financial circumstances) was also cut by a “dividing line” following from the legal status. So-called liberty (libertas) was reserved for the (landowning) nobility in its entirety (including exemption from taxes),28 which in exchange owed only periodical and temporary military service as part of the insurrectio. Noble status did not include strict financial and lifestyle requirements.29 This view was supported by the legal fictions of István Werbőczy’s Tripartitum (1517):30 the “one and same liberty” (una eademque libertas) of all noblemen (despite this alleged norm, for ages, the nobility was stratified not only by wealth and property but also by legal status) and the theory of subjugation, which justified the difference between nobles and serfs on the basis of a historical narrative. According to this narrative, the original equality of all Hungarians ceased after some had refused to perform military service and had been expelled from the political community. The norm attributed a free, militant, and morally superior character to the nation (natio or gens) as the exclusive political community of noblemen, which found expression in the insurrectio as the most superior form of military service.

In fact, the insurrectio was not subject to any permanent regulations, had no strength in times of peace, did not regular yearly exercises, and had no permanent officer staff, no magazines, etc. The conditions of its actual mobilization were regulated from time to time at the diets for a specified period. The blurriness of the related old articles and customary law provided considerable leeway for the two poles of the dualistic political system to present different, politically motivated interpretations of the same issues. In the era of the French wars, the king had no choice but to rely on the estates, and though both poles and several officers insisted on the need for urgent military reforms,31 the strong constitutional culture made it impossible to agree on and implement reforms, as they could have been pronounced unconstitutional by some party. Even if this political deadlock left little elbow room for substantial reforms, some limited measures were still introduced in Hungary to modernize its system of defense.32

The powerhouse of reforms was Archduke Joseph. He proposed the introduction of a modified version of the Landwehr system and published a plan for the king.33 This plan concerned the modernization of the insurrectio and the introduction of the reserve system, and it also included the extension of military service by different military institutions. The palatine argued that, “The forthcoming war […] has to be in its entirety a national war, [in which] the able masses of the nation have to fight totally or partly with armies to get the upper hand and to overcome.”34 This inventive draft was discussed in parallel with a traditionalist one (of the diet of 1807). In the end, significant if limited and provisional reforms were introduced: while the reserve system was abandoned, the regulations regarding extraordinary means of defense (Article II and III of 1808) proved more forward-looking than any earlier efforts.

In 1808, the estates offered to allow the king to call the insurrectio to arms “once and without any future consequences” for three years. At the same time, strong conditions were imposed: the insurrectio was to be mobilized only in case of war if the regular army was not able to hold off the enemy and the borders of the country were threatened by invasion. These measures limited the efficiency of the insurrectio, but they guaranteed the influence of the estates over the manner in which it might be used. Because of its political significance, its (de)mobilization “was a more complicated task and demanded much more work” than the (de)mobilization of a standing army of the same size would have required.

The norm of exceptionalism for the nobility found expression in the insurrectio in 1808 more strongly than it ever had before. Historically, in most cases the nobility did military service along with the common people: the insurrectiones were usually raised partly (mostly the officers, NCOs, and cavalry) from noblemen, this being their duty, and partly from non-nobles (mostly peasants as infantryman) by recruitment or pressure.35 This time, however, primarily the nobility and the groups attached to it were obliged to do personal military service. The county authorities conscripted members of the nobility who were between the age of 18 and 50. One person from each family with at least one member who was capable of performing service had to serve personally. Substitution (i.e., paying a fee in lieu of military service) was a standard and legitimate method of intervention in the compulsory selection process in every conscripted army of the age,36 much as it had been standard practice for the insurrectio, but this time it was made more difficult for one to avoid serving in person even in cases in which someone else could be provided as a substitute. Those who had been legally exempted from personal service could fulfil their duty by means of substitution.

This offer was narrower in its entirety than the former general levies, but it involved the nobility more deeply in person than any other had.37 It could be considered a kind of compulsory, selective, conscripted national militia of the nobility as a political community. However, its members were not conscripts in the traditional sense.38 This tendency in spirit could be regarded as a peculiar application of the idea of “citizen-soldier” to the estate polity.39 This sheds some light on two of the main characteristics of the institution: it was an embodiment of tendencies towards “nationalization” and “emancipation,” though remaining within the boundaries of the estates.

“Nationalization” in this context refers to measures which were intended to bring the insurrectio as a traditional, loosely organized corporative means of defense closer to the state-of-the-art national militia, which fit into the emerging conception of “national wars.” These measures indicated some overlap between the reformist ideas of the palatine (who sought to reinforce the military and the national character of the insurrectio) on the one hand and, on the other, the demands of the estates, which were increasingly committed to certain national issues which went beyond the traditional politics of grievances. From this perspective, the regulations of 1808 could be seen as a partial and temporary success of the nation-building process within the political world of the estates which served at the same time the immediate needs of the government.

In line with the prevailing constitutional traditions, the articles assured the independence of the insurrectio as a separate military body with the palatine as its commander-in-chief, a body which should not be mingled with the regular army. In the past, the troops were also deployed outside Hungary’s borders, for instance in 1741–42 during the War of Austrian Succession. However, in 1808 emphasis was placed on the stipulation that the insurrectio could only be used as means of national defense. The organizational structure of the insurrectio was built on the four districts of the kingdom (Transdanubian, Cisdanubian, Transtibiscan, Cistibiscan), each of which was headed by a district general and his staff. The parity of ranks with the regular army was also declared. The officer staffs were elected autonomously by the county assemblies and confirmed by the palatine, strengthening thus the local-regional character and patriotic engagement of each unit at the expense of military competence.

In the context of the emerging linguistic-ethnocultural elements in the patriotic-national thinking of the nobility, the introduction of Hungarian as the language of command was a significant success in the “Magyarization” process,40 which disgusted some people in Viennese governmental circles.41 A vernacular official military terminology was elaborated for the infantry and cavalry in a short time by a working group led by Count Joseph Beckers, the palatine’s chief adjutant, translated into Hungarian by military and civil experts and revised by a military committee.42 Troop training manuals were printed in early 1809 and sold to the counties. In practice, under time pressures, these measures made it difficult to communicate with transferred army officers and anyone who spoke Hungarian only badly or not at all. Since Hungary was a multiethnic kingdom, even within the nobility tens of thousands of people did not speak Hungarian as their native tongue and used Latin as the language of politics.43

As a part of this nationalization, a push towards uniformity was also of utmost importance. The palatine wanted the insurrectio to be clearly distinguished from the regulars and not to be treated as a “Landsturm” or “Volksaufstand” (as in the case of Tyrol) “by the enemy.” It had to be recognized as “eine Truppe,” a “troop force,”44 i.e., as legitimate combatants to whom the laws of war applied. For this reason, a central regulation was issued. The unified cavalry and infantry uniforms included some traditional national accessories and sartorial motifs, and the troops could be distinguished by the color of their lapels (for the infantry) and shakos (for the cavalry), which differed by district. These measures weakened the parochial character of the insurrectio, but the counties could continue to use their symbols (coats of arms), both local and national, as well as patriotic Latin slogans (e.g., “VITAM ET SANGUINEM” or “PRO REGE ET PATRIA”) and embroidered ribbons with inscriptions on their baroque-style flags.45

The aforementioned tendency towards “emancipation” bifurcated in two ways. First, a kind of limited compulsory military service was introduced for the nobility based exclusively on legal status. This could be considered an egalitarian step regarding military duties. Thus, the law obliged one able member of each noble family to perform military service personally, regardless of wealth and title, from the poor petty noblemen to magnates, including naturalized nobles who lived abroad. At the same time, it was intended to counterbalance the financial inequalities within the noble community. To this, a system of “progressive” rates was introduced based on declared annual incomes from 1807. While the wealthier had to mount and support themselves as cavalryman, the poorer could serve and be equipped in the infantry at public expense. A national fund was founded to compensate for differences among the counties (due to the size and wealth of their nobility) to which the wealthy had to contribute more, and local funds were also established.

In 1809, as a consequence of the reforms of the previous year, the masses of the nobility were mobilized in Hungary depending on the actual number of able-bodied noblemen of each county, while in Croatia and Slavonia mostly the forces consisted for the most part of non-nobles, for several reasons. The troops were organized into cavalry regiments and infantry battalions, in most cases cavalry squadrons and divisions, and infantry companies of two or more counties were added to reach the desired unit size. From February to April 1809, the Palatine and Prince Primate of Esztergom Archduke Charles Ambrosius were ordered by the king to tour the counties and exhort the nobility to provide even more men for the cavalry, which was considered more prestigious and effective than the infantry. Because of these efforts, more cavalry units were offered at the expense of wealthy local magnates and nobles than they originally had had to provide by law. According to historian István R. Kiss, 17,266 men were provided for the cavalry and 20,361 were sent to serve in the infantry in total, which were organized into 18 regiments in 19 battalions, together with later voluntary offers.46 Apparently, not all of them were conscripted from and maintained by the nobility, but the units that did consist of nobles made up a significant proportion of the forces. The nobility also made considerable financial and organizational contributions, as reflected in the total number of them in the Kingdom of Hungary.47

Archduke Joseph and the Official Propaganda Machinery

The products of German-language pro-Austrian, anti-Napoleonic propaganda were widely available in Hungary too, though the independence of the country, the mobilization of the insurrectio, and the persuasion of the estate society called for special measures. The propaganda on the national level was concentrated in the hands of a few confidantes of Archduke Joseph, who were both civilians and soldiers with or without official appointment. As in the Austrian part of the empire, in which military intendants were in service alongside every army,48 Hungarian intellectuals were also formally involved in the production of official propaganda as translators or authors.

Archduke Joseph’s work was supported by his office, to which a temporary military section was added during wartime, and he also had the help of a separate general staff of the insurrectio. The palatine managed, with the assistance of his office and that of Beckers, the production, translation, and dissemination of official and semi-official propaganda texts. Official and incoming non-official materials were also collected and assessed here.

Some longer semi-official pamphlets were prepared well in advance, shortly after the diet of 1808. These pamphlets were written by civilians and published anonymously in order to increase their persuasive effect. The archduke charged two literates whom he knew intimately with this task: Sándor Kisfaludy and Ferenc Verseghy. Kisfaludy, a wealthy landowning nobleman of Zala County and an army veteran and popular poet, was commissioned by Beckers at the end of 1808 to write a pamphlet to remind the Hungarian nobility of the value of their “obsolete privileges” without awaking animosity against the French. He finished the text some months later, and it was then blue penciled by his clients. This work was published in the spring of 1809, shortly before the outbreak of the war, in approximately 3,000 copies in Hungarian and a few hundred copies in German under the title Patriotic Appeal to the Hungarian Nobility. Verseghy, an ex-Pauline friar who had been discredited in the Hungarian Jacobin conspiracy in 1794–95, offered his services to the government and already worked for the Archduke as a Hungarian language teacher. He also took part in the translation of military manuals, and he translated the pamphlet (actually, a collection of documents) by Pedro Cevallos Guerra, the Spanish first secretary of state of Ferdinand VII from German (its preface was dated to March 20, 1809). It was a popular, internationally recognized anti-Napoleonic work which intended to shake confidence in the French emperor.

Others took part in the production of propaganda as translators of official texts. József Márton, professor of Hungarian at the University of Vienna, translated Gentz’s Manifest, which declared and legitimized officially the war as bellum iustum, as well as the general order of Archduke Charles, which was written by Friedrich Schlegel. Captain József Csohány, who served in the palatinal regiment, translated ex-officio several proclamations by an unknown author which were issued at the beginning of the war in the name of Archduke Joseph. During the spring of 1809, Csohány, Kisfaludy, and Count László Kolonics were appointed to serve as aides-de-camp of the palatine, and they joined his train and formed his “court” during the campaign. The propaganda was institutionalized on an additional level with the “instruction” of May 28, 1809, which established the duties of the adjutants. With this, Kisfaludy also formally became the central figure of the production of the official propaganda: he was responsible for the translation and publication of all proclamations, announcements, and general orders concerning the insurrectio.49

From February to December 1809, several short official printed products of propaganda were published in the name of the king and the palatine in great numbers which addressed the Hungarians, first and foremost the nobility and the members of the insurrectio. The German, Hungarian, and Latin newspapers also published them, which increased their availability. While some of the official Hungarian proclamations were printed in tens of thousands of copies (in Hungarian), they were only published in a few hundred or a few thousand copies in German. Some documents of legal weight (handwritten or printed copies), which were sent to the local authorities, were also of propagandistic value. The fact that Hungarian became the language of command and of official propaganda suited the broader efforts of Magyarization among some of the educated nobility, as well as of supportive intellectuals. It also fit well with the overall language distribution of the nobility, in which native speakers of Hungarian were the overwhelming majority. From the viewpoint of the longer process of the spread of cultural-linguistic nationalism, these measures could be seen as a moment when linguistic-ethnocultural elements were strengthened within the traditional, privilege-based collective identity of the nobility as an ethnically restrictive criterion. It bore, however, a significant potential to democratize the notion of nation by including culturally (and politically) the disenfranchised native masses and, in the long run, “Magyarizing” non-Hungarians.50

The official propaganda on the local and national levels was connected to the phases of war (mobilization, wartime, and demobilization), particularly to the laborious ritual of (de)mobilization of the insurrectio. First, the nobility was conscripted and then ordered to assemble for the first time by county authorities. Then, the assemblies elected the officers, and the arranged troops were mustered for the second time in their uniforms and equipment. This occasion was linked in most cases with the consecration of flags within a ceremonial civic-military ritual as a “rite of passage.” Soon after this, the troops were doing military exercises for a short time if all went well or they departed immediately for the battlefront if necessary. During demobilization in late 1809 – early 1810, the returning troops were received ceremonially in their home counties and then dismissed with a final muster as a farewell ritual.

Official military mobilization in Hungary began with the rescriptum of King Francis on nineteenth February 1809, which was connected to the tour of the young archdukes and urged the establishment of the insurrectio and recruitment and also requested more military aid and cavalry troops from the counties without the approval of the diet.51 On April 8, as Austrian emperor, Francis issued a proclamation to the Peoples of the Austrian Empire!. In this proclamation, he informed the entire population that he had left Vienna and traveled to see the troops, and he also thanked his subjects for responding to his call and showing their patriotism. The proclamation presented the idea of a just war (like Gentz’s Manifest), in which the ruler and his people (implicitly the Hungarians), united by mutual trust, were resisting the “conqueror” (i.e., Napoleon). It was intended not only to mobilize the combatants but also to motivate the population as a whole to act. On April 10, the king issued a rescriptum from Althan (near Vienna) to the “Hungarians” (i.e., the nobility and groups attached to it) which, referring to the Article II of 1808 and the emergency circumstances, officially announced the insurrectio and ordered its mobilization.52 This text was also propagandistic value beside its legal force.

On April 27, two proclamations were issued to the insurrectio through the palatine which fit into the course of general orders to certain military bodies. The shorter one referred generally to the “adverse events in Germany” and announced that the ruler had summoned the nobility to the western border of the country.53 The longer one provided more information about the battles fought by Archduke Charles between April 19 and 23, the casualties suffered by the K. u. K. army, and the withdrawal of the army to the other bank of Danube River on April 24.54 On May 16, in the name of Archduke Joseph, a longer proclamation was issued under the title Hungarians! which in word was addressed to all the inhabitants of the country but which was implicitly aimed first and foremost at the regnum or nation of the estates (nobility, burghers, etc.). It suited the series of official proclamations, which aimed at the inhabitants of certain provinces, territories inside and outside the Austrian Empire (to the “German nation,” to the Tyroleans, to the Italians, to the residents of Vienna, etc.). On April 29, the palatine sent his proclamations to the “Hungarian nation” and the “nobility of Hungary” to the Zensur- und Polizeihofstelle so that they could be included in German newspapers in order to demonstrate “how great the industry and desire of the Hungarian nation are to protect the Austrian Monarchy.”55

Kisfaludy started to formulate a counter-proclamation against Napoleon’s proclamation of Schönbrunn,56 which was issued on May 15, 1809 in two trilingual versions (in French–Latin–Hungarian and French–German–Hungarian) from Vienna, which had just been occupied.57 The French emperor offered independence and tried to persuade the noble body politic as “Hungarians” in a familiar manner to break off with the Habsburgs and summon a diet “on the Field of Rákos.” Nevertheless, Kisfaludy’s work was never finished, as authorities successfully hindered the spread of Napoleon’s proclamation, and it found no serious resonance, neither among the nobility nor among other groups. Only a handful of educated nobles and intellectuals (so-called “Hungarian Bonapartists”) became followers of Napoleon, for instance János Batsányi, a writer of non-noble birth who took part in the translation and proofreading of the Hungarian text of the Napoleonic proclamation, and Gergely Berzeviczy, a Hungarus Lutheran nobleman who wrote a shelved constitutional draft for the French emperor and later assessed the war and the situation of Hungary from a pro-French critical perspective.58

The official proclamations connected to the process of demobilization were written and/or translated by Kisfaludy after the Peace Treaty of Schönbrunn (October 14, 1809). Two short farewell speeches to the insurrectio were issued in the name of the king and the palatine on November 24 and December 18 (in Hungarian and German) which were printed in 34,000 and 36,000 copies in total in order to provide every member of the insurrectio with one copy. While the palatine’s speech was left almost unaltered, the original draft of the king’s general order was revised beyond recognition by state clerks, and this version was translated by Kisfaludy into Hungarian. The printing was managed by Kisfaludy, and the expenses were covered by the central fund of the insurrectio. On December 18, a longer handwritten Hungarian testimonial of the homecoming troops was also sent to the counties in the name of the palatine in translation by Kisfaludy. During the process of demobilization, an undated farewell speech was also written to the burghers of the free royal cities of Pest and Buda by Kisfaludy in a German and Hungarian version, but there is no evidence indicating that it was ever printed or sent.59

The Segmented View of the Estate Polity and the Dimensions of Patriotism

In general, the Hungarian propaganda of 1809 was structured around the existing legal categories and thus followed and mirrored the attitudes of the estates with regard to their legal status and their responsibilities with regard to the defense of the land. This effort to craft propaganda which addressed different segments of society was clear both in the general-purpose texts (which addressed a larger group) and in the particular texts (which addressed narrower segments of the population). From the overall viewpoint, within the limits of estate polity, the official propaganda tried to mobilize, involve and motivate to some extent as many people as it could (first and foremost the privileged) in the war efforts, while explicitly representing a hierarchical, segmented view of society. It indicated divergent duties based on legal grounds, i.e., different liberties and capabilities for various communities, and on the basis of financial (class) stratification, as well as of professions.

The general-purpose texts also respected this segmentation, but they tried to unite those addressed in a common endeavor. As the emperor’s proclamation to the Peoples of Austria! Stated, “Those who do not take up arms still participate in the defense of the country.” When addressing the “Hungarians,” the palatine’s proclamation translated the idea as a common project of the “Hungarian Nation,” by which it referred primarily to the privileged: “Glorious and sacred is the duty to shed blood for the country; besides, it is also necessary to make other sacrifices to help it.”60 This proclamation also emphasized that “in this challenging moment,” everyone could help the country without going beyond their duties. Thus, in an inclusive way, it drew the attention of all the estates as fellow “Hungarians” to “hold one another’s hands” and strive for a common goal as “true brothers.” According to this view, there were several respectable kinds of patriotic sacrifices, of which the personal military service performed by the nobility was of the greatest value, but other sacrifices were also valued, from pecuniary offers to certain public activities.

The Hungarian war propaganda was aimed above all at those communities which owed certain kinds of armed service: the burghers of the free royal and mining cities and their militias to a lesser extent and the nobility (and attached groups) and the insurrectio to a greater extent. The Hungarian regiments, the men of which consisted of common people, were involved in the imperial military propaganda and the means of popular recruitment.

In connection with this, three main levels of patriotism could be distinguished based on their territorial extent, though they were also segmented socially: imperial, national, and local-regional. From the perspective of the propaganda in general, these levels appeared with different emphasis and could be either complementary or competing. They each included two basic, parallel present aspects with different emphases. On the one hand, patriotism was cast as an active loyalty to the patria, focusing basically on a political-territorial entity that was more abstract than the notion of the native soil. The defense of more or less abstract entities was presented as a collective duty. On the other hand, the propaganda also contained references to narrower personal interests, such as the protection of household, family, and property. Thus, it also stressed individual concerns.

The new “imperial patriotism” was a kind of “state patriotism” with a predominantly German character. It referred to the empire as a whole as the common fatherland of all subjects of the Austrian emperor and was transmitted to Hungary by translations of general-purpose German texts. There were, however, very few in the texts that were written originally for the Hungarian public. The Hungarian “national patriotism,” which from an imperial perspective was seen as a parochial Landespatriotismus was given considerable emphasis in the governmental propaganda. There were different variants of this patriotism. In its all-pervasive form, as a “state patriotism,” it referred to the Kingdom of Hungary in its territorial-institutional sense as the “fatherland” and embraced every member of the population as a subject of the king. From the narrower perspective of the estates, it had a more exclusive layer which emphasized constitutional aspects from a segmented standpoint. In its most exclusive form, it applied to the nobility, which considered themselves the “nation” (natio or gens Hungarica), i.e., a free political community of common origin with distinctive ethnical features.

Local-regional versions of patriotism were developed on the basis of the highly autonomous territorial political-administrative units of certain communities as the essential space of their lifeworld, which was also the space in which mobilization was organized. In the case of the nobility, these versions of patriotism were connected to the counties, which embodied the local political community of nobleman, a narrower “fatherland” with territorial and institutional implications. Based on the general view on the estate polity, the patriotism of the counties was a subsidiary of a strong integrating “national patriotism” of noble character. The local patriotism of the predominantly ethnic-German “old burghers” of the free royal and mining cities (a patriotism which was generally attached to a particular city)61 and the local patriotism of the “free peasant” communities of the privileged Jászkun and Hajdú Districts proved more parochial in general. Nevertheless, the propaganda tried to involve with references to a broader imperial, as well as a Hungarian patriotism in the etatist sense. A further version was potentially also available, the emerging German-national patriotism, represented by Archduke Charles’ appeal To the German Nation, written by Schlegel, but this tendency was not strong enough to exert much of an influence on the ethnically German burghers and intellectuals of the kingdom.62

The “Noble Warrior” as the Hegemonic Image of “Patriotic-Valorous Masculinity”

According to the three main means of defense, three different and relational ideal images of “valorous masculinity” were in circulation in the era.63 They could be referred to as the “Hungarian hussar,” the “armed burgher,” and the “noble warrior.” The first term referred to generals, officers, and men who served in the hussar regiments as part of an elite “national branch” of the K. u. K. army. The second connected to the members of burgher guards. The last, in line with the personal military service of the members of the political community, was considered a true “national” type, which embodied the hegemonic ideal of superior moral quality in comparison with which the others counted as auxiliary or subordinate. While the first category involved (and indicated) a degree of professionalism, the latter two could be interpreted as particular kinds of “citizen-soldiers” of the estate polity on the basis of the legal grounds on which they were founded and the ways in which they were characterized in the propaganda. Essentially, the last two ideals embodied a particular civic and martial ethos. To these images belonged a segmented set of values, as well as different types of patriotism. In the discussion below, I consider only the last one, the “noble warrior” exhaustively.

From a general viewpoint, based on the idea of Anthony D. Smith, the Magyar nobility could be treated as a dominant “lateral ethnie,” i.e., an aristocratic ethnic community which formed the dominant “ethnic core” of the state. It proved able in the long run “to regulate and disseminate” its “fund of values, symbols, myths, traditions and memories that formed the cultural heritage” and “to define a new and broader cultural identity for the population.”64 The modern Hungarian nation was developed around the ethnically Magyar nobility during the long nineteenth century through the expansion (and extension) of its culture and rights to the masses, including those of different ethnicities.65 As Smith points out, war functioned “as a mobilizer of ethnic sentiments and national consciousness, a centralizing force in the life of the community and a provider of myths and memories for future generations.”66 The “warfare and a warrior ethos” traditionally played a central role in the Hungarian case,67 where the nobility had an exclusive, predominantly martial self-image which profoundly influenced its collective identity. To reconstruct the warrior ethos and ideal image connected to the insurrectio within the broader patriotic-national collective identity patterns of the nobility, three (in most cases closely intertwined) linguistic patterns could be distinguished: “ancient constitutionalism,” “noble nationalism,” and “classical republicanism.”68

Ancient constitutionalism formed a substratum of political debates in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By reading Montesquieu, the noble elites discovered “that they possessed a ‘constitution’ rather than just a collection of customary rights sanctified by immemorial tradition.” This constitution meant the “fundamental rules of the social and political order,”69 and it was treated as a heritage of the ancestors, which had to be handed down unscathed to the future generations. In this idiom, the regnum or nation meant the estates (above all the nobility) and the existence of the constitution was identified with the existence of the country.70 From 1790 onwards, it also referred to “a symmetrically linked and mutually recognized set of rights and duties” between the crown/king and the country/nation.71 Noble nationalism had appeared in the seventeenth century and referred to the “idealized noble values.”72 Its core idea was the norm of “true Hungarian-ness,”73 which consisted of the notions of “martial virtue,” the “true blood,” and the ideal national costume. Sometimes, it also referred to language usage and national consciousness, a component which was began emerging with increasing prominence in the late eighteenth century. It presented an idealized, normative past: the ancient times of better “old Hungarians,” a set of exemplary political and military leaders, as well as the desired idea of a national monarch (generally the rule of Matthias Corvinus). A certain variant of classical republicanism was universal due to the Latin-centered secondary education. This political idiom passed on the ideas and traditions associated with a collection of illustrious men and historical events and also provided a norm of vita activa as a certain way of life, a set of civic values (liberty, the common good, virtues, the notion of “love of the country,” etc.), and a particular view of history and politics which could be easily adapted to the lifeworld of the nobility. Apparently, in the propaganda of insurrectiones, the elements connected to the military issues of these three political languages came into the limelight. These shaped a coherent warrior ethos and image of the nobility.74

To reconstruct the ideal image of the “noble warrior” in the propaganda of 1809, we must pay particular attention to Kisfaludy’s Patriotic Appeal, since it was the most detailed exposition of the patriotic-national ideology of the mobilizational period of the insurrectio, which was approved by the palatine. It was written earlier than any products of the official Hungarian propaganda. This pamphlet offered a strict interpretation of the “norm of estates” following the spirit of the articles of 1808, and it represented an exclusive, aristocratic viewpoint of the wealthy landowning nobility. Nevertheless, this exclusive view was not totally closed, as Kisfaludy referred to the capacity of non-noble “Hungarians” to earn nobility through acts of valor and bravery (though he only did it once) and he also called on the noblemen to reinforce their inherited titles through such acts.

The pamphlet used a complex argument to bolster the necessity of personal military service and to awaken feelings of patriotism. This argument consisted of a popular national historical narrative written in the vernacular and legal-constitutional and moral elements. The text drew heavily on established political idioms and notions, but it also smuggled in some forward-looking ideas concerning cultural and institutional nation-building, and it made adaptive reflections on the military successfulness of the French. Kisfaludy praised the exclusive character of the personal insurrectio, and he presented all other forms of military service as morally inferior to it. Compared to the fair copy of the text, the printed versions were bowdlerized, and most of those paragraphs which either referred to the French model and Napoleon’s genius or presented the superior moral qualities of the nobility in an exaggerated and even offensive way proved sensitive enough to be blue penciled by the clients.75

Regarding the substance of ancient constitutionalism, the Appeal gave a precise definition: “The country, the king, and the constitution were inseparably one: one has to keep, embrace, protect the other in order that the spirit of both, the constitution, persist.” Kisfaludy demonstrated that the Hungarian nobility enjoyed an unparalleled status “in the known world” due to their “golden liberty,” which was made possible by the constitution: “Per capita we can say the Hungarian noble is like a petty king; the lawful, crowned Hungarian king on the other hand may be considered the most distinguished of all rulers, as he may justly be seen as the king and ruler of thousands upon thousands of kings.”76 In exchange for this status (of petty king), the members of the Hungarian nobility owed more than any others to their country and king and had to do personal military service. Thus, Kisfaludy proposed a norm of reflected patriotism of a constitutional character for the nobility (which mixed emotional and rational elements), as well as of pro patria mori when he glorified the heroism exemplified by Miklós IV. Zrínyi at his last stand in the battle of Szigetvár, alongside the Classical ideals.

The pamphlet emphasized the ancient warrior origins of the Hungarian nation, and presented it as a “grand, noble, free” one. Kisfaludy also stressed that the “genius” of Hungarians had a tendency for agriculture, rather than for commerce and he praised the agrarian way of life based on a maxim of Cicero.77 However, he pointed out that the Hungarians had to be valorous first to protect and maintain their constitution, which made it possible for them to farm and trade freely.78 He did not deny the emerging significance of commerce, or of politeness, but he warned his contemporaries against its dangers and cautioned them to take measures to prevent the spread of effeminacy and maintain the native martial fitness and valorous character of the noblemen to fight. By supporting government’s efforts to increase the number of people serving in the cavalry, he offered an argument based on references to historical and contemporary tactics and the innate Hungarian equestrian national character. However, as a veteran, Kisfaludy called for more modern means of advancing traditional Hungarian military culture. For instance, he welcomed the article on the establishment of the Ludovica Military Academy (1808), and he called attention to the necessity of the establishment of a genuine national military science, based on the military history of Hungary.79

Kisfaludy argued in support of the importance of the maintenance of the military duties of the nobility in a lengthy, non-linear historical narrative which presented the national history as a kind of military history of the political community’s own. In this aristocratic view of the past, warfare in general and particularly the insurrectio bore the utmost importance, and glory and decline were bound together with the public morals and martial character of the community. This narrative was divided into eight exemplary periods: four were qualified as glorious, four as declining. In connection with these periods, he enumerated memorable people and events.80 Concerning the glorious periods, the “Golden Age” of Hungary (both from the military and the broader political and cultural perspective) was the rule of Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490) as the idealized historical embodiment of the “national monarch.” Kisfaludy also presented a set of exemplary Hungarian statesmen and military leaders with “Hungarian virtue.” These statesmen and military leaders could be compared, according to Kisfaludy, with the great figures of the classical antiquity and the leaders of early modern times. Kisfaludy also referred to the myth of the offer of 1741, which was presented as a crucial experience of the “House of Austria” concerning “what a precious treasure the nobility was for the Hungarian king.”

The Patriotic Appeal not only created a powerful image of the “noble warrior,” but also tried to make this image more up to date on the one hand, and overly exclusive on the other. The bowdlerized parts modified this image in two ways. First, the original manuscripts compared the modern French revolutionary and Napoleonic army to the insurrectio, and in connection with this, they emphasized the significance of “enthusiasm” in military issues. Second, these texts distanced the noble levy both from the standing army and the military service performed by the common people in the insurrectio, which was a usual practice, particularly before 1809.

Kisfaludy interpreted the contemporary French case based on the analogy of the traditional Hungarian one, and he held it up as a model for the nobility of his time:

The French people is a vivid example of the efficiency of national enthusiasm, all sorts of members of which became soldiers in the revolution to protect themselves and theirs, and which could not been overcome by any of the allied powers of Europe. The whole French Army was no more than a national insurrectio, which became hardened from effeminacy in a short time, so much that each [of them] thought of themselves as Alexander the Great conquering the world.81

Kisfaludy was one of the few people in Hungary who explicitly interpreted the concept of “enthusiasm” in its new, positive meaning, which emerged due to the French revolutionary wars and spread through cultural transfers.82 By doing so, he also adapted implicitly the idea of the “citizen-soldier” and the citizen-soldier’s capacity for “enthusiasm” to the massive personal military service of the nobility, within the limits of the estate polity.

The original manuscripts of the pamphlet contained derogatory depictions of the soldiers of the standing army as mercenaries who served “in most cases either by necessity or by constraint for honor and soldier’s pay.” Thus, they looked “naturally at the defense of the country more cold-bloodedly.” In contrast, the nobility in the personal insurrectio fought pro aris et focis for their king, country, and constitution and also for their liberties, households, and property. Because of its patriotic motivations, the latter was qualified as morally superior and more suitable for national defense. Thus, in the Hungarian case, Kisfaludy reserved the capacity for patriotic-national “enthusiasm” for the nobility.

Even in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the popular ideal of the nobility was manifested actively in the norm of a martial patriotism with the virtus as its core value (which meant valor or bravery in this context),83 which could find form periodically in temporary military service in the insurrectio, ideally in person. Although, the importance of knowledge and reason as elements of patriotism was discussed for a long time84 and some people recognized the inevitable change of manners with the advent of the age of commerce (which also reshaped the character of wars),85 these views remained subordinate in the political discourse. From a wider historical perspective, the strong relationship between arms-bearing and membership in the community could make it possible to enlarge the concept of the nation and patria periodically (as had happened during the Ottoman wars and the Bocskai uprising).86 However, in the age of the French wars and particularly in 1808–09, due to its actual political value as the guarantee of the privileged status of the nobility, the duty to do ad hoc military service in defense of the country in the insurrectio, at least as a fiction of a “blood tax,” was appropriated by the nobility. Parallelly, the martial virtue and the ability to be moved by patriotic-national motives were also monopolized, with the support of a strict interpretation of the “norm of estates” according to which the noble body politic had an exclusive claim to superior moral qualities. While this notion became increasingly obsolete because of its exclusivity, the nobility and the intellectuals who supported it (as well as the palatine) tried to maintain it with lesser alterations through the propaganda to mobilize.

During the war, this exclusive ideology, which was based on solid institutional grounds, was stretched only to a certain extent in the state of emergency. In the summer of 1809, in need of manpower, the king ordered the counties to give tens of thousands more recruits to the regular army and to recruit voluntary divisions. The latter embodied a new form of temporary military service, a selective voluntary militia, which was open to anyone regardless of social-legal status. The recruitment of people into these voluntary militias was implemented by the county authorities, who used circulars that were transmitted by local opinion leaders (officials and members of the lower clergy). These circulars offered various material incentives (the promise of military decorations, money, exemption from regular military service, etc.) and also extended the social scope of the noble ideology vertically, without any significant changes, to enlarge temporarily the notions of patria and nation.

Official Proclamations to the Insurrectio

The proclamations, which were issued in the name of Archduke Joseph, basically appealed to a “constitutional patriotism” with their references to the political-institutional and territorial aspects of the country, as well as using an intensifying rhetoric of “noble nationalism.” The Hungarian official propaganda on the insurrectio during the mobilization before and in the beginning of war was intended basically to make the nobility aware of the unique value of their privileged status and their “ancient constitution” and their specific military duties. The hope was that this would render the military force they provided more effective. After the declaration of war, the propaganda also aimed to demonstrate that the military situation made necessary the deployment of the insurrectio according to the law. According to the imperial propaganda, the war was not only just, but it was also preemptive to secure the peace, given the tendencies towards the liberation of ex-Habsburg territories and Europe under Napoleonic rule. Concerning Hungary, as the insurrectio had been defined as a means of national defense in the related article and in the official propaganda, the war was understood in a narrower sense as a patriotic, defensive struggle on native soil.

The official rhetoric of national patriotism marked the main duties of the nobility according to the articles of 1808. In agreement with the printed rescriptum of Francis I from February 1809, which formulated this idea in the moderate legal register, the nobles had to mobilize themselves “for the defense of their king, country, and ancient constitution.” As Francis I pointed out on April 10, 1809, the nobility also had to fight for the defense of the “independence of the country.” The palatine used a more emotional tone and more current phrasing in his proclamations of April 27. The shorter one declared the state of exception and ordered the troops to the borders with reference to the “adverse events” in Germany, claiming that the enemy was threatening the “independence of the nation.” To stress the necessity, this proclamation combined the popular phrase of La Patrie en danger (originating from the French revolutionary language) with the imperative of pro patria mori: “The fatherland is in danger! If we cannot save it from the peril, we would rather die!” The proclamation openly admitted that the troops were insufficiently trained and equipped, but it emphasized that these obstacles had to be overcome by the “warrior soul” and “loyalty to the king.”

The longer proclamation captured essentially the same message with slightly different rhetorical means. It praised noble Hungarians as a “generous, valorous nation” which could again prove its allegiance to the “king” and “beloved fatherland” through its great deeds, and thus it could thwart the “pernicious purpose of our sworn enemy.” This proclamation drew on a popular historical myth according to which the valor of the nobility, which was allegedly known worldwide, had preserved the dynasty and the liberty of the nobility itself. It alluded implicitly to the offer of the insurrectio at the diet 1741 to Maria Theresa during the War of Austrian Succession. This narrower, national view of patriotism was expanded in the palatine’s letter, with which he sent his proclamations to the Viennese authorities. With this letter, the palatine tried to demonstrate that the “enthusiasm” of the nation and the nobility’s military morale was appropriate, and they wanted to sacrifice “their life and blood” for the preservation of the “Austrian Monarchy” in its entirety.87

On the occasion of the dissolution of the troops, the Palatine commissioned Kisfaludy well in advance to write a farewell speech in his name and a general order in the king’s name to be printed and distributed to each member of the insurrectio. The former was printed without serious modifications, while the fair copy of the latter was totally altered. These prints became the most popular of all because of their great number of copies, which were distributed at the ceremonies which were held when the forces were dissolved. The palatine’s letter of December 18, which was handwritten in Hungarian was also outstandingly valuable as a piece of propaganda, was received with a warm welcome by the counties. It was read aloud solemnly in the general assemblies, recorded into the protocols, and in some cases, was even printed and spread locally at the expense of the counties.

The palatine’s printed valediction constituted a community between the archduke as commander-in-chief and the insurrectio.88 According to this appeal, the insurrectio in general had been turned into “an army of heroes,” and its members had become “warriors” through their display of virtue during the war. However, this potential could be realized only by a narrower circle in battle due to the circumstances. With this, the palatine personally confirmed that some people had committed patriotic military deeds for the fatherland, and he also formulized the idea of a national political cult of the heroic dead89 who died for the “beloved fatherland” and “ancient golden liberty.” He promised them glory and a place in the “annals of the fatherland,” i.e., the collective memory of the nation. The members of the insurrectio were ensured that they became worthy of the legacy of the “heroic forefathers.” The palatine also guaranteed his, the king’s and the country’s satisfaction and respect. In the end, the archduke let them return to their counties, noting his expectation that they would be at the ready in the future were “the fatherland and the constitution to be endangered.”

The printed version of the general order, written in the name of the king, To the Hungarian Noble Insurgent Troops was formulated in a less personal and more moderate tone, though it emphasized almost the same points.90 It called upon the members of the insurrectio to preserve “national vigor” and ensure the survival of the military qualities of the nobility to deter the enemy and protect fellow citizens. However, this general order referred only to the nobility’s military duties to the king and the fatherland and contained no reference to their ancient constitution and liberty. It also failed to make any mention of the heroic deeds of the noblemen or the sacrifices of the soldiers who had fallen.

Both farewell speeches worded in the abstract, like the official proclamations which had been issued at the beginning of the war. In contrast, the palatine’s handwritten letter in Hungarian to the counties, which encouraged them to welcome the insurrectio, detailed the same topics in a more specific manner and with reference to concrete events. It aimed also at the maintenance of the morale and combat capability of the homecoming troops by peculiar means. On the one hand, it called on the counties to take measures to let the poorer members of the nobility keep the horses that had been purchased at public expense. On the other, it stipulated that the uniforms should be kept by the soldiers who had worn them not only for practical purposes, but also as a symbolic gesture that would strengthen, it was hoped, the sense of national character by promoting the national costume and also to stem interest in luxuries.

Demobilization and the Patriotic-National Cult of Heroes and Fallen Soldiers

The official propaganda of the demobilization was organized on a national and local (county) level, which strengthened each other. The intensity of local propaganda depended on how deeply certain units had been involved in the fighting, i.e., their losses and combat actions.91

The Battle of Győr on June 14, 1809 was the most remarkable engagement in the theater of war. The French victory proved devastating neither for Austria in general nor for the insurrectio. However, in the long run, the flight and disintegration of some unexperienced units still became a powerful symbol of the unsuitability of the nobility for their traditional role. This historical myth of defeat was exploited politically by aulic circles who sought to condemn the nobility and popularized decades later from a democratic nationalist viewpoint by the revolutionary poet Sándor Petőfi in his In the name of the people. It referred in a sarcastic manner to those “many legs, which ran there [at Győr].” The myth started to take shape immediately after the battle, partly as mere as rumors that were circulating and partly because of the indignant response of King Francis and Archduke John, who blamed the insurrectio for the defeat.

The king’s opinion, of which he made a public demonstration, soon changed, and the official and unofficial propaganda during the demobilization presented a generally positive image of the performance of the inssurrectio. The war was a serious defeat for the Austrian Empire, and the Kingdom of Hungary also lost some Croatian territories. Despite this, the propaganda in general emphasized that by thanks to the insurrectio, the nation had successfully performed its duties: the troops had been fit for action, even if they had not been able to show their skills because of the immediate peace. The propaganda also tried to build a cult around war heroes and the fallen on the national and local levels, an effort which harmonized with tendencies of nationalization and ideologization of wars across Europe at the time. In contrast to the abstract rhetoric of the official proclamations, the local products of the propaganda contained wording that was more concrete.

For having successfully completed military acts that could be confirmed, officers could earn the Military Order of Maria Theresa,92 and NCOs and common soldiers could be decorated with the Silver and Gold Medals for Bravery (Tapferkeitsmedaille).93 The Military Order of Maria Theresa originally intended to shape a class of “military nobility”, while the Medal for Bravery took an important step towards the “democratization” of recognition of military merits in general. During the war of 1809, these awards became potentially also available for those who served in militia-type units, like the Landwehr and the insurrectio. The promise of military awards was used by the propaganda machinery as a significant incentive, especially in efforts to attract voluntary recruits. During the war of 1809, a few hundred men in the insurrectio performed military deeds that were confirmed, and of them, more than 20 were awarded silver medals, and some officers applied for and were given the Military Order of Maria Theresa. The feats of arms and the rewards that were given were itemized as an appendix to the lengthy report for the king in the name of the palatine on the performance of the insurrectio, which was also written by Kisfaludy. The whole work remained in manuscript form, but some parts of the appendix were published in newspapers, and this contributed to the emergence of a short-lived cult of heroes and fallen soldiers, even on the imperial level.94

On the local level, the war heroes were also given awards by the counties in the form of various material benefits and symbolic gestures. Sometimes, these awards bore the promise of gradual social mobility within the estate society: veteran officers of the landowning wealthy gentry often applied for and were elected or appointed to serve in official positions. Others could rise through symbolic inclusion in the local society, and the war even offered opportunities to cross the legal “dividing line” for non-nobles (or dubious nobles) who took part voluntarily in the insurrectio. The local “political cult of the dead” and a rudimentary social and veteran aftercare were also developed to various extent, depending on the casualties suffered by a given county. To compensate the families of the fallen and those who had been wounded on the battlefield, fundraising campaigns were started at the general assemblies to get donations from the wealthy members of the local elites.95

Some uncommon initiatives launched by the local authorities offered examples of more state-of-the-art means of establishing a local collective memory and a patriotic-national cult of heroes and the fallen, for instance the efforts of Zemplén County to erect a monument to a handful of their honored war dead and heroes, shortly after the Battle of Győr. Kazinczy and his friend Count József Dessewffy drafted plans for a neoclassical monument (more specifically, a column) based on a contemporary French pattern. They originally planned to use Hungarian inscriptions, but the supremus comes insisted on Latin. In the end, the texts on the monument were in Latin and Hungarian. Kazinczy and Dessewffy used the network they had established through their correspondence and also a pamphlet to popularize the idea all over the country. The monument was only erected in 1821 in a radically modified form, and was unveiled as part of a ceremony on the main square of Sátoraljaújhely.96 Other counties did not imitate this initiative, and as collective memories of the War of the Fifth Coalition began to fade, the monument also lost its significance.


The insurrectio of 1809 was the last attempt to set the nobility in motion to perform military duty within the old defense system of the estates, even if it became modernized to a certain extent. The martial patriotic-national ideology of the estates also found general expression for the last time in the propaganda of the moment. This propaganda played a considerable role in the mobilization, since members of the nobility, as members of the body politic, were involved in it. These noblemen could be regarded as a kind of “citizen soldier” of the estate polity, who had to be persuaded of the legitimacy of the cause of mobilization and war and also adequately motivated in order compensate for shortcomings in training, equipment, and professional esprit de corps. In the end, the relative contemporary significance and the long-term irrelevance of the insurrectio of 1809 and its propaganda have to be considered.

Regarding the contemporary significance of the insurrectio, from an institutional perspective, despite its archaic character and social limits, it addressed a central problem of the epoch, at least to a certain extent. As social historian Károly Vörös has pointed out, while the French wars demanded the mobilization of vast swathes of the population, it proved impossible to keep these forces armed within the standing armies for a long time because of the enormous economic burdens. There were several ways to solve this problem, for instance by reforming the standing army or by introducing a kind of temporary militia, as was done in the French, Austrian, and later Prussian cases. In Hungary, certain elements (the insurrectio and the burgher guards) of the old but moderately reformed corporative system of defense were presented as solutions to this dilemma, despite their numerous shortcomings.97 From a political viewpoint, the Hungarian mobilization of 1809 contributed to the formation of a patriotic-national political language of the vernacular and also strengthened the cohesive tendencies within the noble body politic. Moreover, the military endeavor of the nobility proved that the country and, particularly, the counties were still able to provide thousands of “citizen soldiers” in a short time on old constitutional grounds, without a standardized-centralized public administration and absolutistic government, even in the age of mass warfare.

The reasons for the irrelevance, in the long-term, of the insurrectio are manifold. Even for the contemporaries in general, the war turned out to be too short, and the number of casualties was too low and disproportionate to foster the emergence of a patriotic-national cult of heroes and fallen soldiers. Despite propaganda efforts, the commemorative practices were not institutionalized on an imperial or national level, and they were only scarcely institutionalized on the local level. The fact that the counties were exempted from yearly military exercises in early 1810 made it even more difficult to introduce institutionalized commemorative practices. There was also no coherent national historical narrative of the events. Kisfaludy’s work, which should have provided such a narrative, was shelved for a long time. The war of 1809 and the insurrectio are both absent from modern national memory, apart from Petőfi’s canonical poem from 1847, which passed a withering judgement on the traditional martial ethos of the nobility. Because the general ideological mobilization was based on the old corporative system and values and attached to the privileged status of the nobility, the memory of this anachronistic defense institution did not fit into the emerging nation-building and modernization efforts of the Reform Era and the second half of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the cult of the insurrectio survived in the collective memory of former participants and noble families for a while.

The old corporative system of defense and its core institutions faded legally only as a result of the constitutional revolution. The increasingly nationalized and democratized idea of the “citizen soldier” found its way into two different institutions. According to the April Laws of 1848 (Article XXII), the nemzetőrség was created as a kind of militia in which compulsory military service was based on a class criterion (based on property or income) and general moral quality. Shortly thereafter, a regular honvéd army was also called into existence in response to the exigencies of the moment. This force was essentially a regular army.98 These two forces proved able to tie “masses of ordinary Hungarians to the nobility-based nation” during the Revolution and War of Independence of 1848–1849.99

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archive, State Archive] (MNL OL)

N 25 III. Regnicolaris Levéltár [The Archives of the Country], Militär-Kanzlei des Palatin E. H. Joseph III. 1808–1814–(1836)


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Péter, László. “The Holy Crown of Hungary, Visible and Invisible.” In Hungary’s Long Nineteenth Century: Constitutional and Democratic Traditions in a European Perspective (Collected Studies), edited by Miklós Lojkó, 15–112. Leiden–Boston: Brill, 2012.

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Poór, János. Adók, katonák, országgyűlések 1796–1811/12 [Taxes, soldiers, diets 1796–1811/12]. Budapest: Universitas, 2003.

Porkoláb, Tibor. “Szempontok a francia háborúk inszurrekciós költészetének textológiai és filológiai vizsgálatához” [Considerations on the textological and philological research of the poetry of noble levies in times of French wars]. In Textológia, filológia, értelmezés: klasszikus magyar irodalom [Textology, philology, interpretation: classical Hungarian literature], edited by Mariann Czifra, Márton Szilágyi, 191–215. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2014.

Pukánszky, Béla. “Patrióta” és “hazafi”: Fejezet a magyarországi német irodalom történetéből. Budapest: Franklin Társulat, 1933.

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Redl, Elisabeth. Flugblätter und Flugschriften gegen Napoleon: Ein Beitrag zur österreichischen Propaganda 1805–1809. Doctoral thesis. University of Vienna, 1971.

Rink, Martin. “Idee und Wirklichkeit einer deutschen Guerilla: Der österreichische Krieg 1809 und der ‘Volkskrieg’ in Deutschland.” Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift – Online no. 5. (2010): 20–28. URL: https://www.bundesheer.at/pdf_pool/omz/oemz2010_05.pdf

Rink, Martin. “Preußisch-deutsche Konzeptionen zum ‘Volkskrieg’ im Zeitalter Napoleons.” In Reform – Reorganisation – Transformation: Zum Wandel in deutschen Streitkräften von den preußischen Heeresreformen bis zur Transformation der Bundeswehr, edited by Karl-Heinz Lutz, Martin Rink, and Marcus von Salisch, 65–87. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2010.

Rössler, Hellmuth. Österreichs Kampf um Deutschlands Befreiung: Die deutsche Politik der nationalen Führer Österreichs, 1805–1815. Vols. 1–2. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1940.

Smith, Anthony D. “Chosen peoples: Why ethnic groups survive.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 15 (1992): 436–56.

Smith, Anthony D. National Identity. London: Penguin Books, 1991.

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Vörös, Károly. “The Insurrectio of the Hungarian Nobility in the Era of the Napoleonic Wars.” In War and Society in East Central Europe, vol. 4, East Central European Society and War in the Era of Revolutions, 1775–1856, edited by Béla K. Király, 19–31. New York: Brooklyn College Press, 1984.

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Zehetbauer, Ernst. Die Landwehr und der Krieg von 1809: Österreichs Milizexperiment zwischen Altem Reich und moderner Nationsbildung. Hamburg: Tredition, 2017.

1 “Ferenc Kazinczy to József Szentgyörgyi, Széphalom, February 27, 1809.” In Kazinczy, Levelezése, vol. 6, 250.

2 Cf. Vörös, “The Insurrectio”, 20.

3 In the following, I consider only the Hungarian insurrectio. However, Croatia, Slavonia, and the Grand Principality of Transylvania had and mobilized their own insurrectio in 1809, which differed significantly from the Hungarian one for constitutional-legal and socio-political reasons.

4 This autonomy was cemented by the Article X of 1790–91. In the following, when I write about Austrian parts, Austria, etc., I refer only to the territories “on this side of the Leitha” (Cisleithania) from a Viennese perspective, i.e., the parts of the Habsburg Monarchy that were ruled by right of the hereditary title of the emperor of Austria.

5 Szijártó, A diéta II, 304.

6 Poór, Adók, katonák, 163–66.

7 On the political system in general, see Szijártó, A diéta; Szijártó, Estates and Constitution.

8 Poór, Adók, katonák, 99–194; Szijártó, A diéta,” 456–57.

9 On his political evolution, see Domanovszky, József nádor élete, vol. 1, 269–97.

10 In 1805, because of the immediate French threat, due to the careful political considerations of Palatine Joseph, only some of the counties were mobilized.

11 For an overview, see R. Kiss, “Az utolsó nemesi felkelés története”; Veress, Napóleon hadai.

12 For the repercussions of Napoleonic Wars on Hungarian politics and society in general: Kosáry, “The French Revolutionary”; Kosáry, “Napóleon és Magyarország.”

13 On the theoretical background and the Austrian and Prussian case, see Hagemann, “‘Be Proud and Firm, Citizens of Austria!’; Hagemann, “Celebrating War and Nation”; Hagemann, “Of ‘Manly Valor’, Hagemann, ‘German Honor’; Hagemann, Mannlicher Muth und Teutsche ehre.”

14 For a general typology of forms of defense (Wehrformen), see Metzger, Die Milizarmee, 65–81.

15 Zehetbauer, Die Landwehr.

16 On the Austrian case, first and foremost, see Langsam, The Napoleonic Wars; Hammer, Oesterreichs Propaganda; Rössler, Österreichs Kampf; Hagemann, “‘Be Proud and Firm, Citizens of Austria!’”; Bleyer, “… man dachte diesen Krieg…”; Bleyer, Auf gegen Napoleon!

17 Hagemann, “‘Be Proud and Firm, Citizens of Austria!’,” 43.

18 Bleyer, Auf gegen Napoleon!

19 Hagemann, “‘Be Proud and Firm, Citizens of Austria!’,” 45.

20 One of the few exceptions: Redl, Flugblätter und Flugschriften; Wecke, Österreichs Pressekampf.

21 See Császár, “Az utolsó nemesi felkelés.” Historian Mihály Horváth was the first person to call attention to the significance of propaganda in 1809.

22 For the poetry, see Porkoláb, “Szempontok.”

23 Szijártó, A diéta, 450–53.

24 In detail, see Lázár, “Army Recruitment.”

25 Hochedlinger, Austria’s Wars of Emergence, 291–329. On the age of French Wars, see Boerke, “Conscription in the Habsburg Empire.” In Hungary “the question of the supply of personnel for the army was a sensitive indicator of the state relations between the king and the estates”, that is, “the ruler’s claims came into a head-on collision with constitutionalism.” Haselsteiner, “King and Estates,” 354.

26 Molnár, “Polgárőrségek Magyarországon.”

27 The regnum as the “estates of Hungary” consisted of the prelates or the church estate, the magnates, the nobles, and the free royal cities, which represented it, as the members of the Holy Crown, at the diets versus the king. From late eighteenth century, “the pole opposite the king will start to be captured by the natio (nation).” Szijártó, Estates and Constitution, 11–28, 248. In the following, concerning the diet, I refer to the Lower Table, first and foremost the politically dominant county deputies of the lesser nobility, as the “estates.”

28 On the history of the concept, see Zászkaliczky, “The language of liberty.”

29 Tóth, “Rendi norma.”

30 Péter, “The Irrepressible Authority.”

31 A few reform-drafts were presented by officers to the palatine but were shelved in the end. Gyalókay, “A magyar nemesi insurrectio.”

32 Cf. Vörös, “The Insurrectio”, 25.

33 Domanovszky, József nádor iratai, vol. 3, 210–42 and 255–321.

34 Ibid., 280.

35 The forced peasant recruits mutinied a few times during the period: Vörös, “The Insurrectio,” 25.

36 Kestnbaum, “Birth of Conscription”, 134–35.

37 See Poór, Adók, katonák, 192.

38 Boerke, “Conscription in the Habsburg Empire,” 74.

39 The idea of citizen soldier constructed “an ideological link between military service and the exercise of citizenship.” See Hippler, “Citizens, Soldiers,” 27; Kestenbaum, “Birth of Conscription,” 121–23; Mjøset and Van Holde, “Killing for the State,” 29–39.

40 Markó, “Adalékok.” Cf. Péter, “Language, the Constitution,” 184–91.

41 For instance, Baron Anton von Baldacci, who called the attention of the king to the rise of “Hungarismus.” Domanovszky, József nádor élete, vol. 1, 210–13.

42 Lázár, “Bevezetés.”

43 E.g., the Slovak-speaking Hungarian nobility. See Demmel, Pánszlávok, 21–27.

44 Domanovszky, József nádor iratai, vol. 3, 227–28, 305.

45 Several examples from Fejér County: Vitek, Sigillum Comitatus, 65–67, 103–17.

46 R. Kiss, “Az utolsó nemesi felkelés,” 46–50.

47 Vörös, “The Insurrectio,” 20. That was around 400,000 overall, (from among almost were 200,000 male) according to the census of Joseph II (including Croatia, Slavonia and Transylvania, but without the military frontier).

48 Langsam, The Napoleonic Wars, 65.

49 MNL OL N 25 III Fasc. 3. Rot. 33. No. 422.

50 See Szijártó, Estates and Constitution, 256.

51 MNL OL N 25 III. Fasc. 1. Rot. 41. No. 45.

52 MNL OL N 25 III Fasc. 1. Rot. 32. No. 83. (No. 9.)

53 Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Ő Császári Királyi Fő Herczegsége a’ Nádor Ispány; Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Des Erzherzogs Palatinus.

54 Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Ő Császári Királyi Fő Herczegsége Károly Fő Vezér; Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Des Erzherzogs Generalissimus.

55 MNL OL N 25 III Fasc. 2. Rot. 2. No. 127.

56 Nagy, “Kisfaludy Sándor.”

57 Kosáry, “Napóleon és Magyarország”, 207–51.

58 Poór, “Berzeviczy Gergely.”

59 MNL OL N 25 III. Fasc. 8. Rot. 49. No. 2357.

60 Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Magyarok!; Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Ungarn!

61 On the collective identity discourses of Hungarian Germans, see Pukánszky, “Patrióta” és “hazafi”; Tarnói, “Patriotismus und nationale Identität.”

62 See Pukánszky, “Patrióta” és “hazafi,” 26–27.

63 See Dudink and Hagemann: “Masculinity in politics and war.” For the case of France, see Forrest, “Citizenship, Honour and Masculinity.” For the case of Austria, see Hagemann, “‘Be Proud and Firm, Citizens of Austria!’,” 46–54. For the case of Germany, see Hagemann, “Of ‘Manly Valor’ and ‘German Honor’.”

64 Smith National Identity, 54–55.

65 See Takáts, “A laterális útvonal.”

66 Smith, National Identity, 21.

67 Smith, “Why ethnic groups,” 448.

68 To the general frames and methodology of studying collective identity discourses in the early modern period: Trencsényi and Zászkaliczky, “Towards an intellectual history”; On the roots of republicanism and ancient constitutionalism in Hungarian political thought, see Varga, “Political Humanism.” To the four main political languages of the early nineteenth century Hungary: Takáts, “Politikai beszédmódok.”

69 Péter, “Language, the Constitution,” 191–96, 193.

70 Takáts, “Politikai beszédmódok,” 670–74.

71 Péter, “Montesquieu’s Paradox,” 158.

72 As a permissive definition, “nationalism” could be characterized as “an idea that defines future expectations for a community named nation by drawing on the idealized past,” which enables to “speak of early modernist nationalism.” Szabó, “True Hungarian Blood,” 142–43, 148.

73 Szabó, “True Hungarian Blood,” 148–49.

74 Cf. Kramár, “The Military Ethos.”

75 See: Fenyő, “Kihagyott részletek.”

76 [Kisfaludy], Hazafiúi Szózat. 12.

77 “Omnium rerum [...] ex quibus aliquid exquiritur, nihil est agricultura melius, nihil uberius, nihil dulcius, nihil homine libero dignius.” Cf. Cic. Off. 1,42,151.

78 [Kisfaludy], Hazafiúi Szózat. 90–91.

79 [Kisfaludy], Hazafiúi Szózat, 92–96.

80 [Kisfaludy], Hazafiúi Szózat, 51–52.

81 Fenyő, “Kihagyott részletek,” 275.

82 In 1801, Gentz presented the role of “Propagandism” in the French successes as a means of maintaining “enthusiasm” among soldiers. See Kontler, “Superstition, Enthusiasm and Propagandism.”

83 Varga, “Political Humanism,” 311.

84 Debreczeni, “Nemzet és identitás.” Attila Debreczeni distinguished the phenomenon of “scholarly patriotism” among the competing collective identity patterns of the late eighteenth century.

85 For instance, the proud nobleman and outstanding poet Dániel Berzsenyi: “Dániel Berzsenyi to Ferenc Kazinczy, Nikla, January 18, 1809” In Kazinczy levelezése, vol. 6, 187.

86 Varga, “Political Humanism,” 304–13.

87 MNL OL N 25 III Fasc. 2. Rot. 2. No. 127.

88 Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Magyar Nemes Hazafiak!; Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, Ungarns Edle!

89 Jeismann, Westheider, “Wofür stirbt.”

90 Francis I, A’ Magyar Nemes; Francis I, An die adeliche.

91 Nagy, “Törekvések.”

92 Hochedlinger, “Mars Ennobled.”

93 It was introduced by Joseph II as Ehren-Denkmünze für Tapferkeit in 1789 and renamed by Francis I in 1809.

94 Kisfaludy, “[Freymüthige] Geschichte,” 260–325.

95 Nagy, “Törekvések,” 69–72, 78.

96 Nagy, “‘Elestjeink’ oszlopa mellett.”

97 Vörös, “The Insurrectio,” 23.

98 Urbán, “The Hungarian Army.”

99 Péter, “The Holy Crown,” 63.


Military Veterans’ Associations in the Kingdom of Hungary (1868–1914)

Balázs Tangl
Savaria Museum, Szombathely
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):71-104 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.71

One of the typical social consequences of the introduction of compulsory conscription and mass politics in nineteenth century Europe was the emergence of veterans organizations. This study examines the veterans’ movement in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1867 and 1914. While in Europe and Imperial Austria the widespread military veterans’ organizations were important actors in the relationship between the military and the civilian sphere and also in state policy, in Hungary their spread remained limited. However, their operation, specific ideology and also their reception in local society can provide important lessons about the impact of the military on society, and the forms and workings of loyalty and nationalism in Hungary.

The study consists of two main parts. First, it examines the prevalence and main characteristics of the associations: where and when were they founded, for what purpose were they established, how the state treated them, what social groups did them consist of, and finally how did all this relate to the other half of the empire? The second part of the study presents the activities of veterans’ associations in Hungarian society by drawing on the example of town of Szombathely and Vas County in western Transdanubia. It analyses what activities did they perform in everyday life, what ideologies did they follow, how did they get involved in the life of the local society, and what was their reception in local civil society and administration?
Keywords: Austria-Hungary, Hungary, military veterans’ association, militarism, civil-military relation, veterans

The national perspective has long dominated research on the history of the Habsburg Monarchy. Over the course of the past two decades, however, the “the new imperial history”1 of the Habsburg Monarchy and the concept of “national indifference”2 have shifted attention to transnational approaches, imperial policy, and multi-ethnic frameworks, pointing to the phenomena of national indifference, multilingualism, multiple identities, imperial patriotism, and dynastic loyalties.3 These theories have significantly altered the image of the Habsburg Monarchy, making it clear that the concepts of multinational empire and nation were compatible rather than competing categories and also highlighting the limits of national mobilization and the importance of dynastic loyalty (though without forgetting or ignoring the limits of this loyalty). Research, however, has focused primarily on the western half of the Monarchy, and with the exception of a few scattered research endeavors, Hungary’s place in this narrative remains largely unclear.4

The Imperial and Royal Army was one of the most important institutional pillars of dynastic loyalty and patriotism. In recent decades, historical research in a number of European countries has shown that armies based on the general conscription and military symbols and traditions played a decisive role in building national identity, mobilizing the population for national purposes, and thus militarizing society at the turn of the century.5 One of the most important areas in which civil society and military society intersected were the military veterans’ organizations, which in parallel with the emergence of mass politics became a hotbed of militarism. The Kyffhäuserband (an umbrella organization of veterans), for example, with its 2.8 million members, had become one of the largest societies in Germany by 1913. These associations had a strong nationalistic, authoritarian and militaristic character, which was also propagated in the wider society.6

Similar trends were underway in the Habsburg Monarchy, but of course in a different social, historical, and political context. Although general conscription was introduced in 1868, the Habsburg Army was organized around a supranational ideology which was unique in Europe. The cornerstones of this ideology were loyalty to the emperor and the common fatherland and the equality of nationalities and religions. Since there was no dominant nation in the Monarchy, the army did not symbolize the “nation in arms,” but rather was an embodiment of the community of the peoples of the empire as a whole. The army, too, was not a “school of the nation,” but a “school of the peoples.”7

The military culture developed by the army had an impact on wider society. In his work on military culture and the veterans’ movement which emerged in the 1870s , Laurence Cole draws (at least) two important conclusions. He argues that “a process of societal militarization took place in imperial Austria during the second half of the nineteenth century, much as occurred in other European countries,” and “a considerable reservoir of dynastic loyalty and ‘pro-Austrian’ sentiment existed across the multinational state.”8 Of course, veterans were influenced by nationalism (in Bohemia more than anywhere else), but this did not affect their patriotism. Rather, it merely changed the language they used to express it. In Austria, however, military culture also contributed to the polarization of society as opposition emerged to the militarism and “certain circles of society rejected involvement in activities associated with or symbolized by military veterans.” Thus, Cole agrees with István Deák’s assessment, according to which the society of Habsburg Monarchy was divided not only nationally but also ideologically and socially.9

Cole’s work does not deal with the case of Hungary, and his hesitancy to do so suggests that the distinctive position of the country should be the subject of separate study.10 With the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, Hungary, which had always occupied a special place in the Habsburg Monarchy, gained full internal autonomy with the exception of foreign affairs, military matters, and certain economic questions. Multilingual and multi-religious but governed by the Hungarian liberal elite, Hungary (in contrast with Imperial Austria) defined and organized itself as a nation state in which the dominance of Hungarian nationalism prevailed, while the nationality movements were ever more restricted.11 For this reason, the lack of a national army was the Achilles-heel of Hungarian politics, and the ideology on which the Imperial and Royal Army’s claim to legitimacy was founded was a constant target of Hungarian nationalists, even if the relationship between the army and Hungarian society had become harmonic and close in everyday life by the turn of the century.12 Another significant and, from the perspective of the development of military veterans’ associations (MVAs), important difference was the absence in Hungary of any modern mass politic. While the gradual extension of the right to vote in Austria eventually led to the introduction of universal and equal suffrage for all men in 1907, in Hungary, only a narrow section of society was able to take an active part in politics throughout the whole period.13

In this essay, I investigate the MVAs14 in the Kingdom of Hungary, not including Croatia-Slavonia. While in Europe and Imperial Austria the widespread MVAs were important actors in the relationship between the military and the civilian sphere and also in state policy, in Hungary, their memberships remained low, and they were established mainly in German-speaking territories and larger towns. For this reason, they attracted less interest from the state. However, their spread, operation, and specific ideology and also their reception in local society can provide important lessons not only about the impact of the military on society, but also about the forms and workings of loyalty and nationalism in Hungary.

The paper divided into two main parts. In the first, I discuss the prevalence and general characteristics of MVAs in the country and the relationship of the state to these associations. I also consider how the circumstances of these associations compare to the circumstances of similar associations in the other half of the Monarchy. In the second section, I shift perspective and, drawing on the example of Vas County in western Hungary, I examine the MVAs activities, the ideology represented by their members, and the reception of these associations in local civil society. As the MVAs in Hungary were mainly concentrated in the larger towns and in areas inhabited with German-speaking15 populations (first and foremost in the western Transdanubian region), Vas County offers an ideal case on the basis of which some general conclusions can be drawn.

Finally, it must be emphasized that the present study is about the veterans’ associations founded by the members of the Imperial and Royal Army and the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army (königlich-ungarische Landwehr), which was established with the army reform of 1868. I do not intend to deal with the Hungarian Honvéd Associations founded by the veterans of the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848–49 and made the subject of a fairly sizeable amount of the secondary literature.

Military Veterans’ Associations in the Kingdom of Hungary

The first MVA to function as an association in the modern sense of the word in the Habsburg Monarchy was founded in Reichenberg in Bohemia (today Liberec, Czech Republic) in 1821. Similar associations began to appear more and more frequently in the second half of the century, in parallel with the introduction of general conscription in 1868 and the granting of the right to freedom of association under the Fundamental Laws of 1867. By the turn of the century, the MVAs had become one of the most numerous types of civil association in Imperial Austria.16 In his work, Cole makes note of at least 2,800 MVAs before World War I, but he estimates their real number to be at least 10 to 20 percent higher. We know even less about the actual number of members of these associations, but it probably ran into the hundreds of thousands. 98 percent of the associations were founded in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and the Hereditary Lands, while only a few dozen were established in Galicia, Bukovina, and Dalmatia, which had a lower standard of living and had been integrated into the Monarchy and its military system only towards the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.17

Compared to its western neighbor, in Hungary, the MVAs spread at a much slower pace and only to a limited, geographically relatively well-delimited extent. The MVAs began to appear in the 1870s, after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, when the right of association and assembly became free.18 Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to estimate the number of MVAs in Hungary. During the Dualist era only a single census of associations was held (in 1878), according to which there were only 13 MVAs with a total of about 3,000 members.19 In addition, a survey prepared by the Ministry of Interior for the Ministry of Defense during the preparatory work for the Law of Népfelkelés (Landsturm) in 188320 listed some 21 associations.21 Although it is certainly possible that the figures given in the two sources are unreliable or imprecise, these numbers are still strikingly low, as at least 883 such associations had already been established in Imperial Austria.22

Since there are no available census data for the later period, I tried to find another way to determine how many MVAs had been formed in Hungary by the outbreak of World War I. In addition to the two sources mentioned above, I used the statutes approval published in the official gazettes (Budapesti Közlöny and Belügyi Közlöny)23 and the association database of the National Archives.24 According to the sources, the first MVA in Hungary was founded in Királyfalva (today Königsdorf, Austria) in Vas County in 1874, followed by about 100 more over the course of the next 40 years. Of course, this does not mean that there were exactly that many MVAs in the country at the outbreak of war. In Budapest, for example, ten MVAs were founded in the 1870s and 1880s, but by the turn of the century, their number had fallen to five, primarily because some of them had merged together.25 There were similar mergers elsewhere. The Pécs MVA, founded in 1875, was merged into the Baranya County MVA in 1906.26 Of course, there may also have been several associations which were disbanded without legal succession. Nevertheless, the operation of associations was generally quite stable. In Vas County, for example, a total of 17 associations were formed during the period, they were all still in operation at the outbreak of World War I.27 Similarly, of the five associations established in Baranya County, all but the abovementioned Pécs MVA survived until the war.28

The MVAs in Hungary were established in two distinct periods. The first period was in the second half of the 1870s and the first half of the 1880s, when the MVAs were formed primarily in towns and to lesser extent in some villages in western Transdanubia. The second period was from the turn of the century until World War I, when MVAs were formed mainly in larger villages in western Transdanubia and only to a lesser extent in the towns. An important difference between the two periods is that in the 1870s and 1880s, the associations were formed primarily by war veterans, while after the turn of the century, they were formed by veterans of the peacetime army.

Compared to Austria or Germany, politics played no or only a negligible role in the spread of MVAs. Not surprisingly given their small number, their social impact remained largely local, and one cannot speak about a general veterans’ movement throughout the country. The Hungarian state thus understandably paid little attention to the MVAs. The Austrian state, in contrast, began encouraging the spread of MVAs in the 1890s as an important institution of patriotism, and it also played an active role in creating a common federation (thereby also trying to increase the state control over the associations). The success of MVAs meant pressure from below, and this played an important part in obliging the state to react.29 Thing unfolded very differently in Hungary, however. The MVAs, of which there were comparatively few, did not really arouse the interest of the state, neither in a positive nor in a negative sense. The state did nothing to hinder the spread of MVAs, nor did it do anything to help them. It essentially remained indifferent to them throughout the whole period. The biggest problem the associations faced was caused by their uniforms. The MVAs tried to make themselves as similar as possible to the army through their flags, uniforms, and side weapons (in contrast to Austria, where side weapons were forbidden). However, the use of uniforms which closely resembled the uniforms actually in use by the army was expressly forbidden by the military. In 1884, the Minister of Defense drew the attention of the Minister of Interior to this in a special transcript, and in 1896, a general review of the uniforms was ordered.30

The geographical location of the MVAs can also be well defined. They were established mainly in western and southern Transdanubia, in the western part of present-day Slovakia, in Budapest, in two Transylvanian Saxon counties in Brassó, (Brasov today Romania and Nagyszeben (Sibiu today Romania) and, finally, in southern Hungary: in the Bánát and Bácska. There were also a few associations scattered across other parts of the country. Like their Austrian counterparts, the associations were formed on a territorial basis, recruiting members from a particular town, neighborhood, or county.31

The regions mentioned above had one thing in common: they all had a significant German-speaking population (although they were extremely heterogeneous in terms of language, religion, culture, history, and living conditions). The western villages of Vas and Sopron Counties were inhabited by the predominantly Catholic and to a lesser extent Lutheran “Hientzen,” while in Moson County one found the Catholic “Heidebauers.” Transylvania was home to the largely Lutheran Saxons, who had enjoyed considerable privileges and autonomy before the Austro-Hungarian Compromise. These German settlements can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The Bácska and Bánát were home to the Catholic “Swabians,” who had come from southern Germany in the eighteenth century after the expulsion of the Ottomans. The southern Transdanubian Baranya County was home to the so-called “Stiffollers.”32

The German minorities undoubtedly played a decisive role in the formation of the MVAs, as most of the MVAs were established in German-speaking settlements. However, this did not mean that MVAs spread exclusively among German speakers. They could also be found in some Croatian and Slovak villages in Sopron and Pozsony County on the Austrian border. In addition, the Hungarian-speaking population in the larger towns of Transdanubia established their own MVAs, for example in Szombathely, Győr, Zalaegerszeg, Nagykanizsa, Pécs, and Mohács, as well as in the other towns of the country, such as Miskolc, Marosvásárhely (today Târgu Mureş, Romania), one of the main Székely centers), and even in towns on the Great Plain, such as Szeged and Hódmezővásárhely. Finally, in towns with mixed populations such as Budapest, Sopron, Pozsony (today, Bratislava, Slovakia), Óvár, Arad (today Arad, Romania), Nyitra (today Nitra, Slovakia), Újvidék (today Novi Sad, Serbia, and Temesvár (today Timişoara, Romania), the German and Hungarian-speaking populations set up associations together. No MVAs, however, were found among the majority of Hungarians and other nationalities of the country, or in other words in the Slovene, Slovak (except along the Moravian border), Ruthenian, Romanian, or Serbian settlements.

The prevalence of MVAs (like associations in general), were also closely related to the spread of the literacy. With the exception of Hientzen villages in Vas and Sopron Counties, the vast majority of MVAs were formed in towns and in some large villages. The literacy rate of the total population of these settlements was well above the local and national average, which was only 58 percent in 1910. In Vas and Sopron Counties the literacy rate was 70 percent and 74 percent. In Bács-Bodrog County, it was 58 percent, in the settlement of Szeghegy (today Sekić, Serbia), it was 79 percent , and in Apatin (today Apatin, Serbia) it was 84 percent. MVAs were established in both settlements. Similarly, 68 percent of the total population of Stájerlakanina (today Anina, Romania) could write and read, while the average rate in Krassó-Szörény County was only 45 percent. Finally, the literacy rate in Niczkyfalva (today Niţchidorf, Romania) in Temes was 71 percent, while the county average was 54 percent.33

The most important factor in the development of the MVAs, however, was the proximity of Austria. It is no coincidence that half of the associations identified were formed in Moson, Pozsony, Sopron, and Vas Counties on the border of Austria and Moravia, and most of them were found in the western part of the area. In the case of the Nagyfalva (today Mogersdorf, Austria) MVA founded in Vas County in 1874, for example, the alispán (the deputy főispán, or lord lieutenant of the county) explicitly claimed in his report that the local people had taken their model from neighboring Styria.34 In the case of the MVA in Dobrafalva (today Dobersdorf, Austria), also established in Vas County, the local authorities welcomed the formation of the association, because earlier the veterans had joined the Styrian associations.35 The cross-border relations are also illustrated by the fact that, in 1877, 30 MVAs in Hungary, Lower Austria, Bohemia, and Moravia wanted to form a federation called the Allgemeine Österreichisch-Ungarischer Militär Veteranen Unterstützungs-Bund. The federation would have included two associations from Hungary: the Sopron MVA and the Nagyszombat (today Trnava, Slovakia) MVA. However, the statutes of the federation did not win the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior, as the federation’s headquarters were abroad and thus the Hungarian authorities would have had no influence on its composition and operation. The Ministry therefore did not allow the two Hungarian associations to join.36

Probably because there were comparatively few of them, the MVAs in Hungary did not form a common organization, and no attempt was made to form a federation apart from the attempt mentioned above. The MVAs were also unable to establish a viable permanent veteran press, although several attempts were made to do so, mainly in the capital. The Hungarian-German bilingual Első Magyarországi Hadastyán Újság (First Hungarian Veteran Journal) was launched in 1878, followed by the Hadastyánok Lapja (The Journal of Military Veterans) in 1882 and its German counterpart Veteranen Zeitung, and finally, in 1893, the bilingual Magyar Hadastyán Újság (Hungarian Veteran Newspaper). As individual initiatives, these newspapers were of low quality, and they published articles almost exclusively on the affairs in the capital. None of them lasted for more than a year, and unfortunately very few copies have survived.

It is even more difficult to determine the number of people who belonged to the various MVAs or and the social composition of these associations, as detailed censuses and membership lists are not available. However, there is some partial information on the basis of which a few general conclusions can be drawn. For example, a survey of associations in Vas County in 1892 and 1914 reveals that the MVAs in the villages had an average of 30–60 members, while in Szombathely, the county seat (with a population of 30,000), the MVA had 120 members.37 Similar proportions can be noticed in Baranya County. The Baranya County MVA in Pécs, the county seat (with a population of 47,000), had 111 members in 1901, while its two rural branches had 58 members in Pécsvárad and 25 in Hosszúhetény.38 In Stájerlakanina, a small German-speaking town in Krassó-Szörény County in Bánát, had 61 members at the time of its formation.39 The Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia) MVA had 99 members,40 the Nezsider (today Neusiedl am See, Austria) MVA in the western part of the present-day Austria had 150,41 the Arad MVA had 120,42 and the Achduke Joseph I Pozsony MVA had over 100 members at the time of its formation.43 In general, the associations established in villages and small towns had a membership of around 50 people, while in the larger towns they had over 100 members. The only exception was Budapest, where the MVAs had 200–300 members or more.44 Based on these facts, the total number people who belonged to one of the MVAs before World War I might have been between 10,000 and 15,000. For the sake of comparison, it is worth keeping in mind that the total population of Hungary in 1910 (excluding Croatia) was 18.2 million.

Unfortunately, even less is known about the social backgrounds of the people who belonged to the MVAs, as the few membership lists which survived do not include details concerning the members’ occupations. One can only draw conclusions on the basis of the statutes and the reports received by the administrative authorities and the Ministry of Interior. The statutes generally distinguished three types of members: the ordinary members were veterans (or in some cases reservists) of the Imperial and Royal Army and the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army. Although the associations did not differentiate between the soldiers who belonged to the imperial army and those who belonged to the Hungarian Honvéd Army, it is also true that the statutes were only approved in this form by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense. The patrons and honorary members could also be civilians with no military background. They helped the associations on a voluntary basis, but they could not claim financial aid, nor could they wear uniforms or bear side weapons. Finally, every association had a protector. The associations would ask a local prominent citizen, landowner, nobleman, or even a member of the royal house to fill this role.

As was the case in Austria and Germany, the ordinary members of the associations were chosen from among the rank and file soldiers, and there were even some associations that stipulated in their statutes that members had to be rank and file soldiers. For example, the First Budapest MVA and the Edelsheim-Gyulai Budapest MVA only enrolled members from the rank of sergeant downwards. However, this was something of an exception. In many cases, one or more officers served as the organizer and the president of an association. For example, the first president of the Pécs MVA was Colonel Baron Gottfried Ottinger,45 and the first president of the MVA in Szombathely was Captain József Gottmann.46 In Fiume, retired ship-of-the-line Captain Gustav von Zaccaria played a key role in the establishment of the association.47

The military ranks of the members offer some indication of their social status. In principle, the veterans came from the lower social classes, whom Thomas Rohkrämer referred to as “little people” (kleine Leute). In Germany, for example, most of the veterans were workers, peasants, artisans, small shopkeepers, and low-ranking civil servants, even if the leadership of the MVAs came from the higher echelons of society.48 In Austria, the majority of the MVA membership was comprised of artisans, civil servants, shopkeepers, merchants, and, as of the turn of the century, peasants. There were, however some regional and national differences. In German-speaking areas, the MVAs also had people who belonged to the liberal bourgeoisie and landowners among their members, while where national politics played an important role (in Czech and Italian territories), the middle class and liberal bourgeoisie were mainly absent. In addition, the majority of the working class was largely left untouched by the veterans’ movement in Austria. Members of the nobility or the clergy and officers participated mainly as initiators, supporters, or presidents. In addition, there was another important peculiarity to the MVAs in Austria. In ethnically mixed areas, the veterans increasingly formed the associations on the basis of nationality.49

In Hungary, the reports preserved in the archives of the Ministry of Interior refer to the “lower social status” of the members, who were generally tradesmen, artisans, lower civil servants, and peasants. Members of the local nobility, the urban middle class, and the clergy were present as supporters at most. In addition, it must be highlighted that not only men but in many cases women also took part in the operation of the MVAs. One way of doing so was to form a sister association. The wives of veterans formed associations in Pozsony in 1882, in Budapest in 1885, and in Pécs in 1884.50 Similarly, several associations in the capital had their own women’s section, such as the First Budapest MVA, the Archduke Joseph MVA, and the Prince Coburg MVA.51

Finally, it is worth offering a few words on the goals of the associations. The MVAs established in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary were first and foremost relief organizations, like their Austrian counterparts. Their members received financial and medical aid in case of illness, and their widows and orphans received funeral and financial assistance in case of death. Most of the associations, however, had two main additional goals: to cultivate the esprit de corps and loyalty to the king and fatherland. In many cases, these goals were met by self-education and efforts to foster civic virtues and respect for the law and legal authorities. The associations, however, were not allowed to engage in political and national activities. Otherwise, they could be banned, at least for the nationalities. In 1885, for example, in Szakolca (today Skalica, Slovakia), in a predominantly Slovak-speaking town on the Moravian border, the local authorities prevented the formation of a MVA because of its national character (the mayor, János Sebesi, was a Hungarian lawyer). After the attempts to reestablish the MVA in the neighboring settlement Holics (today Holič, Slovakia), the association was banned by the Ministry of Interior. According to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant’s report, the main organizers were known nationalist agitators, and therefore the association would have served primarily nationalist and unpatriotic purposes.52 This austerity, however, affected only the nationalities, while, as we shall see, the authorities welcomed indications of attachment to the Hungarian national idea in the associations.

Military Veterans’ Associations in Vas County

In the second part of this study, I examine the functioning of MVAs, drawing on the example of Vas County in western Hungary. I primarily seek answers to the following questions: how was loyalty to the king and the fatherland expressed? What did the concept of fatherland mean according to veterans? How did the MVAs relate to the national idea, and how were they received by the local society? I first examine the Vas County MVA, founded in Szombathely, the county seat, and then the associations formed in the villages of the German-speaking western part of the county. In doing so, I primarily use the local newspapers and the official reports, because the associations themselves did not have any archives or at least no such archives have survived.

The Vas County MVA

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Szombathely was a dynamically developing medium-sized town, an episcopal seat, and an important commercial, financial, and transport hub in the western Transdanubian region with significant industry and a military garrison. It was one of the fastest growing settlements in the country. Its population was only 7,500 in 1869, but by 1910, it has risen to 31,000. 83 percent of the inhabitants were Catholic, 10 percent were Jewish, and the rest were Protestant. Although at the beginning of the nineteenth century Szombathely was a town with a mixed German-speaking and Hungarian-speaking population, by the 1880s, 90 percent of the population identified as native Hungarian speakers.53

In November 1883, at the initiative of Károly Luxander, the police commissioner of Szombathely began organizing the Vas County MVA. Although his original intention was to start an association as a branch of the Sopron MVA, the MVA was eventually established as an independent organization on June 22, 1884.54 At the moment of its formation, it had 87 ordinary members, a number which rose to 120 by 1892.55 At that time, it had 22 additional founding members and 170 patrons. By 1899, the number of ordinary members fell to 95, but by 1909, it had risen again to 124.56

In principle, the association covered the whole county, but its members came mainly from Szombathely. Unfortunately, the sources reveal little about the social background of its members, because no lists of the members have survived (assuming there were such lists). Based on the linguistic composition of the town, it can be assumed that the majority of the members were Hungarian-speaking. The statutes and invitations of the association were only published in Hungarian. It was mixed in terms of religion, with both Christians (probably predominantly Catholic) and Jews. This is indicated by the fact that the most significant internal crisis of the association was not national but religious. In 1899, several Catholic members tried to deprive the Jews of their voting rights in the general assembly. They failed in this attempt, however, and the religious peace was restored.57

At the time of the formation of the association, the majority of its members were probably war veterans, most of them rank and file soldiers. According to a document written in 1894, the association had among its members veterans of the war of 1848–1849, the Italian war of 1859, the Schleswig-Holstein war of 1864, the Prussian and Italian wars of 1866, the Dalmatian campaign of 1869, and the occupation of Bosnia in 1878.58 This is well illustrated by the leadership of the association too. The first president was József Gottmann, while the vice-presidents were Károly Luxander and József Heimler. Gottmann was educated in a military institute, had fought under Radetzky in Italy in 1848–49, and had taken part in the battle of Solferino in 1859.59 Subsequently, he was dismissed as a hussar captain. József Heimler, who later became president of the association, enlisted in the army in 1854, fought at Magenta and Solferino and, in 1866, at Königgrätz.60 Finally, Károly Luxander enrolled in 1864 and fought in the Danish campaign and against the Prussians in 1866. 61

The statutes of the association set out its goals as follows:

a) To cultivate and propagate the military spirit, to maintain patriotic sentiment and loyalty to the king, and to maintain respect for the law and the lawful supreme authority, the esprit de corps outside the military service.

b) To provide financial support for the members of the association, to contribute to the medical expenses of sick members and the funeral expenses of deceased members, and possibly to provide financial assistance to the widows and orphans of the members left behind.62


The means of achieving these goals were also laid down in the statutes. Regarding the first point, which is now relevant to my discussion, they were as follows: the association had its own holiday calendar, which included dynastic and patriotic holidays as well as religious holidays including the king’s birthday and name day (August 18 and October 4), the queen’s name day (November 19), Saint Stephen’s Day (August 20), the procession on Holy Saturday, and the procession on Corpus Christi. On these days, the association marched as a body in uniform with side weapons and under the flag. In addition, on Good Friday at least two members were sent with swords and in uniform to guard the Tomb of Christ.63

Nurturing a sense of loyalty to the king was a priority for the association. This is shown by the fact that the first public march-out after its formation was timed for August 18, the birthday of Franz Joseph. The event was celebrated with particular pomp. The town was roused in the morning with the firing of howitzers and an alarm. People then marched to music to the festive mass in the cathedral, and after the official program, they held a popular festival.64 Franz Joseph’s birthday and name day were official holidays in Hungary. In Szombathely, all churches celebrated festive masses, but the central celebration always took place in the cathedral, where the town and county authorities, the military garrison, schools, and many associations appeared. Beginning in 1884, the Vas County MVA also joined, and it became an essential part of all dynastic celebrations. The association commemorated both the royal and the imperial anniversaries, which were not official holidays in Hungary. From the point of view of Hungarian law, Franz Joseph ruled in Hungary as king and not as emperor (as Austria and Hungary were, according to Hungarian law, two independent states). On the occasion of Franz Joseph’s 70th birthday in 1900, President József Heimler had a portrait of the royal family painted. This offers a clear indication of the central role of the emperor for the association. Indeed, this portrait was treasured by the association even in the interwar period.65

The other most important holiday for the association was August 20, the day of Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king. This was one of the most important public holidays in Hungary, although it was not official due its Catholic character. With some exceptions, the Vas County MVA held its summer feast, the income from which increased the association’s fund, on this day every year. These were usually folk festivals following the mass, with a band, tombola, various outdoor games, and often fireworks in the evening.66 Thus, the association’s main patriotic holiday was linked to the Hungarian state, and the concept of fatherland meant the Kingdom of Hungary, not the unified Austrian Empire. In addition, the association had a strong local identity which was linked to the county. This is also shown by the flag itself. It had a picture of the Virgin Mary with the inscription “Virgin Mary, Patroness of Hungary” on one side and angels holding the holy crown and the coat of arms of Hungary and Vas County with battle badges at their feet and the inscription “Vas County Veterans’ Association” on the other. In addition to the county coat of arms, the colors of the flag (blue and white, the colors of the county) also expressed the attachment to the local community.67

A much more complex picture emerges, however, regarding the military culture nurtured by the association. On one hand, it fostered an attachment to the heroic past of the Imperial and Royal Army, in which its members had served and in which many of them had fought. This is perhaps best illustrated by the Millennium celebrations of 1896, to which the veterans contributed with a special commemorative day. On June 24, the veterans in Vas County of the battles of Solferino and Custoza held a meeting in Szombathely organized by the MVA. On the anniversary day, nearly 200 veterans of the battles gathered with a cockade with the inscription “1859–1866” on their chest. The deputy lord lieutenant and the town mayor and also the delegation of the military garrison appeared in the meeting, while the band of the Imperial and Royal 48th Infantry Regiment was provided by Corps Commander Archduke Friedrich at his own expense. The meeting focused on loyalty to the king and fatherland, a sense of duty, and the memory of fallen comrades. In his speech, József Heimler said,

As the Hungarian nation as a whole celebrates the millennium of its state-existence with a light that shines throughout the world, this time we, warriors fighting in wars, those who with the full devotion of our military oath and duty once risked our lives and blood in bloody battles for the fatherland and the throne, today, on the anniversary of the ever-memorable decisive and bloody battles of Solferino and Custoza, we have every right to enjoy a double celebration.68

It was also decided at the feast that the meeting would be repeated every five years, although we only know of one occasion (in 1901) when it took place again.69

In addition to the Habsburg Army’s heroic past, however, the veterans also nurtured the legacy of the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848–49. In 1886, for example, several Hungarian army veterans from Szombathely were invited to the flag consecration ceremony. Furthermore, Mária Lebstück, who was famous for fighting as a woman in the War of Independence and even received the rank of lieutenant, was also present. Lebstück arrived with the veterans from Pest, and she was personally welcomed at the banquet after the flag consecration, setting as an example for all those present. From the second half of the 1890s onwards, the veterans also took part in many events and ceremonies connected to 1848, such as the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sándor Petőfi, the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lajos Kossuth, and the unveiling of the only statue of Kossuth in Körmend in 1907, the only statue of Kossuth in the county. They also frequently took part in the requiem masses on October 6, the day on which 13 Hungarian Honvéd generals were executed in 1849. Finally, in 1895 they joined the Vas County Honvéd Army Association as supporters, and between 1894 and 1899, the two associations had a common president, István Farkas.70

This duality is far from unique. For example, in several associations in Budapest, former veterans of the Hungarian Honvéd army were also enrolled, and in other places the president of the association was a former Honvéd army soldier. For example, Jenő Heinrich, the president of the Baldácsy Third Budapest MVA, fought throughout the War of Independence, after which he was imprisoned and then conscripted into the Habsburg Army.71 But the association protector himself, Antal Baldácsy, was also an officer of the Honvéd army. Heinrich’s case, moreover, highlights the fact that many members of MVAs in Hungary had served both in the Honvéd army in 1848–49 and in the Imperial and Royal Army. After the War of Independence, 25–30 percent of the former Honvéd army soldiers were conscripted, so it was not uncommon for MVAs formed in the 1870s and 1880s to have members with a dual military past.

Based on the above, the MVAs which formed in the towns of Hungary were not left untouched by Hungarian nationalism, especially from the 1890s onwards. In the 1870s and 1880s, for example, the use of traditional imperial symbols was still quite common. On the holidays of the associations, “Gott erhalte” (the imperial anthem) was played, and even in 1888, the associations in Budapest voted down the proposal to replace this anthem with the Hungarian anthem.72 In Sopron and in Fiume, the veterans originally wanted to display the two-headed eagle on the association flags, a plan which was only abandoned because the Ministry of Interior banned it .73

It is hardly a coincidence that in the 1880s Hungarian nationalists often blamed MVAs for “Germanisation.” Pesti Napló, for example (a periodical on Pest), reported on the founding and first march held by the veterans in Szombathely, characterizing it as a “pointless waste of time and money” as well as a “hotbed of Germanisation,” and as such, a “particularly unhealthy movement.”74 But the same accusation was also brought against the associations in Budapest for using the imperial anthem and German-language invitations to their events.75 These criticisms, however, interestingly did not find support locally. On the contrary, in Szombathely, for example, the newspaper of the Independence Party rejected the accusations made by Pesti Napló, highlighting the humanitarian purpose and Hungarian character of the association.76

Although imperial symbols were a constant target of criticism by Hungarian nationalists, they did not really cause much of a clash in everyday life until the turn of the century. In Szombathely, for example, the imperial anthem was used at all official dynastic celebrations until the 1890s, and it generated no particular scandal when it was played before thousands of people at the veterans’ flag consecration ceremony in 1886, just a few months after the so-called Janski scandal, which had provoked great uproar among nationalists.77

In the 1890s, however, the use of symbols began to change in parallel with the strengthening of Hungarian nationalism in general. The imperial anthem was replaced with the Hungarian anthem, in Sopron the German language of command was replaced with Hungarian, and the memory of 1848–49 became more and more important.78 In 1905, for example, the Mohács MVA held its own ceremony to commemorate the revolution which began on March 15, 1848.79 In the same year, the placing of a wreath on the local Kossuth statue was a key part of the flag consecration ceremony for the veterans of the Bosnian occupation campaign in 1878 in Hódmezővásárhely.80 The imperial anthem was now a source of conflict in Szombathely too, and at the commemoration meeting of the veterans of Solferino and Custoza in 1901, deputy lord lieutenant Ede Reiszig did not to deliver his speech, because the conductor of the military band insisted on playing “Gott erhalte” when the name of Franz Joseph was mentioned.81

The relationship with the former soldiers in the Honvéd army and the change in the use of symbols suggest that Hungarian nationalism had an impact on the urban MVAs, at least where Hungarian veterans played a decisive role in their operations. However, it had a specific content corresponding with local peculiarities and the veterans’ military past. Based on the example of Szombathely, the apparent contradiction between the Habsburg army and the 1848–49 tradition did not pose an insoluble dilemma for the veterans. For them, both were examples of military duty and a patriotic act through which they expressed their loyalty to the king. Fatherland in this sense meant the independent Kingdom of Hungary, but as the part of the Dual Monarchy under the rule of the Habsburgs. This is why Custozza and Solferino were presented as a symbol of loyalty to the Hungarian fatherland. For these veterans, the two were not easily separable. For example, József Heimler himself, who led the association from 1899 until his death in 1914, was a committed 1867 liberal. As a wealthy merchant (as the representative of Grazer Puntigam in Szombathely he managed the company’s interests in Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia), he was a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party and, later, of the Fejérváry government and then István Tisza.82 It should also be pointed out, however, that the supranational patriotic ethos of the army and the idea of the unified empire was also far from the veterans’ philosophy, as it had no tradition in Hungary.

The appearance of national symbols met with a completely different reception in Hungary than in Austria. In Ljubljana, for example, the replacement of the German language of command with Slovenian led to the dissolution of the Carniolan Military Veterans Corps, while in Hungary the local authorities welcomed these processes.83 The examples above, however, are largely from Hungarian-speaking or mixed-population towns, where the assimilation of the Germans was the most significant during the Dualist era. It is worth noting that this issue requires further research. In Szombathely, for example, there was no German-speaking local elite, while the local peculiarities significantly influenced these processes. In towns with strong German elites and a strong sense of local identity (e.g., Temesvár, Pozsony, and the towns in the Saxon territories of Transylvania), the members of the MVAs probably behaved completely differently.84

Returning to the example of Szombathely, the question of how the veterans and their activities were received by local society also arises. In this respect, there is also a kind of dichotomy. On the one hand, the formation of MVAs was supported by the leadership of the town and the county, as well as by a number of local landowners. Prince Ödön Batthyány-Strattmann was the association’s main protector, and the vice-protector was Bishop Kornél Hidassy. The formation also had the support of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria,85 Lord Lieutenant Kálmán Radó, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Ede Reiszig, Mayor Károly Varasdy, several financial institutions of Szombathely, and the landowners of the county.86

The great interest shown by the town is well illustrated by the flag consecration ceremony held on August 22, 1886. The flag itself was donated by two surviving members of the former Tailors’ Guild, which was then modified. The highlight of the two-day celebration was the consecration ceremony in the town’s main square in the presence of nearly 8,000 people. According to press reports, there were even people on the rooftops. The flag-mother was Mrs. Ödön Batthyány-Strattmann, but the town and county leadership also attended, as did many members of the county elite and several local associations. In addition, many MVAs arrived from different towns of the country. Finally, Colonel Rohonczy, the commander of the 5th Hussar Regiment stationed in the county, and a delegation of the 76th Infantry Regiment of Sopron (Szombathely was part of the supplementary area of this regiment) paid their respects on the day of the celebration. The latter regiment also provided the music. The festive mass was celebrated by István Horváth, the parish priest of Szombathely. After the ceremony, the association gave a banquet for 180 people, and the evening entertainment was held in three places in the town. 87

In other words, the association received considerable support from the county, the town, and the diocese, not only from official circles, but also from many individuals, as indicated by the high number of patron members described earlier. The local press also welcomed the formation of the association and appreciated its aims, irrespective of political affiliation.“ The parade, which was watched with warm interest by the people of our town, was in every respect a success [...] the most successful of all this year’s summer festivities.”88 The latter comment was echoed several times in the local press in the following years. The August 20 festivities of the veterans were basically folk festivals, and they drew crowds in the hundreds and sometimes thousands. These festivities were special highlights of the town’s social life. As one local newspaper noted in 1889, “I don’t know how, but this association was born under a lucky star in Szombathely. It succeeds in everything though everyone smiles at it.” 89

The second sentence of the report, however, also points out that the association’s reputation was far from self-evident. According to a local satirical magazine the “old children” were regularly smiled at with a touch of scorn in the town as they marched with their “toys” at every celebration and holiday.90 This seems to have continued in later years, and even on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the association in 1909, a local paper noted that the association was “often quite undeservedly the center of jokes and mocking banter.”91 Interestingly, however, these jokes never appeared in the local press.

The habit or practice of mocking veterans was not peculiar to Szombathely. There are several examples of this in many other places, especially in the 1870s and 1880s, and where there was a Hungarian or a significant Hungarian-speaking population. For example, in a report to the Ministry of Interior, the lord lieutenant of Sopron County wrote about the Sopron MVA founded in 1877. He contended that, “this association receives no support or sympathy from the locals,” and“ the citizens also show some aversion to this association, which is rather military in character.”92 Similar voices were heard from Mohács in southern Hungary93 and Arad at the other end of the country, where the mayor wrote that “the members waste their time on parades which have become comical in the eyes of the public.”94 The associations in Budapest also carried the stigma of the “serious old comedians.”95

The events of the association, however, remained popular until the turn of the century, when a rather spectacular break can be observed in the activity of the Vas County MVA. Its public appearances were pushed back. The most obvious sign of this was the end of the summer festivities on August 20 at the turn of the century. In 1913, a local newspaper described the association as follows:

The Szombathely Veterans’ Association does not boast a loud publicity of charity; the whole humble and valuable individuality of the brewery commissioner József Heimler, the president of the veterans, is expressed in the work of the association: to talk little and do as much as possible. To hold as few parades as possible and to wipe away as many tears as possible, to alleviate misery, to make easier the helpless old days of old soldiers.96

The stagnation of the Vas County MVA can probably be explained primarily by the fact that, while the number of war veterans decreased, only a few of those who had done their military service in peacetime joined the association. The association could not adapt to the changing social and political environment of the turn of the century. One of the local papers summed up the situation as follows in 1909: “A somewhat outdated but venerable institution of the old parade world is celebrating on August 15 in Szombathely. [...] The urban development of Szombathely, the progress of the electric tram has made the veterans’ institution a little outdated. Today, the veterans are no more than a crowd for the town or the church celebrations.”97

Veterans’ Associations in German-speaking Areas of Vas County

In Vas County, in addition to the MVA in Szombathely, 16 other veterans’ associations were formed during the Dualist era, all of them in the western areas inhabited by German-speaking “Hientzen.” Of these, 13 were purely German-speaking, two were mixed German and Hungarian, and one was German and Croatian.98 The associations recruited veterans not only from their own villages, which had populations of 1,000 or 2,000 people, but also from the surrounding settlements. Their main aims, as in the case of all MVAs, were to provide relief, foster an esprit de corps and a sense of loyalty to the king and the fatherland, and uphold the rule of law and good morals. There are no precise records of their memberships, but they were probably made up of peasants and artisans who had served as rank and file soldiers in the army. The leadership and organization were often taken over by the local elite. For example, the president of the Vaskomját (today Kemeten, Austria) MVA was Ármin Schocklits, a local landowner, and the vice president was Ferenc Hulfeld, the local teacher. The president and organizer of the Királyfalva MVA was General Wocher, also a local landowner, while the first president of the Némethidegkut (today Deutsch Kaltenbrunn, Austria) MVA was Mihály Rathner, the local priest.99

The local Hungarian nobility also played an important role in the organization and in providing financial and moral support for the associations. Of the three associations mentioned above, the patron of the Királyfalva MVA was Prince Alfred von Montenuovo and the patron of the Vaskomját MVA was Count Gyula Erdődy. The Némethidegkut MVA had most prestigious protector, however. It won the support of Crown Prince Rudolf, while the flag-mother position was taken by Archduchess Stefania. Of course, neither the crown prince nor the archduchess appeared in person at the flag consecration ceremony. Archduchess Stefania was replaced by a local landowner, the widow of Count Herman Zichy.100

It is not surprising that, while they did not always enjoy high esteem in the towns, MVAs were highly prestigious in the rural area. In 1876, for example, the lord lieutenant wrote the following about the Királyfalva MVA in his report: “In rural areas, however, it has a good reputation and is well respected, because it can boast members who are among the most distinguished members of the countryside and belong to the intelligentsia.”101 The rural association had no membership problems and, although it was presumably war veterans who first organized themselves in the 1870s and 1880s, the steady increase in the number of associations suggests that, later, they were able to recruit peacetime veterans who had done general military service. Thus, three associations were formed in the 1870s, four in 1880s and nine more after the turn of the century. The associations also played an active role in local society. They were not only regular participants in certain public and church holidays but also contributed to the village life by holding their own events. More than one association even organized readings and popular lectures for its members.102

In the case of the German-speaking MVAs, which were formed near the Austrian border, one might well assume that they were more influenced by the Austrian state-idea. But this was far from the case. Even an examination of their statutes suggests that, instead of common imperial consciousness, loyalty to the Kingdom of Hungary came to the fore. This is well illustrated by the fact that twelve associations had Saint Stephen with the Hungarian coat of arms and the Holy Crown on their flags, one (the aforementioned Vaskomját MVA) had King Matthias, and one had only the coat of arms and the crown. In addition, the Némethidegkut MVA, also mentioned above, had a portrait of Archduke Charles on its flag. Finally, many associations emphasized their Hungarian character in their choice of name and described themselves as “Hungarian military veterans’ associations.”103

The holiday calendar of the associations was also adapted to the above. All associations marched in uniform under the flag at the celebrations on Franz Joseph’s birthday, on Saint Stephen’s Day, and at all “church and patriotic” celebrations, to which they were invited by the organizers. Saint Stephen’s prominence was further enhanced by the fact that most of the associations also chose a patron saint, and in every such case, they chose the first Hungarian king.

Saint Stephen, as the founder of the Hungarian state, symbolized the Kingdom of Hungary, to which the loyalty of the veterans was primarily directed. This was also reinforced by the local church and noble elite, who played an important role in the organization and support of the associations and who were predominantly Hungarian. Their support was not without any ulterior motives, as they tried to direct the population towards the Hungarian national idea through associations with great prestige in the countryside. At the flag consecration ceremony of the Vaskomját MVA, for example, in his speech, deacon József Pulay noted the following Hungarian heroes as examples of valor for the veterans: János Hunyady, Tamás Erdődy, ban of Croatia (who was obviously included in the speech because of the presence of Gyula Erdődy), Mátyás Hunyadi, and the heroes of the War of Independence of 1848–49. After Pulay’s speech, Gyula Erdődy exhorted those present to show “loyalty and love for His Majesty, the most noble and righteous monarch.” The association also paid tribute to the king on the occasion of the consecration of the flag.104

The activities of the German-speaking MVAs were also positively assessed by the county administration. In his report on the Némethidegkut MVA, the lord lieutenant wrote,

The behavior of its members is not only honorable, but also shows loyal devotion to the reigning king and the Hungarian fatherland, which, with its beautiful character, has a good effect everywhere, but especially on the borders of the country, towards our Styrian neighbors and raises the self-esteem and character of the nation.105

The authorities also welcomed the formation of the associations, because, as the report on the Vasdobra (today Neuhaus am Klausenbach, Austria) MVA shows, the phenomenon that many veterans joined the neighboring Styrian association had gradually disappeared. This was seen as a positive development, even if close links with the Styrians were maintained and they were mutually present at each other’s celebrations. For example, four Styrian associations were represented at the flag consecration ceremony of the Vaskomját MVA, and several foreign associations sent their representatives to the flag consecration ceremony of the Nagyfalva MVA in 1911.106

In other words, the German-speaking associations, in addition to fostering the military spirit and esprit de corps, primarily considered it their task to pledge and nurture loyalty to the king and the Kingdom of Hungary. However strongly the Hungarian political circles may have wanted to push nationalism and Magyarization, these sentiments and ideologies were distant from the rural German-speaking population. Loyalty to king and country did not mean nationalism. Even at the turn of the century, the pre-modern so-called “Hungarus” identity, which had its roots in the Middle Ages but became dominant only in the early modern period, was still predominant among the German minority, and the degree of national mobilization (whether German or Hungarian) remained low. The essence of the Hungarus identity was loyalty to the Kingdom of Hungary without linguistic, religious, or cultural differences, mixed with strong local identity. The German minority groups in Hungary had no common national identity, and they identified themselves according to their place of residence, culture, and religion.107


In Hungary in the Dualist era, there was nothing analogous to the veterans’ movements found in Austria or Germany. Although the number of associations grew steadily before World War I, these associations spread only locally. The MVAs were formed above all in a German-speaking environment (mainly in western Transdunabia), even if they appeared sporadically among Slovaks and Croats in western Hungary and among Hungarians in the larger towns.

The lack of a veterans’ movement is perhaps most easily explained by the lack of a national army and the supranational ideology of the Habsburg Army. This is confirmed by the fact that the 1848–49 Honvéd army veterans’ associations were able to spread throughout the country in a short space of time. In 1867, the former veterans of the Hungarian War of Independence established their associations throughout the country on a territorial basis. As a result, within a year, Honvéd army veterans’ associations were established in every county and several towns, with a total of 50,000 members, and a central organization was even created.108

Attachment to national identity, however, would be an overly simplistic explanation. For example, the number of members in the case of the Honvéd army associations is somewhat deceptive: the associations themselves were largely formed by former officers in the seats of the counties, but membership was not entirely voluntary. It was prescribed by the administrative authorities on central orders, and even the Honvéd army veterans had to prove their identity. It is also surprising that the Royal Hungarian Honvéd Army established in 1868 was not able to influence the Hungarian-speaking population in this respect. Finally, the ideology of the army would not provide an explanation for similar attitudes among the nationalities. It is interesting, for example, that MVAs did not appear among the Serb or Croat population of the former military frontier.

The explanations (of which a sense of national identity is only one) are more complex. First, one must consider the political and economic situation of Hungary. Hungary had always occupied a special status within the Habsburg Monarchy, and military organization was no exception. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, Hungary was less integrated into the Habsburg fiscal-military state, and thus there was less of a military tradition on which to build.109

Financial considerations were an equally important factor. Since MVAs were primarily relief associations, their establishment and maintenance required significant financial sacrifices from the membership. Even to join a MVA required a considerable investment, as uniforms and side arms had to be purchased. Thus, the establishment of MVAs depended heavily on the financial strength and standard of living of the population, which was generally lower in Hungary than in Austria. Furthermore, there were also huge regional differences within Hungary. In rural areas in particular, the population invested primarily in fire-fighting associations and less often in economic or other cultural associations (such as reading or singing clubs), or in the creation of a broader relief association.110

In addition to the above, the lack of a widespread veterans’ movement suggests that there was simply no need to create such organizations, and this in turn point to the limits of the impact of general conscription on the wider society. On one hand, the militarization of society is a phenomenon of modernization, but even at the outbreak of World War I, nearly two-thirds of the country’s population was still traditional agrarian with a very low level of literacy in many places. The lack of MVAs indicates at least in part (and is explained by) the low degree of social militarization of the population. On the other hand, in the case of the Hungarian urban bourgeoisie and middle class, national reasons undoubtedly played a role. Though the officer corps and the army itself were highly prestigious and the spread of pre-military training among the Hungarian urban middle class suggests the importance of military values at the turn of the century, the supranational ideology of the army and the memory of the war of independence did inhibit the formation of MVAs among the national middle class.111 The mixed, often mocking reception of the associations formed in the larger towns also indicates the lower level of prestige enjoyed by veterans.

Even if one cannot speak about a general veterans’ movement in Hungary, the study of the MVAs that were formed nonetheless yields some interesting insights. One of these is that the Habsburg Army could have played a role in strengthening loyalty to the Habsburg House in this part of the Monarchy, but only in the Hungarian context. For historical reasons, there was no breeding ground for the idea of unified empire in Hungary, even among the German minority.

Given the small number of MVAs in Hungary, the state did not play a role in their spread and operation, but the local Hungarian elites supported them in some cases. The example of the MVAs in the German-speaking rural areas of Vas County reveals that, where the MVAs enjoyed a high level of prestige, the Hungarian elites tried to put them at the service of Magyarization. This met with only limited success, however. The identity of Hientzen was more dominated by the pre-modern Hungarus-idea, and even the Vas County MVA in Szombathely (and other towns) had a very special interpretation of the national consciousness. Not only was the use of imperial symbols common among veterans even in the late 1880s, but the heroic past of the Habsburg Army and the idea of the Hungarian nation were compatible for them, as both symbolized loyalty and duty to the king and the Hungarian fatherland. It was at the turn of the century that the imperial symbols began to be replaced by Hungarian ones. This also shows that the Hungarian national idea could have distinct meanings even in Hungarian-speaking populations, meanings which in some cases were very different from what was nationalists expected. Finally, it is noteworthy that these contradictions did not cause any conflict on the local level either, and the Vas County MVA was not exposed to nationalist critics from the Hungarian-speaking population of Szombathely. On the contrary. Even though it did not enjoy a high level of prestige, its humanitarian patriotic goals were recognized and its events were popular among the town’s population.


Archival Sources

Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives] (BFL)

IV.1428. Politikai iratok gyűjteménye [Collection of political records]

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archive of Hungary] (MNL OL)

K148 Belügyminisztériumi levéltár, Elnöki iratok [Archive of Ministry of Interior, presidential records]

K150 Belügyminisztériumi levéltár, Áltatlános iratok [Archive of Ministry of Interior, general records]

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Vas Megyei Levéltára [Nation Archive of Hungary, Archive of Vas County] (MNL VaML)

IV.401.b. Vas vármegye főispánjának iratai, Általános iratok [Records of Lieutenant of Vas County, general records]

IV.405.b. Vas vármegye alispájának iratai, Közigazgatási iratok [Records of Lord lieutenant of Vas County, administrative records]

IV.440. Vas vármemgye egyesületeinek alapszabályai [Statutes of Associations in Vas county]

V.173.b. Szombathely város polgármesterének iratai, Bizalmas iratok [Records of Mayor of Szombathely, administrative records]


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1* This research was supported by the Institute of Advanced Studies Kőszeg.

On the “new imperial history,” see Hirschhausen, “A New Imperial History?”

2 Tara, “Imagined Noncommunities.”

3 Cole, Visions and Revisions of Empire; Berger and Miller, “Building Nations In and With Empires”; Judson, The Habsburg Empire; Unowsky, Patriotism; Cole and Unowsky, Limits of Loyalty.

4 Gerő, Emperor Francis Joseph; Gyáni, The Creation of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

5 See Vogel, Nationen im Gleichschritt; Frevert, A Nation in Barracks; Weber, Peasents into Frenchman.

6 Rohkrämer, Militarismus der kleinen Leute.

7 Allmayer-Beck, “Die bewaffnete Macht,” 88–99; Hämmerle, “Die k.(u.)k. Armee,” 175–85; Tangl, “Ezredideológiák.” For an international perspective, see Leonhard and Hirschhausen, “Does the Empire strike back?”

8 Cole, Military Culture, 308 and 322.

9 Ibid., 311. Also see Stergar, “Ljubljana Military Veterans.”

10 Among Hungarian historians, András Cieger was the only one to deal shortly with Hungarian veterans’ associations in one of his works. Cieger, 1867 szimbolikus világa, 93–95.

11 Varga, The Monumental Nation.

12 For the relationship between the Habsburg Army and Hungarian society, see Hajdu, Tisztikar és középosztály; Péter, “The Army Question.”

13 Gerő, Az elsöprő kisebbség.

14 The modern Hungarian language uses the word veterán, but in the late nineteenth century, the archaic words hadastyán and aggharcos were still used. In the study, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the abbreviation MVA (Military Veterans’ Association) to name each association.

15 In Hungary, the contemporary censuses asked about mother tongue, not nationality. Thus, no ethnic statistics are available regarding the age. For the problems of the linguistic data of the Hungarian censuses, see: Kövér, “Statisztikai asszimiláció.”

16 Cole, Military Culture, 126–29.

17 In 1913, the k.k. Österreichischen Militär-Veteranen Reichsbund had a total of 1,656 MVAs with a total of 209,761 members. However, more than a third of the Austrian MVAs (mainly Czech, Slovenian, and Italian) did not join the federation. Cole, Military Culture, 130.

18 In Hungary the establishment of associations was not regulated by law, only by a ministerial decree. According to this, the state limited its right of supervision to a minimum. The formation of associations was free, but the statutes required the approval of the Ministry of the Interior, while the operation of the associations was supervised by the local legislature. A m. kir. belügyministernek 1873. ápr. 29-én 1394. sz. a. kelt rendelete az egyesületek ellenőrzése tárgyában, Magyarországi Rendeletek Tára, 1873, 131–34.

19 Varga, Magyarország egyletei és társulatai, 522.

20 The Hungarian m. kir. Népfelkelés (in Austria, k.k. Landsturm) was a reserve force intended to provide replacements for the first line units. It was established in 1886 by Law XX.

21 MNL OL K150 1883. VII. 8. 5323.

22 Cole, Military Culture, 130.

23 The two journals are available in digitized and searchable form at https://adt.arcanum.com/hu/.

24 The database contains a list and markings of association documents remaining in the archives of the Ministry of the Interior: https://adatbazisokonline.hu/adatbazis/polgari-kori-egyesuletek.

25 Budapesti czím és lakjegyzék, 1891–1892, 220–29, Budapesti czím és lakjegyzék, 1913, 512 and 552.

26 Rayman, “Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek,” 192.

27 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of associations.

28 Rayman, “Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek,” 195.

29 Cole, Military Culture, 268–307.

30 MNL OL K150 1888.VII.8.31554.

31 Cole, Military Culture, 129.

32 On the history of the Germans in Hungary, see Seewann, A magyarországi németség története.

33 A Magyar Szent Korona országainak 1910. évi népszámlálása. Első rész, 47, 176–77, 180–81, 350–51, 356–57.

34 MNL OL K150 1875.III.4.776.

35 MNL VaML IV.401.b. 222/1886

36 MNL OL K150 1876.III.4.4682.

37 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of associations.

38 Anonymous, “Huszonöt éve,” Pécsi Figyelő, June 22, 1901, 3.

39 MNL OL K150 1885.VII.8.11379.

40 MNL OL K150 1892.VII.8.32180.

41 MNL OL K150 1876.III.4.23307.

42 MNL OL K150 1888.VII.8.31554.

43 MNL OL K150 1875.III.4.54388.

44 MNL OL K148 1885.IV.D.436; K148 1900.IV.D.192; K150 1887.VII.8.31055; BFL IV.1428. IX.2717/1903. I. and II.

45 Rayman, “Pécsi és baranyai hadastyán egyletek,” 184.

46 Pintér, A Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egylet, 5.

47 MNL OL K150 1892.VII.8.32180.

48 Rohkrämer, Militarismus der kleinen Leute, 34–36.

49 Cole, Military Culture, 131–36.

50 MNL OL K148 1897.IV.D.174.

51 MNL OL K150 1888.VII.8.74534, K148 1900.IV.D.192.

52 MNL OL K150 1885.VII.8.27780.

53 Melega, A modern város születése, 33–65.

54 Anonymous, “Aggharczosok,” Vasmegyei Közlöny, November 18, 1883, 3.

55 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of Associations, 1892, Szombathely r. t. város, 47.

56 Anonymous, “Izgágalom az aggharczos egyletben,” Vasvármegye, February 9, 1889, 6–8; Anonymous, “Az aggharcos-egylet jubileuma,” Vasvármegye, August 17, 1909, 2.

57 Anonymous, “Izgágalom az aggharczos egyletben,” Vasvármegye, February 9, 1899, 6–8.

58 MNL OL K148 1894. IV.D.2776.

59 Anonymous, “Gottmann József,” Torma, June 25, 1885, 2.

60 Anonymous, “Heimler József,” Vasvármegye, April 29, 1914, 3–4.

61 MNL VaML V. 173. b. 9/1909.

62 MNL VaML IV. 440. 29. box. 229,1884. 2. §.

63 MNL VaML IV. 440. 29. box. 229, 1884. 43 and 45 §§, 1888. 35 §.

64 Anonymous, “A vasmegyei hadastyán,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 21, 1884, 3; Anonymous, “Aggharczos-egyletünk,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 24, 1884, 2.

65 Pintér, Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület, 12 and 18; MNL VaML IV. 401. b. 772/1900.

66 See the reports of the local press (primarily Vasmegyei Lapok and Vasvármegye on August 20.

67 Pintér, Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület, 7.

68 Anonymous, “Hadviselt harcosok emlékünnepélye,” Vasvármegye, June 25, 1896, 3.

69 Anonymous, “Harczosok mulatsága,” Vasvármegye, June 26, 1901, 5.

70 Pinter, Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egyesület, 15–19.

71 MNL OL K148 1879.IV.D.5026; K150 1885.VII.8.15001, Anonymous, “Egy érdemdús hadastyán,” Hadastyánok Lapja, 1882, 1.

72 Anonymous, “Germanizáló veteránok,” Pesti Hírlap, August 18, 1888, 7.

73 Hungary, which defined itself as an independent state, treated the double headed eagle as the coat-of-arms of a foreign state. In addition, in the eyes of Hungarian nationalists, it was a hated symbol as the sign of the unified Habsburg Empire MNL OL K150 1883.VII.8.47835.; K150 1882.VII.8.32180.

74 Anonymous, “Szombathelyről,” Pesti Napló, August 21, 1884, 2.

75 Anonymous, “Germanizáló veteránok,” Pesti Hírlap, August 18, 1888, 7.

76 Anonymous, “Az aggharczos egyletről,” Dunántúl, August 21, 1884, 2.

77 On May 21, 1886, under the leadership of General Ludwig Janski, officers of the Common Army put a wreath on the tomb of General Heinrich Hentzi in Budapest. Hentzi, who was the Austrian commander of Buda in 1849, during the Hungarian War of Independence died a heroic death during the siege of the castle. In his speech, Janski presented Hentzi as an example for his officers. The ceremony and Janski’s speech led to a domestic political scandal and huge demonstrations in Hungary. Hajdu, Tisztikar és középosztály, 90–94.

78 Anonymous, “Honvédek és hadastyánok,” Soproni Napló, February 16, 1909, 2.

79 Anonymous, “A mohács-kerületi I. katonai hadastyán egylet,” Mohács, March 19, 1905, 4.

80 Anonymous, “A boszniai harczosok zászlóavatása,” Hódmezővásárhely, September 12, 1905, 3.

81 Anonymous, “Harczosok mulatsága,” Vasvármegye, June 26, 1901, 5.

82 Anonymous, “Heimler József,” Vasvármegye, April 29, 1914, 3–4.

83 Stergar, “Ljubljana Military Veterans,” 49.

84 At the beginning of 1903, for example, the ball invitation of Brassó MVA, which portrayed the coat of arms of the old Principality of Transylvania and the black and yellow imperial flag, caused a minor scandal in the press. The case went to court, and the association was fined. Anonymous, “A tüntető meghívók büntetése,” Magyar polgár, March 14, 1909, 6; On the identity of the Saxons and their relationship to Hungarian nationalism, see Varga, The Monumental Nation, 103–25, and on the case of Pozony: 47–73.

85 The heir to the Bavarian throne, as the owner of huge estates in Sárvár, was a frequent guest of the county and an active participant in its social life.

86 Pintér, A Vasmegyei Aggharcos Egylet, 6.

87 Ibid., 8–10; Anonymous, “Zászló szentelés,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 26, 1886, 1–2.

88 Anonymous, “Aggharczos-egyletünk,” Vasmegyei Lapok, August 24, 1884 2.

89 Anonymous, “Aggharczos egylet nyári mulatsága,” Dunántúl, August 25, 1889, 5.

90 Anonymous, “A veteránok,” Torma, October 17, 1886, 5.

91 Anonymous, “Az aggharcosegylet jubileuma,” Vasvármegye, July 13, 1909, 2.

92 MNL OL K148 1880.IV.D.4642.

93 Rayman, “A mohácsi hadastyán egylet,” 136.

94 MNL OL K148 1885.IV.D.436.

95 Anonymous, “Germanizáló veteránok,” Pesti Hírlap, August 18, 1888, 8.

96 Anonymous, “Aggharcosok és a bajor király,” Vasvármegye, December 14, 1913, 5.

97 Anonymous, “Az aggharcosegylet jubileuma,” Vasvármegye, July 13, 1909, 2.

98 MNL VaML IV. 405. b. Census of Associations.

99 Anonymous, “A vas-komjáti aggharczos egylet zászlószentelése,” Vasvármegye, June 22, 1902, 5; MNL OL K148 1880.IV.D.665; MNL VaML IV.401.b. 214/1876.

100 Ibid.

101 MNL VaML IV.401.b. 214/1876.

102 MNL VaML IV.401.b. 802/1902, 300/1905

103 For the statutes, see MNL OL K150 1874. III. 4. 13640; 1875. III. 4. 776; 1886. VII. 8. 464; 1886. VII. 8. 465; 1889. VII. 8. 22689; MNL VaML IV. 440.

104 Anonymous, “A vas-komjáti aggharczos egylet zászlószentelése,” Vasvármegye, June 22, 1902, 5; MNL VaML IV.401.b. 511/1902

105 MNL OL K148. 1880. IV.D. 665.

106 Anonymous, “Aggharcos-parádé a nagyfalvai úton,” Vasvármegye, September 5, 1911, 5.

107 Baumgartner, “Der nationale Differenzierungsprozess.”

108 Farkas, “Régi honvédek,” 1019–23.

109 Hochedlinger, The Habsburg Monarchy.

110 For the case of Baranya County, see Márfi, Baranya vármegye egyesületei.

111 Hajdu, Tisztikar és középosztály, 227–54; Tangl, “Katonás nevelés és a militiarmus.”


The Austro-Sardinian War (1859) and the Seven Weeks’ War (1866) in Habsburg Schoolbooks

Yulia But
Ural Federal University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 11 Issue 1  (2022):44-70 DOI 10.38145/2022.1.44

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Habsburg government had a very complicated task of inventing some form of supranational identity as an alternative to nationalist programs in Cisleithania. It sought to craft this supranational identity first and foremost as part of the self-images of schoolchildren as future citizens. One of the major ways to create and solidify a notion of a common “Austrian” identity in school history classes was to highlight the Habsburg wars, triumphal and bloody battles, and military heroes as reminders of an integrated supranational past. Official instructions obliged teachers to emphasize the “heroic times of Austria,” its “glorious battles,” and its “valiant wars,” as emphasis on these episodes of the past, it was hoped, would further the development of “the idea of the integrated statehood in Austria.” In this article, I offer an example of this cult of the Austrian wars in school education by the ways in which the wars fought during the early period of Francis Joseph’s rule, namely, the Sardinian war of 1859 and the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866, were taught to later generations of schoolchildren. Ironically, the fact that Austria lost these wars was humiliating. Nevertheless, during the late period of Francis Joseph’s rule, narratives and visual depictions of the events of these wars in schoolbooks strongly contributed to the formation of a heroic image of the Austrian army and to the idea of just Habsburg rule. I focus in my discussion first on how the accounts of the wars in schoolbooks deviated from the historical facts and, second, on how these accounts nonetheless furthered the emergence of the “Austrian” identity.

Keywords: Habsburg Monarchy, Austria-Hungary, Francis Joseph, supranational identity, history of education, schoolbooks, history lessons


Fans of Habsburg history may well remember the story of Joseph von Trotta, “the Hero of Solferino,” from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth. Trotta was appalled by an imprecise narrative about the battle of Solferino (1859) found in a schoolbook, which grossly overstated his own actions and represented them as great heroic deeds. Trotta found the situation intolerable, although people around him, including the emperor himself, delicately explained him that the story “is for children,” and “all historic events are rewritten for school use.” Moreover, they assured him, this was the “proper” way of doing things.1

It is true that history schoolbooks represent a peculiar type of source. Like hardly any other medium, schoolbooks, which remain formative teaching aids in history instruction and civic education, convey official and quasi-official images of history to certain age groups of children and young people within the compulsory schooling setting.2 Given their broad impact, schoolbooks have long been used in the service of the prevailing ideology and rhetoric. Political elites quickly understood that national memory could be most easily constructed in history classes which presented current issues in their (alleged or constructed) historical context. They also realized that public mass schooling inculcated a sense of national unity in pupils, as well as loyalty and obedience.3 For these reasons, history schoolbooks were broadly used by European governments as early as the nineteenth century in the invention and consolidation of a previously non-existent sense of national cohesion.4

Scholarship on civic education in Europe and the United States shows that many states saw public education as an essential tool for crafting national identity and national loyalty, which were by no means innate, the claims of primordialists notwithstanding. Eugene Weber and James Lehning argued that schools were a central force in cultivation of the patriotic loyalty of future French citizens.5 Troy Paddock claims that public education in imperial Germany served as a robust tool to build loyalty to the newly founded united empire.6 Paula Fass and Christina Ziegler-McPherson show that American educators of the nineteenth century utilized English and history courses in order to Americanize a diverse population and create a sense of loyalty to the state.7 Similar efforts were made to Russify and nurture patriotic sentiment among the subjects of the polyethnic Russian Empire.8

The creation of a patriotic and loyal citizenry was likewise one of the main concerns of the Habsburg government in Austria-Hungary. The Habsburg Monarchy faced the complicated task of inventing some form of supranational identity as an alternative to the programs of national elites, who had challenged the state’s cohesion. The government identity politics exemplified an intended fabrication of history and myths to be used first and foremost to shape the self-images of schoolchildren as future citizens.9 Roth’s character was right when he complained about the “pack of lies” in his son’s reader: historical images in schoolbooks were narrated so as to foster patriotic feelings and dynastic loyalty in schoolchildren, and as part of this, exaggerations and understatements were not only permissible, but even welcome.

Habsburg identity politics and its effects on the society of the Dual Monarchy have long been the focus of academic discussion. Many prominent scholars published works on the development of Habsburg culture and civil society with a focus on the complexity of national identity.10 Their findings have led to a crucial revision of the previous assessments in the nationalist literature. The latter tended to define the Habsburg Empire as a kind of anacronism compared to the European nation states and a “prison of nations,”11 which appeared unable to address the nationality conflicts facing it in the nineteenth century. In contrast, revisionist studies offer strong evidence that the Empire and its institutions were of great importance for its population, which showed a high degree of engagement. The recent book by Pieter Judson on “how countless local societies across central Europe engaged with the Habsburg dynasty’s efforts to build a unified and unifying imperial state”12 summarizes the most important finding of the revisionist works.

Moreover, the recent studies have shown that, despite their prominence in political parties, legislative institutions, and the press, national elites largely failed to awaken passionate attachments to national identity among the larger part of the population of Cisleithania.13 During the last decades of the Dual Monarchy, nationalists had to fight against apparent indifference to the national causes, and they were met with general loyalty to Habsburg non-national institutions and an embrace of multilingualism in the public and private spheres. Many researchers have stressed the paradoxically sustainable phenomenon of massive loyalty to the emperor and the ruling dynasty, the so-called Kaisertreue, which contributed significantly to the cohesion of the Habsburg Empire and moved its peoples look for options to preserve the unified state.14 This loyalty to the multinational empire was largely due to the various measures adopted and implemented by the Habsburg government and administration. Although in the traditional (national) literature, these measures were usually assessed as too limited and backward as responses to the challenges posed in the era of nationalism15 (a view which is still shared by some recent researchers),16 the revisionists tend to attach greater value to the efforts of Habsburg officials to achieve cohesion among the population of the composite state. A number of excellent works examine commemoration and celebration practices in the Habsburg Empire as a means of fostering loyalties to the state and the dynasty, as well as “invented traditions” at the Viennese court and the complex array of symbols which were intended psychologically to consolidate the citizens of the monarchy.17

In 1849, the Habsburg government embarked on a program that would lead to the creation of the most advanced and cutting-edge state schooling system in Europe.18 The structure and core principles of this system, which included the principle of equal language rights, are discussed in detail by Helmut Engelbrecht, Gary Cohen, and Hannelore Burger.19 Other scholars consider the important issue of the certification and translation of schoolbooks in their studies, as well as the content of history textbooks that was appropriate and reliable in the view of the Viennese Ministry of Culture and Education.20 Scott Moore’s brilliant study explores how the civic education was utilized in Habsburg schools to cultivate the patriotism of its peoples and forge a complex, “layered” identity.21

One of the major themes of the patriotic version of the Habsburg past that was presented in schools was wars: narratives about the triumphal and bloody battles waged by the Austrian army and its military heroes were exploited as reminders of the shared supranational past of the Habsburg peoples. According to the Instructions for Classes in the Gymnasien of Austria (1884), emphasis was to be placed on “the heroic time of Austria” and “its glorious battles and valiant wars,” for they were “the moments through which the consciousness of common belonging to the peoples united under the scepter of Habsburgs” was awakened, and “the idea of an integral statehood in Austria” was developed.22 Stories about wars helped convey the memory of a common “glorious past under Habsburgs” through the emphasis that was placed on the triumphant battles, which had required united efforts. There was also room for mention of the bloodbaths and massacres that the the peoples of the monarchy had survived together and preserved in their collective memories as outrages and injustices inflicted by an external common enemy. Commemoration of the whole train of glorious military commanders who fought at the service of Habsburgs functioned as a means of offering narrative embodiments of the symbols of the “supranational” Austrian identity.23 Along with the military heroes Prince Eugène of Savoy and Archduke Karl (who were the figures of Habsburg military history who were the most vigorously glorified by the Viennese court), Joseph Radetzky developed into the most prominent military hero in imperial Austria as early as the mid-nineteenth century. The latter functioned, according to Laurence Cole, as “the symbol of a patriarchal, conservative, patriotic ideology that wished to subsume class and national conflicts within a discourse of loyalty.”24

In the discussion below, I focus on the narratives in Cisleithanian schoolbooks published between the 1860s and the 1910s about the wars in which the Austrian monarchy fought during the period of neo-absolutism, or in other words, the Austro-Sardinian war of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian-Italian war of 1866 (otherwise known as the Seven Weeks’ War). Both wars represented a vulnerable episode in the history of the Habsburg monarchy. The Habsburg forces failed miserably, suffering heavy losses, and the empire had to cede its vast Italian territories to Sardinia and its supremacy in the German Confederation to Prussia.25 Some researchers even consider the defeat at Königgrätz “the death of the army.”26 It is easy to exploit narratives concerning wars in which one’s country emerged victorious wars for the benefit of the image of a “Great and Powerful Fatherland” of which every citizen or subject is proud. But how did the authors of schoolbooks craft narratives about these lost wars, given that they had to reflect on the defeat but without downplaying or undermining the greatness of the Fatherland? Were there any strong deviations from historical facts? Which persons and episodes were singled out or overemphasized, and which were sidelined and obscured? And finally, did the authors managed to preserve the image of a great and glorious Austrian monarchy under the wise rule of Habsburgs?

The research on which I have based my conclusions draws largely on the collections of schoolbooks kept in the library of the Austrian Ministry of Education, Art, and Culture in Vienna. I used only schoolbooks that addressed relatively recent political events and contained narratives about the wars in question, which means that I used the schoolbooks designed for the last three years of Volksschulen and Bürgerschulen, for middle and upper classes of Gymnasien, and for the last two years of teacher training colleges. I went through roughly 60 units published with the official sanction of the imperial and royal Ministry of Culture and Education. However, in the discussion below, I cite a limited number of these sources, as most of the units appeared to be unchanged reissues of the same narratives. The fact is, the Viennese Ministry was very vigilant about the narratives included in schoolbooks. A thorough inspection by ministerial officials preceded the decree of official approval to publish or reissue a particular schoolbook or translation, and only then could the schoolbook in question be used in schools.27 Close attention was paid to the political views of the people who compiled textbooks, and the range of compilers was, therefore, relatively limited. Partly for this reason, textbooks were reissued eight to ten times on average and translated, most often from German, into the languages of the different nationalities. Translations were welcomed by the Viennese Ministry, as they offered the reassurance that textbooks in the national languages also met the political requirements of the imperial center.28

The authors of the upper level schoolbooks were professional historians who taught in Gymnasien and often held posts as university professors. Dr Theodor Tupetz, for example, the author of the schoolbooks cited in this article, had an impressive career, serving as a school inspector but eventually moving up to the position of court counselor. As professional teachers and historians, the authors of schoolbooks had their own views of historical events, which influenced the narratives they wrote, although they had to adhere to ministerial instructions and regulations. After the Compromise of 1867, some competences, including the compilation, translation, and distribution of textbooks, were transferred to the crownlands. Not all crownlands and languages were treated equally, however. While in Galicia, for example, the textbook certification system came under the control of the Polish-dominated Galician parliament,29 Slovenian-language textbooks remained completely under the supervision of the Viennese Ministry until the fall of the monarchy.30 In both cases, however, the final decision on approval was made in Vienna. Although the state publishing house in Vienna lost its monopoly to publish textbooks and schoolbooks were then published by private publishers (especially middle and upper level schoolbooks), the Ministry of Culture and Education in Vienna continued to supervise their content and language design.31

The narratives about the wars of 1859 and 1866 that I analyze in this article are mostly taken from the textbooks in German. Despite the December constitution of 1867 and the school reform of 1869, the language of instruction in many Gymnasien was still German, while the number of secondary schools with a minority language of instruction was growing slowly. In many cases, the books by German authors approved by the Viennese Ministry of Culture and Education were simply translated into the required language, and this was especially true for schools with Slovene and Italian as languages of instruction.32 Even in Galicia, where local authorities exerted a significant influence on the design of the educational system, the first Ruthenian-language history textbook that was translated not from German (but rather from Polish) was only published in 1895.33 Thus, narratives from the textbooks in German, I would argue, are representative for the whole picture of the way in which the history of the Austrian wars in question was taught in Cisleithanian secondary schools. However, I also offer a few samples of narratives in Czech and Romanian languages for comparison. I tried to compare the narratives from three perspectives: the alleged causes of the wars, the course of the wars, and the outcomes of the wars. I also focus on the style and biases of the narratives.

In the Austrian textbooks published in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, the names of the wars differed from those used in contemporary literature. The Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 was most often referred to simply as the “war against Austria” or “the Italian War,” and the Seven Week’s War was called the “Prussian war.” The first mentions of the Sardinian war (1859) appeared in the schoolbooks as early as 1864. For example, in Gindely’s textbook on world history for upper classes of Gymnasien, one can read that the most important events since the 1848 revolt and Napoleon’s declaration of the French empire in 1853 were “the oriental war” (that is, the Crimean war) and “the Italian War.”34 These early mentions were very short and succinct, little more than a few unbiased sentences with simple facts. However, with every passing year, the narratives got longer and increasingly detailed. In the 1880s, narratives about “the Italian war” of 1859 reached a page and a half or two pages, and the narratives devoted to the relationship between Austria and Prussia between 1859 and 1866 were three to four pages, even in the textbooks designed for the lower and middle classes in secondary schools.35 In the schoolbooks published in the 1890s, narratives of the wars were most often blocked under the title The War Years. They also were three to four pages long and included a large portrait of the Austrian commander Archduke Albrecht, a photo of the monument to the Austrian admiral Tegetthoff, and a reproduction of a depiction of the battle of Lissa (1866). The narratives, moreover, were getting increasingly biased, vivid, and emotionally loaded.

In many schoolbooks, the narrative was also accompanied with a familiar portrait of Francis Joseph I in 1849, in which the young, good-looking emperor is wearing a military uniform with the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Military Order of Maria Theresa, and the Cross of Saint George of the fourth class, which he was awarded by the Russian tsar Nicholas I “for pacifying the Hungarian riot in 1848–1849.” Narratives often included the contention that the adolescent emperor’s accession to power took place at a “terribly serious and pressing time,” when in most of Austria’s lands there was “disorder and confusion” and “even open outrage in several lands.” But the young emperor coped with the difficult situation and managed to keep Austria’s lands together, and a short period of peace then followed during which the emperor took trips to several crown lands, and everywhere the Habsburg peoples “cheered the new ruler and gave him evidence of unfeigned love and unshakable loyalty.”36 However, a few years later, Francis Joseph “had to pick up his sword again […] despite his pronounced love of peace.”37 In some textbooks, the period of 1859–1866 was titled Emperor Franz Josef I defends his lands.38

The Causes of the Wars

In the 1890s, considerable attention began to be devoted to the issue of the causes of the wars in question and, in particular, to the characteristics of aggressors and the interests they pursued. For example, in the most widespread Gindely’s reader on history for Volksschulen, which was revised by Gustav Rusch and appeared in seven editions without any significant changes between 1898 and 1910, it is stated that in 1859, King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia allied himself with “the ambitious French Emperor Napoleon III” and “urged Austria to go to war,” while in 1866, Prussia “seized the opportunity to declare war on Austria,” since “it had long been striving for vested interests in Germany,” and at the same time, the Danube monarchy was attacked by Italy. 39 One finds the same information in the Pennerstorfer’s textbooks on history designed for the same category and age of schoolchildren.40

For the schoolchildren going to Bürgerschulen, Pennerstorfer explains that it was the death of Radetzky in 1858 that encouraged “the Sardinian king to try his luck with arms.”41 The image of a heroic commander who was so fearsome that the enemy did not dare attack while he was alive both reflects and contributes to the official Radetzky cult, which saw a resurgence between 1880 and 1914.42 For the children in the last year of secondary school, the same author wrote even more emotionally:

Victor Emmanuel was just waiting for an opportunity to wrest the provincems of Lombardy and Veneto from Austria. As long as Radetzky was alive, of course, he did not dare attack. But no sooner had the military general closed his eyes (1858) than he was again preparing for war. His ally here was the emperor of France, Napoleon III. With his help, he succeeded in defeating the Austria and obtaining the cession of Lombardy. […] In a similar way, Victor Emmanuel came into possession of Veneto in 1866. This time, he allied himself with the king of Prussia, which threatened our Fatherland on two sides at the same time.43


So Sardinia was commonly represented as the aggressor and the guilty party in both conflicts, with the Sardinian king Victor Emmanuel being the main culprit and Napoleon III and Frederick William IV of Prussia serving as his accomplices. The authors of the schoolbooks normally omitted the fact that it was Austria who officially declared war on Sardinia in 1859.44 Still, there were several textbooks for secondary schools which mentioned that hardly trivial detail. For instance, Dr. Emanuel Hannak describes the casus belli more accurately in his schoolbooks and notes, “As Sardinia was arming and gaining reinforcement from France, the Austrian General Count Gyulai opened the war.”45

In his textbook on modern history, Hannak provides even more details, but he again maintains that in 1859, Austria was actually forced to go to war in response to the actions of Sardinia and France and the Sardinian government was the main aggressor in the Italian war of 1859. According to him, however, the aggressor in 1866 was not Italy, but Prussia with its unwarranted political ambitions and unjust territorial claims.46 As a matter of fact, Austria rather than Prussia was the first officially to declare war on July 17, 1866, although sophisticated intrigues of Prussia did take place and hostilities preceded the official declaration of the war.47

The interwar conflict, namely, the Austro-Prussian-Danish war of 1864, was omitted in most textbooks for Volksschulen, but it was mentioned in the textbooks for Bürgerschulen and Gymnasien. In Hannak’s textbook, for example, it is described quite accurately from a historical point of view and more or less unemotionally, although Hannak takes the opportunity to recall “the victories of the Austrians at Översee and Veile and the victory that Tegetthoff achieved at Helgoland over the Danish flotilla,” which “form a glorious leaf in the laurel wreath of the Austrian army.”48

The most detailed and biased narratives about the wars in question are in the textbooks published after 1900. The main aggressor in the 1859 conflict had changed. This time, it was the ambitious “upstart” Napoleon III, although Victor Emmanuel II is also cast in unflattering light as not particularly honest and ready “to cede without hesitation the old ancestral land of his house, Savoy, to France” in exchange for assistance to “come into possession of the royal crown over Italy as far as the Adria.”49 The change of the aggressor can be explained by the different political setting at the turn of the century: Italy, unlike France, was now an ally of Austria-Hungary within the Triple Alliance framework and could not be directly accused of wrongdoing. However, it was not as closely allied with Austria-Hungary as Germany, and this made it possible for the narratives to include some veiled criticism of its political behavior. In contrast, Prussia’s guilt for starting the war in 1866 is blurred and obscured for the same reason. The emphasis has shifted to the joint success of Austria and Prussia against the Danish king in 1864. The conflict of 1866 is exposed as an unfortunate misunderstanding between the two reputable powers defending their natural interests and leadership in the German Confederation.50

In addition to narratives in schoolbooks, students also heard the narratives and explanations given by the teachers in classroom. The versions of events told by instructors may have been clearer and more memorable for schoolchildren, as they may have sounded more like the whole truth. Those stories probably exerted a strong influence on the political orientation of schoolchildren as they grew up. Teachers in turn presumably restated the information they found in the textbooks used in the teacher training colleges. For this reason, these narratives are also of interest from the perspective of this discussion. One of the most commonly used textbooks for the future teachers was the book by Tupetz. For example, his textbook on the world history for the second-year students had eight editions that were published without any significant changes between 1890 and 1917. His textbook on world history for the third year students had eight unchanged editions, the last of which was published in 1918. For soon-to-be history teachers, Tupetz suggested a long narrative about the period of war in question, accompanied by many more details and a corresponding ideological bias.

In his discussion of the war of 1859, Tupetz depicts aggressive France and Sardinia as lands under the rule of unfair leaders, but he also stresses that “it was hoped on the Danube that an attack on a member of the German Confederation would be repulsed jointly by all German states,” and particularly Prussia. But for their disloyalty to the staunch Austrian ally, Austria would have kept her Italian possessions. Once more, Prussia employed underhanded tactics when it declined the “brilliant” proposals for a reorganization of the German Confederation by Francis Joseph, who was only seeking to maintain peace and justice among the German states. The king of Prussia did this on Bismarck’s advice, for “had the Austrian plan succeeded, Prussia would have had to give up hope of taking the lead in Germany for a long time, perhaps forever.”51 Thus, Tupetz delicately rebukes the German states, including Prussia, blaming them for the two main misfortunes that befell the Austrian monarchy in the 1860s, the loss of territories and the inability to preserve supremacy in Germany.

Tupetz also describes the conflict with the Danish king, who also proved covetous and unjust. His actions were illegitimate, and Austria could not tolerate this, as Austria remained loyal to the principles of the German Confederation and ready to defend the rights of any of its members.52 Thanks to the joint forces of Austria and Prussia, Denmark was forced to abandon its rapacious plans and cede the duchies to the victors, who soon started a dispute over the fate of the two German lands. Prussia was apparently inclined to deprive Schleswig-Holstein of its traditional independence, but Austria could not accept this. The war of 1866 “between the two great German powers” began because Prussia longed for supremacy in Germany. It concluded an alliance with Italy, and Austria saw itself attacked from two sides. “Most of the German states, on the other hand, feared the destruction of their previous independence from Prussia and sided with Austria, which had never infringed on their independence, but had always defended it.”53 Based on this narrative and similar ones from other textbooks by Tupetz,54 it can be supposed that the version most commonly heard by the Habsburg children in classrooms reiterated the information from most schoolbooks: the illegitimate ambitions of Sardinia and Prussia led to the bloody conflicts and induced Austria, under its peace-loving emperor Francis Joseph I, to wage wars.

The Course of the Wars

Most of the textbooks for Volkschulen did not contain any description of the course of the wars. The textbooks for younger children did not even contain any mention of specific battles during the Austro-Sardinian war of 1859, perhaps because none of the major battles were won by the Austrian army. These books make mention of only three battles that took place during the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866: the Battles of Lissa, Custozza, and Königgrätz. The names of the first two battles, in which the Austrian army triumphed even if these triumphs remained indecisive for the outcome of the war, are bolded in the text and described in detail, while the battle of Königgrätz, the decisive battle, in which the Austrian army suffered a crushing defeat, is referred to very briefly. One notices a clear difference between the textbooks for girls’ schools (Mädchenbürgerschulen) and the textbooks for boys’ schools (Knabenbürgerschulen). The latter, while following the same basic scheme of the narrative, contained more detailed descriptions of battles, hostilities, military maneuvers, armaments, troop numbers, etc. and more names of commanders. As soon as universal military duty was introduced by the 1867 constitution, schoolboys were obviously regarded as future soldiers and officers in the Austrian army, who needed deeper knowledge in the field of military history and warfare.

In connection with the Battles of Lissa and Custozza, the textbooks glorify Archduke Albrecht of Austria and Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff as talented commanders and Austrian military heroes. The Austrian army acquired “new and everlasting fame”55 under the leadership of Archduke Albrecht, “who had already given proof of fearlessness at Sa. Lucia in 1848 and, under Radetzky’s excellent guidance, matured into a capable warrior. Moreover, he was the son of the victor of Aspern and had inherited his father’s general virtues.” 56 On June 24, 1866, Archduke Albrecht won “a brilliant victory over Victor Emmanuel’s army at the memorable site where Radetzky had once put the troops of Karl Albert to flight, near Custozza.”57

Thus, a relatively recent hero was presented in the textbooks in close connection with the earlier military heroes Radetzky and Archduke Karl. This perfectly supports Laurence Cole’s claim that the Habsburg government sought to establish explicit continuity in terms of the representation of heroes within the military culture of the monarchy.58 The heroes of relatively recent wars were finely interwoven into the general Austrian imperial cult of military commanders who were famous for their patriotism and their loyalty to the state and dynasty. Thus, the Habsburg state undertook “a conscious effort to promote a conservative patriotic agenda in the 1890s and 1900s, which presented the army as a positive, cohesive force within the multinational state,”59 and the narratives in schoolbooks can be seen as a display of this effort.

In the same manner, compilers of schoolbooks praise the “glorious” Admiral Tegetthoff who “without hesitation” attacked “the much stronger enemy fleet and forced it to retreat,” a “heroic deed [which] will not be forgotten”:60

The young Austrian fleet also took a glorious part in the battle against Italy. Its commander, Admiral Tegetthoff, attacked the far more numerous Italian fleet off the Dalmatian island of Lissa and forced it to retreat. Not one Austrian ship was lost in this battle, while the enemy lost three ironclad ships. The sea victory at Lissa was all the more honorable for Admiral Tegetthoff, as he could only oppose the iron-armored ships of Italy with wooden ones. Unfortunately, the glorious winner died in 1871 at the age of 41. The magnificent monument which Emperor Francis Joseph had erected to him in Vienna reminds us of his heroic deed.61


It is true that from the 1880s onwards, the state became increasingly involved in the propagation of Austrian military heroes’ cult, for instance by unveiling monuments to them.62 Gestures of the Habsburgs’ gratitude for the services to the Fatherland and inviolable loyalty to the ruling dynasty must have been very meaningful for the politics of identity, as long as they were included in the narratives which schoolchildren not only had to read but often had to learn by heart. The narratives were normally accompanied by large images of a half-page or a whole page size, which invariably included a photo portrait of Archduke Albrecht wearing the Austrian uniform and military rewards; the painting of the battle of Lissa, depicting the Italian ship Re d’Italia sinking after being rammed by Tegetthoff’s flagship Ferdinand Max; and a photo of the monument to Tegetthoff on Vienna’s Praterstern.

However, other Austrian commanders could be portrayed in a less flattering manner. In particular, Count Ferenc Gyulai, a Hungarian nobleman who commanded the losing Austrian army at the Battle of Magenta, was often blamed for failing to attack the French before they united with the Sardinians, for which reason the Austrian army suffered defeats at Magenta and Solferino.63 Count Clam-Gallas, who commanded the right wing of the Austrian army at Magenta, was first to retreat, while the center and left wing of the army under other commanders “held each other brilliantly”: “his Hungarian regiments failed and his instructions did not prove workable. Repelled by the French, he retreated so quickly from the line of attack that he completely lost touch with the undefeated parts of the army.” At Solferino, “again it was the Hungarian regiments of the Clam-Gallas corps in the center that did not hold out.”64 It is difficult to say whether the specific blame placed on the Hungarian regiments here resulted from the personal beliefs of the compilers, but it was hardly an official practice or policy of the Viennese Ministry to generate a negative perception of Hungarians. A Hungarian aristocrat Tassilo Graf Festetics de Tolna, and Franz Graf von Thun und Hohenstein of non-Hungarian origin were also criticized for their actions at Königgrätz. The textbook claimed that, “against the orders of Benedek, [they] took part in the struggle against the Prussian center, weakened their forces, and left their basic positions,” and “the third Prussian army therefore struck the right flank of the Austrians without hindrance and stormed Chlum, and thus the battle was lost.”65

Nevertheless, the “heroic struggle” of the whole Austrian army was never subject to critique. In the victorious Battles of Custozza and Lissa, it were “the combative troops, the good spirit of the officers, the precise execution of the supreme commands, the cooperation and mutual support, and proper management” that “brought about the success.” In “the bloody but unfortunate battles of Magenta and Solferino,” the Austrian troops also “performed miracles of bravery and devotion.”66 At Königgrätz, the Austrian artillery likewise “performed miracles of bravery”:

Particular fame was earned by the “Battery of the Dead” under Captain von der Groeben, which did not leave the place until Groeben himself, a second captain, and 52 of 60 artillerymen had died. The survivors saved the only gun that still had its equipment. On the battlefield, near a grove between the villages of Chlum and Lipa, a beautiful monument has recently been erected representing Austria, with the inscription: “To the Heroes of the Battery of the Dead.” 67

An amazing and breathtaking story is also narrated about an episode of the sea battle at Lissa:

One of the Austrian wooden ships, the “Kaiser,” also performed miraculous bravery. When this ship was surrounded and attacked by four enemy ironclad ships, Commodore Petz, who was in command of the ship, fired all the cannons to the right and left, with great force against the Italian ironclad in front. The shock was terrible for the wooden ship too: one of the masts broke and smashed the engine’s chimney; the sails that had fallen on the chimney began to burn. But the crew put out the fire and the ship escaped danger. But one of the enemy ironclads with which the “Kaiser” had fought—it was called “Afondatore” and had the commander in chief of the Italian fleet on board—was so badly damaged that it sank after returning to the port of Ancona. The Austrian fleet hardly lost a ship. Hardly has world history (before the World War) recorded a case when such wonderful success would have been achieved with so little means as in this one.68

Should the schoolchildren have questions about why the Austrians were still defeated in particular battles after all their “heroic resistance,” the teacher was ready to provide reasonable explanations, which he could find in the textbooks used at the teacher training colleges:

In this war [of 1859], the French had the advantage over the Austrians that they already had “rifled” cannons, i.e. guns the barrels of which were provided with shallow indentations in the form of a helix, which gave the bullets a greater speed and enabled the French to shoot much further than was possible with “smooth” cannons. Nevertheless, the Austrians were long contesting the victories of their enemy at Magenta and Solferino; moreover, at Solferino, one Austrian wing under Field Marshal Lieutenant Benedek beat the opposing Sardinians.69


A similar explanation was provided for the defeat in the Prussian war of 1866: it was Austria’s defeat that was characterized as the sad consequence of the Prussian military reform (general conscription), better armaments of Prussia (the Dreyse needle-guns), and the inadequate aid given by the small German states to Austria.70 It is interesting that the author of a history schoolbook in Czech identifies additional causes of the Austrian defeat: the excellent Prussian military leader (Helmuth von Moltke the Elder) and general compulsory schooling in Prussia.71

The Outcomes and Consequences of the Wars

Although Austria’s defeats in war in the period between 1859 and 1866 were by no means obscured, but rather were accurately stated, all narratives about the wars in question end on an optimistic note. First, the war indemnity which Austria had to pay was moderate. Second, Austria did not lose any territory to Prussia. Third, in 1878, Bosnia and Herzegovina were “handed over to Austria for administration,” and as “New Austria,” they partially replaced the loss of land which Austria suffered in the war years of 1859 and 1866.”72 Fourth, with the Peace of Prague, “the antagonism which had developed between Prussia and Austria with regard to German affairs came to an end,” and “it became evident how valuable an alliance could be for both parties.”73 “In alliance with the German Empire, which was strengthened through personal meetings of the monarchs and expanded to include Italy,” Austria now asserted an influential position in the European state system.74 And last but not least, Francis Joseph “was now freed from the perpetually threatening danger of war” and “was able to devote all his energy to the internal development of Austria,” which resulted in a great progress “in all branches of popular welfare.”75 After the war against Prussia in 1866, the emperor promulgated the December Laws (1867).76 “A great boom in trade and industry, in the arts and sciences” is referred to as a direct consequence of these laws. For instance, the frigate Novara circumnavigated the earth in 1857–1859 and established trade connections with overseas cities and countries. Numerous roads and railways were built, with the Semmering, Brenner, West, Northwest, and Francis Joseph Railways being of particular importance.77 In his textbook for soon-to-be teachers, Tupetz also suggested a very encouraging summary of the war years:

Avoiding war and all bloodshed, a prince of peace in the noblest sense of the word, Emperor Francis Joseph I found himself obliged to draw the sword to protect his empire against foreign enemies; in the wars which Austria was forced to wage, the Austrian armies acquired new laurels for their imperishable wreath of glory. […] the victory which Field Marshal Archduke Albrecht, the son of the victor of Aspern, achieved at Custozza in 1866, the victory of Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, who unfortunately died early, at Lissa in the same year will live on forever in the memory of all Austrians.78


Narratives in Languages Other than German

The discussion above offers a good general image of the wars in which the Austrian monarchy fought during the period of neo-absolutism as these wars were narrated in history textbooks in German. I would also like to provide a few samples of narratives in Czech and Romanian for comparison. Let me note, however, that it is not my intention to present a comprehensive analysis of the peculiarities that were typical of narratives in textbooks in other languages of the monarchy. I offer only a few examples as interesting illustrations of some of the differences in these narratives.

From the textbook on the world history by professor Samuil V. Isopescul, designed for the lower classes of secondary schools and published in Romanian, the reader would similarly know that although Emperor Francis Joseph I was “not fond of wars,” he was still forced to wage many wars during his long reign. Isopescul considers Count Cavour, who was “pursuing with great energy the plan of the unification of Italy,” to have been the aggressor in the Italian war of 1859, and he claims that “King Victor Emmanuel, supported by Emperor Napoleon III, declared war on Austria in 1859.” The Austrian army was defeated near Magenta, “although it had fought with the greatest heroism.”79 Isopescul particularly stresses the personal courage of Emperor Francis Joseph, who “exposed himself to fire like every other soldier.”80 In a way similar to that in the German textbooks, Isopescul praises the glorious Austrian victors Archduke Albrecht and Admiral Tegetthoff, providing a few sentences of biography on each and describing in some detail the battles at Custozza and Lissa.81

As for the schoolbooks published in Czech, one also finds emphasis on reverence for Emperor Francis Joseph and praise for his personal courage during the war period. For example, in Šembera-Koníř’s textbook on world history, which was written for first-year students in the municipal schools, one reads that, even as a young man, he “showed special affection and dexterity for military service,” and he “went to Italy to get a vivid picture of war preparations and achievements, which were directed against the enemy by Field Marshal Count Radetzky at the head of the Austrian army.”82 In 1859 and 1866, he waged bloody wars, during which “our people gloriously defeated Italy on land at Custozza (under Archduke Albrecht) and at sea near Lissa (under Admiral Tegetthoff), but he had bad luck against the Prussians.”83 The reference to “our people” distinguishes the narrative in this textbook. It made the Bohemian children perceive the Habsburg citizens as one solidary Austrian people, which was definitely the aim of the Habsburg government. The images of shared triumph and shared defeat contributed, without doubt, to the cohesion of the residents of the Habsburg lands. In the textbook by Šembera-Koníř intended for the second-year and third-year students in the municipal schools one finds praise of the worthy emperor, who “showed great bravery and fearlessness,” accompanied by a portrait of him as a young man, as well as praise of “our” brave army.”84 The reader also finds a cautious critique of the “indecisive” General Benedek, who, unlike in the German narratives, is portrayed here as a commander lacking in bravery who was incapable of making bold decisions.85 The narrative also notes that, after the defeat at Königgrätz, the Prussians occupied Prague, a detail omitted from the German narratives. Šembera-Koníř underlines: “Although this war did not last long, it was terrible, and all the horrors took place in Bohemia. The loyalty of the Czech nation proved excellent in these difficult trials, which the noble monarch himself acknowledged when he visited Bohemia after the war.” 86 Thus, Šembera-Koníř emphasizes the outstanding loyalty and merits of the Czech people, although he regards the latter as an integral part of the whole Austrian people. “The outstanding loyalty” of the Czech nation is also stressed in the schoolbook by Š. M. Konečný.87 The narrative on the war period concludes with a comment that later Austria was compensated for the loss of the Italian territories, when it acquired Bosnia and Herzegovina.88

The cult of wars and military heroes was widely employed by the Habsburg government in its effort to forge state loyalty and patriotic thinking in imperial Austria. It was propagated through various institutions, channels, and means. History classes in schools and history schoolbooks served as ideal means of spreading this cult. Narratives about wars led by the Austrian monarchy with a relevant focus and emphasis occupied a solid place in history textbooks in the different languages of the monarchy. While it was possible to select triumphant military conflicts from the remote past to be presented to schoolchildren and ignore clashes in which Austria was defeated, this approach was hardly applicable to relatively recent wars that could not be “hushed up.” For this reason, the narratives about the Austro-Sardinian war of 1859 and the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866 found a due place on the pages of Habsburg schoolbooks, even though the Austrian army was crushingly defeated in those wars and the Austrian monarchy suffered territorial losses and the loss of its supremacy in the German Confederation.

However, the Ministry of Culture and Education in Vienna kept a stern eye on the focus of narratives about the wars to ensure that the image of the great Fatherland under its good ruler and heroic army was by no means challenged. The discussion I have offered above of the narratives in history textbooks published between 1860s and 1910s mostly in German but also in Czech and Romanian shows that no serious discrepancies between the narratives about the wars waged by Austria between 1859 and 1866 can be discovered in the textbooks designed for students at the secondary schools and teacher training colleges in Cisleithania. Although the recent literature considers the wars in question among the hardest and most humiliating for Austria, during the late period of Francis Joseph’s rule, the ways in which these wars were presented in schoolbooks strongly contributed to the cult of the brave Austrian military and the heroic image of Austrian warriors, regardless of ethnicity and language. The authors of schoolbooks did not distort historical facts and did not deny the military defeats suffered by the Austrian Empire, but their narratives are clearly biased and one-sided, and they were clearly intended to foster patriotic feelings, in accordance with the instructions of the ministry. One can find clichés such as “the miracles of bravery” performed by the Austrian soldiers and sailors and stories about glorious battles fought under the leadership of brilliant Austrian commanders, accompanied by portraits of Archduke Albrecht and photos of the monument to Admiral Tegetthoff. The latter were glorified as new heroes of the Austrian army, but in close connection with the hugely popular Radetzky and Archduke Karl. This established continuity among military heroes who were famous not only for their deeds in battle, but also for their patriotism and their loyalty to the dynasty.

Although in the conflicts in 1859 and 1866 it was Austria who officially declared war, in the narratives in question, it was claimed that the major aggressors were Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia, Napoleon III, and the Prussian government. The wars were lost because of “unfortunate” circumstances, but with modest war indemnity losses and no territorial losses. Moreover, the outcomes of the wars led to the long-awaited monarchy’s reorganization and its “finest achievement,” the Constitution of 1867. The personal bravery and achievements of Francis Joseph were particularly stressed, and a portrait of an emperor as a young man full of energy decorated most of the textbooks. The narratives in Romanian paid specific attention to the high virtues of the emperor, while those in Czech emphasized the alleged loyalty of the Bohemians to the emperor during the hostilities.

Thus, this discussion offers insights into one more episode in the Habsburg state efforts to promote a patriotic agenda and present the Austrian army as a powerful and cohesive force guarding the multinational Fatherland, a force of which every citizen should have been proud. History schoolbooks can be considered an effective means of disseminating the cult of Austrian wars, since large masses of schoolchildren absorbed their narratives under the oversight of state-certified teachers, and these narratives could certainly strengthen patriotic feelings and influence the political views of children as they grew older, much as they could also contribute to the formation of their identities as imperial Austrians. This, in its turn, may offer further insights into the phenomena of military culture, popular patriotism, and dynastic loyalty, which are widely discussed in the recent secondary literature.


Primary sources

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Secondary literature

Almasy, Karin. “Setting the canon, translating the canon: Translations in Slovene school readers and translation policy within the school system of the Habsburg monarchy (1848–1918).” Chronotopos: A Journal of Translation History, no. 2 (2019): 43–62. doi: 10.25365/cts-2019-1-2-4

Almasy, Karin. Kanon und nationale Konsolidierung: Übersetzungen und ideologische Steuerung in slowenischen Schullesebüchern (1848–1918). Vienna: Böhlau, 2018. doi: 10.7767/9783205231523

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1 Roth, The Radetzky March, 7–10.

2 Weber, Camillo Cavour, 13.

3 Cvrček, Schooling under Control, 3–4.

4 Weber, Camillo Cavour, 13–16.

5 Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen; Lehning, To be a Citizen.

6 Paddock, Creating the Russian Peril.

7 Fass, Outside In: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education; Ziegler-McPherson, Americanization in the States.

8 Komleva, “Obrazovatelnaya politika Rossiyskoy imperii.”

9 For more details on the Habsburg schooling politics, see Bruckmüller’s studies: “An Ehren und an Siegen reich”; Nation Österreich; “Patriotic and National Myths”; “Patriotismus und Geschichtsunterricht.”

10 Due to the lack of space I will mention just a few of the relevant works: Cohen, The Politics of Ethnic Survival; King, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans; Rozenblit, Reconstructing a National Identity; Puttkamer, Schulalltag und nationale Integration in Ungarn; Bruckmüller, Nation Österreich; Judson, Guardians of the Nation; Unowsky, The Pomp and Politics; Zahra, Kidnapped Souls.

11 Talmon, Myth of the Nation, 133.

12 Judson, The Habsburg Empire, 4.

13 Judson, Guardians of the Nation; Zahra, Kidnapped Souls; King, Budweisers into Czechs and Germans.

14 Sugar, The Nature of the Non-Germanic Societies; Fischer-Galati, Nationalism and Kaisertreue; Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy, 2; Unowsky, The Pomp and Politics, 181–82; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, 100.

15 Jászi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, 436–55.

16 Nemes, Once and Future Budapest, 185–86.

17 Commemorations: the Politics of National Identity; Staging the Past; Grossegger, Der Kaiser Huldigungs Festzug; Unowsky, The Pomp and Politics.

18 Puttkamer, “Framework of Modernization,” 20.

19 Engelbrecht, Geschichte des österreichischen Bildungswesen; Cohen, Education and Middle-class Society; Burger, Sprachenrecht und Sprachengerechtigkeit.

20 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen”; Almasy, “Setting the canon.”

21 Moore, Teaching the Empire.

22 Instructionen für den Unterricht.

23 Riesenfellner, Zeitgeschichtelabor, 92.

24 Cole, Military Culture, 106.

25 Fichtner, The Habsburg Empire, 52–57; Judson, The Habsburg Empire, 251; Mitchell, The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire, 293–99; Taylor, The Habsburg monarchy, 94, 99, 126–27. In most details, the causes of the catastrophic Austrian defeat are reviewed in Dredger, Tactics and Procurement,13–38.

26 Lackey, The Rebirth of the Habsburg Army,17–22.

27 Bruckmüller, “Patriotic and National Myths,” 28–29.

28 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen,” 145.

29 Ibid, 146.

30 Almasy, Kanon und nationale Konsolidierung, 92–94.

31 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen,” 150–51.

32 Ara, “Italian Educational Policy,” 267; But, “Ital´ianskie shkol´nye soiuzy,” 312–13.

33 Hofeneder und Surman,Wissen übersetzen,” 156.

34 Gindely, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte für Obergymnasien, 201.

35 See, for example: Loserth, Leitfaden der Allgemeinen Geschichte, 192–98; Loserth, Grundniß der Allgemeinen Geschichte, 90–93.

36 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8classige Volksschulen, 116–17.

37 Ibid, 118.

38 Rusch, Grundniß der Geschichte,74. The same narrative is in the reissues published in 1899, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1913, and 1918.

39 Ibid.

40 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8classige Volksschulen, 118.

41 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 2, 124.

42 Cole, Military Culture, 96–103.

43 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 110–11. The unchanged editions were published in 1903 and 1907.

44 Schneid, The Second War, 34.

45 Hannak, Österreichische Vaterlandskunde, 99.

46 Hannak, Lehrbuch der Geschichte, 224–27.

47 See Hozier, The Seven Weeks’ War, Book 4, Ch. 1.

48 Hannak, Lehrbuch der Geschichte, 226–27.

49 Gindely, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Knabenbürgerschulen, 57.

50 Ibid.

51 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 191, 193.

52 Ibid, 193–94.

53 Ibid, 194.

54 See, for example: Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 2, 198–99; Tupetz, Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie, 205–10.

55 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8-classige Volksschulen, 118.

56 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 111–13. The unchanged reissues were published in 1903 and 1907.

57 Ibid.

58 Cole, Military Culture, 104.

59 Ibid.

60 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 113.

61 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8-classige Volksschulen, 119.

62 Cole, Military Culture, 104.

63 Hannak, Lehrbuch der Geschichte, 224; Gindely, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Knabenbürgerschulen, 53.

64 Gindely, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Knabenbürgerschulen, 54.

65 Ibid, 58.

66 Rusch, Grundniß der Geschichte, 74.

67 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 194–97.

68 Tupetz, Geschichte der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie, 208–9.

69 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 192.

70 Ibid, 194–97.

71 Konečný, Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšt‘anské školy, 63.

72 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 3, 113–16.

73 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 3, 197–98.

74 Hannak, Österreichische Vaterlandskunde, 101.

75 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für Bürgerschulen, vol. 2, 124.

76 Ibid, 127.

77 Pennerstorfer, Lehrbuch der Geschichte für 6-, 7- und 8-classige Volksschulen, 119–22.

78 Tupetz, Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Geschichte, vol. 2, 202.

79 Isopescul, Manual de Istorie Universală, 130.

80 Ibid., 130–31.

81 Ibid., 131–32, 134.

82 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 1, 68.

83 Ibid.

84 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 2, 65–67.

85 Konečný, Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšt’anské školy, 63.

86 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 2, 67.

87 Konečný, Učebnice Dĕjepisu pro mĕšt’anské školy, 63.

88 Šembera-Koníř, Obrazy z dĕjepisu všeobecného, vol. 3, 47; Šujan, Učebnice Dĕjepisu, 100.

* This study was financially supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project no. 19-59-23005 The Habsburg Monarchy: new trends in research of economic, sociopolitical and national development of the Central-European composite state.