The Corporeal Continuation of the Holocaust: A Look at Miscarriages

Alexandra M. Szabó
Brandeis University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 408-429 DOI:10.38145/2020.3.408

Scholarship on women’s experiences is recently surfacing to understand a broader and more nuanced picture of Holocaust history. This case study wishes to add to the currently emerging interpretations of gendered experiences through the events of miscarriages that persecuted women experienced before, during, and after the Shoah. While the topic of miscarriages is only a segment of the larger subject of pregnancy, this research aims to offer a methodological example of including corporeal experiences into the gender analysis of the examined time period. This case study thus presents its relevance in bearing the ability to alter previous scholarly understanding on the demographics of Jewish communities after 1945 by showing that women’s reproductive and fertility experiences have not been included in social scientific discussions.

Keywords: Women and the Holocaust, gendered experiences, gender analysis, pregnancy, miscarriages, Jewish women.

In this paper, I examine experiences of miscarriages caused by the Holocaust in order to present the idea that defined timelines of history and demographic indicators do not necessarily align to the social reality of corporeal and gendered experiences. Originally, the wider scope of my research was about returning Holocaust survivors who had been deported from Hungary,1 and the initial step was to review demographics concerning the Jewish population from the immediate postwar period in comparison to the past decades of the twentieth century, especially the interwar period. My examination of the demographic data led me to the discovery that Holocaust survivors are mainly treated as a homogenous group in Hungarian scholarly work, and this failure to draw distinctions among them has led to some unexplored ground in the history of survivors.2 The aim of this paper, therefore, is to look deeper into the social history of the Hungarian Jewish population in the so-called transitory period of the early postwar years in Hungary from liberation in 1945 to the beginning of Communist rule in 1949.3 The purpose of such a case study about a specific group of people within a specific timeframe is, ultimately, to provide a lens we can glean insights into societal changes from a wider but also from a closer perspective. Therefore, this paper is going to complement quantitative research with a qualitative approach. Through this examination, I seek further explanations and a more nuanced understanding of alternate realities that lay behind macrosociological knowledge with the help of a feminist approach.4

Such an approach provides further questions about the context and actors of a given societal reaction or change, especially about women and their role. Given the outstanding shifts in the demographics of the Jewish community in Hungary post-1945, sociological and historical analyses specifically highlight the low amount of live births, which becomes an even more so focused aspect when taken the contemporary general claim into consideration that it became the Jewish woman’s social duty to recuperate the lost souls of the Holocaust.5 Therefore, the aim of this paper is to turn towards the survivors with an inquiry that allows us to understand further possible reasons of the low statistics through a qualitative approach instead of a quantitive one, yet with the aim of integration. Consequently, my examination has led me to the understanding that women miscarrying in this era was just as significant, if not greater, as in other contexts. However, claiming definite causality is not the aim of this paper, in that the traumas of the Holocaust affected all of the women’s reproductive health and led to high rates of miscarriage; the intention is rather to present that such casualties did happen, as by nature, such explanations are omitted from the statistics.


Demographics after Survival

As Viktor Karády’s extensive work on the Hungarian Jewry after 19456 clearly shows, the main change in the social structure of survivors was the high demographic losses due to casualties (illnesses and the poor physical state of survivors, self-destruction, and even pogroms), conversion, emigration, and mixed marriages. Moreover, a significant upsurge can be observed in terms of Jewish marriages, and a change in family structures. Given the importance of the latter two shifts, I have chosen to consider the realities of starting a new family, as such decisions amount to and represent significant social changes.

The demographic boost in marriages within the surviving Jewish community in Hungary in the immediate post-war period becomes significant in comparison to before and during the active years of the Holocaust. This compensatory demographic process is noteworthy if we seek to understand familial choices, at least in part, as fundamental coping strategies of Holocaust survivors on a macrolevel. A prevalent response was to (re)marry, and this led to a surge of approximately 1,000–1,200 more Jewish marriages in 1946 than in 1943/5, and more than 2,200 Jewish marriages were held in Budapest in 1947.7 The demographic upswing is extraordinary if one considers the growth of the numbers of Jewish marriages to the stagnant number of marriages among people of other faiths in this time period in Budapest.8

The tremendous growth in the numbers of new marriages did not, however, mean a similar upward trend in birth rates. The demographic recuperative tendency of Jewish communities in Hungary, according to Karády, is not significant in other than getting (re)married; recuperative fertility is thought to have lessened or ceased due to several reasons, such as the destruction of households, losses of property and wealth, psychological effects of persecution, etc.9 The female experience of not being able to bear a child for psychological reasons, physiological reasons, or a complex combination of the two, and further realities, remains unexplored. Therefore, after carefully presenting the demographic data on the number of live births, I will turn my attention to those mothers who are not counted in the statistics due to unsuccessful pregnancies.

I find this dimension extremely important because it constitutes an essential, if not overlooked, component of the social history of Holocaust survivors; it shows that the trend of Jewish births after the Shoah, compared either to the number of Jewish marriages or the live birth rates among couples of other faiths, is not exclusively due to inherent structural differences in Jewish families. My discussion of some of the reasons behind the numbers will show that, at the time, this was a silenced social reality, and it remains a silenced part of the past to this day. This is true in part because women who lost pregnancies or were unable to conceive are not included as distinct categories in demographic data and in part because sociological inquiry on the Holocaust has, in general, failed to include gender as a perspective.

I will complement my discussion of the background of this social history with elements of oral history by concentrating on the voices of women about intimate topics related to the establishment of families. I thus focus on the unexplored and rather unarticulated topic of miscarriages as one of the many almost unmentioned events in the lives of women survivors and the several different responses with which miscarriages were met and the outcomes they had. My paper will show that miscarriages were (and are) a hidden yet significant topic and that pregnancy losses changed the responses and roles of women even after the Holocaust. My discussion thus also adds to the theoretical literature on how gender is a fluid social category and women do not have an “essential nature” under any circumstances.10

Women and the Holocaust

To begin an inquiry from the perspective that women survivors did not consistently respond in “typical” or expected ways to pregnancy or a miscarriage is to suggest that women should be studied independently in Holocaust history. The historiography on women in the Holocaust follows an evolution of thought, beginning with an insistence on distinguishing women from men, since history and the study of history have been largely influenced by men, yet men have had different sets of experiences than women. This starting point includes emphasis on allowing women to speak for themselves and also to be seen and heard.11 However, gender analysis in Holocaust scholarship has been a rarity, though a more recent trend of studying women separately in the Holocaust follows the same route as studying women in general history, and this has made women somewhat more visible in Holocaust studies.12

Feminist scholarship on war and women, moreover, has gone beyond conclusions based on simple gender dichotomies and has been able to shed light on new realities while deconstructing myths that limited further knowledge production.13 A crucial distinction which has been drawn is that war affects women, and it affects women in different ways than men in terms of torture and murder (for instance), an aspect which has been marginalized by the standard that war is “men’s business.”14 Yet, there are several experiences that easily debunk this standard. For instance, a specific form of psychological torture as a result of wartime rape affected only women, namely being made pregnant by one’s rapist, who was also the enemy in the larger conflict, and then being stigmatized within one’s own group. Moreover, women in the wars of the twentieth century constituted a significant share of direct casualties as civilians due to the strategy of so-called total war, which drew no distinction between combatants and civilians,15 while Jewish women, together with Jewish men, were “nonpersons” unworthy of life according to Nazi ideology.16

Nazi ideology was genocidal based on racial distinctions, thus it might seem as it took no consideration of gender, but it has already been established that Nazi practice was not gender neutral,17 so it is important to note that it was so because Nazi policy never neglected the aspect of gender, rather it added to the complexity of its power structures. The Holocaust was inherently a gendered process, wherein the forced changes of location, forms of forced labor, forms of treatment, etc. were all gender based and thus had formative effects on experiences, survival, and death.18 A significant example includes the initial selection upon arrival in the camps, which determined the fates of the persecuted based on gender. Visibly pregnant women and women with children were immediately sent to their deaths.19 Those who were not sent to the gas chambers after arrival were then segregated, also based on gender, which then marked the differences in how women and how men faced hardships and experienced the modes of survival.20

Moreover, specific strategies applied in genocidal practice are gender-focused, such as sexual assaults and other means of targeted attacks on reproductive abilities, which coheres to the main aim of annihilating an ethnicity and culture.21 Women’s bodies could function as a weapon of war, as raping women who were regarded as part of the “enemy” group had the effect of stripping their husbands and fathers of their masculinity and destroying their status as protectors within their communities.22 This practice was also part of the Holocaust, although the policy of Rassenschande under the Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor might suggest otherwise, given that it prohibited sexual relations with anyone identified as Jewish.23 Whether the rapes which were committed during the Holocaust were part of a military strategy or acts prompted in part by the genocidal desire to dehumanize, historians agree that sexual violence against their did happen and is an important part of their experience.24

Survivor accounts also inform us that the fear of suffering any sort of sexual violence was constantly present, and sterilization is a central theme in many of the women’s memoirs.25 However, accounts in which experiences of sexual assaults, menstruation, pregnancy, etc. are elaborately discussed are rather scarce. Women did not talk about them in part, as Joan Ringelheim comments in her discussion of interviews with Holocaust survivors, because the assaults were seen as having “no significance within the larger picture of the Holocaust,” even by the victims themselves.26 Whether this is the result of a male-dominated memory of the Holocaust or of the stigmatization mentioned above, the silencing added to the exclusion of female experiences from the history of the Holocaust. And although not every woman may have suffered any or every form of sexual assault or gendered violation, the sources concerning practices of sexual assault in some camps suggest these experiences were more common than not. For example, in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, the methodologically planned steps against menstruation were coffee-like drinks which contained bromide, and as in other camps, invasive sterilization methods were used to prevent pregnancy, while infants and children were sent to the gas chamber.27

A Feminist Framework

Study and discussions of exclusively female experiences are not intended to measure the sufferings of women and compare them to the sufferings of men, but rather to learn about fertility before, during, and after the Shoah in order to gain a better understanding of the success or failure of the coping strategies of survivors regarding family structures. Much as women’s responses to experiences are not universal, the timelines of physical and psychological recuperation were not either. Therefore, when discussing miscarriages specifically happening to survivor women, I refer to fetal loss as a possible corporeal continuation of the Holocaust to strengthen the need to include this aspect not only to sociological analyses but to an overall historical understanding. The basis of this approach is Lenore J. Weitzman’s and Dalia Ofer’s sequential framework, which offers a methodological scheme to understanding women’s responses to the Shoah in Holocaust historiography.28

The sequential framework complements the continuity and the disruptive frameworks by inviting Holocaust historians to broaden their view of women in a timely manner, which in my interpretation means looking at the “longue durée” of women’s lives, to follow the shifts in responses and behavior through the entire course of the Holocaust, and not statically.29 This framework is divided into three stages: 1) the general reaction of the continuity model at the beginning of the Nazi assault on Jews, 2) the in-between stage of coping strategies changing into disruptive patterns as Nazi measures intensified, and 3) the tipping point, when change came about in the women’s perspective, and the “new me” was born, usually due to a fatal trigger (e.g. a miscarriage, the death of a loved one, etc.).

I have chosen the sequential model to put survivors’ testimonials that mention instances of miscarriages into a framework because of the attention this model devotes to time. The other frameworks either consider the roles of women from the prewar period as mothers, wives, and homemakers as roles which were kept up or roles which retained their relevance30 or they focus on forms of female behavior that were or are considered discontinuous, i.e. the dramatic ways in which women abandoned their prewar roles and conventions eventually to engage in activities that would have been unthinkable prior to their experiences of the reality of the Holocaust.31 The main argument of this paper about miscarriages concentrates on the time aspect in a sequential sense, i.e. that it is not only characteristic of the female experience during the Holocaust statically, in singular point(s) of time ending 1945. According to this view, I find it important to reconsider the sociological findings on the population of Hungarian Holocaust survivors in the immediate postwar setting and, more specifically, to explore the underlying reasons for the low number of live births in a retrospective manner.

Demographics Revisited

As a demographic examination of the Jewish population shows, although there was a high compensatory upward trend in the immediate postwar years in Hungary, this was mainly visible in the number of marriages but less so in the number of births.32 In 1945, the number of Jewish births (529) was about half what it had been in 1944 (1,164). This figure rose significantly to approximately 1,500 births by 1946/7, but this meant only a return to the prewar figures (1,540 births in 1938).33 Moreover, the main argument of Karády’s chapter on reproduction and the family structures among Holocaust survivors is that after the compensatory upward trend of demographics, in the long run, the Hungarian Jewish population returned to its tendency towards decrease.34 This statement fits the overall thesis of Jewish social studies about a general trend of decline in terms of Jewish populations most commonly due to a low number of live births, conversion, and mixed marriages, etc., namely, that there is a threat of “Jewish disappearance.”35

However, conclusions concerning a “Jewish disappearance” as a general trend turn out to be too vague and lack a qualitative approach for more precise consideration, offering explanations borrowed from history through the lens of statistical data as decontextualized pieces of information.36 Even if changes in demographics concerning a decreasing Jewish population is worrisome at a given time, the interpretation of a “Jewish disappearance” does not work in all cases. In this respect, other, deeper analyses of given set of demographic data could show that the numbers have been decontextualized and this decontextualization explains why social histories fall victim to general conclusions concerning loss or “disappearance.” In a study on Breslau Jews, for instance, Till Van Rahden shows that the linear understanding of intermarriages leading to integration was not applicable to the Jews of the city. Rahden demonstrates how this understanding or assumption (that intermarriage leads to assimilation) does not do justice to the complex identities of the Jews of the city and that choosing a Gentile partner did not always represent a break with the Jewish tradition, since in many instances, the intermarried spouses continued to follow Jewish religious practice, and in several cases they did so with the children born to the mixed families.37 Similarly, the decreasing demography in Hungary after 1945 can hold further realities which offer other explanations for low birth rates.

When contextualizing the declining numbers of births, Karády elaborates on the possible reasons for this drop by reviewing the corporeal explanations. He reviews the statistics from a vast societal starting point on an annual basis, and he includes a list of the psychological effects of persecution alongside a more detailed explanation of the consequences of migration, political shifts (the increasingly powerful Communist Party, the rise to power of which caused a new wave of shock among Hungarian Jews), the disproportionately large number of women aged 0–20 in comparison to men, and the structural changes of families in terms of trends (having one or two children after the war instead of seven or eight, which had been typical before the war).38 However, Karády does not include, in his discussion, the possibility that some couples had other underlying reasons, or that women were not able to become or remain pregnant, though in some cases, this inability to bear a child would constitute a further effect of the Holocaust which did not cease with liberation.39

I contend that a woman’s inability to have a child after the Holocaust must be included among the possible reasons for low birth rates among Jews and must also be studied if we seek to arrive at a nuanced understanding of women’s sexual vulnerability and the potential consequences of the experiences of persecution that Jewish women suffered during (and in this case also after) the Holocaust. These are issues which remain largely unexplored in the secondary literature.40 In order to initiate such an understanding, I have conducted qualitative research based on oral history using the Visual History Archive of the USC Shoah Foundation. When I searched for survivor testimonies using the indexing term “miscarriages,” I found 16 accounts in English, which I have chosen to use as the basis for the present case study. A larger sampling could be achieved by adding further indexing terms and by including other resources and databases, which is an aim for further extended research on the topic, wherein I can go beyond identifying miscarriages as an additional explanatory point, and achieve a deeper understanding of the extent of miscarriages, its direct and indirect effects on the population, its scope in connection to the era’s politics of reproduction, and other related questions. Nonetheless, given the framework of the paper, I corroborate my argument about the urgency of identifying the survivor women’s reproductive issues by using the results found in the narrower search of the VHA testimonies.

It is important to note the time scope of the oral histories examined. The survivors’ accounts were videotaped in the 1990s and early 2000s, and a very small number at the end of the 1980s. This might, of course, mean that elements of memory and remembrance are problematic, since over 45 years had passed since the actual events had taken place, yet in the specific case of miscarriages, I believe that being embedded in the social matrix of the time of speaking is of greater impact. In case of the VHA Shoah Foundation interviews, women talking about pregnancies can be articulate, but surely not as emphatically as today, when there is a more assertive mindset and vocabulary with which to talk about sexuality (or the vulnerability of sexuality, for that matter). This might further explain the low number of testimonies in which women discuss their experiences of failed pregnancies. The majority of the searched testimonies, moreover, discuss the event of a miscarriage before or after the Holocaust, and there are less recollections of pregnancy losses during the murderous Nazi persecution when forcibly removed from home.

Instances of miscarriages during the Holocaust, either in ghettoes, camps, or in hiding, are more silenced due to the fact that the pregnancy itself had to be kept a secret for the woman in question could thus avoid being murdered immediately or, because of the lack of medical help, the mothers passed away after the miscarriage. Here, the risk of comparing experiences before, during, and after the Holocaust might arise. Any attempt to measure or quantify sufferings, in my assessment, would be misguided, as each of these three time periods was unique for its own reasons. Moreover, each experience is distinctive and unmeasurable since these events happened to individuals, much as, more generally, the pain and torments suffered by woman cannot be meaningfully compared to the pain suffered by men and children.

Qualitative Research: After the Holocaust

Of the 16 testimonies, one is a duplicate (possibly a system error of the search engine), so the actual number of interviews on which I based my case study is 15. Of the 15, two accounts were told by men about their wives and their lost children. Almost half of the people (seven) mention miscarriages that happened after liberation, while two mention miscarriages which took place before ghettoization in Poland and six speak of miscarriage which took place during the active years of the Holocaust, out of which four happened in Auschwitz and two in hiding. Although the quantity of the testimonies is too narrow to be of representative value of an entire society, it does include these different sets of experiences that allow the sampling to be an indicative case study, i.e. miscarriages occurred in this period and thus its examination needs to be elevated into the historical inquiry, however small a number of witnesses testify.

One of the male interviewees claims that he and his wife were constantly trying to get pregnant and his wife had several miscarriages for about twelve years after liberation, during which time they migrated to Israel, and they were only successful in their attempts at childbearing later, in Canada.41 This indicates the complex circumstances of the aftermath of the Holocaust in a survivor’s life, which might illustrate the different tolls this complex new reality might have had on restarting life. Another male Holocaust survivor speaks about his wife’s miscarriage after their marriage in 1956.42 Considering the over ten years that had passed since liberation, discussing this miscarriage in terms of Holocaust trauma might rather be of a speculative nature but especially because Charles does not elaborate further on the fatality. Nevertheless, this testimony is also of crucial importance in the discussion of miscarriages as it instigates the question how far can we think in terms the continuation of the Holocaust in women’s bodies if 1945 cannot be declared as an end point, and whether such a question could be sufficiently examined at all.

Similarly, the women who speak about miscarriages which took place after 1945 note that they lost several pregnancies, some at a late stage. Two female survivors mention multiple miscarriages which took place in 1947–1948. One of them gave birth in 1946, right before making Aliyah, but her baby died in infancy.43 Another mother, Tobi was seven months along when she had a miscarriage.44 Tobi got married to her husband in Canada in 1950, after which she had a miscarriage when she was in her seventh month (the child would have been their first born). When seeking medical attention in the local hospital, she was told by the doctor that she would have to start trying to have another baby immediately and not spend too much time grieving.

Seven months after the loss of her first pregnancy, Tobi gave birth to her son, who weighed five pounds. Similarly, her second child was born prematurely at six months and was kept in an incubator for seven weeks. The hospital required payment for the child to grow strong while in the incubator, which was a financial burden for Tobi who had her firstborn child at home while his husband earned $45 a week. As she had to pay rent and feed her family, Tobi offered the hospital a deal: “or you gonna take 15 dollars from me per month or you keep the baby. And when I’m gonna have money, I’m gonna come for the baby to take it home. And he was ‘Ok, ok, 15 dollars…’.” She thus managed to pay for the intensive care her baby needed in a year’s time, spending $1,000 to save her children.

Tobi’s recollections about the beginning of a new (family) life after having survived the unthinkable shows the politicized significance of a woman survivor from a social and biological viewpoint. She was to bear a child, not mourn the loss of a pregnancy, to fulfil her familial desires, and perhaps a social, and even a religious duty.45 The demographic indicators, as well as the interview questions (embedded in the framework of VHA’s interview methodology in 1996) do not allow us to extend this investigation further, and thus leaves room only for speculation. For the “business” of keeping her child alive, she was the primary caretaker and the primary executive power concerning the financial aspects of the necessary healthcare in an emergency situation, thus reversing the prewar gender differences of spatial orientation within the family structure. Her husband was earning the income for the household, but it was she who had to negotiate for the future life and health of their children, outside of the home.

However, the multiple and late miscarriages from the sampling of this case study show that stability was trembling in women’s bodies to the extent that even successful childbearing did not guarantee life for the newborn. One of the stories told symbolically invokes the sensation of trembling, possibly a result of a seemingly never-ending persecution: Lena,46 Jewish Holocaust survivor born in Thessaloniki, got pregnant again around 1947 after her husband arrived back from deportation, at a time when they were living in a small room in their previously confiscated apartment with several Greek strangers. Once, while she was having a shower, one of the men pushed the door in and entered the bathroom to which Lena’s sudden reaction resulted in her falling to the floor, and losing her child, a baby girl. “I fell down, and I had miscarriaged. And was a girl. A little girl. And I start to cry, all the time, I was crying because they took me in the hospital, to clean me, to do whatever it was, it was a miscarriage, it was not like normal. And I was all the time crying that it was a girl, it was a girl, a little girl, a little girl. That was the problem.”

Lena’s account shows that the underlying psychological effects are in a complex relationship with physical fear that could have resulted fetal loss in such a direct way because of falling, but presumably also in indirect ways. The underlying reasons of fear can be not only complex in its nature but caused by a number of causes, such as the stress of having to live in a previously confiscated apartment with others, the justifiable or unjustifiable threat of Gentiles in the early postwar period, or that of antisemitism that was prevalent in several countries even to the extent of newly occurring pogroms47, and possibly several other factors depending on the time and space (in Greece, for example, the overshadowing of the Holocaust and the survivors returning to Greece by the Greek Civil War48).

Pregnant women were also exposed to unsafe conditions since they were often on the move, as emigration was one of the most common coping strategies for previously deported Holocaust survivors, and this also constituted a risk to a healthy pregnancy. Maria W., for example, was on her way to make Aliyah when, in Marseille, she had a miscarriage. As she did not speak French, she felt even more vulnerable and was rather an observer of what was happening to her. After she had spent some days in the hospital, she was taken to a DP camp, where she was left lying on the floor for two weeks. Only later, after having arrived in Israel, was she given the professional medical attention that a miscarriage would necessitate.49 Maria never had a child after this experience. In her recollections, she does not elaborate on not having had children, i.e. she does not indicate whether this was for physiological or psychological reasons. However, it becomes clear that for all the women whose accounts I read, the circumstances of childbirth were rather difficult, often even harsh. Women had to deal with the continuation of the Holocaust in their bodies, both mentally and bodily, and they also had to address the circumstances and environments in which they found themselves at a moment of emergency.

Qualitative Research II: Before and During the Holocaust

The sources indicate different reactions to the growing tension and hostility during the period leading up to the Holocaust as well and to the changing structures of family lives. Some of the findings offer significant examples of the experience of unsuccessful pregnancies due to the growing tensions of Nazism in Poland in the 1930s. One account is about a neighbor who was pregnant, while another survivor talks about her own story. Chronologically, the first incident happened before ghettoization, but when German soldiers were already strolling in the streets of Kazimierz (a district of Kraków) in Poland. One day, soldiers entered a store-holders’ property and were greeted and served by the store-holder’s daughter, who had recently gotten married and was pregnant with their first child. For unknown reasons to the narrator, the pregnant daughter was kicked in the stomach by one of the Nazi soldiers, causing her to miscarry. After having lost her child, the mother also passed away. The acquaintance of the storyteller remembered this regrettable event specifically because the funeral which was held for both mother and child was the first funeral she had ever attended.50

Similarly, when more drastic measures of persecuting Jews were implemented in Poland, a woman named Fay lost her father to “some gangsters” in their town, and later her mother also died during the German invasion. Fay remembers the Germans entering Grodzisko Dolne, the small village in which they lived, with their huge motorbikes and cars. According to her account, the fear she experienced caused her to miscarry. “I was so scared,” she said, “I lost a baby.”51 Although Fey was not directly attacked by any of the Nazi invaders, the fear of the unknown preceded the actual events of aggressive persecution, and it may have been this fear (as she herself seems to have thought) that caused the death of her unborn child. This is the only information she provides in her testimony in 1988, without further comment. She does not talk about the emotional aspects of this experience or of her grief. Her articulate but hardly detailed account offers an example of one way in which a Jewish woman felt it acceptable or appropriate to speak about the loss of a pregnancy.

Of the fifteen testimonies, two tell vividly detailed stories of miscarriages which took place while the mothers were still in the camps. Marika, a Hungarian Jewish woman held in Ravensbrück, formed a close relationship with a woman named Elvira in the camp, and Elvira eventually told her story. 52 Marika had become pregnant in the previous concentration camp she had been taken to in Frankfurt am Main (Elvira hints that Marika may have been a victim of rape). Marika did not tell anyone anything of her pregnancy, but she started to become very sick, and eventually, she could not eat or stand anymore. Those in the same barrack with her realized that she was pregnant when the older women interpreted these signs as clear indications of pregnancy. The miscarriage happened when she was lying on the top bunk. Elvira and the other women saw blood flowing down onto the floor from the top bunk, so they took her down (“And we had to drag her down from the top”). They wrapped her in a blanket and took her to an isolated part of the camp where corpses were lying and they left her there, crying out in pain. According to her account, Elvira went back to where Marika lay several times, possibly tormented by the (a)moral decision they had made, against the other girls’ warnings not to return. Eventually, she left her there. Elvira said several times that there was nothing they could have done for her, but she also showed doubt as to whether the decision to abandon Marika, who was presumably in the midst of losing her baby, was the best choice.

The act of giving an account of this event, whether as an intentional compensatory act or not, seems to have been critically important for Elvira throughout her testimony. And her account is, indeed, an important part of Holocaust history, as it demonstrates the extent of secrecy that pregnancy called for in camps and how a pregnant woman would attempt to tackle such a situation in order to escape immediate murder at the cost of (unanticipated) pain (not to mention offering an example of one of the reactions of those in her immediate surroundings). Marika’s attempt to keep her pregnancy a secret as long as she could tragically suggests that similar events (pregnancies and miscarriages) during camp life remain not only untold but unexplored.53 Although I find the tendency towards reticence on this subject common among the different survivor groups for the abovementioned reasons, the secondary literature on the world of the concentration camps is again outstanding in this respect, i.e. in its failure to explore this subject, much as it has largely failed to explore the subject of rape as a sexual and not just violent act.54 It is crucially important, therefore, that Elvira told Marika’s story, as it now offers textual evidence of Marika’s tragedy (and thus makes her part of Holocaust memory), even if by telling it, Elvira risked moral judgement.

Another miscarriage that we know of happened in Auschwitz, where initial secrecy was just as much a factor, but here the mother’s life was saved by some medical attention. The story of the woman involved, Eszter, perfectly illustrates the lack of adequate medical treatment and hygiene. She managed to keep her pregnancy a secret until giving birth to her son on December 5, 1944, when she was taken for medical care to one of the healthcare facilities in Auschwitz. After the birth, her placenta did not come out, and a Polish woman attending to her (not a Jewish woman, yet it is not quite clear who the personnel were from the testimony) did not call the doctor for medical attention and help. Though she was bleeding continuously, the doctor arrived only two hours later and pulled the placenta out, when the bleeding finally stopped. Eszter recalls that the people treating her did not wash their hands, though she did not come down with an infection. The people who knew about her childbirth did not put her back in the barracks, because then she would have been sent to the gas chambers, so they gave her a job in the hospital.55

Although the medical staff saved Eszter’s life by keeping her pregnancy a secret, the mistreatment she had to undergo put the health of her reproductive system and indeed her very life at risk. Most definitely such events in the camps had an impact on the women’s future ability to bear children, but if one accepts the definition of health (including reproductive health) found in the preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization, according to which health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,”56 the health of women who did not have miscarriages during the historically defined timeline of the Holocaust were also affected, not necessarily at a specific moment of the Shoah, but throughout it.


Overall, I find that though we have only a small number of sources which touch on miscarriages suffered by victims and survivors before, during, or after the Shoah, it is important to examine them closely in order to gain some insights into the personal stories which demographic statistics alone do not offer. After having reviewed the sociological findings with the inclusion of survivor testimonies, I found that sociological analyses do not suffice in achieving far-reaching conclusions. The damaged state of women’s reproductive systems could easily constitute as a significant reason for the lower rate of childbirths in Hungary in the period of 1945 to 1949.

This conclusion suggests that in order to add nuance to our understandings of societies which were strongly influenced by the Holocaust, we should expand the scope of our inquiry to include groups and forms of trauma which have been largely overlooked. This is not an easy task. The difficulty is caused by the intimate nature of women’s experiences and the fact that their experiences were not given voice or were actively silenced for so long. Therefore, unsurprisingly, sexuality, sexual vulnerability, or miscarriages specifically and the sufferings they caused were not easily brought up, nor were questions specifically concerning miscarriages asked by the interviewers. My findings, however, could be grounds or directives for further research on the allocation of resources for the study of testimonies and ego-documents as well, which could complement sociological findings and offer a wider perspective and more intimate knowledge of the continued traumas of the early postwar era. Such a wider scope of investigation could even result in a historiographical rebalance which would put more trust (back) into memoirs as primary historical sources, a concern which has been resurfacing in the works of other historians as well.57 Without meaning to overstate the potential implications, it is perhaps unsurprising that by including women’s voices through a feminist approach to a structural rethinking of history, one may draw more attention to and encourage more interest in survivor narratives.

Finally, after we have discussed these experiences and allowed gender analysis to inform “the memory of violence and the destinies and decisions made by those targeted for annihilation.”58 it would be important to analyze modes of expression. Further research could explore how the narratives were formed, what this entails, and how potential results could add to the conventional narratives of the Holocaust and of other genocides. Women’s narratives shed light on experiences which have been left untold, and they offer new perspectives even when describing the same events. A significant example could be emotion as a determinative factor59 due to the unique connection between gender and memory.60 This would represent just one of the additions further research could offer towards the general aim “to give women the voice long denied them and to offer a perspective long denied us.”61


Primary sources

Baruch K. Interview 54511. Segments 100–102. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Charles K. Interview 53904. Segment 130. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 2003.

Elvira N. Interview 10705. Segment 20, Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.

Eszter K. Interview 52181. Segments 9–10. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1990.

Ethel K. Interview 54163. Segment 12. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1989.

Fay W. Interview 54432. Segment 12. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1988.

Kertész, Imre. Kaddis a meg nem született gyermekért. Budapest: Magvető Kiadó, 2003.

Lena H. Interview 55046. Segments 93–107. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1991.

Maria W. Interview 55436. Segments 102–105. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1995.

Sonia H. Interview 54151. Segment 104. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1990.

Tobi B. Interview 54504. Segments 161–167. Visual History Archive. USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California, 1996.


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Apor, Péter. “The Lost Deportations and the Lost People of Kunmadaras: A Pogrom in Hungary, 1946.” The Hungarian Historical Review 2, no. 3 (2013): 566–604.

Baer, Elizabeth R., and Myrna Goldenberg. Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

Barna, Ildikó, and Andrea Pető. Political Justice in Budapest after World War II. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2015.

Barna, Ildikó, György Csepeli, László Csősz, István Dancs, Anna Deme, Róbert Hermann, Gábor Kádár, András Pásztor, Attila Szakolczai, and Zoltán Vági. “Társadalmi és etnikai konfliktusok a 19–20. században – Atrocitások, pogromok, tömeggyilkosságok, népirtások.” In Digitális Konfliktus Adatbázis. Accessed 30 May 2018. http://tarsadalominformatika.elte.hu/tananyagok/dka/lecke22_lap1.html.

Beck, Birgit. “Rape: The Military Trials of Sexual Crimes Committed by Soldiers in the Wehrmacht, 1939–1944.” In Home/Front: the Military, War and Gender in Twentieth Century Germany, edited by Karen Hagemann, and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, 255–74. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2002.

Bemporad, Elissa, and Joyce W. Warren. Women and Genocide: Survivors, Victims, Perpetrators. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Borggraffe, Henning, Akim Jah, Nina Ritz, and Steffen Jost. Freilungen: Rebuilding Lives. Child Survivors and DP Children in the Aftermath of the Holocaust and Forced Labor. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2017.

Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfgang Wippermann. The Racial State: Germany 1933–1945. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Caplan, Jane. “Gender and Concentration Camps.” In Concentration Camps in Nazi German: The New Histories, edited by Jane Caplan, and Nikolaus Wachsmann, 82–107. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Don, Yehuda, and George Magos. “The Demographic Development of Hungarian Jewry.” Jewish Social Studies 45, no. 3–4 (Summer–Autumn 1983): 189–216.

Ephgrave, Nicole. “On Women’s Bodies: Experiences of Dehumanization during the Holocaust.” Journal of Women’s History 28, no. 2 (Winter 2016): 12–32. doi:10.1353/jowh.2016.0014.

Goldenberg, Myrna. “Review: ‘From a World Beyond’: Women in the Holocaust.” Feminist Studies 22, no. 3 (Autumn 1996): 667–87. doi:10.2307/3178144

Gross, Jan T. Fear: Anti-semitism in Poland After Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation. New York: Random House, 2006.

Grzebalska, Weronika. “Between gender blindness and nationalist herstory: The history of Polish women in WWII as the site of an anti-modernist revolution.” Baltic Worlds 4 (2017): 71–82.

Hájková, Anna. “The Holocaust is Having a #Metoo Moment.” Tablet (October 8, 2019). Accessed December 30, 2019. https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/292226/holocaust-metoo-moment.

Hart, Mitchell B. Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Horváth, Rita. “A Magyarországi Zsidók Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottsága (DEGOB) története.” MAKOR (Magyar Zsidó Levéltári Füzetek) no. 1 (Summer 1997): 11–63.

Kaplan, Marion A. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kaplan, Marion. “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust History.” In Women and Genocide: Surivovrs, Victims, Perpetrators, edited by Elissa Bemporad, and Joyce W. Warren, 97–110. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Karády, Viktor. Túlélők és újrakezdők: Fejezetek a magyar zsidóság szociológiájából 1945 után. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő, 2002.

Karwowska, Bozena. “Women’s Luxury Items in Concentration Camps.” In Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges, edited by Andrea Pető, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska, 64–76. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

Katz, Steven T. “Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape and Rassen[s]chande during the Holocaust.” Modern Judaism 32, no. 3 (2012): 293–322. doi:10.1093/mj/kjs025.

Kovács, András. “Hungarian Jewish Politics from the End of the Second World War until the Collapse of Communism.” In Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Vol. 19, Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilage, edited by Ezra Mendelssohn, 124–57. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Králová, Kateřina. “The ‘Holocausts’ in Greece: victim competition in the context of postwar compensation for Nazi persecution.” Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History 23, no. 1–2 (2017): 149–75. doi: 10.1080/17504902.2016.1209837.

Laczó, Ferenc. “Introduction” to Confronting Devastation: Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors from Hungary. Canada: The Azrieli Foundation Press, 2019.

Lorentzen, Lois, and Jennifer Turpin. The Women and War Reader. New York: NYU Press, 1998.

Mühlhäuser, Regina. “The Historicity of Denial: Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the War of Annihilation, 1941–1945.” In Gendered Wars, Gendered Memories. Feminist Conversations on War, Genocide and Political Violence, edited by Ayşe Gül Altınay, and Andrea Pető, 29–55. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Novák, Attila. Átmenetben. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 2000.

Ouzan, Francoise S. How Young Holocaust Survivors Rebuilt Their Lives: France, The United States, and Israel. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Pető, Andrea. Elmondani az elmondhatatlant: A nemi erőszak Magyarországon a II. világháború alatt. Budapest: Jaffa Kiadó, 2018.

Pető, Andrea, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska. “Introduction” to Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

Pető, Andrea. “The Future of Women’s History: Writing Women’s History in Eastern Europe: Towards a ‘Terra Cognita’?” Journal of Women’s History 16, no. 4 (2004): 173–81. doi:10.1353/jowh.2004.0087.

Pollin-Galay, Hannah. Ecologies of Witnessing: Language, Place, and Holocaust Testimony. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018.

Rahden, Till van. “Intermarriage, the ‘New Woman,’ and the Situational Ethnicity of Breslau Jews from the 1870s to the 1920s.” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 46 (2001): 125–50.

“Reproductive health.” World Health Organization. Accessed September 11, 2020 https://www.who.int/westernpacific/health-topics/reproductive-health.

Ringelheim, Joan. “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research.” Signs 10, no. 4 (Summer 1985): 741–61.

Saidel, Rochelle G. The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.

Sinnreich, Helene. “ ‘And it was something we did not talk about’: Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust.” Holocaust Studies 14, no. 2 (Autumn 2008): 1–22.

Stark, Tamás. Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után (1939–1955). Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézet, 1995.

Stone, Dan. The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Szabó, Alexandra. “The Return and New Beginning for Hungarian Holocaust Survivors, 1945–1949.” MA thesis, Central European University, 2018.

Turpin, Jennifer. “Many Faces: Women Confronting War.” In The Women and War Reader, edited by Lois Lorentzen, and Jennifer Turpin, 3–18. New York: NYU Press, 1998.

Waxman, Zoe. Women in the Holocaust: A Feminist History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Weitzman, Lenore J., and Dalia Ofer. “The Sequential Development.” In Women and the Holocaust: New Perspectives and Challenges, edited by Andrea Pető, Louise Hecht, and Karolina Krasuska, 27–63. Warsaw: IBL PAN, 2015.

1 For my thesis work at the Central European University, see: Szabó, The Return and New Beginning for Hungarian Holocaust Survivors, 1945–1949.

2 Several recent works examine different experiences among different groups of survivors, for example child survivors, see: Borggrafe et al., Freilegungen: Rebuilding Lives – Child Survivors and DP Children in the Aftermath of the Holocaust and Forced Labor; Ouzan, How Young Holocaust Survivors Rebuilt Their Lives; several biographies and testimonies of LGBT Holocaust survivors show differences in coping mechanisms and life after the war; marked differences among survivor groups can also be traced based on the places of resettling, see Pollin-Galay, Ecologies of Witnessing.

3 This investigation is mainly based on post-1945 Hungarian sociological works: Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők; Stark, Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után 1939–1955; while political histories have already addressed the period of 1945–1949, see Novák, Átmenetben; Kovács “Hungarian Jewish Politics from the End of the Second World War until the Collapse of Communism”; Barna and Pető, Political Justice in Budapest after World War II; Horváth, A DEGOB Története.

4 The aim is to go beyond presenting gender dichotomies, yet with the approach of a gendered view, see: Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust”; Lorentzen and Turpin, The Women and War Reader; Kaplan, “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust Research”; and further feminist works cited in this paper.

5 Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 115.

6 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 67–135.

7 Ibid.

8 The numbers, however, are rough estimates in the case of Budapest and unknown in the case of the rest of the country.

9 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 83–87.

10 Turpin, “Many Faces: Women Confronting War,” 13.

11 Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 3–4.

12 Pető, “Writing Women’s History in Eastern Europe,” 173–83.

13 Lorentzen and Turpin, The Women and War Reader, xii.

14 Ibid., xi.

15 Turpin, “Many Faces: Women Confronting War,” 4.

16 Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 669.

17 Ibid., Burleigh and Wippermann, The Racial State, 242–66.

18 Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 114; Caplan, “Gender and Concentration Camps,” 82–107.

19 Ibid., 79.

20 Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 671.

21 Bemporad and Warren, Women and Genocide, ix.

22 Alison et al., “My plight is not unique,” 4.

23 Sinnreich, “And it was something we didn’t talk about,” 2.

24 Sinnreich, “‘And it was something we didn’t talk about’”; Beck, “Rape”; Katz, “Thoughts on the Intersection of Rape”; Mühlhauser, “The Historicity of Denial”; Ephgrave, “On Women’s Bodies.”

25 Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 672.

26 Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust,” 745.

27 Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, 210–11.

28 Weitzman and Ofer, “The Sequential Development,” 27.

29 Ibid., 35–38.

30 Ibid., 28–32.

31 Ibid., 32–34.

32 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 83–92, and Stark, Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után 1939–1955, 77–90.

33 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 86.

34 Ibid., 83.

35 See Don and Magos, “The Demographic Development of Hungarian Jewry,” and for criticism on the topic see: Hart, Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity.

36 Ibid., 2.

37 Rahden, “Intermarriage, the ‘New Woman’.”

38 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 85–87.

39 About the process of liberation simplified to “the happy end of the Shoah,” see Stone, The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath.

40 A conclusion to which Zoe Waxman also arrived in 2017, see: Waxman, Women in the Holocaust, 126.

41 Baruch K., interview 54511, segments 100–102.

42 Charles K., interview 53904, segment 130.

43 Sonia H., interview 54151, segment 104.

44 Tobi B., interview 54504, segments 161–167.

45 Religious duty comes to mind as Tobi is registered to have practiced Orthodox Judaism before the war, but her postwar religious affiliation and practice remains unclear for that section of the biographical profile is empty.

46 Lena H., interview 55046, segments 93–107.

47 The most outstanding examples include that of Kielce in Poland (see Gross, Fear), but there were several cases of atrocities all over Europe. For pogroms in Hungary, see Barna et al., Társadalmi és etnikai konfliktusok a 19–20. században; Apor, “The Lost Deportations.”

48 See Králová, “The ‘Holocausts’ in Greece.”

49 Maria W., interview 55436, segments 102–105.

50 Ethel K., interview 54163, segment 12.

51 Fay W., interview 54432, segment 12.

52 Elvira N., interview 10705, segment 20.

53 For instance, obstetrician Gisella Perl’s case shows that intended abortions also happened in camps and were told, see: Goldenberg, “From a World Beyond: Women in the Holocaust,” 672.

54 See Sinnreich, “‘And it was something we didn’t talk about’”; Mühlhauser, “The Historicity of Denial.”

55 Eszter K., interview 52181, segments 9–10.

56 “Reproductive health.”

57 Laczó, Confronting Devastation, xviii.

58 Bemporad and Warren, Women and Genocide, 9.

59 Ibid., 1.

60 Kaplan, “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust Research,” 105; see further: Leydesdorff et al., Gender and Memory; Horowitz, Gender, Genocide, and Jewish Memory.

61 Kaplan, “Gender: A Crucial Tool in Holocaust Research,” 106.


Bor Forced Labor Service as Reflected in Diaries

Tamás Csapody
Semmelweis University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 3  (2020): 391-407 DOI: 10.38145/2020.3.391

Military forced labor service was introduced in Hungary during World War II. Men who were unreliable from the aspects of origin, religion, nationality or politics were conscripted for forced labor. Initially, forced laborers constructed primarily military objects on the home front, while later they were also dispatched to the battlefield. They had no weapons or uniforms, their provisions were poor and often they had to do building or mine clearing in the most dangerous areas. Hungary sent a total of approximately 6,000 forced laborers to work in the southern operational territories in 1943 and 1944. They had to undertake forced labor in the mining district of Bor in Yugoslavia, which was under German occupation. The majority were Jews, but there were also Jehovah’s Witnesses, Reform Adventists and Nazarenes. They lived under Hungarian military supervision and worked under German management. The locations of forced labor, the durations of time spent in the mining district, the experienced sufferings, etc. were very different. The forced laborers themselves were also different, for example with regard to their origins, occupations, and age. Several Jewish forced laborers wrote diaries and some of them managed to take those home. Later diaries written in Bor had a particular fate. Some were lost for a time or have remained in fragments, while others with important additions were deposited in archives or taken abroad by the diarists. All the diaries analyzed in the study testify to the survival of their writers. However, they mostly bear witness to the everyday life of forced labor service in Bor (otherwise difficult to learn about) and the behavior of those who held them, as well as the forced laborers’ sufferings, faith and hope. At the same time, they speak about the entirety of forced labor in Bor alongside its personal stories. The diaries are ego-documents, yet also historical sources. Their factual descriptions and subjective approaches augment our knowledge gained in the past. The six diaries written in Bor and analyzed in this study are personal confessions with significant source value.

Keywords: World War II, forced labor, Jews, diaries, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bor, Holocaust, ego-documents

Diaries written in Bor occupy a special place in the history of the Bor forced labor service. They were written during World War II, but they cannot be classified as typical war diaries. True, they were not written in the hell of war, during a retreat or on the home front. Yet they were still penned under conditions of war, confined between fronts, in theaters of military operations, far from the Hungarian border, in a foreign land, and often also under infernal circumstances. Although those who wrote the Bor diaries in forced labor service were subordinated to the Hungarian and German military, their diaries cannot be regarded as soldiers’ diaries or work diaries, even though they contain descriptions of places of work.

It was not prisoners treated as prisoners of war but forced laborers in captivity who wrote the diaries in secret. Although most of the diaries contain descriptions of journeys and the texts also record forced and frequent changes of place, they naturally cannot be called travel diaries. Though the fear of destruction appears repeatedly in the descriptions, since the shadow of death was present in the diarists’ lives due to accidents at work, illnesses, beatings, murders, and executions, they cannot be regarded as camp diaries written in concentration or extermination camps. In truth, we can say that they were written by victims of the Holocaust in forced labor camps.1 They simultaneously represent letter, camp, prisoner, and travel diaries. The Bor diaries found during my research are ego-documents written by Jewish forced laborers, more or less regularly and chronologically recorded, which are fragmented and which contain personal notes.2

The Known Bor Diaries

At present, we have knowledge of six diaries that were written at least partly in Bor.3 Of the six, only four can be appropriately described, since two have survived only in fragments. Those two have more content missing than what exists (László Faludi) or what can be accessed at present (György Szöllösi). The content that is known of them deserves far more than just a mention, yet it is clearly insufficient to allow a comparison with the four that can be read in their entirety (the diaries of György Laufer, Imre Pártos, Béla Somló, and Lajos György).

The diaries cover durations of varying lengths. Information about the call-up for forced labor service in Bor is the earliest initial point of time (May 31, 1943), while arrival at the authors’ place of birth in Hungary and accounts of subsequent experiences mark the latest (April 3, 1945). However, the diaries were written over very different time spans between the two time limits. Time frames are defined essentially by “external” circumstances, such as who was called up for forced labor service in Bor, when (1943 or 1944), and which group (the first or second “stage”) the person left Bor as part of. “Internal,” subjective differences also played a role in terms of from when and until when the diaries were written. Differences defined as “internal” and “external” were naturally closely connected, since, for example, the forced marches and mass murders which were common during the first stage made it impossible to record the events. This was very different from the situation of those who were dispatched from Bor in the second stage and had plenty of opportunity to write diaries in the period following liberation after they arrived in Temesvár (Timişoara) or Szeged, which both represented freedom and calm for them.

Three of the Bor diaries are held in public collections, while I was able to study or was informed about the other three from contacts of former Bor forced laborers or their descendants. All of the diaries, except for one, are unpublished.

László Faludi’s Diary

One of the two diaries that cannot be studied in full was written by László Faludi.4 His hand-written diary is of unknown length.5 However, the existing numbered eight pages suggest that its length must have been some 100 pages. His notes written in a grey pen on lined pages are clearly legible.

László Faludi, whose permanent residence was in Budapest, was a forced laborer in Páhi. From there, his unit was ordered to Szeged and then to Bor. According to his diary, the steamer which transported them to Serbia was sailing between Titel and Belgrade along the Danube on July 14, 1943.6 They reached Belgrade at night, after having experienced a huge storm lasting an hour. The following day, they reached their destination, the port of Prahovo on the Serbian side of the Serbian-Romanian border along the Danube. The journey by rail to Zaječar and then to Bor took two days. The 3,000 forced laborers arrived in Bor on July 17. He was held captive in Bor in the camp called Berlin for exactly 14 months to the day, until September 17, 1944.

The accessible (presumably) one tenth of the diary suggests that he wrote about three major themes: the forced labor in Bor, the past labor movement and the communist future, and his personal life. Employing the diary genre, Faludi wrote an autobiographical memoir, which is not at all unusual in such literature. He used his diary as a memoir and as a result it has a retrospective character.

His diary is explicitly for posterity. It is addressed not only to those who might find his notes, but to “the future generation who will appreciate”7 his writing. Thus, for Faludi, writing a diary was an activity intended for a larger, anonymous readership rather than any specific individual or, at least according to the text, the author himself. It is a message for the youth of the future, written amidst the suffering of forced labor service. It is full of pathos and is ideological, almost with an overtone of propaganda.

Considering the proportions of the fragmented diary, the largest section is a description of the past labor movement. The text clearly shows that Faludi came from the organized labor movement, in which he was socialized, started to read literature, and found his best friend. He defined himself as a skilled worker in a cotton mill and a proletarian who “struggled against the infringements of capitalism” and engaged in anti-war propaganda both inside and outside the mill. He believed in “the matter of liberty, equality, brotherhood, peace, work, and bread,” and his soul “was united with the souls of other proletarians.” “Socialist poets” became his “soul mates” in the movement, and he mentions Endre Ady, Attila József, and Sándor Petőfi by name. Influenced by their writings, he himself began writing poems and short stories. His younger brother became his colleague in the movement, and Faludi refers to him as always being the “best comrade and brother.”8 Faludi also recounted two experiences of key importance connected to the labor movement: reading something9 and May 1, 1938.

Faludi was sent back from Bor in the first group, and he must have escaped somewhere on the way while still in the Serbian mountains. He joined Tito’s partisans.10

Nothing more could be found about László Faludi in Hungarian archives, and only tiny bits of information were accessible in online data bases. His brief letters were usually published in the letters section of dailies and weeklies. They suggest that he remained on the left and maintained his critical attitude and sensitivities in terms of public life and his positive vision of the future.11

György Szöllösi’s Diary

The author of the other Bor diary that cannot be read in full is György Szöllösi.12 His hand-written diary exists in full, yet it cannot be accessed at present. Neither the few pages at my disposal nor the diary extract sent by György Szöllösi’s son13 provide sufficient information to analyze the diary.14 However, Szöllösi’s life and, within it, the period of forced labor service in Bor can be reconstructed on the basis of a video interview recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History15 and his testimony in one of the trials held by the people’s tribunal.16 Although it is impossible to get closer to the notes in the Bor diary, we still learn that Szöllösi was taken to the Bregenz subcamp in the spring of 1944. In the one and a half months he spent there, he experienced instances of “tying” (being hung from his hands after they had been tied together behind his back) ordered by the military detachment, and he witnessed the mutilation of two of his fellow laborers following their unsuccessful attempt to escape. Later, Szöllösi was ordered to work in the mines from a railway construction, and thus he ended up in the Straflager (punishment camp) in Bor. Here, he did not live under the supervision of the Hungarian military but rather of German soldiers. Since he did not get there as a form of punishment, he was far better off than he had been in the Bregenz subcamp. In the end, he was sent home as part of the second group.

Tito’s partisans liberated him on September 30, 1944. Like many of his fellow forced laborers, he first went to Temesvár and then to Budapest, which had been liberated in the meantime. (Subsequently, he probably wrote his diary from spring 1943 to the beginning of 1945.) Following his return home, he became an assistant police inspector in Sopron in the summer of 1945. After spending a short time in Germany and France, he left for the United States in May 1947. He settled in Chicago, changed his name to George Brent, and became a businessman.

György Laufer’s Diary17

At present there are four Bor diaries which can be accessed in full. The first note in György Laufer’s18 36-page hand-written diary, which is now part of a public collection,19 was written more than two and a half months after his arrival in Bor on October 5, 1943. His last note was recorded ten days before the first group left Bor on September 7, 1944. So the diary starts “too late” and finishes “too early,” including a duration of almost 11 months to the day: a large proportion of the nearly 14 months he spent as a forced laborer in Bor. With regard to its total length and the number of entries, the diary can be described as “brief.” Laufer wrote his diary continuously, but not daily. The longest gap, which lasted nearly two months, occurred between January and March, 1944. It was presumably cause by an illness which lasted for five weeks. Like László Faludi, Laufer was in the Berlin camp, and he also worked in the limestone quarry in the village of Krivelj to the north, as well as in Bor, but in Bor, he worked as a photographer.

His diary touches on the series of changes which occurred in the life of the Berlin camp beginning in early 1944. When the new chief commander of the camp, lieutenant colonel Ede Marányi,20 arrived in this period, the life of forced laborers changed dramatically. As Laufer noted in his diary, prisoners were treated more and more strictly. Individual and group “tying” took place regularly and frequently, and as a result, more and more people tried to escape. From his notes, it is possible to reconstruct precisely to the day the time when 15 “lads” fled on March 27, 1944. More people were able to flee within a few days. Of those who tried to escape, 10 were captured the same week. Ede Marányi had two of them executed on Sunday, April 2, 1944. In his diary, Laufer reported the death of a “Jehovah’s Witness” escapee (April 11, 1944). Although he does not mention names, the dates of the deaths agree with the data in the official records of military graves.21 However, the attempts to escape were motivated not only by the increasingly common practice of “tying,” but also by other forms of abuse. Laufer noted that from the beginning of April 1944, prisoners were only allowed to receive letters from their parents or wives, but not from girlfriends.

György Laufer identifies August 29, 1944 as “the most exciting and eventful” day of the time he spent in Bor. This was because, as he writes, “we were called upon to be ready to march because we could expect the order to set off at any moment.”22 The following days were spent waiting, although Laufer had only recently ended up in Bor as a photographer. A one-line note in his diary was made at 4:50 a.m. on September 7, 1944 saying, “Alert! My God be with me.”23 However, the alert was not followed by marching orders at that time. He had to wait another ten days, though there is no record of this in his diary.

The diary comes to an end here, but Laufer’s story in Bor, of course, continued. He was dispatched from Bor in the first phase. He did not write his diary during the marches. He was shot in the head in Cservenka (Crvenka/Tscherwenka) in western Bačka or its vicinity, but shockingly, he survived, and after he had recovered, he returned to Budapest in April 1945.24 The effects of György Laufer’s severe head injury inflicted in the vicinity of Cservenka accompanied him throughout his life.

Little is known of the photographer György Laufer who finally settled down in Budapest and started a family after his years in Szeged. Taking the circumstances of the period into account, the fact that his name is included in the list of profiteers published in the Bulletin of the People’s Tribunals in its issue of March 1946 does not tell us anything about him.25 He became an active member of the Bor group, and his name appeared in the documents of secret investigations in connection with the death of Miklós Radnóti (1967–1975).26

Imre Pártos’s Diary27

Law graduate Imre Pártos and economist Béla Somló belonged to the older generation among the Bor forced laborers. Pártos was 42 years old and Somló was 41 when they reached Bor in 1943. They were taken to Bor in the same group as the much younger György Szöllösi and Lajos György, who also wrote diaries. Pártos and Szöllösi presumably knew each other, since they were taken to the same subcamp.

From the day of joining his unit (June 5, 1944), Imre Pártos recorded something in his diary every day up to the last day of the year. He wrote entries in his diary for a total of 210 days, regardless of which Bor camp he was in or which way he had to take after liberation. He spent four months in Bor camps and two months wandering, marching, and fleeing between Bor and Szeged. He then spent two months in the liberated city of Szeged.

He generally summed up the events of a given day in three concise sentences. An obvious reason for being concise was that he wrote his diary in a small notebook (the only one among the Bor diaries) which offered him only a limited amount of space. Unlike the other diarists, he did not have to do physical work. From the very beginning to the very end, he was a clerk, and he was aware that this was a privilege. He was not held in contempt for being a legally qualified clerk, and if he had anything to fear, it was only the members of the detachment outside his unit. Enjoying the trust of both the detachment and his fellow forced laborers, he became president of the “welfare committee.”28 His estate29 includes an original document that indicates an income of 10,092 pengős and expenditures of 4,469 pengős. This suggests that a self-help social support system was organized with the approval of the camp commander in the Bregenz subcamp. However, Imre Pártos was able to take home both this unique document and a possibly complete list of names (497 in all) of those in the subcamp.

Pártos and the other forced laborers alongside him were liberated by the partisans from the second group setting off from Bor. This meant that he was finally freed from Bor, yet neither had the war come to an end nor was he no longer in danger. The story of his march with the partisans and his escape from the Germans is unusual but, thanks to his diary, we know it. Pártos did not advance in the direction of Arad or Temesvár, as one would have expected, but traveled instead to Szeged via Nagybecskerek (Zrenjanin). He arrived barely two weeks after Szeged was liberated. One day, he was still threatened by the horror of public work and “malenkij robot,” while the next day he was already working as a detective with the Szeged police. Although the diary provides information about the increasing workload at the police, it does not reveal details. It is also known only from a note which was written after he had stopped regularly writing in his diary that he was appointed as Szeged tribunal prosecutor on June 6, 1945. Pártos worked in both job in which he had both political and professional competencies for 16 months, until October 31, 1946, when he was relocated to Budapest.

The files of the people’s tribunal and the local press provide a fragmented picture of Imre Pártos’s work as a prosecutor. Newspapers in Szeged and its vicinity reported on some 35 people’s tribunals for which Pártos served as prosecutor.30 During the trials, he acted as prosecutor in cases in which charges were brought against particularly important war criminals and “anti-people” criminals, such as the commander of the former ghetto of Szeged, the former chief of police, the former Lord Lieutenant, the former deputy mayor, and the former guard commander of the Csillag Prison. In several cases, Pártos was the people’s prosecutor in the trials of military superiors of Jewish forced laborers. As a tribunal prosecutor he participated in at least two cases when the people’s tribunal passed sentence on former detachment members in Bor.31

After almost exactly two years spent in Szeged, he was appointed to the position of people’s prosecutor in Budapest (October 31, 1946) and deputy chief people’s prosecutor eight months later (June 6, 1947). This took place at a time when the Communist Party was seizing power. The people’s tribunals often played a role in this. Pártos represented the prosecution during certain phases of the trials of the Arrow Cross chief of press Mihály Kolosváry-Borcsa,32 minister from the Smallholders’ Party Endre Mistéth,33 and social democratic leader Károly Peyer.34

After the people’s tribunals ceased to function, the government appointed Pártos deputy chief state prosecutor (January 27, 1950).35 About five years later, the Presidential Council of the Hungarian People’s Republic awarded him the “Order of Merit for Socialist Labor” in “recognition of his excellent work in the Chief Prosecution Office.” At the time, Pártos was the prosecutor of the main department of the Chief Prosecution Office (December 24, 1954).36 Following the suppression of the 1956 revolution, he did not participate in the show trials.37 Pártos began his career as a solicitor before the war and retired as a legal counsel from the Budapest Contractors’ Company on December 31, 1966.

Béla Somló’s Diary

The author of the longest diary known among this admittedly small group was Dr. Béla Somló.38 The text, which exists in a typed transcript in a public collection, is several times longer than any other Bor diary.39 The manuscript is a typical example a work with a retrospective character which is not “intact,”40 since in the absence of the original hand-written diary, it cannot be established whether subsequent changes were made and what expectations the author wanted to comply with in relation to any potential changes. Béla Somló passed on to succeeding generations all of his diaries about marches into the regions of the southern borders of Hungary and to Ukraine in the same way.41 At that time, the anti-Jewish laws had not yet affected Somló, and he participated in the reinforcement of the occupying troops as a soldier of the Pécs mechanized division.

Somló’s diary written in Bor is a source of abundant information about the lives of forced laborers who were taken to the Rhön subcamp in the second group. After his fortunate liberation, he provides a uniquely rich description of the colorful life in Temesvár, a city which survived the war with relatively little damage and had already been liberated. It was an urban center in which Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, and Russians lived together.

The bulky file of surveillance documents kept by the State Security Authority reveals more about Béla Somló’s post-1945 life than any other source. Somló, who was not a party member, spoke several languages and liked music. He was kept under surveillance on suspicion of spying for six years between 1950 and 1956. The suspicion was unfounded, and his case was closed.42

Lajos György’s Diary43

The author of the sixth Bor diary which has survived in full44 is Lajos György. While I had to make inquiries about László Faludi and Béla Somló and about György Laufer’s authorship, the opposite was true in the case of György. Also, he was the only person among the Bor diarists with whom I was able to meet in person.45 His son, aesthetician Péter György, first mentioned the existence of the diary in a biographical essay published in the literary journal Alföld in 2010.46 A year later, in his essay-novel Apám helyett47 (Instead of my father), which met with considerable interest, the story of his father’s forced labor service in Bor and his Bor diary played essential roles in the first seven chapters.

Lajos György’s Bor diary can be divided into three distinct sections based on chronological and topographical aspects: Bor, liberation and wandering, and finally, being home in Budapest. Regarding its themes, it is a historical and a personal diary. The personal thread is intense in the sections written during his time in Bor and during the period he spent wandering and also in the notes made after he had returned home, although in the latter, the proportions are naturally turned around completely. The narrative changes from a war-time forced labor camp diary into a “travel diary” and a personal one. It is the diary of a year in the life of a young man who was 18 and then 19 years of age and who was taken to a forced labor service, compelling him to cross international borders, pass through theatres of military operations, and learn about the old and new systems from close-up, and yet György was barely able to separate from his parents. In addition, he was in love. So the text is also a diary documenting his turbulent emotional life over the course of a single year of his first love. Moreover, the diary has another important layer. The text is a document which sheds light on the ways in which his attitude towards the communist idea developed via practical trials. Thus, Lajos György’s diary can clearly be regarded as a diary of transformation, mobility, and the process of becoming an adult.

Lajos György wrote his diary between May 31, 1944 and April 3, 1945. The section on Bor embraces a shorter period, and it also contains entries written during and about the liberation and the events of the months after György had returned home. It begins when he was drafted to work as part of the forced labor service, and the diary contains entries kept over the course of a year, almost to the day. Over the course of this period of time, according to his entries, György slept in a total of 58 places, starting with Jászberény, the location specified in the summons he received, followed by the locations in Bor, and on the way home following liberation as far as to his residence in Budapest.

György’s diary contains drawings, which is not unusual in diary literature, though his is the only one among the Bor diaries that contains drawings. Tiny sketches in red ink are found in the margins and, in some instances, at the top of the pages. They are connected to the texts. György drew a castle, rails, mine carts, piles of bricks, a red star (with “Long Live Tito” underneath in Serbian), a hammer and sickle, a red cross, tanks, books, a watch (with the word “watch” in Russian underneath), a Christmas tree, and a traditional Hungarian Christmas cake.48 In the same red ink, he underlined titles, sub-titles, some dates, and words or names which he regarded as important, presumably when he reread the diary later.

Lajos György was placed in the Laznica camp, which was, relatively speaking, the best in Bor. It was the only subcamp of Bor that was situated inside a village and was not surrounded by a fence due to its location. It was the furthest Hungarian subcamp from Bor and it was not along the busier north-south main road. Last but not least, the commander of the camp, ensign Jenő Halász, had a comparatively humane attitude.49 Yet later, Lajos György encountered a member of the detachment named János Császár in the Berlin camp.50 The cruelty of this sergeant major had the same negative effect on him as it did on the other diarists. Later, like László Faludi, György Laufer, and György Szöllösi, Lajos György also participated in the people’s tribunal trial of János Császár.51


On the basis of the number of diaries which have survived, even if in some cases only in fragments, one has the impression that very few of the forced labor service men in Bor wrote diaries. Two of the authors of the surviving six diaries were taken to the Berlin camp with the 1943 group and spent 14 months in Bor. The others arrived a year later and were held captive in different subcamps in the mountains. The diaries clearly show how differently the diarists experienced their forced labor service, depending on their ages, qualifications, assignments, and the conditions in the camps. Nothing was previously known about how a forced laborer lived and thought during his time in Bor if he worked inside the camp, for instance in the kitchen, or he was a photographer or a clerk or if he had been in the organized labor movement. The Bor diaries provide us with a few impressions of the experiences of forced labor in theaters of military operations or under Hungarian and German control. Notes made in the present tense at the locations and the later transcripts make it possible to draw a more nuanced picture.

Another perspective from which the diaries may offer a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of people assigned to forced labor camp service involves the so-called “Jewish question” in the camp. As György Laufer writes in his diary (which is the only source known so far which touches on this), the Jewish forced laborers were marked with “the Mogen Dovid,” which was daubed in “oil paint” on their chests and their backs (Laufer writes about this in the entry from March 30, 1944).52 So from then on, the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers held as prisoners in the Berlin camp were compelled to wear the Star of David on their clothing until the liberation. Béla Somló dealt most with the situation of the Jews in the camp. He was preoccupied with the difference between the position of “whites” and “yellows” (the term “white” referred to people who were born Jewish but converted to the Christian faith. They were officially considered Jews). He often wrote about the distinction between “white” Jews and non-baptized “yellow” Jews. Thus the anti-Jewish laws carried weight in acts of discrimination even in Bor. Those with yellow armbands could not be cooks, nor could they work in the kitchen. Moreover, they could not be workers within the camp or be present in the office. They had to turn in their boots and wear the Star of David. Béla Somló, Imre Pártos, and Lajos György had white arm bands, as did the poet Miklós Radnóti and the philosopher Sándor Szalai, who were also taken to Bor.

With one exception, the Bor diaries did not end in Bor. They record the liberation and the experience of encountering the partisans and Russian soldiers. They also describe what the forced laborers experienced during their escape, on the way home, and at the locations where they stayed. After having survived Hungarian and German captivity, they were still exposed to threats from the partisans and the looming danger of falling into Russian captivity. The diaries show precisely how the war, its consequences, and the temporary situations affected them. Arrival home also presented them with losses, since they learned that many of their relatives had perished in the Holocaust. They had to rethink their lives, including their personal lives. In different ways, they participated in the emergence of a new world, including the rise of a different dictatorship, the complex circumstances of which they themselves struggled with later.53


Primary sources

Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára [Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security] (ÁBTL)

Béla, Somló. 3.1.5. O–9054.

Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives] (BFL)

Nb.206/1945. 160–161. Lajos György

Nb.3281/1945.80. András Tálas

XXV.1.a. 3757–1947, Károly Peyer

XXV.2.b. 13981–1945, Mihály Kolosváry-Borcsa

Holocaust Emlékközpont [Holocaust Memorial Center]

Károly, Koltai. 2011.360.1.

Honvédelmi Minisztérium Hadtörténeti Intézet és Múzezum [Ministry of Defence Military History Institute and Museum Military History Archives] (HM HIM HL)

PGy 2826. Béla, Somló. Diary. The participation of the Pécs motorised heavy vehicle division IV/2 in entering the region to the south of Hungary’s border in 1941 (1980)

PgyM/368 and M/368. Béla, Somló. Diary (Bor, 1 June 1944–Temesvár, 19 October 1944). Diary (Temesvár, 19 October 1944–Budapest, 27 February 1945).

TGy 2811. Béla, Somló. Diary. The participation of the column of the Pécs motorised vehicle division IV/2 in the rapid deployment force of the military campaign in Russia (1941).

Hadisír Nyilvántartó [Records of Military Graves], http://www.hadisir.hu/hadisir-nyilvantarto

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Csongrád-Csanád Megyei Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary Csongrád and Csanád County Archives] (MNL CSML)

Szeged Nb.206/1945. Trial of cadet sergeant János Császár

Szeged, Nb.1106/1945. Lance corporal Mihály Palócz’s war crime

Szeged, Nb.1200/1945. Captain István Vida’s anti-people crime.

Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum [Hungarian National Museum] (MNM)

Legújabb Kori Iratgyűjtemény [Collection of Contemporary Documents]

83.242.1. Faludi, László. Diary of a Bor forced laborer

Történeti Fényképtár [Department of Historical Photographs]

78.386. Faludi, László. Three camp postcards

Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár [Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives]

B/327 L2_E4_75. Laufer, György. Diary written during Bor forced labor service

Visual History Archive (VHA)

USC, Shoah Foundation, George Brent, interview 19753, 1996.

György, Lajos. Diary. 31 May 1944–1 April 1945. The original copy of the diary is with Lajos György’s widow, Otília Vass (Budapest), while the copy seen by me is in Péter György’s ownership.

Magyar Közlöny [Hungarian Official Gazette], 124.12.1954, no. 106, 754.

Magyar Közlöny [Hungarian Official Gazette], 16.02.1950, no. 28, 1.

Nemzeti Emlékezet Bizottsága [Committee of National Remembrance] (NEB)

Datebase. https://perek56.hu/ords/f?p=1051:1

Pártos, Imre. Diary. The original diary and Imre Pártos’s documents connected to his forced labor service in Bor are in the ownership of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter (Budapest).

Somló, Béla. Diary (Bor, 1 June 1944–Temesvár, 19 October 1944). Diary (Temesvár, 19 October 1944–Budapest, 27 February 1945). The originals are owned by Márta Koczka Sántháné (Debrecen).

Szöllösi, György. Diary. The original copy of the diary is owned by Dennis Brent (Dallas).


Secondary literature

Anonymous. “Itt a feketézők, valutázók, árdrágítók második hivatalos listája” [The second official list of black marketeers, illegal dealers in foreign currencies, and profiteers]. Világosság, March 3, 1946.

Csapody, Tamás. “Laufer György naplója” [György Laufer’s diary]. Múltunk 64, no. 1 (2019): 184–224.

Csapody, Tamás. “A naplóíró Somló Béla” [The diary writer is Béla Somló]. FONS 24, no. 3 (2019): 339–402.

Gyáni, Gábor. “A napló mint társadalomtörténeti forrás: A közhivatalnok identitása” [The diary as a social history source: The identity of a public servant]. In Gyáni, Gábor, Emlékezés, emlékezet és a történelem elbeszélése [Remembrance, memory and the narration of history], 145–60. Budapest: Napvilág Press, 2000.

György, Péter. “Az amnézia-terápia: A Kádár-korszak fausti egyezsége” [Therapy of amnesia: The Faustian pact of the Kádár era]. Alföld 61, no. 1 (2010): 64–69.

György, Péter. Apám helyett [Instead of my father]. Budapest: Magvető Press, 2011.

Kunt, Gergely. Kamasztükör: A hosszú negyvenes évek társadalmi képzetei fiatalok naplóiban [Reflections of adolescents: Social ideas of the long 1940s in diaries of young people]. Budapest: Korall Press, 2017.

Sinclair Jr., Upton Beall. Kutató Sámuel [Samuel the Seeker]. Translated by Dezső Schöner. Budapest: Népszava, 1913.

1 The roughly 6,000 Hungarian forced laborers in total taken to Bor in Serbia in 1943 and 1944 included 161 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 19 Reform Adventists, and 9 Nazarenes. We do not know if any member of the minor congregations kept a diary.

2 On the diary as a historical source, see Gyáni, “A napló mint társadalomtörténeti forrás: A közhivatalnok identitása,” 145–60.

3 The chronological framework of the study extends from the draft for forced labor service to the individual’s return to his permanent residence. There are several memoirs which are regarded as Bor diaries by posterity. See, for example, Károly Koltai’s memoir, which according to the official records of the Holocaust Memorial Centre is a “hand-written diary and memoir.” Holocaust Memorial Centre 2011.360.1.

4 László Faludi (mother’s name: Sarolta Fingerhút; Budapest, December 19, 1920–Budapest, after 1980). Unit V/4. Special labor unit V. supplementary battalion; identification number: 3006.20.3432. Skilled textile mill worker in Budapest.

5 Diary of a Bor forced laborer. MNM, Collection of Contemporary Documents 83.242.1. Pages 29–32 and 81–84 of the diary survived. Parts of the diary were displayed at the exhibition held in the Hungarian pavilion of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in 1979. Three camp postcards written from Bor, which László Faludi wrote to his parents and siblings in Budapest, and one sent to Bor, which he received from his mother, also exist. MNM, Department of Historical Photographs, 78.386.1–4.

6 The steamer transporting László Faludi and its towboat departed from Szeged towards the south on the River Tisza and reached the Danube at Titel.

7 Faludi, Diary of a Bor forced labourer, 32.

8 Ibid., 83.

9 He was reading Upton Beall’s Kutató Sámuel.

10 László Faludi handed over two certificates made out in the Serbian and Croatian language by the Yugoslav partisans to the Museum of the Hungarian Labor Movement (MMM), a legal predecessor to MNM. Acknowledgement of receipt: none. Budapest, October 4, 1978. The certificates cannot be found at present.

11 His brief contributions were published in Népszabadság and Új Tükör between 1976 and 1980.

12 György Szöllösi (George Brent) (mother’s name Mária Weisz; Zilah, April 2, 1926–Dallas, January 24, 2001) was a violinist, assistant policeman, member of the French Foreign Legion, and businessman.

13 Dennis Brent (mother’s name Anita Myerson; Houston ?–December 1950) was a writer, retired editor, producer living in Dallas.

14 In addition to the cover, I was able to see only four poorly scanned pages of the diary. The school exercise book with a checkered cover and pages could be a total of approximately 30–40 pages. Dennis Brent’s email to Tamás Csapody. Dallas, August 24, 2006. (For years, I asked Dennis Brent to show me the full diary, but in vain.)

15 VHA USC, George Brent, interview 19753, 1996.

16 MNL CSML, Nb.206/1945, János Császár’s trial at the people’s tribunal. Record of testimony. Acknowledgement of receipt: none. Sopron, June 7, 1945. 36–38. Records. No. of acknowledgement of receipt: Nb.206/1945.17. July 30, 1945. 49–50.

17 The diary was published in full. Csapody, “Laufer György naplója,” 184–224.

18 Laufer, György (mother’s name Róza Somogyi; Budapest, August 9, 1920–Budapest, September 30, 1995). Unit V/4. Special labor unit V supplementary battalion. Identification No. 3009.20.2796. He was a photographer, press worker, motorcycle delivery man, leather goods artisan, and self-employed plastics craftsman.

19 Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, B/327 L2_E4_75. Documents Collection connected to the Holocaust, Laufer György Diary written during Bor forced labor service.

20 Marányi, Ede (mother’s name Katalin Dörgő; Pétervárad, October 7, 1896–Markdorf, Germany, September 20, 1985). His fictitious data: Antal Fehér, Komárom, March 5, 1900 was a special corps lieutenant colonel, off-duty Arrow Cross Party colonel, and commander of the camp group in Bor.

21 The two executed forced laborers were Sándor Friedmann (Budapest, 1907–Bor, April 2, 1944), Special Labor Unit battalion V. Resident of Budapest, and Tibor Béla, about whom there is no data in the official records of military graves. The Jehovah’s Witness was István Besenyei [András Besenyei] (mother’s name Borbála Nagy; Kisléta, November 28, 1911–Bor, April 11, 1944), special labor unit 801. According to the file of official records of losses, he “died during a collapse of earth.” HM HIM Records of Military Graves, search by name: http://www.hadisir.hu/hadisir-nyilvantarto (last accessed September 21, 2018).

22 Laufer, Diary, August 29, 1944.

23 Laufer, Diary, July 9, 1944.

24 BFL, Nb.3281/1945.80. Trial of cadet sergeant András Tálas at the people’s tribunal. György Laufer’s testimony. Budapest, October 30, 1946. No. of acknowledgement of receipt: 619/1946.

25 Anonymous, “Itt a feketézők, valutázók, árdrágítók második hivatalos listája,” 5.

26 ÁBTL, 3.1.5.-16476. File codenamed Abda murderers. The appearance does not have any significance since György Laufer did not go with the marchers after Cservenka.

27 Dr. Imre Pártos (mother’s name Malvin Freidlander; Budapest, March 27, 1902–Budapest, September 30, 1973) was a solicitor, people’s prosecutor, deputy people’s prosecutor, deputy chief prosecutor, and legal counsellor.

28 Pártos, Diary, July 4, 1944.

29 The original diary and Imre Pártos’s documents connected to his forced labor service in Bor are in the ownership of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who reside in Budapest.

30 Primarily Szegedi Népszava and Délmagyarország, less frequently Szegedi Kis Újság, Makói Népújság and Szentesi Lap published some news in connection with Imre Pártos.

31 MNL CSML, Szeged. Nb. 1200/1945. Captain István Vida’s anti-people crime. Sentence: two years imprisonment. Also: MNL CSML, Szeged. Nb. 1106/1945. Lance corporal Mihály Palócz’s war crime. Sentence: ten years hard labor by the court of first instance, changed to three years by the court of second instance.

32 Dr. vitéz (“the Valliant”) Mihály Kolosváry-Borcsa (mother’s name Margit Kolosváry; Kolozsvár, June 27, 1896–Budapest, December 6, 1946) was a journalist, editor, titular state secretary, and member of parliament. BFL - XXV.2.b - 13981–1945.

33 BFL - XXV.1.a - 2815–1948, Dr. Endre Mistéth (mother’s name Emília Konstantinovics; Buziásfürdő, September 10, 1912–Budapest, July 12, 2006) was a bridge construction engineer, state secretary, and minister.

34 BFL - XXV.1.a - 3757–1947, Károly Peyer (mother’s name Katalin Frank; Városlőd, May 9, 1881–New York, October 25, 1956) was an ironworker and minister, member of parliament.

35 Magyar Közlöny, 1.

36 Magyar Közlöny, 754.

37 He is not included in the 1956 data base of the Committee of National Remembrance (NEB) in any form. https://perek56.hu/ords/f?p=1051:1. (Last accessed June 18, 2019.)

38 Dr. Béla Somló [Béla Schwartz] (mother’s name Körpel Ilona; Budapest, July 14, 1903–Budapest, April 2, 2000) was a chartered economist, agrarian economist, bank clerk, and photographer in Budapest.

39 HM HIM HL, PgyM/368 and M/368. His Bor diary consists of two large units. The section written in Bor consists of 49 pages. The other section, which was written in Temesvár, comes to 64 pages (Bor, June 1, 1944–Temesvár, October 19, 1944 and Temesvár, October 19, 1944–Budapest, February 27, 1945). The author later transcribed the texts for the Archives of Military History in 1979 and 1982.

40 Kunt, “Kamasztükör,” 15–20.

41 HM HIM HL, PGy 2826. The participation of the Pécs motorized heavy vehicle division IV/2 in entering the region to the south of Hungary’s border in 1941 (1980). Also: HM HIM HL, TGy 2811. The participation of the column of the Pécs motorized vehicle division IV/2 in the rapid deployment force of the military campaign in Russia.

42 ÁBTL, 3.1.5. O–9054. Béla, Somló.

43 Dr. Lajos György (mother’s name Emma Schwitzer; Budapest, April 16, 1926–Budapest, November 1, 2008) was a physician, editor, writer, environmentalist, ecologist, and doctor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

44 The original copy of the diary is with Lajos György’s widow, Otília Vass, who resides in Budapest, while the copy seen by me is in the possession of Péter György.

45 Email communication from Lajos György to Tamás Csapody. Budapest, September 13, 2005.

46 György, “Az amnézia-terápia,” 64–69.

47 György, Apám helyett, 2011.

48 A total of 13 drawings including signatures in two places. There are also three words and remarks written in the margins in the same red ink (“гладам сам” [I am hungry], “B.U.É.K.” (the Hungarian abbreviation for Happy New Year), and “Hungária”).

49 Reserve ensign Dr. Jenő Halász was a teacher in Újvidék (Novi Sad). Two pieces of news spread about him among the forced laborers (he fled and joined the partisans, and he did not return after his official time off). He was sentenced to five years of imprisonment in Yugoslavia after 1945. The second commander of the camp was lieutenant Béla Nagy from Szeged.

50 János Császár (mother’s name Judit Burkus; Medgyesegyháza, April 17, 1905–Szeged, August 3, 1945) was a sergeant major and a member of the detachment in the Bregenz and Rhön subcamps and then in the Berlin camp. The Szeged people’s tribunal sentenced Császár to death for war crimes in 1945 and he was executed.

51 BFL Nb.206/1945. 160–61. Lajos György’s handwritten, signed submission without any date. The registered date is June 19, 1945. János Császár’s trial at the people’s tribunal. No. of acknowledgment of receipt: 1542/1945.

52 Diary, March 30, 1944. Mogen Dovid: Star of David, in Hebrew Magen David.

53 I would like to thank everyone in the public collections and private archives who helped me in my work, as well as those who contributed to the process of creating accurate typewritten versions of the diaries.


Environmental Impacts of Medieval Uses of Natural Resources in the Carpathian Basin

Beatrix F. Romhányi, Zsolt Pinke, and József Laszlovszky
Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church; Eötvös Loránd University; Central European University
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 241-283 DOI:10.38145/hunghist.2020.2.241

Various natural resources were abundant in medieval Hungary, and contemporary sources offer a portrait of the kingdom as rich because of these natural conditions. The different forms in which these resources were put to use were decisive for the history of the Carpathian Basin, including its environmental history. In the Middle Ages, there were two key economic activities which played an especially significant role both in the sphere of local production and in foreign trade and which also had a significant environmental impact: livestock farming on the Great Plain (primarily but not exclusively of cattle) and mining, including the processing of primary metals, which was closely related to mining in certain mountain areas. On the basis of analyses of sources drawn from the monastic network, medieval rural churches, and selected archaeological findings and written evidence, we examine the environmental consequences of these activities with particular focus on the changes in the settlement network and relative population density. Our data suggest that the long-term effect of the prevailing practices in the most lucrative, export-oriented economic sectors of the late medieval Kingdom of Hungary—both of which contributed to the ability of the country to withstand pressures from the advancing Ottoman for about 130 years and to some extent even beyond—was serious environmental degradation in the affected regions. The environmental problems caused by these practices could not be fully overcome for a long time. Certainly, the impact was increased by the consequences of the Ottoman wars and the changing climatic conditions of the Little Ice Age, but the process began well before the Early Modern crisis, in some respects as early as in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

Keywords: natural resources, environmental impact, settlement network, medieval mining regions, Middle Ages, Kingdom of Hungary

The three most important economic sectors of late medieval Hungary were crop farming, animal husbandry, and mining.1 Regarding productivity in these sectors and their importance in foreign trade, sources prove that huge incomes were generated by the export of both cattle and non-ferrous and precious metals, mainly copper. Although there are some hints that these sectors became strategic earlier, there is little written evidence before the fifteenth century and even less in the Árpád age (1000–1300). Since animal farming and mining became large-scale in the fourteenth century and continued to increase throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Carpathian Basin, both had deep impacts on the natural environment, and triggered big human pressure leading to a large-scale transformation in the ecosystem. Certainly, there was a third sector of the economy that exerted similar pressures and that was also present, if to different extent, throughout the kingdom. The transformation of the natural environment to ploughland or to areas in which the populations engaged in various agricultural activities was a much longer process. The large-scale extension of cultivated areas started well before the Mongol Invasion (1241–1242), and it went hand-in-hand with the colonization of areas that had been uninhabited until then. However, written, and archaeological evidence suggests that the regenerative ability of the mosaic-like medieval agricultural landscape was considerably stronger than that of later land use systems, including both modern field systems and industrial agriculture. Therefore, our hypothesis is that the environmental impact of the agricultural practices which prevailed at the time was not as long-lasting as, for instance, that of mining. Furthermore, grain and wine played a limited role as exports in the foreign trade of the Kingdom of Hungary before the mid-sixteenth century, meaning that the royal treasury had lower expectations when it came to potential profits. Therefore, we do not touch on this subject in this paper.2 Here, we trace the pressures put on the ecosystem by animal farming and mining by drawing on direct evidence concerning the economic activities we discuss and some available indirect sources concerning shifts in settlement patterns, namely sources concerning the rural church network and the spatial distribution of monasteries. We focus on the late medieval period, though we also include the sixteenth century, because most of the practices that had come to prevail before the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary in 1526, including economic and ecologic practices, continued without interruption until the 1560s or the 1570s. Furthermore, the character of sixteenth-century written data is very similar to the fifteenth-century data, and the number of written sources relevant from the perspective of our research increased in the first half of the sixteenth century. It has also been shown in the earlier secondary literature that, for example, defterler and other tax lists from the first decades of the Ottoman period in Hungary can be used in a regressive way to reconstruct the settlement systems of the different regions.3

Methods and Source Material

Given the scarcity of direct written evidence concerning the territorial impact of animal farming and mining on the settlement pattern and the environment, traditional historical methods do not lead us very far. Therefore, indicators and models based on analyses of phenomena that are not directly connected to our topic are needed to get closer to the process under investigation. Changes in the central elements of the settlement network can be interpreted as a measure of human pressure on the ecosystem and the exploitation of the available natural resources. We must remain aware of the nature of the sources at our disposal, so we emphasize that the results of this study refer to tendencies and our models can only be used to further an interpretation of the general picture, as one might arrive at significantly different results in particular regions if one were to have additional sources or to use the sources we have drawn on in a different way.

The settlement network cannot be fully reconstructed for the Middle Ages in Hungary, and this statement is valid for all the medieval periods, even for the Late Middle Ages, a period on which we have considerably more sources. Various significant attempts to reconstruct the whole settlement system of the kingdom represent outstanding scholarly work from different generations of medievalists, although they had to work with very fragmented written source materials, particularly in the study of the earlier centuries of the Middle Ages. The first large scale attempt to reconstruct the settlement network of the second half of the fifteenth century was a major contribution from the first positivist period of Hungarian medieval research. However, Dezső Csánki’s enterprise remained unfinished, and large parts of the medieval kingdom were never covered.4 The work of György Györffy, who aspired to publish a historical geography of the Carpathian Basin in the eleventh–thirteenth centuries, is similarly incomplete, although the data on most of the counties have been published.5 A third publication worth mentioning is the digital database compiled by Pál Engel on the landed estates in the Late Middle Ages.6 This work is the most complete of the above, covering the whole territory of the kingdom. Its aim, however, was to reconstruct the domains, not the settlement network. Therefore, from our point of view, it is similarly incomplete. Furthermore, archaeological field surveys have shown that there were many settlements—some of them were farmsteads or temporary dwellings, other were villages—that never appeared in any of the written sources.7 In the villages in the Árpád Era, we have to keep in mind that the pit-houses of the period were certainly not built to stand for centuries. The timespan for which these houses were used was probably between thirty and fifty years. Since there are hardly any houses that were renovated in that period, we have to take into consideration the possibility that many of the villages we know from the Árpád Era were homes to one or two generations of rural communities, and we also have to keep in mind that there may well have been a certain level of mobility when it came to the rural settlements. Another problem is—partly related to the above—that we do not have direct sources on population numbers, either.8 Consequently, we have to use diverse indicators when seeking the answers to the questions we pose.

In this context, it is important to note that there are datasets closely related to population density and economic activity in the Middle Ages. Almost all of them are at our disposal: the network of church institutions.9 While the network of rural or parish churches is mainly linked to population density, the monastic network is relevant from the perspective of economic activity. As a third element, we can use the data on late medieval Orthodox churches (sometimes together with data on villages the populations of which belonged to the Orthodox faith) where this data are relevant, since in this case, religion was quite closely connected to their economic pursuits, namely to transhumance, even if some communities may have been comprised of different social groups.10 There is also a fourth limited set of data: the eleventh-century and twelfth-century estates of monasteries, donated by the rulers. The rulers donated these estates not exclusively for religious reasons, but also as part of their royal “regional policies.” Often, the donation charters refer to the uses of natural resources, but even when they did not or when the document itself did not survive, the spatial distribution and the environmental conditions of the landed estates may reveal how the lands were used.

Because of its very nature, foreign trade—both export and import—can also be seen as a good indicator of ways in which natural resources were used. As royal power was generally strong in medieval Hungary, regulations related to foreign trade appear in written records. Thus, the appearance of certain goods (metals, cattle, etc.) in the written sources connected to foreign trade activity can be interpreted as a sign of the importance of these goods and the growing volume in the economic output of the country. In this context, we can use the commercial goods mentioned in diverse privileges given to different towns and trading companies, as well as toll lists and account books. Even international conflicts which imply clashing economic interests can be interpreted as indicators of the ways in which natural resources were put to use.

Documented Historical Processes

In a discussion of natural resources and particularly mineral ores in the context of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, gold and silver come first in mind. Historical data and extensive academic literature and significant scholarly debates on the roles and impact of mineral mining and trade confirms this general picture.11 Therefore, we do not discuss these questions in detail here, but rather merely summarize a few of the more important conclusions from the secondary literature which are relevant to the questions we are raising concerning economic indicators and environmental impact. Certainly, both gold and silver played an important role in the economy of the country, especially after the economic reforms of King Charles I of Anjou in the early fourteenth century.12 The colonization of the peripheries of the kingdom and other marginal areas itself was a long process, and ore mining was one of the most important drivers of this process from the outset. Ores and raw metals were important export goods of the Hungarian Kingdom as early as around 1200. The toll regulation of Stein issued by Duke Otakar of Styria and Duke Leopold of Austria in 1190 mentioned copper, tin, plumb, and iron, along with salt, among the imported goods, and copper was mentioned in the toll regulation of Hainburg (1245), as well.13 After the Mongol Invasion, however, the mining regions experienced intensive development. Many of the major mining towns received their royal privileges in that period, including Besztercebánya (today Banská Bystrica, Slovakia) Körmöcbánya (today Banská Kremnica, Slovakia), and Selmecbánya (today Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia; in Latin Argentifodina), although the mine in the latter had existed nearly two centuries earlier.14

Copper, which was produced in great quantities (especially in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries), is usually also on the list. As for iron production (including bog iron), researchers tend to make less frequent mention of it. Written and material evidence concerning the production sites has been collected and evaluated by Gusztáv Heckenast and Gábor Vastagh.15 The exploitation and smelting of iron, mainly bog iron in the tenth and eleventh centuries, has been studied by the archaeologist János Gömöri,16 but the iron production met with less interest later.17 At the same time, these studies were mainly connected to the production sites in present-day Hungary, and they focused on the earlier period. This aspect of their research is crucial to the general picture, because very important mining areas and production centers were situated outside the modern political borders of the country, and for the late medieval period, one must assume considerably larger amounts of iron products. This can be confirmed by the much bigger population of the country and also by the significant spread of iron objects and building materials in the Late Middle Ages.

Iron mining and smelting are much less documented in the Late Middle Ages compared to other activities and ores in the context of mining. Iron was much more common than non-ferrous metals, and it was often produced in the same regions as gold, silver, and copper. Therefore, written evidence survived mainly about the latter, although there are hints concerning iron production, too. The toll regulation of Stein, issued in 1190 by Prince Otakar of Styria and Prince Leopold of Austria, listed iron among the goods imported from Hungary. The intensification of iron mining can be traced back to the second half of the thirteenth century, and not only in the northern mountain region. In 1291, for instance, German miners from Eisenerz in the Alps settled in Transylvania, more specifically in Torockó (today Râmetea, Romania), to work in the iron mines there (the German name of the settlement, Eisenburg, also referred to the presence of iron ore).18 Based on the contemporary written sources, there were at least six sites where iron ore was mined in the Carpathian Basin in the Middle Ages: the Aggtelek-Rudabánya Mountains, the Slovak Ore Mountains (known in Hungarian as the Gömör-Szepes Mountains, Slovakia), the region of Belényes (today Beiuş, Romania), the eastern part of Temesköz (in Romanian Banatul Montan), the area surrounding Torockó, and the Apuseni Mountains (known in Hungarian as Erdélyi-szigethegység) in central Romania, including the region of Hátszeg (today Haţeg, Romania) with Vajdahunyad (today Hunedoara, Romania) as its center.19 Though the data from written sources are scattered, the fact that many of these mines remained or became royal property during the Late Middle Ages indicates the importance of iron mining and iron production in these regions. Certainly, written sources from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries do not say anything about the beginning of mining activity in these areas, and none of the various archaeological investigations which have been done have yielded any meaningful findings concerning the early periods of medieval iron ore mining. The presence and accessibility of mineral resources does not necessarily mean that these resources were used. However, the evolution of the settlement networks—indicated by different types of written sources—in the areas where these kinds of mineral resources were found could be interpreted as evidence of the economic importance of these resources and may further a more subtle understanding of the changes in population density in a mining region over time. It can also offer an indirect proof for the growing importance of mining activity in less documented areas, as relatively well-documented mining areas can be compared with regions from which we have fewer written sources but about which we know that they had similar natural resources. If so, indicators can confirm—or actually call into question—the importance of some mining regions based on the evaluation of the local settlement system.

The list of important natural resources continues with salt, the mining of which was recorded since the late eleventh century. Alongside ores, salt was another important mineral that was exploited in large quantities. Salt played a significant role in the trade and commercial activities of this earlier period, and it continued to be mined and sold on the same scale in the Late Middle Ages. This also put significant pressure on the ecosystem, as we can clearly see from the better documented later periods. Salt production seems to have increased step by step. The first medieval intensification of salt mining took place around or shortly before 1100, when shipping on the Maros River was established. On the northern border of Transylvania, the monastery of Meszes was founded by Duke Álmos, brother of King Coloman, at the older salt road, which went through the Meszes Pass, during the same period (1102). Its connection to salt transportation is attested by the privilege it received in the 1130s.20 In a second phase, between the 1170s and the 1210s, King Béla III and King Andrew II contributed to the development of salt production and trade by employing Jewish and Muslim officials (comes camerae) and by granting privileges to different churches and monasteries.21A further increase in the quantities transported necessitated the navigability of the Szamos River. Most of the riverbed was probably cleared by the last decades of the thirteenth century, when shipping was mentioned in charters.22 It is difficult to estimate the quantity of salt that was mined, but data suggest that it increased gradually throughout the Middle Ages, and sources suggest that the incomes of the royal treasury from salt represented a large fraction of the royal incomes.23

Similarly, sources from the early fifteenth century document large-scale cattle trade, but as early as 1255, the toll list of Buda mentioned live cattle and cattle skin as important tariff articles.24 Considering that the Cumans were settled in the mid-thirteenth century on a territory that became the center of cattle farming, one may suspect that the story must have begun earlier.25 This type of extensive animal husbandry was made possible by at least two factors which transformed the region: the destruction of the area caused by the Mongol invasion of 1241–1242 and environmental changes due to changing hydrological conditions, both of which resulted in a significant process of settlement desertion. It should also be noted that extensive animal husbandry, dominated by cattle breeding, was still characteristic of large areas of the Great Plain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and historical and ethnographic studies shed light on the ecological pressures caused by these activities and on their impact on the local environment. Particularly the puszta-type of animal husbandry can be studied well in this context. Another branch of animal husbandry was transhumance, which sources indicate was a prevailing practice in certain areas of the Carpathian Basin as early as the thirteenth century, though it is difficult to determine the phases of its spread. In this case, changes in the settlement network can help us establish a more thorough chronology, too.

Changes in the Settlement Network

On the basis of the data connected to the spatial distribution of settlements and the indicators for this network, combined with the long-term processes described above, two major transformations of the settlement network can be observed in the Carpathian Basin between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries (Maps 1–5). There were other significant aspects of inland colonization, but they are not so related to the two main issues discussed in this article: mining activity and extensive cattle production. The territorial expansion of areas under ploughland cultivation and other forms of agriculture was also an important process, but in most of the regions, it involved the extension of new field systems within the boundaries of the existing villages.26 In other words, these were previously settled areas with an existing settlement system, and they started to be transformed by the more active and regular use of previously uncultivated areas. This inner colonization was also connected to the changes in the settlement network in the form of settlement dispersion or in the process of nucleation. The first major colonization process involving areas that had not previously been settled started with the mountainous regions around 1100 and lasting until the end of the Middle Ages or even into Early Modern times (mid-sixteenth century). Due to this process, large areas with their original forest coverage and without a significant settlement network started to be settled in a more intensive way. The main element of the transformation process was the clearing of forests. The Transdanubian Mountains and the North Hungarian Mountains were settled in a more intensive way in the first period, and here, woodland clearing led mainly to the emergence of agrarian settlements and villages. In the second phase, particularly from the thirteenth century, high mountain regions with dense forest coverage started to be exploited as well, with different goals and in various forms of settlement expansion. In these mainly peripheral regions of the kingdom, minerals were increasingly exploited, and pasture lands were created on a large scale in the mountains, especially for sheep and goat breeding. Parallel to this, the other transformation that took place on the Great Hungarian Plain seems to have started in the first decades of the thirteenth century, but it was accelerated in a radical way by the Mongol Invasion of 1241–1242.27 As a result of these events and processes (the process of nucleation, urban development, expansion to the peripheral areas, and the Mongol invasion), the area between the Danube River and Csörsz-árok (or “Devil’s Dyke,” a line of Roman fortifications in the eastern Pannonian plain) became a very loosely settled region. Before this period, the settlement patterns and probably the population density were rather similar to settlement patterns and population densities in the other lowland and plain regions of the kingdom, but in the Late Middle Ages, a very different settlement structure emerged (Map 2a-c). The parish network concentrated on the rivers (the Tisza, Körös, Maros, and Zagyva Rivers), while the monastic network was almost completely missing from the territory (Map 3). The only monastic institutions in this region were the Franciscan and Dominican friaries in Szeged, the Benedictine abbey—later Observant Franciscan friary—of Csanád (today Cenad, Romania), and the Cistercian monastery of Egres (today Igriş, Romania). This institutional pattern was a mark of a livestock-raising society of the plain, where the dominant elements of economic production in the local rural communities were extensively reared cattle, horses, swine, and sheep.

The situation which prevailed in the area earlier can be reconstructed by using written sources mentioned in a previous part of this article. The special use and probably the special estate structure of that central part of the Great Hungarian Plain is referred to by the distribution of the estates given to royal abbeys. The monasteries themselves, especially those founded in the eleventh century, were usually outside the region in question (Map 1). Looking at the map of monastic estates donated before 1060, it is clear that the Great Hungarian Plain was not the region where this type of estate would have been present in the first decades of the Hungarian kingdom. The first monastic estates appeared on the territory after 1060, and the only abbey that received extensive landed estates there was Garamszentbenedek (today Hronský Beňadik, Slovakia), which was founded in 1075 by King Géza I.28 The monastery’s estates in the region concentrated on the Tisza River between Szolnok and Csongrád (Map 4). Monastic estates remained largely absent from the region discussed even in the twelfth century, when a large number of monasteries emerged along the Maros River. One of them was the Cistercian Abbey of Egres, founded by King Béla III in 1179. It was one of the wealthiest abbeys before the Mongol Invasion, but it had very few landed estates, and they were scattered along the river.29

At the same time, recent archaeological research in the region of Kiskunfélegyháza and especially in Bugac has revealed that a rich pre-urban settlement site connected to a monastic complex existed there before 1241.30 Different types of indicators (monastic buildings, import objects, finds connected to trade, etc.) at these sites show that the region also reached a high level of development with a relatively dense settlement network and with emerging central sites. Other findings, for instance in the region of Orosháza, similarly reflect intensive economic activity and higher population density than after the Mongol Invasion.31 These data and the specific character of the region’s monastic network and the almost missing monastic estates suggest that both the estate structure (ownership) and the use of the territory were specific in the eleventh–thirteenth century. Furthermore, data from different parts of the territory imply that changes in land use had begun before the Mongol Invasion, resulting in the radical transformation of the settlement system, while large parts of the territory became pasture for extensive cattle farming.32 Parallel to this transformation, the Árpád Era monastic network of the region disappeared almost completely.33

The settlement pattern that became characteristic of the Carpathian Basin in the Late Middle Ages first appeared in the papal tithe list of 1332–1337, which is a good indicator of the spatial distribution of the settlements34 (Map 3). Big empty regions can be identified for a major part of the Great Hungarian Plain in this period, and large parts of the Transylvanian Apuseni Mountains, including the Metaliferi Mountains, also seem not to have had a parish church network. At the same time, a very dense parish network can be observed in southern Transdanubia and medieval Slavonia (which are out of our present scope), but also in some parts of Transylvania and in the northern part of the Carpathian Basin, especially on the territory of the Eger Diocese. From the second half of the fourteenth century, an increasing number of new towns appeared in the mountainous areas. The number and size of the new churches suggests that the populations in these towns was growing, much as the growing number of monastic institutions from the fifteenth century indicates population growth in the region, although the network did not cover the mining regions evenly (Map 2b-c). In northern Hungary, pastoral care was offered by Franciscan (mainly Observant) friaries, while in the mountains between Transylvania and the Great Hungarian Plain, both Franciscan friars and orthodox monks assumed this task among the mixed Catholic and Orthodox population.

Concerning the periods after the Late Middle Ages, various groups of sources can be used in this context. They are of mixed character and comprise several registers, tithe lists, and canonical visitations of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, referring to priests of diverse denominations. This set of data is especially useful for the northern part of the Carpathian Basin, but to a lesser extent also for Transylvania. As for the other parts of the Carpathian Basin, some limited conclusions can also be formulated. Although the lists were compiled over a longer period of time, between the 1550s and the 1620s, they give a fairly good picture of the effects of the Ottoman wars, namely increasing population density in the less affected parts of the country. Furthermore, the ongoing colonization of the mountainous areas can also be seen on the map (Map 5).

Environmental Impacts of Animal Husbandry

The (almost) monocultural animal husbandry on the plain had a serious impact on the environment and the settlement pattern. The indicators which we have used in our research show some of these effects. As we have argued before, a structural transformation took place in the settlement pattern of the Great Hungarian Plain in the thirteenth century. While the plain was densely sprinkled with rural churches, which indicates a relatively large, albeit dispersed human population on the landscape, during the eleventh century (Map 1),35 most of the region, especially within the Devil’s Dyke, had been abandoned by inhabitants and ecclesial institutions by the early fourteenth century. The papal tithe list of 1332–1337 and regional settlement reconstructions show a vast uninhabited region in the middle of the plain.36 If we consider this area, three basic soil regions characterize the prevailing land use patterns and settlement structures over the late Middle Ages. Loess soils are the most fertile, and where loess soils were found, the lands were tilled and population density was at its highest.37 In contrast, animal husbandry prevailed in the almost entirely deserted areas with sand and clay soils.38 In Homokhátság (which means “Sandy Ridge”), a sand soil region which has been the subject of thorough study, the settlement pattern became dense in the early Árpád Era and collapsed by the fourteenth century.39 The settlements in the region suffered disastrous losses because of the Mongol invasion (1241–1242), and most of them were never resettled. Shortly after the Mongol invasion, Cumans who engaged in animal breeding were settled in the region. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the region was characterized by intensive aeolian processes, thus, wind very much reshaped the landscape.40 The same happened in other sandy regions of the plain between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. Interestingly, similar processes occurred in previous periods, too, e.g. under the Sarmatians (first–fifth centuries AD) and the Avars (sixth–ninth centuries), when animal husbandry cultures colonized the landscape.41 At the same time, this economic transformation of the area may have put increasing pressures on the local ecosystem. Local settlement research and studies on wind-blown sand deposits partly excavated by recent large–scale archaeological investigations confirmed the scale and importance of these environmental changes. One particular archaeological site has also clearly demonstrated that a briefly used ploughland area, which was probably created as a consequence of the internal colonization process described above, was abandoned for agricultural use, and the sand-covered region was probably used for extensive animal husbandry.42 The growing number of cattle and other animals kept in these areas significantly contributed to the richness and economic boom of some local urban settlements, the so-called oppida (market towns), but this spread of animal breeding also may have led to the emergence of huge puszta areas around the big rural settlement centers. Thus, one may well conclude that overuse of the land and, more specifically, the sensitive vegetation which grows in sandy soils to support animal breeding led to changes in the hydroclimatic regime which made the land more vulnerable to aeolian processes.

One question remains, however: what was the reason for the massive abandonment of the settlements that preceded the arrival of the Cumans in the area? Can the mid-thirteenth century Mongol Invasion be blamed for this, as is widely believed?43 Curiously, massive settlement abandonment also took place in deep alluvial floodplains covered by clay soils according to a similar chronology. Clay soil indicates the sites of wetlands, which covered almost one-third of the plain. A multifactorial spatio-statistical investigation suggested that the settlement pattern of an extensive wetland landscape was located in the plain, shrunk and moved vertically, from the Árpád Era (which almost completely covered the Medieval Climatic Anomaly, beginning in 900 and ending in 1300) to the late Middle Ages (1301–1541), thus overlapping the first phase of the Little Ice Age.44 The massive settlement abandonment was concentrated in the low-lying zones of the region (which were vulnerable to floods) and took place before 1300. To summarize the written sources related to forms of land use, the permanently inhabited flood-free loess ridges were used for diverse forms of farming, while the inhabitants of the rather temporary settlements of the low-lying and clay-covered floodplains dealt mainly with animal husbandry and fishery or other activities linked to the benefits of waters.45 During the Late Middle Ages, floodplains were entirely abandoned, and the population concentrated mainly in the market towns and the few villages of the loess ridges or on the edge of the floodplain, which had a similar soil structure. The fields of the deserted settlements merged into the area of the emerging market towns, and a specific type of urban settlement, the cattle-breeding market town, evolved, where animal husbandry became the core sector of the local economy.46 An archaeobotanical investigation of the plain revealed that the proportion of species with high moisture demand increased significantly from the first centuries of the Árpád Era (1000–1241) to the last (1242–1301).47 Like other paleoclimatic examinations, this finding suggests that rapid climate change took place in the second part of the thirteenth century,48 when climatic extremities, e.g. long-lasting droughts and severe winters became more frequent49 and caused higher humidity on the plain and higher flood levels on the floodplains. At the same time, interdisciplinary research based in part on a wide range of written sources has clearly demonstrated that the first decades of the fourteenth century were the most serious period of this climatic change, which bore witness to significant increases in areas covered with water.50

The Use of the Woods

Woodland areas in medieval Hungary were used in many different ways, and historical and interdisciplinary studies have reconstructed the relevant aspects of the uses to which woodlands were put in a complex way. Hungarian historical research has identified the importance of this natural resource and the related source materials in the nineteenth century.51 Ethnographic studies on the eighteenth century also contributed to our understanding of traditional forms of woodland exploitation and of the clearing process.52 At the same time, the complex and interdisciplinary understanding of the uses to which woodlands were put in medieval Hungary is a result of more recent studies.53 For the particular discussion points of the present article, it should also be noted that woodland and forest management in the mining regions of Hungary in the seventeenth and (even more so) eighteenth centuries has been very intensively studied. The basic concepts of modern woodland management were developed in some of these regions, particularly in Selmecbánya (today Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia). However, this geographical overlap with the medieval mining regions does not mean that forest management practices can be seen automatically in a strong continuity context, as major legal and institutional development only began in the eighteenth century. Thus, the medieval use and exploitation of woodlands in the mining regions should be seen in a different way. This aspect is also crucial for a discussion of the pressures put on and changes which took place in the relevant ecosystems.

Medieval documents or the written sources do not enable us to reconstruct the forest coverage of the areas around the mining towns or in the mining regions. In a similar way, the amount of wood extracted from these areas cannot be calculated with the help of documentary evidence. It should also be noted that forests were used in the mining regions for several purposes: as timber in the construction of mines, to prepare charcoal, or to build ore crushers, etc. Therefore, we have to take into consideration all possible sources connected to these regions concerning woodland. The connection between mining and the use of wood was referred to in a donation charter issued in 1263 by King Béla IV when he gave Andrew, the judge of Besztercebánya, a forest as a reward for his merits in silver mining. From then on, the forests around the Northern Hungarian mining towns were usually in the hands of the richest burghers.54 Trip-hammers and ore crushers were mentioned in the region of Körmöcbánya (today Banská Kremnica, Slovakia) as early as 1331.55 According to a register from 1468, there were 29 ore crushers and four furnaces in Banská Kremnica alone.56 Another register says that in 1522 there were 43 mines, five furnaces, and five ore crushers in Selmecbánya (today Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia), employing 918 workers. There was a significant increase in metal production compared to the previous decades.57 Parallel to this, the mining towns, taking advantage of their royal privileges,—aimed to expand the territory where they could harvest the wood necessary for the mines and furnaces.58

The mines also contributed to the financing of the royal treasury. Indeed, the decrees issued by King Louis I in 1351 mention the urbura in connection with iron.59 Iron was mentioned along with gold, silver, tin, and plumb in 1427 when King Sigismund of Luxembourg donated the urbura collected in certain mining towns to Queen Barbara, though he retained the incomes from copper.60 In the late-fourteenth century, King Sigismund exchanged certain royal domains for castles of the Csáki family in Temes County, one of which was the castle of Kövesd (today Cuieşd, Romania), which had an iron mine that was mentioned explicitly in the charter.61 The region in question is better known today as Resica (Reşiţa, Romania), and it was one of the major metallurgical centers of Romania from the mid-eighteenth century until recently. However, iron production can be traced back in the region to as early as the twelfth century: an iron smelting workshop was excavated by Dumitru Ţeicu in Felsőlupkó (today Gornea, Romania),62 and different forms of iron ores were identified at several sites of the region that belonged to the royal domain of Illyéd (today Ilidia, Romania) in the Middle Ages. Further mines in the region which were mentioned in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries include Székesbánya (north of today Dognecea, Romania), Bényes (today Biniş, Romania), Boksánbánya (today Bocşa Montană, Romania), and further to the northeast Galadna (today Gladna Română, Romania). These localities were royal estates throughout the Middle Ages or became royal estates in the Late Middle Ages.63

Rulers were very concerned with running the mines. As early as 1349, King Louis I granted a privilege for merchants from Genoa in the copper trade, and in 1376 the same privilege was granted to Florentine merchants, too.64 Four years later, merchants connected to the Medici family acquired a share in Hungarian copper mining, and in 1385, the company made a contract with Venice, the center of the European copper trade, according to which the major share of the copper produced in Hungary would be sold in Venice (except for the part exported to Flanders).65 In the early fifteenth century, a shift can be seen in the trading network. It was connected to the person of Mark of Nuremberg, who, for instance, prohibited the import of Polish (medieval Ilkusz, today Olkusz, Poland) plumb in 1405 because of conflicts in copper production.66

One also finds direct orders concerning the mines from the fifteenth century. In 1426, King Sigismund ordered George of Jolsva, the bailiff of Zólyom castle (today Zvolen, Slovakia), to secure the necessary wood supply for the new plumb mines,67 and he regulated the use of the forests around Gölnicbánya (today Gelnica, Slovakia) in 1437.68 His successor, King Albert, took the miners of Offenbánya (today Baia de Arieş, Romania), Körösbánya (today Baia de Criş, Romania), Zalatna (today Zlatna, Romania), and Körösfő (today Izvoru Crisului, Romania) under his special protection.69 In 1475, the Thurzó Company made a contract with the Northern Hungarian mining towns. According to this contract, the company would establish water lading machines (Wasserkunst) in exchange for which it would receive one sixth of the mined ore as payment. The contract was confirmed and complemented by King Matthias in the same year, by that the necessary wood should be given to the company free of charge.70 In 1479, King Matthias allowed the town of Selmecbánya to harvest the wood needed for mining from the royal forest free of charge. This permission was expanded by King Wladislaus II, who ordered in 1496 that the wood had to be given to the town free of charge by any landowner.71 In 1500 and 1502, Wladislaus II confirmed the right of the Lower Hungarian mining towns to harvest the necessary wood in the royal forests, and this privilege was given to the Upper Hungarian mining towns in 1504 and 1507, as well.72 Wood was also needed in the salt mines, if in lower quantities. In 1498, for instance, King Wladislaus II donated salt worth 100 guilders to the Cathedral Chapter of Gyulafehérvár (today Alba Iulia, Romania) and in compensation gave the salt mine officials of Torda (today Turda, Romania) the right to cut timber with which to build salt ships in the forest of the Chapter.73 The intensive royal interventions to provide wood for the mining sector is absolutely understandable. Hungary and Bohemia were the major suppliers of gold and silver in late medieval Europe, and the kingdom’s copper production was also significant. In the 1380s, the Hungarian copper export can be estimated at 8–10 thousand tons per year. In 1495, when John Thurzó made his contract with the Fugger family on copper production within Hungary, the production of the planned kiln of Besztercebánya (today Banská Bystrica, Romania) was set at 300 quintals per week, giving a total of approximately 920 tons per year. Thus, that kiln alone would produce about 10 percent of the fourteenth-century export. The investment was intended to increase the quantity of the copper produced by the company and also to improve the quality, which meant multiple smelting, which demanded more energy. According to the accounts of the Fugger family, the company had invested 277,500 guilders by 1499, and profits reached roughly 2.5 million guilders between 1496 and 1546.74 The Thurzó company was involved in copper and precious metal production in areas outside of northern Hungary. The mines of Belényes (today Beiuş, Romania), where both silver and copper were mined, were restarted, and reorganized by John Thurzó in the early-sixteenth century.75

Large-scale logging, however, took its toll. In 1347, King Louis I allowed the miners of Nagybánya (today Baia Mare, Romania) and Zazár (today Săsar, Romania) to cut the necessary timber for the mines in any forest, be it royal or noble property, in part since there was no suitable material anymore in the town’s surroundings.76 Sources also indicate conflicts between miners and owners of forestlands. In 1459, the towns of Szomolnok (today Smolnik, Slovakia) and Svedlér (today Švedlár, Slovakia) turned to the king, since the bailiffs of the castles of Krasznahorka (today Krásna Hôrka, Slovakia) and Szádvár hindered the work of the charcoal-burners, destroying their kilns and causing other damages, as well.77 Between 1479 and 1503, a long-lasting conflict emerged between the miners of the region of Nagybánya on the one side and the Drágfi family and their bailiffs of Kővár Castle near Kővárremete (today Remetea Chioarului, Romania) on the other because of forest use.78 The miners of Offenbánya (today Baia de Arieş, Romania) and the Romanian knezate of Nagylupsa (today Lupşa, Romania) had a similar conflict between 1485 and 1487, where both the felling of timber for mines and the making of charcoal were mentioned.79

The first indication of rafting on the Hron/Garam River dates from 1209 (tributum lignorum, quae feruntur super Gran) and on the Váh/Vág River from 1206 and 1271, referring to the use of wood from the high mountains.80 Similarly, wood was a major source of income in the mountainous regions of the Drugeth domains in Ung County. As Pál Engel has pointed out, the former border zone (gyepüelve), which was settled in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, was mainly used for logging (silva dolabrosa). This is also supported by the presence of numerous mills on different streams in an area where ploughland was very limited at the time.81 However, the first clear evidence of the use of rafts in shipping other goods, in this case salt, is a charter issued in 1507.82 Before this, only reusable boats (often log boats) were used in salt transport, as written sources from the late eleventh century indicate.83 The territory where, as the charter says, rafts were used in a new way is the salt region of Máramaros County, where this practice continued into the 1860s.84

The intensive use of forests suggests that deforestation reached a critical rate in the mining regions. However, the same environment was affected by another economic activity, the grazing of sheep. Sources indicate that as early as the thirteenth century, transhumant shepherds used the lands in the Apuseni mountains to graze their herds.85 Their gradual movement towards the north is reflected partly in the foundation of small orthodox monasteries and churches built from the second half of the fourteenth century86 and partly in the increasing number of Wallachian villages, especially after the 1420s, when Ottoman raids destroyed large parts of southern Transylvania.87 Similarly, Orthodox, mainly Ruthenian settlers arrived from territories beyond the northeastern and northern Carpathians. Their presence can be traced back to approximately the same period. In 1337, Palatine William Druget settled orthodox peasants in the village of Korumlya (today Koroml’a, Slovakia).88 Large groups of Ruthenian (Podolian) settlers came to the region after Prince Fyodor Koriatovych was forced into exile (1392) and became the lord of the Munkács and Makovica Castles (today Mukachevo in Ukraine and Zborov in Slovakia) and count of Bereg and Sáros Counties.89 The donation charter of Queen Mary issued in 1390 offers further evidence of the presence of transhumant shepherds in Szatmár County. It gave Terebes (today Racova, Romania) to the ancestors of the Drágfi family, Balk, Drag, and John. Three years later, they came into conflict with another local landlord, Ban Simon of Medgyes, whose tenants killed their tenants’ sheep (iobagionum seu Olahorum).90 The conflict must have involved the use of the land, more specifically the use of the pastures. The spread of these settlements continued in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.91 In 1437, several Orthodox chapels were listed beyond the Vihorlat Mountains in Zemplén County.92 By the late-fifteenth century, shepherds of Romanian and Ruthenian origin had reached the western Carpathians, Árva, Trencsén, and Turóc Counties.93 The expanded grazing significantly contributed to deforestation.

In addition to the above, the Ottoman wars between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries also affected the territories in question, if in an indirect way. On the one hand, a significant part of the population fleeing the devastated southern regions and the Hungarian plain took refuge in the Carpathians. The first Protestant registers listing the pastors and the communities between the 1560s and the 1620s indicate a population density which would have been unthinkable before the Ottoman wars and which began to decline after the 1660s.94 The situation was slightly different in Transylvania, but immigration from Moldavia, and Walachia was almost uninterrupted, and for the most part targeted areas which were suitable for pasture. In other parts of the country, in the frontier zones of the region occupied by the Ottomans, fortifications needed a continuous supply of wood, which accelerated the process of deforestation in the frontier zones. Ágnes R. Várkonyi has emphasized that the maintenance of the Ottoman period defense system of Hungary put tremendous additional pressures on the forests in the mountainous regions (e.g., in the 1680s, the domain of Likava Castle regularly had to deliver large amounts of timber, poles, stakes, roof shingles, etc. for different fortifications which were 150–200 kilometers distant Likava itself), which had already been largely depleted by the mines and furnaces.95

Medieval Transformation of the Land Cover in the Mining Regions
of the Carpathian Basin

In this section, we offer a short review of the main directions of land cover changes that took place between the eleventh and the sixteenth centuries in the ca. 50,000 km2 mountainous regions of the northern and eastern part of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. By the eleventh century, most of the lower regions and foothills, the environment of the mines in use in the Apuseni Mountains and the Northern Middle Mountains (northern Hungary and eastern Slovakia), became cultural landscapes. The ratio of open lands increased gradually due to human use, mainly grazing and forest clearance for charcoal production (for instance). Moreover, pastoral activities were associated with forest burning, which was a drastic form of clearance, as indicated in many pollen reconstructions of the Carpathians.96 This happened in the central part of the Apuseni Mountains, where the ratio of herbaceous pollen increased permanently from the Iron Age (eighth–sixth century BC) in a site situated at 1240 meters a.s.l. (above sea level) and in the environment of a bog (1400 meters a.s.l.) from the late Roman Period (fourth century AD).97 The presence of cereal pollens was stable, but their ratio was low in the total pollen profile in ten of the sites studied in the mountains from the late fifth century to the end of the sixteenth.98 In contrast, the first cereals are found in the 4280–3570 BC deposit layer of the Ponor karst area (1040 meters a.s.l. Apuseni Mountains) and in a layer of the Iaz peat bog dated to 4300–3700 BC (300 meters a.s.l. Apuseni Mountains).99 The earliest evidence of forest grazing and farming culture was identified at 4740–4620 BC in the Căpăţâna peat bogs (1220 meters a.s.l. Apuseni Mountains), but major deforestation began only around 1400 AD, linked to a migration wave of the transhumant Orthodox population reaching the area, as well as the rapidly rising demand for wood in the industrializing mining region.100 Similar temporal dynamics appear in the paleo-ecological records of sites in the Aggtelek-Rudabánya Mountains, very close to an important iron mine.101 The ratio of cereal pollens, however, increased here significantly from the late tenth century to the end of the eleventh and showed a consistently high proportion until the late sixteenth century.102 Human use was reconstructed in the Western and Northern Carpathians, including the Tatra Mountains and Szepesség Region (today the Spiš Region, Slovakia) from the early phase of the Migration Period (fifth century), but the ratio of cereals began to grow only towards the end of the eleventh century.103 As a result of the colonization policy of King Béla IV, thousands of settlements and dozens of new towns began to emerge in the Carpathians, including the Tatra Mountains, over the course of the fifty-year period beginning in the mid-thirteenth century.104 In other words, there was a dramatic increase in human pressure on the ecosystems in the mountains beginning in the thirteenth century. Rapid colonization following extensive pastural and mining activity reduced the forest coverage in Sáros and Zemplén Counties (in the northern Carpathians) and Borsod and Gömör Counties (in the northern middle mountains) by the late fifteenth century to an estimated 41–60 percent, 21–40 percent, 41–60 percent, and 21–40 percent, respectively.105 As it has been discussed in literature with regard to the Northern Middle Mountains in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, “the forests came to an end there, and the neighboring counties began to eliver their forests to the mining regions.”106

The traces of small-scale forest clearance were recorded in the Bronze Age peat deposit at 1143 meters a.s.l. in the Lápos (Romanian Lapuş) Mountains, close to the northern Transylvanian mining region.107 Then, the human impact gradually intensified beginning in the twelfth century. The fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, when the modern cultural landscape evolved in the region, bore witness to large-scale logging and intensive agricultural activity. In the neighboring Gutai Mountains, the first sign of grazing is found in the ca. eleventh deposit layer of the crater lake Steregoiu (ca. 800 meters a.s.l.), but serious human impact appears only from the 1700s.108 In contrast, Fărcaş and Tanţău found pollen evidence of minor cereal production here in the layer dated to 820±75 AD.109 The deposit in the crater lake Preluca Ţiganului is situated in the Gutăi Mountains, and it has the earliest evidence of a human-driven decrease in forest diversity in a 2,300-year-old deposit. In other words, forest clearance and grazing may have started in the late Iron Age (300 BC).110 According to a historical estimate based on late-fifteenth-century common estimations (aestimatio communis) that covers nearly 3,000 km2 (almost one percent of the Carpathian Basin),111 forest coverage may have been 76–100 percent in Máramaros County, where important salt and precious metal mines were in operation, and 21–40 percent in Közép-Szolnok County, which covered the northeastern part of the Apuseni Mountains.112


Both written sources and changes in the settlement system prove that the mountainous areas of the Carpathian Basin that are rich in ores and—in Transylvania and Maramureş—in salt were increasingly exploited from the second half of the thirteenth century, after the Mongol Invasion. Mining was intensified in at least three periods: first in the first half of the fourteenth century, then in the last decades of the fourteenth century, and finally at the end of the fifteenth century. The increasing quantities to be shipped and the extremely expensive transportation costs of the time113 led to a transformation in transport infrastructure: around 1500, rafts began to be used instead of boats, and the use of rafts became widespread in the following centuries, especially on the Tisza and its tributaries, thus contributing to the decline of forests. As the documents cited above indicate, the forest maintenance that accompanied land use management in the majority of the medieval communities was not characteristic of the mining regions studied here during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.114 However, forest management, including maintenance, belonged to the eminent interest of local communities, since forests (wood) were the main energy resource before the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. However, the melting ores offered such impressive profits for companies and the royal treasury that it was in the interests of the state to provide adequate wood to meet the needs of the mines. At the end of the Middle Ages, royal power tended to neglect the ownership and interest of local communities and landlords by allowing mining companies to clear forests. This step opened the gate for deforestation of huge areas in the Carpathians. When the destruction reached an extreme in certain mining regions in the sixteenth century, the central administration tried to correct its former stance and issued decrees that were intended to protect forestlands for instance by prohibiting iron mining in certain regions in 1564115 and issuing a new regulation concerning the forests used by the lower Hungarian mining towns in 1565.116 These efforts, however, proved useless, because of the conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and the civil wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the protection of lands, including forests, was hardly the primary concern. Moreover, as was the case in Transdanubia, influxes of refugees from the Ottoman wars led to a population increase in the mining regions from the mid-sixteenth century, thus putting increased human pressure on the forests in the mountains.117 Alongside mining, transhumance also became more widespread in the regions, reaching the westernmost part of the Carpathians in the fifteenth century. These economic activities resulted in the gradual deforestation of the regions. The process was probably hastened by the needs of military constructions, which were also a consequence of the Ottoman wars.

Our hypothesis is that the increasing number and intensity of hydroclimatic extremities linked to the medieval climate change that preceded the Little Ice Age may have contributed to or driven the desertion of settlements in the sandy ridge and floodplain regions of the Great Hungarian Plain in the thirteenth century. The Mongol Invasion merely ended a crisis which affected the farming system of the plain. The form of land use that became dominant in the region in the late Middle Ages—extensive grazing of cattle and sheep—remained the most prevalent practice until the eighteenth century. However, the increasing use of pastures, the partial extension of pastures towards the hills, the changing runoff coefficient due to deforestation in the bordering mountain regions, and the effects of warfare may have contributed to the aridity of the Hungarian Plain in the Early Modern era and the decreasing profitability of large-scale animal husbandry in the region.

Thus, the lucrative, export-oriented economic activities of the late medieval Hungarian kingdom, which contributed to the ability of the country to withstand Ottoman pressure for about 130 years (before the 1520s) and, in a more limited way, even longer (into the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), led in the long run to serious environmental degradation the effects of which could not be fully overcome for a long time. Certainly, this impact was increased by the effects of the Ottoman wars themselves and the changing climatic conditions of the Little Ice Age, too, but the process began well before the Early Modern crisis, in some respects, as early as the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary] (MNL OL)
Collectio Ante-Mohácsiana (collection of original charters: DL, photo collection: DF)
Collectio Kaprinai


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1 The research on which this article is based was made possible with the support of the National Research, Development, and Innovation Fund of Hungary (NKFIH) PD-128970 research grant, and it is a contribution to the PAGES’ LandCover6k project. Some other aspects of this article were developed within the framework of another project led by the same organization (NKFIH K-128880), which considered the long-term effects of the Mongol Invasion on population density and extensive animal husbandry.

2 On the history of agricultural production and its role in the medieval economy of Hungary, see Laszlovszky, “Agriculture in Medieval Hungary.” On the general issues of environmental changes in the context of the medieval economy in Hungary see Ferenczi et als., “Long-Term Environmental Changes.”

3 Engel, A temesvári és moldovai. For the sixteenth-century Ottoman tax registers on the territory of Medieval Hungary, see also Káldy-Nagy, A budai szandzsák 1559. évi összeírása; Ágoston, “A szolnoki szandzsák 1591–92. évi összeírása”; Káldy-Nagy, A gyulai szandzsák 1567. és 1579. évi összeírása; Káldy-Nagy, A budai szandzsák 1546–1590. évi összeírásai; Káldy-Nagy, A csanádi szandzsák települései; Káldy-Nagy, A szegedi szandzsák települései; Blazovich, “A Dél-Alföld települései.”

4 Csánki, Magyarország történeti földrajza.

5 Györffy, Az Árpád-kori Magyarország.

6 Engel, Magyarország a középkor végén.

7 Laszlovszky, “Tanyaszerű települések”; Laszlovszky, “Space and place.”

8 Kubinyi and Laszlovszky, “Demographic Issues.”

9 F. Romhányi, “Kolostorhálózat”; F. Romhányi, “A középkori magyar plébániák.”

10 The case of Ráckeve and some other villages with Serbian populations on Csepel Island, today to the south of Budapest, is an exception. These villages were settled in the second half of the fifteenth century under completely different circumstances.

11 On the economic history of medieval Hungary in general, see The Economy of Medieval Hungary, edited by József Laszlovszky, Balázs Nagy, Péter Szabó, and András Vadas (Leiden: Brill, 2018). On the history of mining and metallurgy in Europe cf. Ian Blanchard, Mining, Metallurgy and Minting in the Middle Ages: Continuing Afro-European Supremacy, 1250–1450 (African Gold Production and the Second and Third European Silver Production Long-cycles) (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2005).

12 Batizi, “Mining in Medieval Hungary.”

13 Wenzel, Magyarország, 23. However, Gusztáv Heckenast expressed his doubts concerning Hungarian iron exports to Austria in the twelfth century, see Heckenast, “A kora Árpád-kori,” 149.

14 Györffy, Az Árpád-kori Magyarország, vol. 3, 243–47. The region belonged to the estate of the Benedictine Abbey of Garamszentbenedek (today Hronsky Benadik, Slovakia), founded in 1075 by King Géza I, which was given Baka as well, where another mine existed in the Árpád Era. The settlement was first mentioned in a charter in 1217 under the name Bana (mine). The name Argentifodina (i.e. silver mine) first occurred in 1240, when the parson of the settlement was also mentioned. The fact that both names were used without an adjective suggests that Selmecbánya was the first and most important royal silver mine in the whole region. On the mining privileges issued in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Weisz, “A bányaváros, mint önálló”; Weisz, “Mining Town Privileges”; Weisz, “Az alsó-magyarországi bányavárosok,” (about issues connected to the use of wood: 38–40).

15 Heckenast, A magyarországi vaskohászat; Vastagh, Tanulmányok a kohászat.

16 Gömöri, Az avarkori és Árpád-kori.

17 The first important interdisciplinary monograph on this topic: Heckenast, Gusztáv, Gyula Nováki, Gábor Vastagh, and Elemér Zoltay, A magyarországi vaskohászat története a korai középkorban [History of iron smelting in Hungary in the Early Middle Ages] (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1968). For the latest summary on the topic based on the earlier secondary literature, see: Batizi, “Mining in Medieval Hungary.”

18 Szentpétery, Regesta regum, no. 59. The German name of the settlement, Eisenburg, is also telling. Medieval Styrian iron production probably began in the eighth and ninth centuries. It then intensified around 1100 and remained important until the nineteenth century. Cf. Sperl, Gerhard, Steirische Eisenstraße, edited by Montanhistorischer Verein für Österreich Leoben, 1984.

19 Sources indicate iron mining and metallurgy around Rudabánya from the tenth century, based on archaeological findings. Török, “Vasérc, vasbuca, vastárgy.” Several iron mines and furnaces functioning in the mountainous region of northern Hungary were mentioned as early as in the thirteenth century, after the Mongol Invasion (1241), cf. Heckenast, “A vashámor,” 2–4. The hammer mill in Csetnek (today Štitnik, Slovakia) was first mentioned in 1344 (Heckenast, “A vashámor,” 10). On the developing metallurgy of the region see also the privilege of Master Konrad, the bell-casting master of King Louis I (1357: MNL OL DF 280773; on master Konrad, see Szőke et als., “Konrád mester,” and the company of the Thurzó family, see Izsó, Szemelvények, 45, 48, 56, 58 etc. Iron mines in Upper Hungary were mentioned e.g. in Dobsina, Gölnic, Igló, Jolsva, and Vihnye (today Dobšina, Gelnica, Spišská Nová Ves, Jelšava, and Vyhne, Slovakia), too. Sources indicate iron mining and processing in the region of Besztercebánya and Selmecbánya, as well. Heckenast, “A vashámor,” 3. In the Temesköz, a charter issued by King Sigismund of Luxembourg concerning the acquisition of the castle of Kövesd mentioned the iron mine of Boksánbánya (today Bocşa Montană, Romania); 1395: Wenzel, Magyarország, 124. Medieval iron slag was found in the area of Vaskoh (today Vaşcău, Romania) during an archaeological survey, and an eighteenth-century description of ores and other mineral resources of Hungary described the iron ore of the region as one of the best raw materials, though there is no written evidence of its medieval or early modern use, cf. Tóth, “Az első magyar nyelvű,” 130. In Vajdahunyad (today Hunedoara, Romania), there is data from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (1493, 1509) indicating the mining of iron (and gold) (MNL OL DL 29875, 24348, 24364, 26508, 26510, short summary in Hungarian: Izsó, Szemelvények, 137–38). We do not enumerate here the smaller mining regions with more limited metal production (e.g. Nagybörzsöny, Telkibánya), but they too contributed to the processes described below.

20 1165: Szentpétery, Regesta regum, no. 107.

21 In 1233, the conflict resulted in the issuing of the Oath of Bereg, which was intended to regulate the participation of Church institutions in the commercialization of salt. Cf. F. Romhányi, “Salt Mining.”

22 1292: Szentpétery, Regesta regum, no. 3878. On salt shipping and the levy of tolls in the Árpád Era, see Weisz, “Megjegyzések az Árpád-kori.”

23 In addition to the article by B. F. Romhányi (footnote 21), see also Draskóczy, “Salt Mining.”

24 Szűcs, Az utolsó Árpádok, 103–4. Szűcs emphasizes that there was a clear turning point in the structure of Hungarian exports. Beginning in the 1280s, Hungarian cattle, copper, and grain began to dominate (333).

25 There are some hints of early thirteenth-century cattle exports (see the toll regulation of Radkersburg and the circulation of Friesach deniers in the first half of the thirteenth century), but large-scale cattle farming and cattle trade began after the Mongol Invasion. Cf. Lyublyanovics, New Home, New Herds; Sárosi, Deserting villages.

26 On the field systems in this context, see Laszlovszky, “Field Systems.”

27 Laszlovszky et als., “Contextualizing,” 432.

28 On the estates of the abbey in the Tisza region, see Laszlovszky, “Dedi eciam.”

29 Hervay, Repertorium historicum.

30 Rosta, “Egy elfeledett nemzetségi.”

31 Rózsa et als., “Árpád Period.”

32 Pinke et als., “Zonal assessment,” 102; F. Romhányi, “Changes in the Spatial.”

33 The reasons underlying the procedure are complex, including the transformation of church property after the Fourth Lateran Council, demographic changes in the region due to the Mongol Invasion, environmental and economic changes, etc. Cf. F. Romhányi, “Kolostorhálózat.”

34 F. Romhányi, “A középkori magyar plébániák.”

35 According to István Méri the population in the upper Trans-Tisza region began to grow dramatically in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Méri, “Beszámoló,” 51–52.

36 Györffy, Az Árpád-kori Magyarország, vols. 1 and 3.

37 Pinke et als., “A hajdúsági várostérség,” 138.

38 Nyári et als., “Investigation of Holocene blown-sand,” 46, 52–53; Vadas, “Late Medieval,” 54.

39 Bálint, “Az Árpád-kori településhálózat,” 1.

40 Kiss et als., 711, and 704–8.

41 Gábris, Túri, “Homokmozgás,” 241, 245; Nyári et al., “Investigation of Holocene blown-sand,” 54.

42 Nyári et als., “Multidisciplinary analysis.”

43 Györffy, Az Árpád-kori Magyarország, vol. 3, 34; Pálóczi-Horváth, “Túrkeve története,” 53.

44 Pinke et al., “Zonal assessment,” 101. For a more comprehensive overview of the medieval climatic history of the Carpathian Basin, see Vadas and Rácz, “Climatic Changes.”; Vadas, “The Little Ice Age.”

45 Györffy, Az Árpád-kori Magyarország, vol. 1, 510; Jankovich and Szatmári, Régészeti kutatások; Szabó, “A dömösi prépostság”; Szabó, A dömösi adománylevél.

46 Makkai, “A pusztai állattartás,” 31–32.

47 Pinke et al., “Zonal assessment,” 102.

48 Kern et als., 111, 114, 121–24.

49 Kiss, “Weather and Weather-Related.”

50 For data and further literature, see Andrea Kiss, Floods and Long-Term Water-Level Changes in Medieval Hungary (Cham, 2019). Another aspect of environment-driven crises has been addressed by Andrea Fara, “Production of and Trade in Food Between the Kingdom of Hungary and Europe in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Era (Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries): The Roles of Markets in Crises and Famines,” Hungarian Historical Review 6 (2017): 138–79.

51 Tagányi, Magyar erdészeti oklevéltár.

52 Takács, Egy irtásfalu; Takács, Irtásgazdálkodásunk emlékei; Hegyi, A népi erdőkiélés.

53 Szabó, Woodland and Forests.

54 Szentpétery, Regesta regum, no. 1332.

55 Wenzel, Magyarország, 45.

56 Izsó, Szemelvények, 67. On the ore crushers and mills in the Kremnica region, see Vadas, “A középkori Magyar Királyság.”

57 Izsó, Szemelvények, 81.

58 Weisz, “Az alsó-magyarországi bányavárosok,” 40. For examples of local regulation of logging and woodland clearing see Weisz, “Mining Town Privileges,” 305.

59 Izsó, Szemelvények, 19.

60 Wenzel, “Okmányi adalék.”

61 Wenzel, Magyarország, 124.

62 Ţeicu, Banatul montan, 261 and 267.

63 F. Romhányi, “The Banat region.”

64 Wenzel, Magyarország, 158.

65 Izsó, Szemelvények, 41. Sources indicate regular commercial contacts with and the economic presence of Venetian merchants in Hungary as early as the 1220s, when one of the most important goods was Hungarian silver transported as far as the Levant. Szűcs, Az utolsó Árpádok, 323. On the importance and scale of medieval Hungarian copper mining, see Paulinyi, A középkori magyar réztermelés.

66 Paulinyi, A középkori magyar réztermelés, 36–37.

67 Tagányi, Erdészeti oklevéltár 1, 25.

68 Wenzel, Magyarország, 331–33.

69 Ibid., 126–27.

70 Izsó, Szemelvények, 45.

71 Tagányi, Erdészeti oklevéltár 1, 30.

72 Tagányi, Erdészeti oklevéltár 1, 30; Izsó, Szemelvények, 46.

73 Tagányi, Erdészeti oklevéltár 1, 30. However, wood for the ships built in Dés (today Dej, Romania) were sometimes transported from as far as the region of Radna (today Rodna, Romania). Draskóczy, A magyarországi kősó.

74 Izsó, Szemelvények, 57–59.

75 Wenzel, Magyarország, 118. The silver mines of the Bishop of Várad around Belényes (Beiuş) were first mentioned in 1297 (Györffy, Az Árpád-kori Magyarország, vol. 1, 599), then, in 1374 (Izsó, Szemelvények, 127).

76 Tagányi, Erdészeti oklevéltár 1, 20; Izsó, Szemelvények, 117–18. About this case, see also Weisz, “Mining Town Privileges,” 304. Another charter issued in 1376 (Fejér, Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, IX/5. 98.) may indicate that there was already wood of suitable quality in the closer vicinity of the mines, too, though it seems to have been wood used as building material for different edifices (cives et hospites… molendinum, casas, fornaces, balnea, allodia, et alias quaslibet haereditates aedificari facientes), and not for the mines directly or to burn as charcoal.

77 MNL OL DL 24901 (short summary in Hungarian: Izsó, Szemelvények, 106).

78 Izsó, Szemelvények, 121–22.

79 MNL OL DL 32505 (short summary in Hungarian: Izsó, Szemelvények, 132–33).

80 Alexander Fehér, Vegetation History and Cultural Landscapes: Case Studies from South-west Slovakia (Cham: Springer, 2018); Richard Marsina, ed., Codex diplomaticus et epistolaris Slovaciae, vols. 1–2 (Bratislava: SAV, 1971–1987); Bratislava Obzor, and Veronika Novák, “Mátyusföldi települések az okleveles források tükrében” [The settlements of the Mátyusföld region as reflected in the charters], in Mátyusföld vol. 2, edited by László Bukovszky 45–61 (Komárom: Fórum Kisebbségkutató Intézet; Dunaszerdahely: Lilium Aurum Könyvkiadó, 2005); Ferdinand Uličný, Dejiny Slovenska v 11. a 13. storočí (Bratislava: Veda, 2013).

81 Engel, “Ung megye,” 956.

82 The expression is super struibus lignorum. Iványi, A római szent birodalmi, no. 450. Before that, strues meant only a raft the wood of which was sold as building material or other raw material, but nothing else was shipped on it.

83 F. Romhányi, “Salt trade.”

84 Paládi-Kovács, Magyar néprajz, vol. 2, 979. In early modern times, rafting—especially of building material—was wide-spread on other rivers, too, e.g. on the Vág and Maros.

85 Miskolczy, Románok, 17–31.

86 Rusu, Dicţionarul mănăstirilor.

87 Köpeczi, Kurze Geschichte, 186–95.

88 Engel, “Ung,” 974 (1337: olahos descendere fecisset). Ruthenians were often called valachi in the charters because of similarities in their lifestyles, but in the case of Koromlya, a charter of 1437 says clearly that they were Ruthenians and that at the time they even had a priest of their own.

89 Kuczyński, “Fedor Koriatowicz.” The prince spent time in Hungary in the 1360s and 1370s. The monastery of Saint Nicholas, which he founded near Munkács (today Mukachevo, Ukraine), was called a parish of the Ruthenian (i.e. Greek Orthodox) rite in 1458. Its priest, Lucas, was confirmed by King Matthias Corvinus (Collectio Kaprinai, series B, vol. 6, no. 42). This means that the church was a recognized center of pastoral care for the Orthodox population after the Union of Florence.

90 Németh, A középkori Szatmár, 301.

91 For the fifteenth century see Mihályi, Máramarosi diplomák, 223 (1418: duas capellas ligneas, unam videlicet Christianorum et aliam Ruthenorum in two villages in Máramaros County); Németh, A középkori Szatmár, 268 (1424, Szakasz—capella Olahorum). Németh’s book contains considerable data on the Wallachian population in Szatmár County. A further example from 1516: MNL OL DL 86750 (a conscription of a domain on the border of Bereg and Máramaros Counties lists three wooden churches—capella lignea more volachorum—in Ruszkova, Polyána, and Rosálya). In Zemplén County, new Orthodox chapels were built in the sixteenth century, e.g. in Felsőcsebény and Oroszsebes (today Vyšné Čabiny and Ruská Bystrá, Slovakia), in the mountains to the north and east of Nagymihály (Samu Borovszky, Magyarország vármegyéi és városai: Zemplén vármegye és Sátoraljaújhely r.t. város [The counties and towns of Hungary: Zemplén County and the town of Sátoraljaújhely] (Budapest–Sátoraljaújhely, 1905) 42 and 96). In Ugocsa County, a charter issued in 1471 listed thirteen villages inhabited by Wallachians and Ruthenians (MNL OL DL 70956). In 1491, the Orthodox population of Máramaros County and the surrounding mountainous region had a bishop who resided in the monastery of Körtvélyes (today Hrusheve, Ukraine). MNL OL DL 36886.

92 Engel, “Ung,” 974.

93 The valachi living on the territory of the Árva and Likava Castles received a privilege from King Matthias Corvinus in 1474. Wenzel, Magyarország mezőgazdaságának, 330–31. On the colonization process of Trencsén County, see Fekete Nagy, “Trencsén megye,” in Csánki, Magyarország történeti földrajza, vol. 4, 61–62.

94 Csepregi, Zoltán, Evangélikus lelkészek Magyarországon 2: a zsolnai zsinattól (1610) a soproni országgyűlésig (1681) [Lutheran pastors in Hungary part 2: from the synod of Zsolna, 1610 till the diet of Sopron, 1681] (Budapest, 2018). I would like to thank Professor Csepregi for his additional information about the database. Furthermore, see Dienes, Dénes ed., Református egyházlátogatási jegyzőkönyvek, 16–17. század [Protocols of canonical visitations of reformed churches, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries] (Budapest: Osiris, 2001); Tomisa, Ilona ed., Katolikus egyházlátogatási jegyzőkönyvek, 16–17. század [Protocols of canonical visitations of Catholic churches, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries] (Budapest: Osiris, 2002). On the mosques established on the territory under Ottoman rule in the sixteenth century, see Sudár, Balázs, Dzsámik és mecsetek a hódolt Magyarországon [Mosques in Ottoman Hungary] (Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézete, 2014).

95 R. Várkonyi, “Környezet és végvár,” esp. 17.

96 Feurdean, Tanţău, “The Evolution,” 81.

97 Bodnariuc et als., “Holocene vegetation.”

98 Törőcsik and Sümegi, “Pollen-based reconstruction.”

99 Fărcaş and Tanţău, “The Human Presence.”

100 Fărcaş and Tanţău, “The Human Presence”; Grindean et als., “Middle to Late Holocene,” 34.

101 Sümegi et als., 42.

102 Törőcsik and Sümegi, “Pollen-based reconstruction.”

103 Törőcsik and Sümegi, “Pollen-based reconstruction”; Mályusz, Turóc megye, 1922.

104 Szűcs, Az utolsó Árpádok, 316.

105 Szabó, “Changes in woodland,” 111.

106 Mályusz, Turóc megye; Weisz, “A bányaváros mint önálló”, 49–50.

107 Peters et als., “Holocene vegetation,” 15.

108 Feurdean et als., “A paleo-ecological,” 132.

109 Fărcaş and Tanţău, “The Human Presence,” 34.

110 Feurdean, “Holocene forest,” 442.

111 Vadas and Szabó, “Not Seeing the Forest,” 478.

112 Szabó, “Changes in woodland,” 111.

113 Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 362–68.

114 Szabó, “The Extent,” 221.

115 Tagányi, Erdészeti oklevéltár, vol. 1, 77.

116 Heckenast, A magyarországi vaskohászat, 109–10.

117 Vadas and Szabó, “Not Seeing the Forest,” 478.


Map 1. Eleventh-century churches, churchyards and monasteries (with late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányi


Map 2a. The monastic network before the Mongol Invasion, 1241 (with the late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányi


Map 2b. The monastic network around 1300 (with the late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányi


Map 2c. The monastic network around 1500 (with the late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányi


Map 3. Parishes in the Kingdom of Hungary, 1332–1337. (with the late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányi


Map 4. Monastic estates donated before 1100 (with the late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányii


Map 5. Priests, churches and mosques mentioned between 1550 and 1620 (with the late medieval mines). Map drawn by Beatrix F. Romhányi


Weather Anomalies and Their Economic Consequences: Penury in Northeastern Hungary in the Late 1870s*

Éva Bodovics
Hungarian National Archives, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Archives
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 179-212 DOI:10.38145/2020.2.179

This study investigates an episode of penury in 1879–1880 in Borsod and Zemplén Counties which occurred as one of the negative consequences of a short-term weather change which was experienced across Europe in the late 1870s and early 1880s. From the mid-1870s on, due to the wetter and cooler weather, the annual crop yields repeatedly fell below the usual and expected averages in Hungary. After a catastrophic harvest in the autumn of 1879, when the quantity of harvested cereals was sufficient neither for reserves nor for spring sowing, the situation became severe. 1878 had also been a bad year for agriculture: the severe floods in the second half of 1878 not only had washed the crops from the fields but had also covered them with thick sludge that made it impossible to sow in autumn.
Since the spring of 1879 was characterized by unfavorable conditions for agriculture (increased rainfall, widespread floods, low average spring temperatures), the local and national authorities continuously kept their eyes on the crops. Thanks to this preliminary attention, the administration was able to respond quickly and in an organized manner to the bad harvest in July and August and could avert catastrophe at national level.
The leadership of the two counties responded more or less in the same way to the near-famine conditions. First, they asked the Treasury to suspend tax collection until the next harvest at least so that the farmers who were facing financial difficulties would not have to go into debt. Second, they appealed to the government for financial and crop relief to save the unemployed population from starvation. For those who were able to work, they asked for the approval of public works and major construction projects from the Ministry of Transport and Public Works. For many, such state-funded road construction or river regulation projects were the only way to make a living. Third, the county administrations also gave seeds for spring sowing to the farmers. While Borsod county survived the years of bad harvests without dire problems due to the higher proportion of better quality fields, in the more mountainous region of Zemplén, most landowners had smaller and lower quality lands, and they often chose to emigrate to avoid starvation. These difficult conditions may have provided the initial impetus for mass emigration to Western Europe and America.

Keywords: weather anomalies, penury, crisis management, Hungary, late nineteenth century

Hungary, as a predominantly agricultural country, has always been highly vulnerable to weather conditions. Both extremes of the precipitation spectrum, meaning too much or too little precipitation accompanied by temperature fluctuations and complemented by theoretical and technical backwardness in farming, have often led to subsistence crises.

Several people have already dealt with the history of penuries and famines in Hungary caused by the droughts of the nineteenth century: the distress of 1814–171 and the famine of 1845–47,2 and 1863–64.3 However, wet and cool weather, especially during spring and summer months, can also badly damage crops, resulting in penury and, in the worst case, famine. This is especially true when there is unusually humid and cold weather for years in a row. This happened in Hungary beginning in 1875, and this caused distress in the northeastern parts of the country after the catastrophic harvest of 1879. Though our research does not cover other regions of Hungary, press products and economic sources suggest that the poverty caused by the weather extremes was not limited to the northeastern counties.

Neither the unfavorable weather nor the subsequent difficult economic situation were unique to Hungary. Rather, the crises caused by extreme weather was hit much of Europe.4 The year 1879 marked a turning point in economic growth in many countries, with grain being imported in several places due to the high rate of crop losses (up to 50 percent) that generally occurred. The influx of cheap grain mostly from America and Russia led to a sharp drop in the price of the cereals produced in Europe. In England, for example, the 50-year recession, the so-called agrarian crisis, began in 1879.5 As Hubert H. Lamb put it, “1879 turned the decline into a collapse.”6

In the works written on the history of the Hungarian crisis,7 which affected the agricultural sector as well, the focus of research has been on the inflow of cheap grain and the consequent fall in domestic grain prices, and the relationship between the crisis and the weather anomalies of the era has not been examined. There had been a decline in agricultural prices in the country before 1879, so the explanation is not primarily to be found in the weather conditions, but we nonetheless must take into account the possibility that food and feed shortages due to a series of bad harvests and the catastrophic harvest of 1879, accompanied by impoverishment, could certainly have contributed to and deepened the depression. Our research, the initial findings of which are included in the present paper, is intended to fill this lacuna in the secondary literature.

This paper is divided into three sections. In the first, we examine the weather conditions of the last third of the nineteenth century, highlighting anomalies in temperature and precipitation. Next, in our discussion of conditions in two northern counties, we show how adverse weather affected agricultural production at the regional level. According to the sources, a series of poor harvests led to distress in several districts in late 1879 and early 1880. In the third part of the paper, we present the extent of this need and the official measures taken to address it. Although our paper focuses on events and conditions in these two northeastern counties, we also briefly discuss the situation in the neighboring counties in order to provide a wider context.

Sources and Methods

Given the aim of the paper, we used statistical and descriptive sources in our research. To observe the weather anomalies, we used the yearbooks of the predecessor to the current Hungarian Meteorological Service, which began publication in 1873.8 Collected under standardized conditions, these instrumental data are available from 1871 on for some settlements in the country. As the monitoring network expanded, weather data from other settlements were added to the yearbook over time. Consequently, we have data from different periods for the settlements in the northern region that we examined. The longest data series, dating back to 1871, are from Eger and Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia).

To examine the temperature, we used monthly averages calculated on the basis of the daily temperature averages recorded immediately after detection.9 With regard to precipitation conditions, we examined the monthly precipitation data aggregated from the daily data.

The data in the yearbooks were theoretically recorded in a centrally regulated way and under conditions with state-approved means, so we can consider them more reliable than those recorded in previous periods, but we must nonetheless be careful, because improper recording techniques or various bias factors may have affected the accuracy of the data. One such factor is the change of the location of the measuring station over time, which for example occurred in the case of Kassa (today Košice, Slovakia). The homogenization of our data, which could increase its accuracy and reliability, would make it possible to eliminate problems like this. However, homogenization would also require the examination of additional metadata (measurement-related data), which we are unable to perform because we lack the professional meteorological knowledge. We hope that soon meteorologists will also homogenize the data from our period, as they have done for the data from the twentieth century.

In order to be able to examine the characteristics of our data over a longer period, we also included in our research the data from Budapest, the city with the oldest data series in Hungary. These homogenized data series are from the váraljamet.hu meteorological website. The homogenization and interpolation of the data to the meteorological station of Pestszentlőrinc are carried out by ZAMG (Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik).

In addition to the weather data series, the range of our statistical sources is expanded by the county yield results, which we collected from the relevant volumes of the Hungarian Statistical Yearbooks.10 Regarding the accuracy of the data, it should be noted that they were recorded on the basis of the accounts and estimates provided by landowners, but more importantly, the landowners tended to underestimate the actual yield at the time of the surveys, as they feared a tax increase.11 In addition, it is conceivable that farmers reported higher crop losses than the losses that they actually suffered in hopes of receiving state compensation. These are merely assumptions, but we can suspect that the situation may have been more favorable, if not necessarily by much, than the picture drawn by the data.

Descriptive sources were also included in the research in order to identify inaccuracies in the statistical data and the experiences behind the numbers. As our main goal was to present the official measures take to manage the crisis, we used the documents of the county administrations, which means the reports issued by the so-called szolgabíró or, roughly, sheriff at the district level and the alispán or deputy lord lieutenant at the county level. The magistrates in charge of running the districts (járás) served law enforcement, administrative, and judicial functions, and the szolgabírós normally submitted their reports on the conditions of their district every six months. However, due to the growing destitution, the alispán required monthly reports, and these reports enable us to present in detail the course and management of the crisis. After the ispán or lord lieutenant, the alispán was the second deputy in the county administration and also the figure who actually held control of the county. Reports from the szolgabírós (district deputies) and the leaders of the settlements also went to the alsipán, who, on the basis of these reports, submitted an exhaustive report to the Ministry of Interior on the affairs of the county every six months. Almost all of the szolgabírós’ and alispán’s reports are found in the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Archives of the Hungarian National Archives. In addition to these sources, materials published in the Borsod. Miskolczi Értesítő [Borsod. Miskolcz Gazette], an organ of the local press, were also examined.

Weather Conditions in Northern Hungary, 1871–1900

Instrumental data collected with standardized tools and methods have been available for Hungary since 1871. The development of the network of meteorological stations took place gradually, beginning in the Transdanubian areas and spreading to the regions in the east and northeast. Each station was connected to the network at different times, so while we have data from some areas from the very beginning, other parts of the country only appeared on the “weather map” of the country 10 or 15 or 20 years later. Of the northeastern region examined in greater detail in our study, the data sets from only two cities, Eger (the seat of Heves County) and Eperjes (the seat of the former Szepes County, today Prešov, Slovakia), date back to 1871; in the other settlements, measurements began to be taken a few years later.

Temperature between 1871 and 1900

In the diagram showing the annual average temperature of the settlements belonging to the northeastern Hungarian and upland regions, apart from the differences due to the geographical location, the curves of the individual towns mostly follow one another in the same rhythm without significant jumps (Fig. 1).


Figure 1. Annual average temperature of settlements in eastern and northeastern Hungary, 1871–1900.

Source: Meteorológiai Évkönyvek


We are best able to draw conclusions about the temperature conditions during the thirty-year period under examination on the basis of the data concerning Eperjes and Eger, which are supplemented by the partial data concerning the other towns. Between 1871 and 1900, several major declines in the average annual temperature were observed: a significant cooling was felt compared to the previous year or years in 1875, 1879, 1881, 1883, 1888, and 1893. The year 1875 is special because from that year on there was not any significant increase in the temperature until 1882. In other words, the period between 1875 and 1881 was the coldest for the entire time period. A similar cooling came only in 1888, but this was not followed by further cooler years. On the contrary, a slow warming began. The warmest years in the northern region were 1872, 1873, 1882, 1898, and 1900.

Although we do not have long-term data series for the settlements we studied, we can use Budapest’s temperature data dating back to 1780 to examine the extent to which the cooling in the last decades of the nineteenth century was exceptional over a longer period of time (Fig. 2).





Figure 2. Budapest’s annual average temperature, 1780–1900. Source: váraljamet.eoldal.hu


On the diagram showing the long-term temperature conditions in Budapest, the cooling experienced in our period, which began in 1875 after the warm years of the early 1870s, can be clearly seen. With the exception of 1882, 1885, and 1892, the average annual temperature in this period was around or below 9.7 °C, which differed significantly from the previous decades’ average temperature, which was above 10 °C (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Budapest’s average temperature by decades. Source: váraljamet.eoldal.hu


Figure 4. Budapest’s annual average temperature by seasons. Source: Meteorológiai Évkönyvek

If we examine the temperature data by seasons, we see that this cooling occurred mainly in the summer and winter (Figs. 4 and 5). The temperature diagram for Budapest and Eger shows that during the period in question, the average temperature in the summer months (June, July, and August) decreased by about 2 degrees after 1877. The average temperatures in the spring (March, April, and May) and autumn (September, October, and November) started to decrease after the remarkably high average temperature of 1872, and then, in the following years of the century, both were between 8 and 12 Celsius (with the exception of the spring of 1876 and 1882 and the autumn of 1878). During the period in question, the autumn months were also cooler, as the temperature went above 10 Celsius only once, in 1878. The average for the spring months was similar, except for 1876 and 1882.

Precipitation between 1871 and 1900

After analyzing the temperature conditions, we now turn to an examination of the amount of precipitation. In the figure showing the annual precipitation in the northern and upland towns, we observe a significant difference in the rhythm of the falling precipitation (Fig. 6). The changing geographical environment of each settlement was correlated with large differences in the yearly amount of precipitation. Therefore, in contrast to the temperature data, it is difficult to draw general conclusions concerning the period in question on the basis of the precipitation data. This task is further complicated by the fact that the data sets for the settlements are rather incomplete; with the exception of the partial data for Eger and Eperjes from the years before 1877, we do not have information on the precipitation conditions in the other settlements.

Figure 6. Annual average precipitation in settlements in eastern and northeastern Hungary. Source: Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

Based on these data series, we can say that for most of the 1870s, drier conditions prevailed in the northern region year after year, and only in 1878 did rainfall begin to increase. We learned from the analysis of the temperature data that temperatures were significantly higher in the early 1870s than after 1875; and from our fragmentary data, it appears that this warmer weather may have been coupled with a period of low rainfall, though the amount of rainfall was not so low as to cause a drought, at least not in this area. Within the period in question, there were four more years in which there were significant decreases in the amount of precipitation: in 1880, 1883, 1885, and 1889. However, these decreases were only temporary and were not followed by a more prolonged drop in precipitation.

It is worth noting that the different geographical conditions of the settlements may have led to significant differences in our data. The datasets concerning Eperjes and Eger are good examples of this: while in 1880 the annual rainfall peaked in Eger, in Eperjes the precipitation dropped drastically in the same year to a level that was close to a drought. The wetter years in the second half of the 1880s did not affect the county seat of Heves either; so the precipitation seems to have been concentrated in the upland area. However, the differences observed in the data series from Eperjes and Kassa (seat of the former Abaúj County) can be explained less by geographical conditions than by erroneous data recording. This is because the two settlements are located only 35–40 km apart in the valley of the Hernád River, and there is no geological formation between them that would explain such a discrepancy in the data. That is why the data from Kassa should be handled with extreme caution.

Although there are considerable differences in the data sets from the settlements studied, the wettest years in all cases12 occurred between 1878 and 1882.

As we did in the case of temperature, we can use the data concerning Budapest to see whether the precipitation between 1875 and 1882 was outstandingly above average from a long-term perspective (Fig. 7). In the diagram, the period in question clearly stands out from the other years with an average precipitation above 600 mm per year. There was no other period over the long run with such high precipitation values for every single year.



Figure 7. Budapest’s annual average temperature, 1841–1900. Source: váraljamet.eoldal.hu

The Impact of Weather Anomalies on Agriculture

As made clear in the discussion above, the 1870s proved extraordinary from a climatic point of view for two reasons. On the one hand, on average, more precipitation fell each year than in the individual years of the decade before and the decade after, and in some years the levels of precipitation were outstandingly high. This high average rainfall was a result of the rainy summer and unusually wet autumn months. On the other hand, in addition to the extraordinary rainfall, the decade was cooler on average than the previous decade and the subsequent decade. Although extremely high or extremely low rainfall can cause a lot of damage to agriculture, unsuitable temperatures can have an even direr effect on crop yields. Due to the cold springs, farmers could expect fewer crops, which were further damaged by the cool and rainy summers and autumns. The crop was either unripe or rotten. Thus, over the course of the decade, there may have been several major and minor crises in agriculture.

In this section, we examine the results of harvests of grains (winter wheat, winter rye and meslin13), maize, and potatoes, which are the agricultural products which have the greatest impact on daily livelihoods. In the case of the northern counties, potatoes were not simply an additional source of food. They were often the only option in higher settlements with cooler climates. And maize was often used as an important supplement when wheat and rye yields were unfavorable. In order to bring our quantitative data to life, we used many expressive narrative sources which offer impressions of the experiences people endured because of the poor harvests brought about by unfavorable weather.

Although the Hungarian Statistical Yearbooks provide data concerning various crops from the 1868 harvest onwards, due to the different methods of data collection, we were only able to use the series from 1877 onwards. In order to make the data easily interpretable, the development of each crop is shown in a separate figure. On the graph of wheat yields (Fig. 8), we see that there was a significant decline in three years (1879, 1883, and 1889), with the most severe decline coming in 1879, when the yield per hectare decreased by half or one third compared to the previous year. This low point can clearly be attributed to the extremely rainy and cold weather of the second half of 1878 and the beginning of 1879. Although there was already significantly more rain in 1878 than there had been in the previous years, this is not yet reflected in the average yield in 1878 because the excess rainfall only came in the autumn months. By this time, however, the wheat had been harvested. After 1879, we see a different degree of rise, after which the wheat crop stagnated in 1881–1882 and then fell again in 1883. This decline is presumably due to the lower rainfall in 1883. The period between 1883 and 1887 was a time of stagnation again, and then the yield average began to drop slightly at first and dramatically after 1888. The low point of 1889 is similar to that of 1879, though it was not as dramatic a drop.

In the case of rye, we see a pattern similar to the case of wheat, despite the fact that rye is better able to withstand cooler and wetter climates (Fig. 9). 1878 was a relatively good year for this crop, but the rainy weather that began towards the end of July was simply too much for the rye as well. Thus, in 1879, like wheat, the rye crop dropped by half or two thirds. However, 1883 cannot be considered such a bad year for rye, and in Szepes County, the average yield even increased. While in the case of wheat, the second low point came in 1883, in the case of rye it occurred somewhat later, in 1885–86, and it was not as severe. The weather in 1888 and especially in 1889, however, significantly reduced rye production, much as it reduced production of wheat.

Figure 9. Annual rye crop by counties, 1877–1890. Source: Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

Since it is a one-to-one mixture of wheat and rye, meslin unsurprisingly followed the trend described for wheat and rye (Fig. 10). In other words, in the case of meslin, 1879, 1883, and 1889 were also considered the worst, but the years between 1883 and 1889 were also generally considered bad. On the other hand, the harvest in 1882 ended with a relatively favorable result in several counties.


Figure 10. Annual meslin crop by counties, 1877–1890.
Source: Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

Turning to the potato and maize yields, the graphs clearly illustrate that these two crops were much more sensitive to weather changes than cereals (Figs. 11 and 12). However, it was not simply temperature and precipitation conditions that had a perceptible effect on the average yield per hectare, but also geographical differences, as we can see that the yields in the different counties show a very different picture. Nevertheless, the figures do indicate that there were common points, for instance the worst years. As shown in the figure below, in addition to 1879, which was also a low point for potatoes, in 1882, 1884, 1888, and 1890 the weather was not favorable for potatoes either. However, while in the last years the potato yield developed well in some of the counties (e.g. Abaúj and Borsod), in 1879, the statistics recorded an extremely low average yield in all the counties in question. In other words, from a practical point of view, this meant that, due to the generally poor harvest, it was not possible to compensate for the shortfall by importing from the neighboring counties. If we look at the average yield of the two counties, Borsod and Zemplén, which are the focus of our study, in Zemplén, where the climate was usually colder and therefore potatoes were the dominant food source, the average yield remained below 70 hectoliters/hectare for most of the period in question. This amount/quantity not only lagged behind the average yields in Borsod, it also lagged behind the yields in all the counties in the north. Moreover, not only were the yields low, but the size of the area cultivated also decreased significantly over the years: while in 1877, potatoes were grown on just over 22,000 Viennese acres,14 in 1890 the area on which they were grown came to only 11,720 Viennese acres. The biggest decline occurred in 1880, when potatoes were planted on only 8,400 acres, in sharp contrast with the previous year, when the area on which they were planted came to 15,000 Viennese acres. In Borsod, where potatoes were not a dominant crop,15 compared to the data from Zemplén, the potato crop developed relatively well from 1882: it produced a yield of over 100 hectoliters/hectare until 1889.


Figure 11. Annual potato crop by counties, 1877–1890.
Source: Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

In the case of maize, which prefers warmer temperatures, our diagram offers a relatively more uniform picture.16 With the exception of the remarkably high value in Abaúj, a more significant decline can be observed which began as early as 1878 and continued in 1879. Despite the fact that 1882 proved a very good year for cereals, this cannot be said for maize, as the average yield started to decrease again this year, and in 1883 it reached another low point. The next unfavorable year came in 1890, when the average yield fell in all counties except Borsod, which was the southernmost.



Figure 12. Annual maize crop by counties, 1877–1890.
Source: Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

Of the northern counties, only in the case of Sáros we can compare the average grain, potato, and maize yields with the precipitation values (Figs. 13 and 14). The figure clearly shows the strong correlation between precipitation and average yield: in the period with high precipitation (above 600 mm/year), grain yields declined, such as after 1879, 1882, and 1887, whereas in moderately rainy years, grain yields rose. Although each cereal responds differently to precipitation, there was not too much difference in yield. Similarly, in the case of potatoes, a close relationship can be observed between yields and changes in precipitation: too much rain clearly resulted in a drastic decline in yield, while in drier years the average yield improved somewhat. As for maize, the correlation can also be seen, though it is less spectacular way: declining rainfall led to higher crop yields.


Figure 14. Annual potato and maize crops in Szepes County in relation to the annual average precipitation in Eperjes. Sources: Meteorológiai Évkönyv, Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

Subsistence Crisis and Its County-level Management

Although our data show that 1879 was the worst year for the crops we are studying, the harvest results of 1878 also lagged behind results from the previous years. Our qualitative sources show that this was due to the unfavorable weather typical of the whole of 1878. The year began with a huge amount of snow in January, followed by a rainy and cool spring. Continuous rainfall made it impossible to start spring work in the fields and the vineyards.

With the arrival of summer, the situation did not improve; due to the low average temperature and the amount of rain, the crop showed an increasingly depressing picture as harvest time neared. Articles in which locals expressed their frustrations were published in organs of the press, including for instance the following description:


The weather is still desperate, it doesn’t want to clear up, and the rain, if not every day, falls every other day. Grape rot is common on all the hillsides, and if the weather does not get warmer or windy soon, our hope for a rich harvest will be dashed. Good, high-quality wine can no longer be expected as very warm weather has not arrived and the soil is so full of moisture that its absorption can only be somewhat balanced by extremely windy, dry, warm days. The weather not only affects us winegrowers, but also the grain producers; in the counties of Abaúj, Zemplén, Ung, and Gömör, but also in the upper parts of our [Borsod] county, the grain is still out in the field, and the blackened and even greening bundles offer a sad sight.17

As our graphs show, the 1878 harvest was not overly plentiful, and although rainy weather continued throughout the autumnal months, at least the grape harvest turned out relatively well due to the higher temperatures in September and October. Plenty of wine was also reported from Sopron and Budaörs, although the quality was uneven.18 The reports submitted by the alispán of the county indicate that many grapes were harvested in Borsod as well, but where it was not possible to finish the harvest in time (and this was usually the case for better quality grapes), the grapes burst and rot due to the high quantity of rain. As a result, the quality fell short of expectations and the price of wine fell sharply.19

Excessive rainfall caused serious problems from other perspectives as well, in addition to disappointing yields. Due to frequent floods and inland water caused by high groundwater levels, a significant part of the arable land was covered with either water or a thick layer of mud. This made it difficult to plow and sow the lands in the autumn for the following year. Thus, the farmers had to begin the next year (1879) with harvests which were far more modest than they had hoped for large swathes of land that went unsown.

The climate of 1879 put people’s tolerance to the test. Although the winter was not too harsh, it was all the wetter, so when spring arrived and the huge amount of winter snow started to melt, this caused severe flooding across the country. Floods of several small and large rivers were reported from the area on which our research focuses, but most of the problems were caused by the flooding of the Tisza River, which affected both counties. The river broke the surrounding embankment between Zemplénagárd and Leányvár on December 27, 1878, flooding the surrounding arable lands.20 Although the embankment had been repaired, the szolgabíró of the Bodrogköz District reported on the July 4 that one fourth of Bodrogköz was still covered with water. As he noted in his report, the constant rains completely destroyed the few autumn sowings that the flood had spared and thus also the spring crop. Furthermore, after pastures had been broken up and turned into arable land in the previous dry years, now, when the remaining pastures were under water, people were driving their cattle to other counties to graze or simply selling them at cheap prices.21 The szolgabíró of the Szerencs District also highlighted in his report that places which where normally waterless in the middle of summer were also covered with water due to the high levels of rain.22

By July, it had become increasingly certain that the year’s harvest would be well below even the yields of 1878. Heavy rains and severe frosts had destroyed not only the cereals but also the potatoes and the maize, which were the staple food of the poor. The situation near harvest time was summarized by the szolgabíró of the Szinna District in July as follows:


This year in my district, because of the heavy and continuous rainfall, the field crops are showing a worrying picture. Wheat and rye are poorer than average, harvesting is very slow due to the continuous rainfall, barley is practically missing, oats are mediocre, maize, beans are very deficient, potatoes, which are indispensable to the Highlanders, have already rotted. This is compounded by the depressing circumstance that citizens who moved to the lowlands for the harvest are returning with half the income they earn in other years […]. Fodder crops, if they are successfully harvested, can be said to be pretty good this year. I note that we had quite high hopes for spring crops, in particular, at the end of last month, but they have been severely damaged by the continuous rainfalls since the 5 of this month [July].23

In early September, after the start of the harvest, he briefly reported that “the result can be said to be the worst possible” and that the proliferation of wild boars and bears was causing considerable damage to the already shoddy crop and among the cattle.24 Cereals produced so few seeds that they were considered not only insufficient for sale and food, but also as seeds. It was feared that great parts of both counties would soon face famine.

Finally, we must also talk briefly about the development of fruit crops, especially grapes, which were a major source of income in Zemplén County. As noted earlier, in 1878, despite the rainy autumn, there was a relatively large amount of wine, although the quality of the wine was not very good, and this led to a significant reduction in its price per barrel. In 1879, however, the vineyard owners’ prospects deteriorated further after hailstorms in late spring and summer severely battered not only the orchards but also the vineyards.25 In addition, in the settlements of Tokaj-Hegyalja (Mezőzombor, Mád, and Tarcal), a leafroller moth called Tortix pilleriana appeared, and the worms of this moth caused enormous damage in the vineyards.26 Presumably, the locals managed to curb the spread of the insect, because in the subsequent reports submitted by the szolgabírós, it was noted that traces of neither the tortrix pilleriana nor the phylloxera appeared in the vineyards.27 Unfortunately, the situation was much worse for the other fruits, as in 1879 and 1882 the crop failed due to frost and premature fruit loss.28

Heavy rainfalls and floods contributed indirectly to general impoverishment as well, since people could not get to the fairs and markets due because of the damaged roads and bridges, so they had to do without the incomes they usually made from selling their goods. In addition, repairs to the roads were made only slowly, as due to the high water levels, it was difficult to remove the gravel needed for paving from the rivers.29 It is thus hardly surprising that the szolgabíró have reported stagnation in tax collections in all the districts.

Penury in Zemplén County

It did not take long for the first signs of crisis to appear. In September, the alispán of Zemplén County informed the Minister of Interior about the worrying situation:



Your Honourable, the Hungarian Royal Ministry of Interior!

From the reports of some of our szolgabírós and the public statements based on the experiences of committee members gathered at this general assembly from different parts of the county, we have sadly made sure that most of the county’s people will struggle with poverty and hunger as a result of current year’s general infertility.—And the middle and smaller landowners, in addition to their already shaken credit, have found themselves in such a dire situation that they are on the verge of death without the help of a cheap state loan to be lended as soon as possible.30

The alispán ordered reports on the annual yields for each parish covering the possessions and the supplies of foodstuffs and seeds of the landowners. In addition, a so-called “poverty committee” was set up to compile the incoming data and take the necessary measures. In order to remedy the situation, the Minister of Finance was asked to suspend the collection of state taxes among the already struggling population for a year, beginning on October 1, 1879,31 and the Minister of Transport and Public Works was instructed to provide a source of income for the needy through public works.32 In response to the request, the Minister of Interior was willing to grant the requested government loan, but not for the number of people requested by the county. The financial support was limited to people of two categories: the destitute who were able to work and the destitute who were not able to work or could not support themselves on their own. Furthermore, seeds were also given to those who were unable to obtain them even through private credit. The Minister of Interior asked the county leadership to review the range of people who needed support based on the conditions mentioned above. Until the exact data was available, however, he sent 8,000 forints as financial aid, “so that where the risk of starvation really threatens, the necessary aid can be provided from this amount.”33

Despite the fact that the Minister of Finance was asked in November to suspend the collection of state taxes, reports from the county said there was no response to the request, and tax collectors continued to seize the last food items of those in need with the utmost rigor. Given the gravity of the situation, the Zemplén County General Assembly decided to take immediate action. Instead of sending petitions (felirat) to the Minister, which was the normal way of lodging a complaint or request, the Assembly requested the immediate suspension of tax collection by telegram:


Because of the famine, our assembly asks to stop tax enforcement against farmers in all our districts through telegraphs; otherwise there will be distress in districts where it otherwise would not have been.

Tax enforcement has a very bad effect in times of need.

More explanation in representations.

We are asking for taking actions through telegrams because there will be auctions tomorrow.34

The general county assembly decided on the following measures. First, it was resolved to purchase maize to feed the destitute who were incapable of working. It was estimated that the supply of maize to feed roughly 5,000 people in need, though the concession was made that “their number will be much higher,” counting one liter per person per day, would require 9,100 hectoliters of maize in total at a cost of 91,000 forints (10 forints per liter). The Minister of Interior was therefore asked to issue the necessary amount in the form of state aid.35

Steps were also take to provide help for the destitute who were able to work by offering public employment opportunities. The number of people belonging to this category was put at 7,891 in Zemplén County. For each person, 120 working days were calculated with a wage of 40 kreuzers per day, which comes to a total cost of 384,000 forints.36 The county assembly listed by district the public works in the county “the construction of which was in the best interests of the public” and then submitted the planned works and the estimates of costs to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for approval.37 The minister may have found the costs of the planned public works too high, because he asked the county to select only those work projects which were essential to the public interests and then resubmit the proposal to the Ministry. Until authorization was given, he sent 50,000 forints to start the approved works.38

Fortunately, with the help of the sources, we can also get an idea of how the aid process took place. In each district, a district relief committee was set up to distribute food, which was procured by a subcommittee of the Poverty Committee (Central Subcommittee). The minutes of a meeting of the General Assembly offer the following description of this committee:


The District Relief Committee, composed of two, possibly three trusted, intelligent individuals living in the district and the szolgabíró, is led by the szolgabíró, who takes over the food sent by the Central Subcommittee and executes the distribution in agreement with the Committee members, and in due time he submits to the county alispán a certificate of the use of the food or financial aid that have been sent. In addition, he is required to report weekly to the alispán on the condition of those in need.39


The allocation and implementation of public works was organized in a similar way to relief management. First, the individuals responsible for oversight wanted to ensure that only county residents were involved in public works. It was the task of the szolgabírós to prove this, and they gave a certificate (ballet) to the individual who applied for employment. The needy were divided into two groups. The first group included strong men who would be given a daily wage of 40 kreuzers, while the second group included weaker men and women, who would only be given a daily wage of 30 kreuzers. Workers could claim their wages in cash or half in cash and half in crop. In addition to wages, workers also received food for the duration of the work. This was coordinated by the szolgabírós through contractors.40

Relief, however, came slowly, and many people decided to look elsewhere for their livelihoods. Some headed south towards the Great Plain, while others went to north and sometimes even as far as England or America. As the szolgabíró of Nagymihály wrote in November 1879,


In my district, this year’s poor harvest and the fact that state aid has not arrived yet are forcing the poorest people to migrate to America and England. I am aware that it is the working men, young and old, who leave their homes in hordes to emigrate, among them countless men of military age and off-duty soldiers. They make their way through Kassa to Eperjes, and there are agents in the latter town who give advice to those who want to emigrate.41

As the szolgabíró’s report shows, the authorities were aware of the possible consequences of emigration even before it took on a mass character, but they did not know what they could do to slow it. On what grounds could they hold people back, and how could they restrict an individual’s personal freedom if he or she wanted to leave? In addition to legal issues, moral questions also had to be taken into consideration. Etele Matolay, the alispán of Zemplén County, also addresses this problem in a letter to the Minister of Interior:


Another question, however, is whether it is possible or, in such a time of need, advisable to act with rigor in such a case if the person is not liable to military service when we are not even able to give the jobseeker a job at home. […] Then when they have to deal with poverty at home: I would consider it an unjustified restriction of personal freedom to prevent them from emigrating.42

When emigration began to take place on a larger scale, the authorities did not even know where people were going, and this also hampered official efforts to slow it. It was rumored that people were being taken to dig the Panama Canal, but they did not know exactly where they would end up or what kind of work they would be given or whether, for that matter, they would be paid properly, given care in the case of illness, or be transported back to their homeland.43

Although the abovementioned measures helped improve the conditions under which the destitute lived their everyday lives somewhat, the climate still did not improve, and 1880 ended with poor harvests (making it the third year in a row to end with a disappointing harvests). Seeing the increasingly dire impoverishment of the population, the alispán sent another petition to the Minister of Finance:


Considering that this year’s harvest was far less substantial than what was hoped for, and considering that most of those involved in agriculture have been burdened with considerable debts as a result of the spring crisis and repayment for these debts is due this year, and taxes of the last two years will also be payable this year, please be so kind as to extend the deadline for repayment of the state loan by one year and to modify the payment dates to October 1, 1881, 1882, and 1883. On October 1 of the current year, interest shall be payable only on the due date.44

Despite all hopes, the following year did not bring the long-awaited abundant yield. A heavy downpour came with hail in July, affecting almost all the districts in Zemplén County. It hit autumn and spring crops so hard that the szolgabírós saw little chance of the grains developing by harvest time.45 The district reports indicate that, in general, few grains were produced,46 and mice, who had multiplied in the highlands, caused significant damage to autumn grain.47 In his semi-annual report, the alispán ranked the 1881 harvest as one of the worst,48 and he noted that it had caused further impoverishment and an increase in emigration.

The year 1882 brought mixed results. Both the data and the narrative sources show that rainfall was abundant again, causing flooding along several rivers. Fortunately, the heavy rains came mostly in late summer, and by that time, the “truly beautiful crop” had been harvested in many places, but there were areas (e.g. in the middle of the county) where rains did great damage to the crops that had already been harvested. At the same time, the wet weather was beneficial to root and fodder crops and also to pastures and meadows, which had become dry in the long droughts during the first half of the summer.49 The diverse geographical conditions of Zemplén are well illustrated by the fact that, while in some areas the harvest was abundant, in other districts, such as the Homonna and Szinna districts to the north, a situation of destitution or near-destitution developed. The szolgabíró of the Szinna district, fearing a crisis as dire as the crisis faced in 1880, requested the cessation of tax collection.50 The sources, however, suggest that the szolgabíró’s fears may have been an overreaction, as there was no cause for distress.

Given the abundant crop, tax collection began with renewed vigor, and efforts were made to recover debts accumulated in the previous years. Several szolgabírós indicated that tax collection was progressing well, so there was no need to use bailiffs to collect arrears. It seems, then that the harvest of 1882 was abundant enough in several places to help the population begin to recover from the trials they had suffered in the previous years.

Penury in Borsod County

Although the first official report on impoverishment in Borsod County was written in December 187951 (months after the first official report on Zemplén), it can be assumed that the first signs of the crisis appeared earlier. At the beginning of November, the weekly journal Borsod. Miskolczi Értesítő reported on the unfavorable weather and poor harvests in the county,52 and soon after this, it wrote of needy job-seekers from the highlands: “There are already signs of acute need in the highlands, for every day we see the highlanders marching through the county with nothing to eat, migrating to the lower part of the country in groups, looking for work; […].”53 Presumably, by November, the leadership of the county was confronted with the extent of impoverishment, which found clear form in the sight of people coming from the highlands, and the people of Borsod also had to suffer increasingly dire penury. This is indicated by the fact that in November the General Assembly of Borsod County asked the Minister of Finance to suspend tax collection “given the impoverishment.”54

One month later, Bertalan Bay, the alispán of Borsod, reported to the Ministry of Interior on the situation in the county as it follows:


On the basis of the official reports I have received, I have stated that in this county there are generally alarming phenomena concerning the livelihoods of the lower classes; that in the town of Miskolc the number of the poor is very high, and the extreme cold, which arrived with unusual suddenness, aggravates the situation, so that the town authority is taking measures on a case-by-case basis to provide aid for the needy.

I also noted with regret that in the lower part of the district of Miskolc the working class has no income, and the small amount of food they have purchased is almost completely exhausted, and in particular that the town of Mező-Csát is facing a crisis; finally, in the upper section of the Szentpéter district, especially in Alacska, and in the upper section of the Eger district, in Tibold Darócz and Kács, several families depend on the mercy of the better-off. In both parts of the Szentpéter district, however, it was indicated that official aid measures would have to be taken soon.

Given these unfavorable circumstances, it is to be feared that the distress at the beginning of next year will be so great in many places that, in order to alleviate it and to secure the financial survival of some, it is necessary to resort to state aid. For this reason, I have the honor to request the respectable Hungarian Royal Ministry to lend a certain amount—at least one thousand forints—as state aid as soon as possible.55

Given that according to the alispán the most state aid would be needed at the beginning of the following year, we can conclude that the situation in Borsod was less serious than in Zemplén, where the county alispán applied for state aid in the autumn. This seems to be supported by the annual report of the Borsod alispán, dated February 1880, according to which


conditions are generally depressing, and the poorer class, especially because of the prolonged harsh winter, suffers from a sensitive shortage of already depleted foods and firewood in particular. However, with contributions by wealthier benefactors and using municipal funds in some places, the absolute need for state aid has not yet arisen to a greater extent—families struggling in need were only reported in the upper parts of the Miskolc and Eger districts, for whose relief I sent the amount corresponding to the need indicated [...].


At that time, only 300 forints had to be allocated from the 1,000 forints that had been previously sent by the Minister of Interior. At the end of the report, he summarizes the previous year as follows:


But it should also be emphasized that despite the generally unfavorable conditions last year and the extremely severe winter, the likes of which has not been experienced for decades, there has been no phenomenon in the county that would prove the depletion of people’s resources and means of subsistence. Even the poorest class, exposed in many ways to the most cramped way of life and the suffering and misery of life, bears its fate with silent surrender, and while people hope that difficult conditions will take a turn for the better, they calmly tolerate their circumstances, try to earn an income, and hope that their fates will improve in time.56

Impoverishment hit Borsod in the early 1880s. The szolgabíró of the Sajószentpéter district reported that a hungry person was transported to the hospital in Miskolc from Sajószentpéter, and a starving sick family was aided with funds from the town’s treasury. However, he added that the people, considering their livelihoods, were not in a position to be seriously worried, or state aid would have to be required.57 Not long after, however, he made the following report: “As a result of the fruitless harvest of the current year, the population of my district, with the decline of transport and manual labor, is already suffering a heavy burden of subsistence. In general, I can point out that not only manual day laborers, but also some of the landowners, are struggling with their livelihoods.”58

In Miskolc, the seat of Borsod County, the situation deteriorated considerably with the arrival of the extremely cold winter, but fortunately it did not turn into a crisis thanks to the quick measures taken by the town authorities. Having already created a list of the needy in the town in a forward-looking manner, they were able to alleviate poverty more easily and quickly with the distribution of food, firewood, and money as the need arose.59 As a result, in January 1880, the mayor of Miskolc, Kálmán Soltész Nagy, submitted a reassuring report to the county deputy:


Based on the reports made to me and on my own experience, I officially declare that the poverty of the poor in the town of Miskolc does not appear to be of such magnitude at this time that it would require legal or state measures.

It is undeniable that in the winter, the poverty of the population is greater than it has been in other years; however, the authorities, in accordance with the order of the town council, shall provide those who are incapable of working with the most essential foods and save them from starvation.60


Considering the deprivation suffered by the population and conditions close to famine, it could be feared that public safety would deteriorate. In 1879, the Borsod alispán asked the Ministry of Interior for eight more cavalries and eight infantry gendarmes, in addition to the existing ones, due to an increasing number of cases of violence.61

There were similar fears of an increase in acts of violence in Zemplén, but according to the semi-annual report of the alispán in 1880, “public safety, considering the given impoverishment and need, cannot be called worrying.”62

As in Zemplén, the provision of public works for the poorest was discussed in Borsod County. It would have been especially helpful for the needy in and around Miskolc if the riverbed regulation planned after the great flood in Miskolc in August 1878 had finally been given the green light from the Ministry. As Kálmán Soltész Nagy, the mayor of Miskolc, wrote in his report, “If the city had already approved the regulatory plan, it could not only help the poor by giving them work, but could also save the significant amount of money it has to spend on relief for the poor relief.”63 He then asked the alispán to try to get the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to approve the draft regulation as soon as possible “so that the work can begin to provide the poor of our town with a source of income at the beginning of spring.”64

Fortunately, the improving weather also alleviated the misery. As the Borsod County alispán wrote, “In the area of the town of Miskólcz, with the onset of milder days, the shortage begins to end, so much so that by the 15 of the current month [March], the supply of foodstuffs will be ceased. Residents in need of public aid can get work in the vineyards and gardens, and the need for further aid, thanks to providence, will disappear.”65

After the unfavorable harvests of the previous years, people rightly hoped that as the weather improved, the harvest would finally provide, if not abundant, at least a sufficient yield. However, the spring frosts dashed some of these hopes. In a report on the state of the crops in April 1880, Kálmán Soltész Nagy wrote,


I am convinced after questioning several farming and viticulture individuals that wheat sowing is generally good, while rye sowing, especially the rye which was sown last, under the cold and heavy snow, is almost completely lost. The buds of the fruit trees are almost completely lost as a result of the extraordinary frost, which recurred at the beginning of spring, and there is no prospect of fruit production at all. The buds on the vines are usually blackened, so they are infertile; however, the quality of the lower buds is still impossible to determine at this time.66

Nevertheless, the county managed to avoid the worst, and in July, the county alispán reported reassuringly to the Minister of Interior that


Anyway—thanks be to providence! Famine has not devastated our county in a large and scary way. The sympathy and compassion of individuals, municipalities, and our authorities have alleviated the problem everywhere. And now, during the summer, we no longer have a reason to talk about poverty. Works assuring subsistence are underway everywhere, and there is hope that the year will not be one of the worst from the perspective of the harvests.67

The yields of the next years were similar in Borsod and Zemplén. The floods of 1881 caused considerable damage in both counties (as they did in other parts of the country), but the harvest ended with a mediocre yield.68 A year later, in the spring of 1882, the alispán of Borsod saw the agricultural situation of the county more optimistically. But from mid-July through August, that is, during the harvest, many crops suffered due to torrential rains,69 and their quality fell short of expectations. But in several districts, they were still “good mediocre,” “completely satisfactory,” or, as the szolgabíró of the Eger district wrote, “The fruit in the whole district is definitely good. In some places, it has exceeded the farmers’ hopes.”70 Thus, the harvest of 1882, which can generally be said to have been plentiful and of good quality, brought the crisis in Borsod to an end, as it did in the neighboring Zemplén County.


The aim of our research was to examine the impact of the weather anomalies of the 1870–80s on agriculture in order to shed light on the decisive roles of weather conditions in the deepening of the agricultural crisis which took place in Europe in the last third of the nineteenth century. In the course of our research, by examining the climate and yield data of two Hungarian counties, Borsod and Zemplén, we observed a series of years of poor yields, as well as a catastrophic harvest in 1879, which led to a period of distress which lasted until 1882. During this period, the agricultural population, while avoiding the worst (as there was no famines), suffered material losses to a degree that led to mass impoverishment in the long run.

Our research does not show a clear link between unfavorable weather and the agricultural crisis, but we nonetheless maintain our contention that impoverishment caused by a series of bad harvests certainly exacerbated the inflow of foreign grain. Moreover, efforts to cope with the crisis were hampered by the fact that many farmers had been ruined and masses of people, including many farmers, emigrated. There are still many questions to be answered. Although we have only superficially examined the relationship between impoverishment and emigration, which took on massive proportions in 1879, it is very likely that the difficult economic situation in Hungary, which was a consequence of the unfavorable weather, gave a greater impetus to emigration. At this point, our research suggests a clear parallel between events and experiences in Hungary and the European experience, which included an ever larger wave of emigration in several countries beginning in the early 1880s.71 Our results also show similarities with the duration of impoverishment in Europe as well, as the worst period in Hungary was also between 1879 and 1882, from which the relatively good yields of 1882 were the way out. 72

Our research also revealed that even in the case of two neighboring counties, Borsod and Zemplén, needs were quite different, although we did not discern any significant differences in the ways in which these needs were addressed. Borsod was less sensitive to hardship, which was presumably the consequence of differences in farming (size and quality of cultivated land, varieties and proportions of cultivated crops, etc.) due to geographical differences. Our findings certainly make clear that if we wish to determine the extent to which we can speak of a national agricultural crisis in 1879–80, further studies at the regional level are needed.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén Megyei Levéltára (MNL BAZML) [Hungarian National Archives Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Archives]

IV. 803. b. Borsod Vármegye Törvényhatósági Bizottságának iratai, Közgyűlési iratok [Documents of the Municipal Committee of Borsod County, Documents of the General Assembly]

IV. 809. b. Borsod vármegye alispánjának iratai, Közigazgatási iratok [Documents of the Borsod County Alispán, Administrative Documents]

IV. 2402. a. Zemplén Vármegye Törvényhatósági Bizottságának iratai, Közgyűlési jegyzőkönyvek [Documents of the Municipal Committee of Zemplén County, Minutes of the General Assembly]

IV. 2402. b. Zemplén Vármegye Törvényhatósági Bizottságának iratai, Közgyűlési jegyzőkönyvek [Documents of the Municipal Committee of Zemplén County, Documents of the General Assembly]

IV. 2405. Zemplén vármegye alispánjának iratai, Közigazgatási iratok [Documents of the Zemplén County Alispán, Administrative Documents]


Printed sources

Borsod. Miskolczi Értesítő [Borsod. Miskolcz Gazette], August 29, 1878; November 6, 1879; November 20, 1879.

Meteorológiai Évkönyvek [Meteorological Yearbooks]. A meteorológiai és földdelejességi magy. kir. Központi intézet évkönyvei. Budapest: Athenaeum, 1873–1902.

Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyv [Hungarian Statistical Yearbook]. Budapest: Országos Magyar Királyi Statistikai Hivatal, 1879–1901.


Secondary sources

Bichet, Adeline, Doris Folini, Martin Wild, and Christoph Shär. “Enhanced Central European summer precipitation in the late 19th century: a link to the Tropics.” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 2013. doi:10.1002/qj.2111.

Boa, Krisztina. “Az 1863–64. évi aszály és ínség Békés megyében” [The drought and famine of 1863–64 in Békés county]. Fons 19, no. 2 (2012): 161–99.

Czoch, Gábor. “A reformkori közigazgatás az éhínséggel szemben (1845–47)” [Administration against the famine in the Reform Era, 1845–47]. In A mesterség iskolája: Tanulmányok Bácskai Vera 70. születésnapjára [The school of profession: Papers for the 70th birthday of Vera Bácskai]. Edited by Zsombor Bódy, Mónika Mátay, and Árpád Tóth, 371–89. Budapest: Osiris, 2000.

Hodgyai, Mátyás. “Ínséges évek Biharban 1814–1817 között” [Years of distress in Bihar County between 1814 and 1817]. Történelmi Szemle 33, no. 1–2 (1991): 59–69.

Kaposi, Zoltán. “A 19. századi agrárválság hatása a dél-dunántúli régió uradalmi gazdálkodására” [The effects of the nineteenth century agrarian crisis on the economy of latifundia in the Trans-Danubian region]. Közép-európai közlemények 8, no. 2 (2015): 81–93.

Kaposi, Zoltán. “Agrarkrise in Ungarn, besonders auf dem Gebiet von Süd-Transdanubien, 1873–1914.” In Internationales Kulturhistorisches Symposion Mogersdorf 2014 in Kőszeg, 157–78. Szombathely: Vas Megyei Önkormányzati Hivatal, 2019.

Kaposi, Zoltán. “Válság és alkalmazkodás: A 19. század végi agrárkrízis hatásai a dunántúli uradalmak működésésre” [Crisis and adaptation: The effects of the nineteenth century agrarian crisis on the functioning of Trans-Danubian latifundia]. In Magyar Gazdaságtörténeti Évkönyv 2016: Válság-Kereskedelem [Hungarian Economic Yearbook 2016: Crisis-Commerce]. Edited by György Kövér et als., 195–216. Budapest: MTA Bölcsészettudományi Kutatóközpont, 2016.

Katus, László. “Az 1863–64. évi aszály és éhínség az Alföldön” [The drought and famine of 1863–64 in the Hungarian Great Plain]. In A fogyasztás társadalomtörténete [The social history of consumption]. Rendi társadalom – polgári társadalom 18. Edited by József Hudi, 7–11. Budapest: Hajnal István Kör Társadalomtörténeti Egyesület; Pápa: Pápai Református Gyűjtemények, 2007.

Kiss, Zsuzsanna. Gabonaválság a 19. század végén: Társadalomtörténeti nézőpontok” [Corn crisis at the end of the nineteenth century: Socialhistorical perspectives]. Aetas 4 (2014): 31–44.

Klement, Judit. “Die Agrarkrise am Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts und die Budapester Mühlenindustrie.” In Krisen/Geschichten in mitteleuropäischem Kontext: Sozial- und wirtschaftsgeschichtliche Studien zum 19./20. Jahrhundert. Edited by György Kövér, Márkus Keller, and Csaba Sasfi, 167–97. Vienna: Institut für Ungarische Geschichtsforschung in Wien; Balassi Institut Collegium Hungaricum; Ungarische Archivdelegation beim Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, 2015.

Lamb, Hubert H. Climate, History and the Modern World. London: Psychology Press, 1995.

Perry, Peter J. British Farming in the Great Depression 1870–1914: An Historical Geography. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1974.

Rémiás, Tibor. “Az 1847. évi éhínség Torna vármegyében” [The famine of 1847 in Torna County]. Történelmi közlemények Abaúj-Torna vármegye és Kassa múltjából 1 (1997): 148–77.

Réthly, Antal. Időjárási események és elemi csapások Magyarországon 1801–1900-ig [Weather events and natural disasters in Hungary between 1801 and 1900]. Vol. 2. Budapest: OMSZ, 1998.

Sándor, Pál. A XIX. századvégi agrárválság Magyarországon [The late-nineteenth century agrarian crisis in Hungary]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1958.

Ungár, László. “Az 1845–47. évi felvidéki éhínséggel kapcsolatos intézkedések Pesten és Budán” [Measurements taken in Buda and Pest against the Uppland famine of 1845–47]. Tanulmányok Budapest múltjából 6 (1938): 170–79.

Vörös, Antal. “A magyar mezőgazdaság a kapitalista átalakulás útján (1849–1890)” [Hungarian Agriculture on the road to capitalist transformation]. In A magyar mezőgazdaság a XIX–XX. században (1849–1949) [Hungarian agriculture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries]. Agrártörténeti Tanulmányok 4. Edited by Péter Gunst, and Tamás Hoffmann, 9–152. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976.


1 Hodgyai, “Ínséges évek.”

2 Czoch, “A reformkori közigazgatás”; Rémiás, “Az 1847. évi éhínség”; Ungár, “Az 1845–47. évi.”

3 Boa, “Az 1863–64. évi aszály”; Katus, “Az 1863–64. évi aszály.”

4 Lamb, Climate, History and the Modern World.

5 On the agrarian crisis in Great Britain, see Perry, British Farming.

6 Lamb, Climate, History and the Modern World, 233; Bichet et als., “Enhanced Central European summer.”

7 Sándor, A XIX. századvégi agrárválság; Kaposi, “A 19. századi agrárválság”; Kaposi, “Válság és alkalmazkodás”; Kaposi, „Agrarkrise in Ungarn”; Klement, “Die Agrarkrise”; Kiss, Gabonaválság a 19. század végén.”

8 Meteorológiai Évkönyvek.

9 The temperature was measured three times a day, at 7 a.m., 2 p.m., and 9 p.m.

10 Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek

11 Vörös, “A magyar mezőgazdaság.”

12 1886 was considered the wettest year in Rozsnyó (today Rožňava, Slovakia), but since we do not have data from the late 1870s, it is possible that precipitation in the missing years exceeded precipitation in 1886.

13 Meslin is a mixture of equal parts of wheat and rye that is sown and harvested together.

14 One Viennese acre is 5,755 square meters.

15 Between 1877 and 1890, the size of the sown areas varied between 2,300 and 3,000 hectares.

16 From Szepes County, there were maize data for only three years in the Statistical Yearbooks, so we did not include them in our analysis.

17 Borsod. Miskolczi Értesítő, August 29, 1878, 3.

18 Réthly, Időjárási események, vol. 2, 548.

19 MNL BAZML, IV. 809. b. 868/1881.

20 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 2/2020/1879.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 107/1880.

26 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 6559/1879.

27 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 127/8758/1880; 9340/1881; 2216/1882.

28 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 189/6559/1879; 162/9479/1882.

29 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 185/1879.

30 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 434/1879.

31 After the moratorium expired, they asked to pay the one-year tax in interest-free instalments. MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 188/1879.

32 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 434/1879; MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 188/1879.

33 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 321/1879.

34 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 321/1879.

35 Ibid.

36 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 9522/1879.

37 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 321/1879.

38 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 9522/1879.

39 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 321/1879.

40 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 9522/1879.

41 MNL BAZML IV. 2405. b. 9958/1879.

42 MNL BAZML IV. 2405. b. 10717/1879.

43 Ibid.

44 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 127/1880.

45 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 7135/1881.

46 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 7135/1881, 9286/1881, 9340/1881.

47 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 9340/1881.

48 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 5/2534/1882.

49 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. b. 162/9479/1882.

50 Ibid.

51 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 577/1879.

52 Borsod. Miskolczi Értesítő, November 6, 1879.

53 Borsod. Miskolczi Értesítő, November 20, 1879.

54 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 420/1879; MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 569/1879.

55 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 577/1879.

56 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 1/1880.

57 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 488/1880.

58 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 519/1880.

59 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 1/1880.

60 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 107/1880.

61 MNL BAZML IV. 803. b. 418/1879.

62 MNL BAZML IV. 2402. a. 6/1880.

63 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 463/1880.

64 Ibid.

65 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 901/1880.

66 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 1246/1880.

67 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 2226/1880.

68 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 1/1882.

69 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 344/1882.

70 MNL BAZML IV. 809. b. 2638/1882.

71 Lamb, Climate, History and the Modern World, 234.

72 Ibid., 275; Perry, British Farming, 54–60.

* This work was financially supported by the NKFIH FK 128978 project.



Figure 5. Eger’s annual average temperature by seasons. Source: Meteorológiai Évkönyvek




Figure 8. Annual wheat crop by counties, 1877–90. Source: Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek



Figure 13. Annual cereal crops in Szepes County in relation to the annual average precipitation in Eperjes. Sources: Meteorológiai Évkönyv, Magyar Statisztikai Évkönyvek




Evaluation of the Floodplain Farming of the Settlements of Nagykunság Based on the First Cadastral Survey*

Sándor Rózsa
Eszterházy Károly University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 213-240 DOI:10.38145/2020.2.213

River control was perhaps the most significant form of anthropogenic environmental intervention in the Carpathian Basin, and in recent decades it has been the focus of considerable attention in the scientific community. However, in order to be able to evaluate this intervention, we need to know more about the floodplain management before the river regulations. In this essay, I provide data concerning the eighteenth-century floodplain management, on the basis of the first cadastral survey documents.
According to Klára Dóka and other researchers, the settlements of the region along the Tisza River were in crisis in the early nineteenth century because the floodplain farming system was not adequate to sustain the growing population. However, they based this conclusion on sources concerning population growth, and they did not substantiate their essential contention concerning overpopulation with accurate data on production and consumption. I have sought to determine whether there really was an overpopulation crisis in Nagykunság at the end of the eighteenth century. The main question concerns the relationship between production and needs. The next question is whether the farmers had excess grain which they could take to markets. In other words, was the floodplain farming system profitable? My research constitutes a contribution to the debate between Bertalan Andrásfalvy and Miklós Szilágyi on floodplain management.
The first cadastral survey documents contain detailed and reliable data on the management of the settlements, and I contend that they are more accurate and useful than the tax censuses which were compiled at the same time. The first step in the research was to establish the average annual consumption of the population.
According to the data of the cadastral survey, production exceeded the needs of the population in each settlement, and the value of the production surplus covered the tax burdens. Wheat had a marketable share of the yield, come to 30–40 percent of the total. Assuming that livestock breeding was even more advantageous, one could contend that the floodplain farming system was profitable. However, natural resources are distributed disproportionately as a result of property relations. In Nagykunság, this found its most dramatic embodiment in the redemptus-irredemptus contrast.
There were several events in the late eighteenth century, such as the construction of the Mirhó dam and migration to Bácska, on the basis of which researchers have inferred that the floodplain farming system was in crisis, but the cadastral survey suggests otherwise.

Keywords: floodplain farming system, carrying capacity, overpopulation, production statistics

My research seeks to determine whether (and to what extent) floodplain farming was differentiated in the eighteenth century, whether it was able to satisfy the needs of the settlements, and how much marketable produce surplus was available to sell. In my study, by Nagykunság I do not mean the geographical landscape delimited on the basis of natural geographical aspects. I refer more narrowly to the Nagykun District, a political-administrative entity of eighteenth-century Hungary which formed part of the present-day Jászkun-District. I examined the water management of the six settlements which constituted Nagykunság at the end of the eighteenth century: Karcag, Kisújszállás, Túrkeve, Kunhegyes, Kunmadaras and Kunszentmárton.

The study of floodplain farming in Nagykunság is mainly justified by the fact that the population of the area carried out the first significant water regulation works in the Central Tisza Region in Hungary (well before the great river regulations of the nineteenth century took place), the so-called Mirhó Dam. The scour channel (fok)1 was first closed in the middle of the eighteenth century, but the rudimentary rampart erected at that time could not withstand major floods, despite frequent repairs. In 1776, the owners of Heves County demolished the rampart. They claimed that due to a decrease in the floodplain reservoir capacity, they were experiencing higher levels of flooding on the right bank of the Tisza. The settlements of the Nagykun district submitted a complaint about this almost immediately, but the permission required to reconstruct the dam was obtained only in 1785, and the rampart was rebuilt only in 1787, and even the owners of Heves County helped with the works.2 The flood relief work carried out by the settlements of the Nagykun district is considered in the secondary literature, primarily works on water history, one of the antecedents of the periodic regulations of the nineteenth century, and it is mostly treated as an indicator of the crisis faced by the farming system.3 Klára Dóka strove to reveal the origins of the elimination of floodplain farming by examining the farming of the settlements along the Tisza at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In her view, extensive floodplain farming faced a crisis by the turn of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as it could no longer meet the needs of an increasing population, which prompted the communities to transform the previous system and intervene in the environment.4 However, based on my research carried out in recent years, I have considerable doubts about the need to eliminate floodplain farming behind the construction of the Mirhó Dam.5 The construction of the dam in 1786 alone cannot be considered evidence of overpopulation,6 it is necessary to assess the economic condition of the settlements, i.e. to carry out a production-need-based study.

An Outstanding Source: The First Cadastral Survey

During the period of enlightened absolutism, many valuable sources were created in connection with the economic, social, and environmental conditions of the country, of which, from the perspective of the questions at hand in this essay, the census and the military and cadastral survey should be highlighted. Of these, the cadastral survey is a lesser-known source, which is mainly due to the territorial mosaic character of the preservation of documents, as most of the documents created in preparation for the sharing of public burdens fell victim to the resistance of the estates after the emperor’s death.

The documents are valuable in part because they strove for completeness (i.e. they recorded all lands, regardless of whether the owner had tax exemption) and in part because they are based on cutting-edge statistical methods (homogeneous data structure, averaged data, etc.) and the survey was conducted professionally (through a well-established institutional system and by qualified engineers). We are well acquainted with the process according to which the survey was conducted, as the survey instructions7 survived and through the thorough exploratory work of statistician Zoltán Dávid.8 These are a great help in assessments of the reliability of the data.9

In the area under examination, a complete survey document survived only in connection with Kunszentmárton.10 As for the other five settlements, only the so-called summary sheets are available.11 However, such sheets also survived in the case of all the settlements in Kiskunság and Jászság, which thus make possible a comparative analysis. In the second half of the twentieth century, Dávid attempted to map the surviving documents of the cadastral survey, and he published some of the data (183 settlements) in a study, along with his analysis of the data.12 The data provided by Dávid provided an opportunity for me to compare the floodplain farming used by the settlements of Nagykunság with the farming used in the settlements in other regions.

Indicators of Agricultural Cultivation in Nagykunság at the End
of the Eighteenth Century

The settlements of Nagykunság were characterized by differentiated farming after repopulation in the eighteenth century. The leading sector was livestock farming, as livestock enjoyed better market sales opportunities and optimal environmental conditions. Grains were grown mainly for subsistence purposes, the sale of surpluses at the market was typical in the middle of the century. In the nineteenth century, as a result of the grain boom, the importance of arable crop production increased steadily, and self-sufficiency was replaced by commodity production. Tibor Bellon has thoroughly examined the farming in the settlements of Nagykunság in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.13 However, as an ethnographer, he ignored in-depth statistical analyses and did not explore the process of structural change in detail. If one examines floodplain farming, the relative weight of crop and livestock production compared to each other is by no means a marginal issue. Most researchers assume there was a grain boom at the focal point of water regulations. As grain production can be carried out only at high risk in a floodplain environment, it was necessary for the area to be free from floods.14

In the cadastral records, the data on meadows and pastures are the most uncertain, as the extents of utilization in floodplain environments varied depending on the intensity and duration of floods, which also provided a good opportunity for farmers to make the határ15 areas (the peasants’ individual plots along, with the buildings of the village and, often, areas of communal meadow, woodland, vineyards and/or pasture) used for grazing appear to be useless at certain times of the year. In terms of meadows and pastures, Karcag and Kisújszállás were in the worst situation. The average of 2.5 katasztrális hold16 per capita calculated here is particularly low compared to Túrkeve (5.13 katasztrális hold/capita) and Kunhegyes (4.84 katasztrális hold/capita). This is due to the hydro-geomorphological conditions, as the former two settlements lie deeper17 and they directly border the Berettyó River. The average in the settlements of Nagykunság (3.71 katasztrális hold/capita) is higher than the average in the settlements of Jászság (2.80 katasztrális hold/capita), but it lags far behind the average of nearly 10 katasztrális hold/capita of the settlements in Kiskunság, with a large határ area and typically low population density. However, it is worth drawing a comparison with the areas outside Jászkunság as well. Most settlements in Nagykunság had a lower average than the average of 4.22 katasztrális hold/capita in Heves County and Külső-Szolnok County, but they were in a better position than Győr County, which had an average of 2.23 katasztrális hold/capita, Moson County (2.5 katasztrális hold/capita), and Sopron County, with an average of 0.58 katasztrális hold/capita (except for Kisújszállás and Karcag).18 Although a land size/person similar to or worse than that of the control areas was observed in Nagykunság, and the highest yielding meadows and pastures were found here. In Nagykunság, the average hay yield was 10 quintals (1,000 kilograms) per katasztrális hold while in Jászság it was only 7.3 quintals (730 kilograms) and in Kiskunság it was 3.5 quintals (350 kilograms).

Much more reliable conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the data on ploughland than the aforementioned data. In the settlements of Nagykunság, the average ploughland per person was 1.55 katasztrális hold, which is significantly less than the average in the settlements of Jászság (2.94 katasztrális hold/capita) and Kiskunság (4.14 katasztrális hold/capita). The average in the settlements of Nagykunság lags behind the average in the settlements of Heves- and Külső-Szolnok (1.96 katasztrális hold/capita), Moson- (1.74 katasztrális hold/capita) and Győr County (1.68 katasztrális hold/capita), but it far exceeds the average in those of Sopron County (1.03 katasztrális hold/capita). However, if we subtract the demesne lands from all the ploughlands, it is 0.90 katasztrális hold per capita in Heves- and Külső-Szolnok County, 1 in Győr, 1.74 in Moson,
and 0.92 in Sopron County.

The 1.55 katasztrális hold per capita does not seem low compared to the data from the four counties, but it is depressingly low compared to Jászság and Kiskunság. Looking at the area size per capita in Nagykunság alone, we should assume a serious growth constraint or overpopulation, but it sheds a different light on the data if we also take into account the quality of the lands, i.e. their yield averages. The yield average in Nagykunság was 9.1 pozsonyi mérő (p. m.) (1 pozsonyi mérő = between 53.72 and 62.08 liters) per cadastral acre, which is well above the 3.83 p. m. per cadastral acre in Jászság and the 2.45 p. m. per cadastral acre in Kiskunság. In the 183 settlements surveyed by Dávid, the ploughlands produced an average grain yield of 7.7 p. m. Of course, I also had the suspicion that there might be some statistical error behind the exceptionally high yield averages or inaccurate or false yield data from Kiskunság and Jászság. There are no indications that the data on the settlements of Jászság and Kiskunság would be skewed downwards or the data on Nagykunság upwards. Only a comparison with the grain production potential19 can be considered a resource-critical tool. The average wheat production potential of the settlements of Nagykunság is four points better than that of Jászság and seven points better than the average in the settlements of Kiskunság. The average yield per settlement calculated on the basis of the cadastral survey shows a strong correlation with the wheat production potential, and thus the cadastral data seem reliable. The high yield average in the settlements of Nagykunság and the low ploughland area per capita suggest that, at the time, only the high-quality lands optimal for arable crop production were utilized on the határ of the settlements. Thus, low ploughland per capita should not itself be considered a sign of overpopulation. Rather, it may indicate a lower preponderance of crop production compared to livestock production.

Most researchers agree that in the eighteenth century, pastoral farming was the most important agricultural sector in Nagykunság, and arable crop production was carried out only for self-sufficiency.20 However, we have data on the market sales of grain from the middle of the eighteenth century as well. In 1750, palatine Miklós Pálffy ordered a survey of the economic strength of the settlements of Jászkunság to be conducted in order to levy taxes more proportionally. According to this census, the landholders of Nagykunság mostly sold their grain on the markets in Miskolc and Debrecen,21 but we have no data on the volume of the grain trade. For example, the landholders of Kunszentmárton mentioned that some landholders did not sell any mérő of grain in 10 years. Thus, the information concerning which markets the farmers s old their grains on does not suggest in itself that grain production was determined by production for marketing. Examining the cadastral data, we can clearly see that the ploughland per capita shows a small variance in the settlements of Nagykunság (1.1–2 cadastral acres per capita), i.e. the extent of ploughland was relatively closely related to the population, which indicates self-sufficiency in the sector. If we assume that crop production was under extensive compulsion to grow, whether due to market conditions or unsatisfied domestic need, the amount of ploughland would be determined not by the population but by the amount of potentially suitable areas. All this, of course, is only true if we rule out the possibility that the ploughland had already reached its maximum possible extent and the small standard deviation of the ploughland per capita was purely coincidental. We have already seen that the hydro-geomorphological features of the határs of the Nagykun settlements are different, and consequently their agricultural potential is also different. It therefore hardly seems likely that the ploughland reached its maximum extent, and thus the relationship between the extent of ploughland and the size of the population is not a statistical coincidence but an indication of self-sufficiency in crop production. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility that in years of high yields the surplus that was produced over the domestic consumption needs of the population was sold on the market. However, we can only venture conclusions concerning how much this amount may have been (and this is an important question of this study) if we also have estimates for consumption.

Calculation of Population Needs

Determining the grain needs of the peasant farms in Nagykunság is a very difficult task, as we have to take into account a number of variables (proportion of meat and cereal consumption, dietary habits, differences in nutrient requirements by gender and age groups, the impact of work activities, etc.) on which we have only sporadic data. However, as the relationship between production and consumption is a key issue in evaluating farming, despite these difficulties, we find a relatively large number of estimates in the literature and in contemporary statistical sources. In the present study, given the absence of adequate resources, I neither intend to estimate the contemporary needs of individuals, families, or peasant farms nor do I wish to contribute directly to the debates in this regard. I tried to bridge the problem of uncertainty by using estimates offered by several researchers and contemporary sources together, and since the sources so far provide little support, I assess their relevance to Nagykunság and the conditions of the relatively short period (the end of the eighteenth century) only to the extent needed.

The following estimates have been used for the annual grain need per person/family/household:

– Géza Perjés’ estimate for the eighteenth century: 3.5 q = 7.51 p. m./capita/year,22

– István Orosz’ estimate: 5 kila = 5 p. m./capita/year,23

– The average consumption used in the 1868 harvest statistics: 5 p. m./capita/year,24

– According to István N. Kiss’ estimate, a family’s minimum need for bread grain is: 6 q = 13 p. m./family/year,25

– In 1782, based on the aggregation of the Miskolc city council on grain need: 18 p. m./family/year,26

– Based on the censuses conducted in the Triple Districts during the Napoleonic Wars: 6 kila/capita/year,27

– Based on the 1816 Triple District Census: 1 kila barley/capita/year, 1 kila wheat/capita/year.28

Three of the data are estimates made after the fact and four were arrived at by contemporary public administrations. In order to make the calculations easier, I converted the needs to p. m., i.e. the unit of measurement that was also used in the cadastral survey. I did not consider the use of metric measurement units appropriate, because during conversion, pozsonyi mérő, which is one of the liquid measurement units, has to be converted to a weight measure, which can only be done with significant uncertainty.29

The lowest average need comes from the 1816 census, but these data are related to the “poverty census” and thus they should be interpreted as the minimum need of the population, and if the total grain production of any settlement did not reach the total population need calculated according to this, it indicates severe overpopulation. István N. Kiss’ estimate of 6 q/family, i.e. converted and rounded to 13 p. m./family/year, divided by the average family size of 5 people calculated on the basis of József’s census data, means an average consumption of 2.6 p. m./person/year. The consumption of 18 p. m./family/year, determined by the Miskolc City Council in 1782, corresponds to an average consumption of 3.6 p. m. per person, and thus, together with the former, it is one of the lower estimates. The average value is consumption used in the 1868 harvest statistics and the census made during the Napoleonic Wars, and István Orosz also assumed a similar annual need per person. The most well-founded estimate seems to be that of Géza Perjés, who estimated the main annual need at 3.5 quintals, (7.51 p. m.) based on calorie needs and taking into account a whole range of variables (work intensity, age and gender-related differences, the calorific value and milling characteristics of grains, etc.). In connection with his estimation, the biggest question is how livestock farming can be adapted to the population of the central settlements of the Great Plain; he himself drew attention to this uncertainty factor as well.30 However, in the communities of the Great Plain, which were mainly engaged in livestock farming, the proportion of grains in the average diet may have been lower, and this may have been especially true for floodplain settlements, where fish, game, and fruit (with regard to floodplain orchards) may have been been a proportionally larger part of the average diet. Another question is the extent to which the average daily consumption of 4,000 calories per an adult man, calculated by Perjés (and this seems high even seen from the perspective of today), can be generalized in the eighteenth century. In view of all this, Perjés’ data can be considered a kind of “upper” estimate.

The issue is further complicated by the question of what we exactly mean by food or bread grain in the era. During the cadastral survey, the yields of four cereals (wheat, rye, barley, and oats) were recorded. In peasant culture, of these, wheat and rye clearly appeared as food grains, while oats appeared essentially as fodder crops. However, barley can be classified in either category only with reservations. According to Miklós Szilágyi, little care was taken to store the barley in the eighteenth century, so it was probably considered a lower value grain.31 However, cereal porridge was the daily food of the people of Nagykunság, and according to sources, barley porridge, which was called gerslin, was also consumed.32 The population clearly sought mainly to consume bread grains, but after the depletion of these stocks, the consumption of barley as porridge could also have been considered. I tried to bridge the uncertainty about the general use of grains by comparing the needs with three basic categories, namely bread grains (wheat and rye), food grains in the broad sense (wheat, rye and barley), and the total grain yields (wheat + rye + barley + oat).

Need / Production

If we calculate using the lowest average consumption (2 p. m./person/year), we see that the settlements of Nagykunság addressed many of the food needs of the population with wheat, and if we take bread grain and food grain into account, 5–6 fold overproduction occurs. The total settlement need calculated in this way should clearly be considered a minimum need for survival, and if the yield per cadastre calculated on the basis of the averages over the course of several years were close to or below this value, it would indicate severe overpopulation. In the settlements of Nagykunság, however, even the wheat yield exceeded this multiple times, and there was no settlement in Jászkunság where the production would remain below this value. (Table 1).


Table 1. Production and need based on the highest and lowest average consumption.
Source: JNSZML IV. 2. 76.

Calculated with the estimate from the 1816 census (in p.m.)




Net production1


Difference (percent)3

Net production


Difference (percent)











































Calculated with a consumption of 5 p. m/person/year



Grain bread (wheat and rye)

Edible cereals

Net production


Difference (percent)

Net production


Difference (percent)











































Calculated with the estimate made by Perjés


Grain bread (wheat and rye)

Edible cereals

Net production


Difference (percent)

Net production


Difference (percent)












































1 Without the need for seeds. In the cadastral survey, seed was deducted from the crop and this net yield was also recorded. I used this in all my calculations.

2 Only in terms of human consumption.

3 As a percentage of need.

The mean value of the average consumption estimate is given by the 3–5 p. m./person/year calculations. The total population needs calculated on the basis of this were met by the wheat yield only in Karcag and Kunszentmárton, but in the latter, 35 percent of the wheat yield (a relatively high proportion) was overproduction. If we also add the rye yield to this, there is no longer any settlement in Nagykunság where there was underproduction, and in the case of Kunszentmárton and Túrkeve, there was even a surplus of 60–70 percent. If we add barley to this, a 100–200 percent overproduction arises in Nagykunság.

However, the situation is less favorable if we calculate with the average annual consumption of 6 and 7.51 p. m., which form the upper estimates. Wheat production alone does not meet the entire needs in any of the settlements, and an underproduction of 10–30 percent can be observed in terms of bread grain. Exceptions are Kunszentmárton and Túrkeve, where bread grain met the needs and there was even an overproduction of 6–18 percent. However, if we consider food grain, a more favorable picture emerges, as production exceeded the needs in all settlements and, moreover, Kunszentmárton and Túrkeve produced 100 percent more than they needed.

As we can see, due to the uncertainty on the consumption side, it is difficult to accurately assess the relationship between production and consumption; however, some important conclusions can be drawn from the data. Production exceeded the minimum need by several times in all settlements, which makes it clear that there was no serious overpopulation. However, according to Géza Perjés’ estimate, the production of the settlements only slightly exceeded consumption. It is, however, important to note that Perjés’ calculations assume an extremely ideal consumption even for later periods. Thus, in the years of average yields, the population could have had plenty of grain to sell, not to mention the years of good yields. As production exceeded 4–5 times the minimum need, the worse-than-average years could not have caused more serious disturbances; at most the complete crop yield might have been consumed. Of course, it would be misleading to assess the relationship of production and consumption solely on the basis of physiological needs, to which we must certainly add the various types of tax burdens as well.

In the case of the settlements of Nagykun, the tax books (Conscriptio facultatum) of four settlements, Karcag, Kisújszállás, Túrkeve and Kunszentmárton, remained for the years of 1780, but in the case of the latter two, the column of the paid amount remained unfilled. In the year of 1784/85 the population of Karcag paid a tax of RFT (Rhine Forint) 4,958,33 and that of Kisújszállás RFT 2,856.34 The amounts include both the war tax (contributio) and the habitation tax (domestica). The amount of taxes did not exceed 7 percent of the total cadastral income for a settlement. Taking into account the assumed highest grain need per capita in the two settlements of Nagykun (Perjés), we can calculate with 32,829 p. m. surpluses in Karcag and 18,339 p. m. in Kisújszállás, considering the whole grain crop together. Calculated on the basis of the average prices of wheat, rye, barley and oats (based on market prices reported in the cadastral survey), this is about 13,470 and 7,029 RFT.35 It follows that, in principle, the full amount of taxes could be paid merely from the sale of surplus grain. Considering the presumably higher benefits of livestock farming, the amount of war and habitation taxes alone did not impose an unbearably high burden on the population. This is, of course, a theoretical calculation as we do not know what proportion of the crop was actually marketable. Unfortunately, I did not find any summary data on the in-kind part of the war tax, but I assume that its burden might not have been greater than that of the part paid in money. I did not find any data on the exact distribution of the annual 12,600 RFT palatine census, either; however, based on the value calculations of the surplus crops in Karcag and Kisújszállás, it could hardly have been an unbearable burden. In 1837, Márton Bartsik, the archivist of Jászkunság, made a summary of the benefits in money and extraordinary in kind ones provided by the Jászkun District between 1735 and 1837.36 According to this, the largest produce delivery for military purposes for the period of 1750 and 1800 took place in 1760, when the three districts delivered 60,000 p. m. of grain. This was 5.91 percent of the total annual grain production of the districts. It is also a clear indication that a total of 573,471p. m. of grain collected on extraordinary occasions amounted to 56 percent of the annual average production of the district during hundred years.

In the above calculation of grain surplus only the physiological need and tax burdens were considered however, it is important to take into account feed requirements and and storage losses too. József Glósz examined the balance of grain production throughout the country, calculating with 9 p.m/capita/years of needs, of which 5 liters of physiological needs and 4 liters of other needs, which include tax burdens, animal feed and storage losses.37 Assuming an average consumption of 9 liters, there was an overproduction of 52 percent38 in Nagykun District, Túrkeve (103 percent) was in the best position and Kunhegyes (17 percent) was in the worst. It should be noted, however, that farmers in the Nagykun district did not pay the landlord’s tax, and compared to other landscapes, there was probably less grain used for fodder here, because grazing was typical and pastures were rich, so the average consumption of 9 p.m/capita/years seems a lot. However, indicated the good situation of cereal production is by the fact that even with this high average demand, a significant surplus of cereals can be observed.

According to Glósz’s calculations, there was a small underproduction in Nagykunság in the first half of the nineteenth century.39 However, according to the cadastral survey, with the same average demand that Glósz used, there was a 26 percent overproduction in the Jászkun District at the end of the eighteenth century. This can be explained by the fact that between 1780 and 1840 the population increased by 74 percent, but the arable land by only 29 percent. Given that the comprehensive river regulation that allowed for greater extensive development of crop production only began in the mid-nineteenth century, this does not seem unrealistic. This study confirms Glósz’s remark that county-level statistics may mask significant regional differences. The overproduction was 26 percent in the Jászkun District, but there were significant regional differences: the overproduction was 52 percent in the Nagykun District, 11 percent in the Jász District and 22 percent in the Kiskun District.

Distribution of Resources

The analysis of production and need presented so far is a highly theoretical calculation, as I have compared the total needs of the settlements with the total production, but relative overpopulation can also result from a large inequality in the distribution of resources. In principle, it can be assumed, for example, that the grain crop, which supplies the entire population of the settlement, is concentrated in the hands of a few landowners who constitute a small part of society, and thus the majority of the population faces food insecurity. The social division created by redemption40 (landowner redeemers/irredeemers displaced from land ownership) brought with it the possibility of such a situation. Fortunately, the individual sheets41 of the cadastral survey also provide an opportunity to examine the estate structure, but such a document has survived only in connection with Kunszentmárton. However, there is no indication that my findings regarding Kunszentmárton cannot be generalized to the other five settlements with due caution.

In Kunszentmárton, 473 landholders were registered during the cadastral survey, i.e. persons with at least an internal plot (with a house, a garden), 17 of whom did not have any ploughland, meadows, pastures, or vineyards. According to other sources, 269 redeemer landowners lived in the settlement, and thus it seems that even irredeemer landholders obtained access to land cultivated in the system of the land community during the cadastral survey period. In the landed estate structure of Kunszentmárton, however, the marked social response line formed by redemption emerges clearly. At first glance, the structure of the landed estate (Table 2) gives a strongly negative picture, as 26 landless and 183 (38 percent of all landholders) family heads with less than one cadastral acre was recorded. From the point of view of overpopulation, it can undoubtedly be considered negative that almost 46 percent of the population had little or no ploughland or meadow that could be cultivated, as this clearly resulted in a continuously intense demand for land. However, it is also important to point out that a favorable structure of landed estate emerges within the stratum of the redeemers (practically the landholders with land of more than 1 cadastral acre in the table). Among redeemers, especially in the case of ploughland, the landholders in each category and the total cultivated area in that category are relatively proportional.42 Accordingly, in this social stratum, i.e. in the actual landholders, land subdivision was not yet so widespread; this stratum could be less characterized by internal tension. Undoubtedly, the pressure of the stratum of irredeemers gradually became more severe on that of the redeemers, but the key question in judging overpopulation is how great this pressure could have been and whether it could be managed under the given conditions.

In 1786, hundreds of mostly irredeemer families migrated to Bácska as part of the chamber’s efforts to relocate sectors of the population. Relocation is interpreted by most researchers as a symptom of a crisis in the community when internal tensions have reached a level so critical that they trigger emigration. In connection with this, however, I would like to mention my hypothesis that emigration was motivated more by the benefits of the chamber’s relocation efforts than by internal social tension. This seems to prove that the councils of the Nagykun settlements initially strove to impede43 the organization related to emigration, and the landlords of Külső-Szolnok County wanted to allow emigration from their villages only on condition that the families moving away find new landholders to take their place.44 This behavior seems illogical if we assume that the settlements were facing an overpopulation crisis.

As the statistics show, the relatively large number (38 percent) of Kunszentmárton’s heads of families were landless peasants or smallholders, and consequently landholders with lower levels of wealth and property. However, the stratum of irredeemers was also highly differentiated. On the one hand, there were landholders who had significant numbers of livestock, and on the other, there were herdsmen, horse herdsmen, shepherds, etc.,45 who played an important role in livestock farming and otherwise enjoyed relatively high social prestige. It is very important that smallholders in the land statistics who cultivated less than one cadastral acre not be clearly considered social outcasts living at the poverty line, as most of them were servants and laborers in the service of redeemer landowners who had an income above the subsistence level. In the eighteenth century, the lord-peasant relationship was strictly regulated centrally by district administrations and at the local level by settlement councils: they prevented lords from luring contracted peasants away, sanctioned unilateral breaches of contract by the lord or peasant, and also set wages.46 The initial impediment to the organization of emigration was clearly motivated by the fear of losing a labor force. At the agrotechnical level of the eighteenth century, the existence of this stratum providing a labor force was a normal condition for the operation of the farm, as the labor force of a family alone may mostly not have been sufficient to cultivate the estates of redeemer landlords with medium and large lands.47

According to the cadastral survey, 209 landless farm peasants or dwarf holders lived in Kunszentmárton, and they accounted for 38 percent of all landholders. It is worth comparing this ratio with regional and national averages, but this is difficult to do. Of the surrounding settlements, the individual sheets survived only in Tiszaszalók (it is a part of Abádszalók today). The settlements of Jászkunság cannot be compared with one another due to lack of sources. In Tiszaszalók, the ratio of cottars with less than one cadastral acre was quite high, 61 percent. Of course, the socage settlement can only be compared with the privileged Kunszentmárton with certain reservations, as the landholders classified as cottars in the former may have had access to the allodial land of the landlords. Accordingly, the data for Tiszaszalók are likely to be skewed upwards in terms of the ratio of landless peasants or dwarf holders. Furthermore, the question may arise whether the very high ratio of cottars can be attributed to some peculiarity of the settlement. However, the ratio of socage and allodial lands and the ploughland per person is close to the averages in the settlements of Heves and Külső-Szolnok Counties,48 and on the basis of its urbarium, it does not differ from the settlements along the river Tisza, either.49

According to the census in Nagykunság, the ratio of male cottars was 36 percent of all adult men. This ratio was 39 percent for the whole of Jászkunság, 48.5 in Heves and Külső-Szolnok Counties, 51 percent in Pest County, 32 percent in Győr County, and 51 percent for the whole of the Kingdom of Hungary.50 In Nagykunság, therefore, the ratio of the landless peasants does not seem striking. At the time of the socage settlement, 27.12 percent of the cottars in the Kingdom of Hungary belonged to the category of housed cottars and 6.23 percent to the category of houseless cottars. By 1791, this proportion rose to 29.64 and 9.25 percent, respectively. Also in 1791, the ratio of housed and houseless cottars was 33.16 percent and 11.66 percent respectively in the counties of the Great Plain.51 Based on these, on the other hand, the ratio of irredeemers of 38 percent with no land or little land but with a house in Kunszentmárton seems a bit high.

An important issue associated with overpopulation is the standard of living of the lower social strata. Fortunately, the individual sheets of the cadastral survey indicated not only the extent of the land cultivated by certain landholders, but also their yield. In Kunszentmárton, only 39 landholders (7 percent) were listed who did not produce any kind of grain, and 30 percent of them produced less than 5 p. m., which was the lower annual need of a person. 53 percent of landholders produced 13 p. m. meeting one family’s minimum annual need on their own land, and 46 percent of landholders harvested more than 37.5 p. m.52 regarded as the upper estimate (Perjés). Thus, in terms of the distribution of production (Table 3), and thus 30 percent of landholders produced below the subsistence level, roughly 7 percent of them produced 13–40 p. m. needed only to provide for the family, and 46 percent also produced a surplus. Thus, a significant part of families produced a marketable surplus. However, I have to nuance the picture that emerges from the survey data at two points. My calculations refer to food grain, which also includes barley, the consumption of which as porridge may have been a stop-gap solution. A further criticism of the calculation may be that it records the average yield. Landholders with an average production of roughly 40 p. m. may have been the ones who were able to ensure their own crop supply even in poorer crop years. This applies to 54 percent of all landholders.


Table 3. Distribution of cereal production among individual landholders in Kunszentmárton based on first cadastral survey

Distribution of cereal production*

(pozsonyi mérő)

Number of landholders


All cereals produced in category


Less than 1





1 – 4





5 – 9





10 – 19





20 – 39





40 – 79





80 – 159





160 – 319





320 – 639





640 –






* The cadastral data of Kunszentmárton coincide with the estimation of József Glósz of the average yield of the categories of serf plots. See: Glósz, “A birtokviszonyok hatása,” 206. The average yield of the estates belonging to the 40–50 Hungarian lunar category was 267 p. m. (According to Glósz, this category had a yield of 280 p. m.), 25–30 magyar hold – 176 p. m. (Ibid., 185), 20–21 magyar hold – 133 p. m. (Ibid., 140), 13–15 magyar hold – 90 p. m. (Ibid., 90), 5–10 magyar hold – 42 p. m. (Ibid., 46), 3–5 magyar hold – 22 p. m. (Ibid., 23). 1 magyar hold = 0,76 katasztrális hold.

Based on the above, it seems that at the end of the eighteenth century, the structure of landed estate in Kunszentmárton did not yet show significant fragmentation of the estate, which contradicts the hypothesis according to which the settlement was largely overpopulated. However, the optimal condition observed in the settlement cannot necessarily be considered valid for the whole of Nagykunság. In the other settlements of Nagykunság, the ratio of irredeemers was lower, which, however, does not only mean that there were fewer social tensions and, consequently, less hunger for land, but also that there may have been a less favorable structure of landed estate within the stratum of landowners, as all the cultivable land was shared between several owners. This could have been somewhat offset by the fact that the land available was proportionally larger, but this was not the case, as the utilized area per capita in Kunszentmárton (5.71 cadastral acres/person) exceeded the average in the settlements in Nagykunság (5.31 cadastral acres/person). However, these uncertainties are not greater than the uncertainties in the analyses that have been conducted by researchers so far. Based on the data of the cadastral survey, it can be stated that the amount of natural resources in relation to the population and the distribution of resources at the turn of the century were still relatively optimal, at least compared to other areas.

Assessment of the Economic Condition: Conclusions

The main question of the present study was whether the settlements of Nagykunság were afflicted by overpopulation due to failing to meet basic food needs and thus to what extent the anthropogenic interventions in the ecosystems (the construction of Mirhó Dam) could have been motivated by a kind of extensive growth compulsion. Due to the limited sources which were produced during and survive from the time, the question cannot be answered with certainty, but from the data of the first cadastral survey, which has been undeservedly neglected in environmental history research so far, many conclusions can be drawn which are new compared to assessments carried out by researchers previously.

According to the data of the cadastral survey, the grain production of the settlements of Nagykunság met the domestic consumption needs of the population, and taxes as well as the feed needs of animals too, and the population also had a surplus that could be sold on the market in normal and good crop years. The population of the settlements grew arable crops mainly for self-sufficiency, which is indicated by the relatively close relationship between the size of the ploughland and the population. The structure of the landed estate, i.e. the most important natural resource and the distribution of agricultural land, was still optimal at the end of the eighteenth century, both at national and regional levels.53 The overpopulation which, according to Klára Dóka, was an issue in the case of the settlements along the Tisza and the resulting growth compulsion can be detected only to a small extent in the case of the settlements of Nagykunság, along with the social tensions resulting mostly from redemption. The farming of the settlements of Nagykunság was characterized by the optimal utilization of environmental resources, and thus by high average yields (especially in the case of grain production).

The construction of the Mirhó Dam can undoubtedly be attributed to the confrontation between nature and man, but this is probably not due to the need to change the existing land use system, but to changes in the system due to external factors, in our case to the periodic changes in climatic conditions. This is indicated by the fact that the complaint letters written before the construction of the dam mention disturbances arising in the use of areas already under cultivation (flooded meadows all year round, ploughlands and vineyards protected by dykes, etc.) and do not formulate the need to involve new areas.54 The grain boom which emerged later and which forced the floodplain communities of the Carpathian Basin to change to dryland farming can’t have been behind the construction of the Mirhó Dam in chronological terms, either. If we accept the picture which emerges on the basis of the cadastral data, i.e. that the farming system at the end of the eighteenth century was relatively optimal, it is also unlikely that the goal of the farming communities involved in dam construction would have been to eliminate the farming system which had been in use until then. With regard to the construction, it is also worth noting that the dam was erected in the first half of the eighteenth century (i.e. in the initial period of reorganization), which suggests the possibility that the existence of the dam was a normal condition for floodplain farming. The intervention was rather the only active element of the basically passive floodplain farming carried out by the settlements of Nagykunság, similar to the way in which the settlements of Sárköz selected the scour channels (fok) that were unfavorable to them. Thus, the aim of building the Mirhó Dam could not have been to drain the area, but to create a more regulated water system. Based on the above, I agree with Zsolt Pinke, who suggests that water management work was caused by the environmental challenges caused by intermittent climate change, and I also agree that the conflict among settlements stems from differences in hydro-geomorphological conditions.55 However, given that floodplain management appears to have been statistically profitable and that significant quantities of marketable grain were available, in my opinion pressures from population growth may have played little role in dam construction in the eighteenth century.

My results are an adjunct to floodplain management debates too. The opinions of two significant researchers on the topic, Bertalan Andrásfalvy56 and Miklós Szilágyi,57 differed mainly on the question as to whether floodplain management was profitable and well-planned. My results are closer to Andrásfalvy’s opinion on efficiency, as floodplain farming was profitable even in terms of field crop production, despite the fact that in the Nagykun District this sector was secondary. The study I have done does not in itself provide an opportunity to assess the other side, the planning of floodplain management, so I cannot contribute to the discussion in this respect.

However, the validity of my findings is limited by certain source-critical considerations, three of which are worth highlighting. In the case of the cadastral data, despite the fact that they provide much more reliable and less indirect information compared to the dical tax censuses of the period, there are a number of uncertainties. The uncertainties are rooted, on the one hand, in the fundamental problems of statistics and, on the other, in the much-mentioned interests of farmers in data distortion. The basic statistical problems include, for example, how much variance we have to reckon with in the case of the average yield, and the extent to which the pressure system caused fluctuations in production. The second major uncertainty factor is the determination of need. We have very little information on contemporary consumption patterns, especially at a given time and place, and the relatively large standard deviation of the estimates can be attributed to this. Moreover, need, like overpopulation, must be regarded as a relative concept. The third factor of uncertainty is the livestock farming sector as the cadastral survey provides data only indirectly in this regard. The main point is, therefore, that there are uncertainties about both the need and the production side, but in my view, they do not exceed the uncertainties about the types of sources used by researchers so far (e.g. tax censuses). Moreover, the cadastral survey also allows analyses which were not feasible on the basis of these other sources.

One of the important aims of the present study was to shed light on the need to reevaluate the statements made about floodplain farming, as in the light of newer sources, some questions are approached from a different perspective. It is also worth reconsidering these questions in light of new source-critical findings related to the sources used so far. The synthesizing character of environmental history requires that the statements made so far be checked from time to time, taking into account new findings in different disciplines and reevaluating prevailing conclusions if necessary.

Archival Sources

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V. 200. 1. a./b Kisújszállás város levéltára [Archives of Kisújszállás]. Conscriptio Facultatum [Census of goods] 1784/1785.

V. 100. 145. Karcag város levéltára [Archives of Karcag]. Conscriptio Facultatum Priv. oppidi Kardszag-Uj-Szállás [Census of goods in Karcag] 1784/1785.

V. 1900. 792. Kunszentmárton város levéltára [Archives of Kunszentmárton]. Conscriptio II. József-féle [Census in the era of Joseph II] 1789.

IV. 2. 76. A Jászkun Kerület II. József-féle közigazgatási iratai [Administrative documents of the Jászkun District of the reign of Joseph II]. Községek terméskimutatása [Crop statement by villages] 1789.

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P. 6. 1. 21. Családok, személyek, testületek és egyesületek iratai [Records of families, persons and associations]. Ányos család [Documents of the Ányos family], II. József kataszteri utasításának magyar nyelvű példánya [The Hungarian copy of József II’ cadastral directions] 1786.


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Bellon, Tibor. Nagykunság [Great Cumania]. Budapest: Gondolat, 1979.

Bogdán, István. Magyarországi űr-, térfogat-, súly- és darabmértékek 1874-ig [Liquid-, volumetric-, weight- and piece measures in Hungary until 1874]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1991.

Danyi, Dezső, and Zoltán Dávid, eds. Az első magyarországi népszámlálás 1784–1787 [The first population census in Hungary]. Budapest: Központi Statisztikai Hivatal, 1960.

Dávid, Zoltán. “Magyarország első kataszteri felmérése, 17861789” [The first cadastral survey in Hungary]. Történeti Statisztikai Évkönyv 1, no. 1 (1960): 33–58.

Dávid, Zoltán. “Adatok a mezőgazdasági termelés nagyságáról, 17861789” [Data on the size of agricultural production]. Történeti Statisztikai Évkönyv 4, no. 1 (1965): 99141.

Dóka, Klára. “Gazdálkodás a Tisza árterein a XIX. század első felében” [Farming in the floodplain of Tisza River in the first half of the nineteenth century]. Agrártörténeti Szemle 24, no. 34 (1982): 277–303.

Elek, György. “ ‘Értünk Kunság mezején’: Táplálkozástörténeti adatok Karcag város 18–19. századi irataiból” [Nutritional history data from documents of Karcag in eighteenth and nineteenth century]. Zounuk 25 (2010): 12557.

Fejér, László. A vízitársulatok 200 éve [Water companies for 200 years]. Budapest: Vízgazdálkodási Társulatok Országos Szövetsége, 2010.

Fodor, Nándor, László Pásztor, and Tamás Németh. “Coupling the 4M crop model with national geo-databases for assessing the effects of climate change on agroecological characteristics of Hungary.” International Journal of Digital Earth 7, no. 5 (2014): 391–410.

Fodor, Nándor, and László Pásztor. “The agro-ecological potential of Hungary and its prospective development due to climate change.” Applied Ecology and Environmental Research 8, no. 3 (2010): 177–90.

Glósz, József. “Területi hiány és felesleg Magyarország gabonatermelésében” [Grain shortages and surplus in the counties in Hungary in the first half of the nineteenth century]. Korall 10, no. 36 (2009): 119–40.

Glósz, József. “A birtokviszonyok hatása Magyarország gabonamérlegére a 19. század első felében” [The effect of estate structure on Hungary’s grain balance in the first half of the nineteenth century]. In Eszmék, forradalmak, háborúk: Vadász Sándor 80 éves, edited by István Majoros, 199–215. Budapest: ELTE BTK Kelet-Európa Története Tanszék, 2017.

Gyimesi, Sándor. “Adalékok Miskolc gabonaellátáshoz a XVII. század végén” [Data for the supply of grain to the population of Miskolc]. Agrártörténeti Szemle 9, no. 34 (1967): 481–90.

Györffy, István. Nagykunsági Krónika [The cronicle of Great Cumania]. Karcag: 1984.

Károlyi, Zsigmond. “A magyar vízi munkálatok rövid története különös tekintettel a vizek szabályozására” [History of aquatic works with special regard to the regulation of waters]. In A magyar vízszabályozás története, edited by Ihrig Dénes, 23–154. Budapest: 1973.

Katus, László. A modern Magyarország születése 1711–1914 [The birth of modern Hungary]. Pécs, 2012.

Keleti, Károly, ed. “Az 1868. évi aratás kenyérterményekben a törvényhatóságok által a közvetlenül gyűjtött adatok alapján” [The harvested bread grain in 1868 according to data from the administratuve units]. Hivatalos Statisztikai Közlemények 1, no. 3 (1868): 159–76.

Papp, Izabella. “A Jászkunok száz éves áldozatai: Bartsik Márton levéltárnok kimutatása a Jászkun Kerület katonai, pénzbeli és egyéb terheiről 1735–1837 között” [The sacrifice of Jászkun during hundred years: Statement about the military, monetary and other burdens of Jászkun District made by Martin Bartsik, archivist between 1735–1837]. Zounuk 9 (1994): 309–39.

Perjés, Géza. “Mezőgazdasági termelés, népesség, hadseregélelmezés és stratégia a 17. században” [Agricultural production, population, army nutrition and strategy in the 17th century]. In Seregszemle: Hadtörténeti és művelődéstörténeti tanulmányok, edited by Perjés Géza, 223–55. Budapest, 1999.

Pinke, Zsolt. “Alkalmazkodás és felemelkedés – modernizáció és leszakadás: Kis jégkorszaki kihívások és társadalmi válaszok a Tiszántúlon” [Accomodation and rising – modernization and fallback: Challenges and the social responses in the small ice age in the Trans-Tisza region]. PhD diss., University of Pécs, 2015.

Rózsa, Sándor. “A 18. századi árvízmentesítések vizsgálata Kunhegyes településen” [Investigation of eighteenth century water management in Kunhegyes]. In Tanulmányok az Eszterházy Károly Főiskola Tudományos Diákköreinek tudományos tevékenységéből (2013–2015), edited by Angelika Reichmann, 321–52. Eger: Líceum, 2015.

Rózsa, Sándor. “Az első kataszteri felmérés környezettörténeti forrásértéke” [Source value of the first cadastral survey in environmental history]. In “Politika, életrajz, divat, oktatás”: Tanulmányok Magyarország történetéből a középkortól napjainkig, edited by Csaba Kiss, Tamás Gergely, Kovács-Veres, and Sándor Rózsa, 129–52. Eger: Líceum, 2018.

Somogyi, Sándor. “A vízrajzi viszonyok szükségszerű átalakításának felismerése és lebonyolítása a XIX. században” [Recognizing the need for conversion of hydrographic conditions and carrying out the transformation in the nineteenth century]. In A XIX. századi folyószabályozások és ármentesítések földrajzi és ökológiai hatásai Magyarországon, edited by Somogyi Sándor, 149–64. Budapest, 2000.

Soós, Imre. A jobbágyföld helyzete a szolnoki Tiszatájon 1711–1770 [The situation of the serfs’ lands in Szolnok Tiszatáj 1711–1770]. A Damjanich János Múzeum közleményei 1. Szolnok, 1958.

Sugár, István. A Közép-Tiszavidék két kéziratos térképe [Two hand-drawn manuscript maps of the Middle Tisza region]. Tisza Téka 1. Eger, 1989.

Szabó, Lajos. “A ‘Mirhó gáttyának’ építése” [Construction of the Mirho Dam]. In “Áldás és átok a víz”: Tudományos emlékülés a Mirhó gát megépítésének 200. évfordulójára, edited by Tóth Albert, 3–22. Kisújszállás, 1987.

Szabó, Lajos. “Megélhetőség Kisújszálláson a XVIII. század második felében” [Standard of living in Kisújszállás in the second half of the eighteenth century]. Zounuk 2 (1987): 29–61.

Szabó, Lajos. ‘Kunhegyesi ‘földtelen emberek Feketitsre’ költözése 1785-ben” [Migration of landless people from Kunhegyes to Feketics]. In Jubileumi tudományos ülés a jászkunságiak bácskai kitelepülésének 200. évfordulóján. A Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok Megyei Múzeumok közleményei 4445, edited by Gábor Bagi, and Gyöngyi Kaposvári, 37–65. Szolnok: Damjanich Múzeum, 1989.

Szilágyi, Miklós: “Az ősi ártéri gazdálkodás elméletéhez” [On the theory of ancient floodplain farming]. In A Szekszárdi Béri Balogh Ádám Múzeum és a Wosinszky Mór Múzeum Évkönyve, vol. 10–11, edited by Miklós Szilágyi, 299–310. Szekszárd, 1982.

Szilágyi, Miklós. “Az árpa vermelése – Kunszentmárton, 1766” [Storage of barely in the ground in Kunszentmárton]. Honismeret 29, no. 6 (2001): 106–15.

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1 Fok: scour channel, stream bed, channelixing water flow from the river onto floodplain during floods and draining it back during the falling stage.

2 On the history of the construction, see: Sugár, A Közép-Tiszavidék két kéziratos térképe, 53–57; Szabó, “A ‘Mirhó-gáttyának’ építése.”

3 Károlyi, “A magyar vízi munkálatok rövid története,” 59; Fejér, A vízitársulatok 200 éve, 17.

4 Dóka, “Gazdálkodás a Tisza árterein.”

5 Rózsa, “A 18. századi árvízmentesítések vizsgálata.”

6 The needs of the population exceed production.

7 MNL OL P. 6. 1. 21.

8 Dávid, “Magyarország első kataszteri felmérése.”

9 For a source-critical analysis of the first military survey, see: Rózsa, “Az első kataszteri felmérés környezettörténeti forrásértéke.”

10 JNSZML V. 1900. 792.

11 JNSZML IV. 2. 76.

12 Dávid, “Adatok a mezőgazdasági termelés nagyságáról.”

13 Bellon, Karcag város gazdálkodása, 24; Bellon, Nagykunság, 90.

14 Károlyi, “A magyar vízi munkálatok rövid története,” 83–84, Somogyi, “A vízrajzi viszonyok szükségszerű átalakításának felismerése,” 150.

15 Outskirts, agrarian area around the settlement.

16 Hold was used as a unit of measurement in the cadastral survey. A katasztrális hold contained 1600 négyszögöl this was recorded in the survey documents. 1 katasztrális hold = 1600 négyszögöl, 1 négyszögöl = 3,5966 m2 (SI) so 1 katasztrális hold = 5755 m2

17 71 percent of the area of Kunhegyes is above 87 m B.a (B.a: Its height above the Baltic Sea), while 56 percent of the area of Túrkeve is below 85 m B.a.

18 For the data on which the calculation is based see, Dávid, “Adatok a mezőgazdasági termelés nagyságáról.”

19 Grain production potential is calculated by taking into account the parameters determining the crop production of the határ of the given settlement, i.e. climate, soil conditions, etc. The data are for the present, but the extent of soil and climate change is supposed not to reach the critical level which would prevent applying the data to the eighteenth century with some uncertainty. Many thanks to László Pásztor, an employee of the Institute for Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry, Centre for Agricultural Research, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for the data related to the wheat production potential of the settlements’ határs (outskirts, agrarian area around the settlement). See for details: Fodor and Pásztor, “The agro-ecological potential”; Fodor et al., “Coupling the 4M crop model.”

20 Györffy, Nagykunsági krónika; Bellon, Nagykunság.

21 Bagi, “A Jászkun Kerület,” 254–66.

22 Perjés, “Mezőgazdasági termelés,” 240–42.

23 Quote by: Bagi, “Adatok a növénytermesztés nagyságához,” 38.

24 Keleti, “Az 1868. évi aratás kenyérterményekben,” 160–61.

25 Quote by: Gyimesi, “Adalékok Miskolc gabonaellátáshoz,” 482.

26 Ibid.

27 Quote by: Bagi, “Adatok a növénytermesztés nagyságához,” 38.

28 Ibid., 41.

29 In the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries, liquid measures were used instead of weight measures to measure cereals. In the 18-nineteenth centuries, the size of pozsonyi mérő changed from 74 icces to 64 icces, i.e. between 62.08 and 53.72 liters. Pozsonyi mérő, therefore, corresponds to 46.5 or 40.29 kilograms of grain. This uncertainty can no longer be accepted in the order of tens of thousands of pozsonyi mérő. For conversions, see Bogdán, Magyarországi űr-, térfogat-, súly- és darabmértékek, 345.

30 Perjés, “Mezőgazdasági termelés,” 236–37.

31 Szilágyi, Az árpa vermelése.

32 Elek, “ ‘Értünk kunság mezején’,” 103.

33 JNSZML, V. 100. 145.

34 JNSZML, V. 200. 1. a./2

35 Rajnai forint, taxes were paid in that currency.

36 Papp, “A Jászkunok száz éves áldozatai.”

37 Glósz, “Területi hiány és felesleg,” 125.

38 In this calculation I have already taken into account oats, which I have omitted so far because they were feed.

39 Glósz, “Területi hiány és felesleg,” 126.

40 The population of Jászság and Nagy- and Kiskunság redeemed themselves for the landlord’s jurisdiction in 1745, and in exchange for the money paid at that time, the districts gained administrative, judicial, and economic autonomy, an event called redemption, which derives from the Latin word redemptio. The right of redemption, which came into force after 1745, divided society into two large groups, the full-fledged redeemers, who contributed to the costs of redemption, and the irredeemers, who were left out of it. Redeemers, in proportion to their contribution to redemption, acquired so-called capital land, which they freely possessed, and the holdings could be inherited and sold. Irredeemers were in principle not excluded from land ownership, but in practice the right of pre-emption of redeemers significantly limited their access to land. Even irredeemers could obtain access to pastures, meadows, and unallocated, so-called redistributed lands (melon, tobacco, and maize, etc.) at redemption in the eighteenth century, but at the end of the century, irredeemers began to be displaced from the common lands. See for details: Bánkiné, A Jászkun Kerület közigazgatása, 23–34.

41 A sheet listing all the owners of each settlement one by one, in which all the holdings cultivated by certain farmers were recorded.

42 This can be contrasted with the national situation at the end of the nineteenth century, when smallholders with less than 5 acres, representing 53.47 percent of the landholders owning 7.52 percent of the total, cultivated land. Katus, A modern Magyarország születése, 450.

43 Szabó, Kunhegyesi “földtelen emberek Feketitsre” költözése, 43.

44 Bagi, “Egy bácskai kirajzás,” 133.

45 See this for more details: Györffy, Nagykunság, 7–28.

46 On the wages of employees and the employment system, see: Szabó, “Megélhetőség Kisújszálláson.”

47 According to Imre Wellmann, a serf who had more land than half a serf plot had to hire or use a day-laborer. See: Wellmann, A magyar mezőgazdaság, 147. In Kunszentmárton, at the end of the eighteenth century, 18 percent of the owners had more land than 11 katasztrális hold (on a country average, this is half a serf plot).

48 The data on the settlements were published: Dávid, “Adatok a mezőgazdasági termelés nagyságáról,” 123–24.

49 The urbariums are bublished: Soós, A jobbágyföld helyzete, 25–42.

50 For the data based on the calculation see: Danyi and Dávid, Az első magyarországi népszámlálás.

51 Quotes the data: Wellmann, A magyar mezőgazdaság, 69–70.

52 The 37.5 p. m. presumably covered ample the needs of a family, if we calculate average consumption of 7.5 p. m./capita/year and a family size of 5 people.

53 Dóka, “Gazdálkodás a Tisza árterein.”

54 JNSZML V. 200. 1. a./a.

55 Pinke, “Alkalmazkodás és felemelkedés,” 258.

56 Bertalan Andrásfalvy examined farming before the river regulations in the settlements of Sárköz along the Danube and found planned and productive floodplain management, which he called fokgazdálkodás. See: Andrásfalvy, A Sárköz ősi ártéri gazdálkodása.

57 Examining the Tiszavidék, Miklós Szilágyi did not find any traces of active floodplain management similar to that observed in Sárköz, and he doubted that the farming system before the river regulations would have been planned or very productive. See: Szilágyi, “Az ősi ártéri gazdálkodás elméletéhez.”

* The author’s research was supported by the grant EFOP-3.6.1-16-2016-00001 (“Complex improvement of research capacities and services at Eszterhazy Karoly University”).


Map 1. Hydrographic conditions of Grand Cumania (Nagykunság) at the end of the eighteenth century. Map drawn by the author using the following map: JNSZML T30.


Table 2. Structure of the landed estate in Kunszentmárton based on first cadastral survey

Distribution of ploughland

(cadastral acre
katasztrális hold)

Number of landowners in category


Total area of the category


No arable land





– 0.99





1 – 4.99





5 – 9.99





10 – 19.99





20 – 39.99





40 – 79.99





80 – 159.99





160 –





Distribution of meadow

No meadow





– 0.99





1 – 4.99





5 – 9.99





10 – 19.99





20 – 39.99





40 – 79.99





80 – 159.99





160 –







Millennial Record of Earthquakes in the Carpathian-Pannonian Region: Historical and Archaeoseismology

Miklós Kázmér and Erzsébet Győri
Eötvös Loránd University, MTA–ELTE Geological, Geophysical and Space Science Research Group; Kövesligethy Radó Seismological Observatory
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 284-301 DOI:10.38145/2020.2.284

This is a short essay on earthquakes in the Carpathian-Pannonian region and its surroundings. Earthquakes have been recorded using seismographs since 1902 in Hungary. The relatively small number of seismic events and the long return period of major earthquakes make it necessary to use historical data in order to assess seismic hazard. Historical earthquake catalogues aim for exhaustiveness both in time and space, but they are limited by the lack of documentary data. A simple arithmetical assessment is provided to estimate our lack of knowledge of past seismic events. All destructive earthquakes of the twentieth century (above magnitude 5) are included in the catalogue (100%). Of the seismic events which took place in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, only 23% are on record, while this figure drops to 4.6 percent for the eleventh–sixteenth centuries and 0.2 percent for the first millennium AD. On average, we have no information about 90% of the destructive earthquakes which occurred in the Carpathian-Pannonian region over the course of the past two millennia.
According to both instrumental measurements and historical sources, there were relatively few earthquakes in the central era of the period of time in question. This era coincides roughly with the two centuries of Ottoman rule (the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Were there really few earthquakes over the course of these two centuries, or we do not have the relevant records? We contend that warfare resulted in the destruction of settlements and the annihilation of documents.
Fragile historical documents can be supplemented by the study of robust edifices, an approach to the study of the past which is known as archaeoseismology. Evidence of damage and destruction can be identified, and earthquake parameters can be assessed. One can find evidence corroborating other sources indicating an earthquake (e.g. Savaria), and one can also identify traces of previously unknown seismic events (Visegrád). One can also assign intensity values to the existing historical records. Damage observed to a Roman road in Savaria, to the medieval donjon of Nagyvázsony offers support for our fundamental contention. In order to understand the seismic hazard that was faced in the Carpathian-Pannonian region, renewed study of historical sources and new archaeoseismological investigations are needed.

Keywords: earthquakes, archaeoseismology, historical sources, Carpathian-Pannonian region


Earthquakes cannot be predicted. There are abundant references on the internet and in the secondary literature concerning seismic events that allegedly were successfully forecast. Several natural anomalies were harbingers of the 1975 Haicheng event in China, and an evacuation order was issued by an exceptionally cautious civil protection leader, who was in a position of power at the time and who thus probably saved tens of thousands of lives. In contrast, there was no foreshock or any other kind of anomaly on the basis of which predictions might have been made concerning the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which hit the city at night and caused at least 250,000 deaths. The few successful cases when an earthquake was predicted should be seen as lucky coincidences at most, not suitable for generalization.1 How can we reduce damage to people and property by earthquakes in the future? Anything that happened in the past can happen in the future. We therefore need to learn as much as we can about the past. This may help us prepare for events in the future.2 In the following, we provide a very short overview on the seismic history of the Carpathians and the Pannonian Basin.

Historical Seismology

Measurements of seismic activity using sophisticated instruments began in Hungary in 1902. For any moment before this date, we have data on seismicity based on historical documents only. Grossinger3 was the first to summarize these documents in a Latin catalogue published in 1783, immediately followed by a German translation of Sternberg,4 both of whom listed 150 events. A century later, Jeitteles5 described 220 earthquakes from the same period in great detail, noting felt features and damage. After a few short communications, Réthly6 published his monumental catalogue, listing events up to the end of 1917. Two hundred and thirty-five of these events are recorded from the same period as Grossinger. Réthly was the first to distinguish between main shock and aftershocks. He gave catalogue entries in the original language and added Hungarian translations with references to the original sources. His catalogue is an exemplary work in every sense.7

Zsíros8 prepared a computerized catalogue containing more than 20,000 events. Most of the information concerning these events came from instrumental measurements taken after 1970. Comparing his methods with previous studies, we found that he increased the data given by Grossinger more than fourfold (!) for the period which came to an end in 1783. References are provided for all of the data. This catalogue has been supplemented by new data compiled using instruments by researchers at the Seismological Observatory in Budapest. Figures 1 and 2, which illustrate the temporal and spatial distribution of earthquakes in the Carpathian-Pannonian Basin, are based on this database.

Historical earthquake catalogues are prepared with the intent of making a complete listing of known events for a given area. The best examples to follow are the catalogues compiled by Guidoboni and Comastri9 for the Mediterranean region, by Ambraseys10 for the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and, to cite a local example, by Hammerl and Lenhardt11 for Lower Austria.

Our ability to provide a complete account of catalogue of seismic events, however, depends, of course, on the availability of sources. Hungary is characterized by a lack rather than an abundance of sources, in part because of its stormy history.

Earthquakes of magnitude 5 or larger are plotted by decade in Figure 1. A magnitude 5 earthquake causes structural damage to buildings. Earthquakes and seismic events which took place after 1901 were measured using new instruments, so these measurements were used to plot them on the graph, while other sources, including narrative sources, were used to plot seismic events before this. The part of the graph which covers earthquakes of a magnitude of five or more in the twentieth century can be considered complete, as it is based on data provided by relatively sophisticated instruments. The graph offers the impression that, the further one goes back in time, the fewer earthquakes there were. Clearly, this is unlikely. This difference is a sign, rather, of the lack of sources.


Figure 1. Number of known earthquakes in the Carpathian-Pannonian region and surroundings in the past two millennia. Magnitude 5 and larger events are shown for each decade. See also Figure 2 for the investigated area.12

We assume that there were similar numbers of earthquakes in previous centuries. The locations and times of seismic activities are consequences of processes of plate tectonics, which hardly show significant variations over the course of centuries or even millennia.13 On average, there were 15 events every decade in the twentieth century, coming to a total of 205 earthquakes. The approximate parameters of these events are known. Between 1600 and 1900, sources indicate that there were on average five events per decade, coming to a total of 144 earthquakes, instead of the 615 ones if we assume that earthquakes occurred with the same frequency as in the twentieth century. This means that there are no records in the available sources of three fourths of the destructive earthquakes (which would mean 461 events). There are scattered records of earthquakes before 1600, including decades for which there are no indications that there were any earthquakes whatsoever. Between 1000 and 1600, the sources indicate only 57 earthquakes, which would be 4.6% of the 1,230 quakes which probably occurred. There are only three records of three earthquakes from the first millennium. In other words, if one were to rely entirely on these sources, one would conclude that 0.2% of all the earthquakes which occurred in the period of time covered in this discussion took place over the course of this period of 1,000 years (Fig. 1). If, in contrast, we were to make the logical assumption that earthquakes were as common in the first millennium as they were in the twentieth century, we can conclude that the sources make no mention of 99.8% of all earthquakes. Historical observations for 1 to 1900 AD indicate only 5.2 percent of the number of earthquakes which we can assume to have taken place. These are the earthquakes that are listed in the aforementioned catalogues. Calculations of seismic risks are based on these data, as are the hazard maps (Table 1).


Table 1. Known earthquakes and earthquakes assumed to have taken place in the Carpathian-Pannonian region and surroundings. For the area studied see Figure 2.



in years

Number of earthquakes assumed to have occurred

Number of earthquakes



































There are various mathematical methods available to assess the seismicity of any region, be it as large14 or small.15 The simple arithmetic used in the present study is intended to reveal major gaps in our knowledge and emphasize the importance of further study.

Why do we know so little about past earthquakes of the period before sophisticated instruments were available to detect and measure seismic activity? There are three major factors to be considered. (1) Were any records of earthquakes created at all? (2) Were the records preserved? (3) If a source was created, do we know of it, have we analyzed it, and was it included in the earthquake catalogue?

There are more than 4,000 Roman inscriptions in Pannonia dating to the period between the first and the fifth centuries AD.16 Most of them were unavailable to Réthly. Roman inscriptions rarely mention earthquakes. Rather, they note completion of construction or reconstruction of a building. Thorough historical and archaeological study of the sites is necessary if we wish to interpret these inscriptions accurately. People of the Early Middle Ages rarely left any written records in the region. Late medieval sources, especially sources found in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, are substantial, and many of them have either been published in print or are available online. There are about half a million medieval charters of a legal nature. They do not provide much information concerning seismicity. Travelogues, reports by envoys, and geographical and historical handbooks17 probably provide the most substantial amount of data, if one approaches them with an open mind. Private correspondence, frequent from the sixteenth century onwards, and reports published in foreign journals beginning in the seventeeth century provide a considerable amount of data. It is too easy to rely on the monumental catalogue compiled by Réthly and his successors. One must be aware that his data were gathered up until the late 1910s, and later amendments and additions were made.

Zsíros,18 who was aware of this deficiency, found a significant number of new sources and added the data he found in them to his catalogue. Additionally, he added geographic coordinates to the sites, assigning intensity and magnitude values to seismic events. His sources are precisely referenced. However, word-by-word citations and especially translations on this scale constitute a task beyond the capabilities of one person. The extent and precision of Zsíros’s work is shown by the fact that he identified three times the number of earthquakes (460) identified by Réthly, making note of 1,453 events during the period covered by Grossinger until 1783.

If there were historical records produced, did they survive tumultuous centuries of history in the Carpathian-Pannonian region? Figure 2 shows the maximum extent of Ottoman rule in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This meant severe destruction of life and property due to incessant warfare and robbery. This part of the region also seems to be characterized by a low number of earthquakes (Fig. 2), while there were significantly more to the west and east. Recurring warfare in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resulted in the destruction of towns and cultural centers (especially monasteries) and depopulation in general. One third of medieval churches of Pest County are known from archaeological evidence only, because the relevant historical documents were lost.19 Written records were neither produced nor preserved during this period. No Gothic buildings, ecclesiastic or secular, survived in Buda, which was the medieval capital and royal seat of Hungary. The royal archives and library, the city archives, the royal registries and charters, records of city councils, financial records, and private correspondence were all lost due to the wars with the Ottomans.20 Particularly painful is the loss of historia domus records, which were dutifully written and preserved by monks in each monastery. These were major sources of Réthly’s studies in other regions. Turkish-language records, written in the Arabic alphabet, are certainly available, waiting to be studied.

When creating Figure 2, we asked whether the Carpathian-Pannonian region was really relatively free of major destructive earthquakes in its center or not. Is it true that there were many major earthquakes in the west and the east but almost none in the center? We cannot offer an answer based on the small number of surviving historical records. Given the methods on which it is based, archaeoseismology may yield a more nuanced understanding of seismic activity in the Carpathian-Pannonian region, and it may well provide significant quantities of new data, irrespective of the historical record. Two examples illustrate this point below.


Archaeoseismology is the study of seismic activity in the past on the basis of archeological sites. It has not yet been used in Hungary. An archaeoseismologist studies archeological excavations and surviving edifices for deformations caused by earthquakes.21 If one can exclude other causes (foundation problems, damages caused by warfare, etc.),22 earthquake intensity is assessed, and attempts are made to establish, within a limited framework, the time of earthquake. The nature of the damage helps localize the fault responsible for the shocks(s). This method is a suitable approach to finding corroborating evidence of suspected historical earthquakes (e.g. Savaria)23 and identifying seismic events unrecorded in historical sources (Visegrád).24 Additionally, one can assign intensity values to earthquakes, independently from historical records (Buda,25 Kolozsvár26).

Archaeoseismology was essentially invented in Greece as way of explaining layers of collapsed edifices excavated in the palace of Knossos, Crete.27 The first handbook was published in Athens.28 Large-scale field surveys29 were followed by clear essays on methodology in Italy30 and Spain.31 Progress is being made in attempts to produce analogue models first and foremost in Portugal,32 and Germany is in the vanguard in computer analysis.33 There are examples of widespread use of archaeoseismology in Turkey34 and Israel35 and novel studies elsewhere in the Mediterranean region, including Algeria,36 Tunisia,37 Libya,38 Egypt,39 Jordan,40 Lebanon,41 and Syria,42 to name a few.

The Mediterranean region lies along the collision zone between the European and the African plates, in a so-called plate margin environment, where seismicity is high. Additionally, there are rare but major earthquakes in intraplate environments, far from any plate margin. Archaeoseismology is eminently suitable as an approach to the study of past earthquakes in this region. However, the findings are often met by skepticism. The Lower Rhine Graben, centered around Cologne, was recently identified as possibly the seismically most active region of intraplate Europe, as proven by two millennia of archaeological documentation of past earthquakes.43 In the Carpathian-Pannonian region, Manfred Kandler, an Austrian archaeologist, was the first to suggest that collapsed walls in the Roman city of Carnuntum near Vienna were destroyed by an earthquake or earthquakes. His ideas were initially rejected, and this prompted him to publish his findings in Hungary.44 As other studies began to be published supporting45 and throwing into question his contentions,46 his views gained some acceptance. Recently, an international conference was organized dedicated to the Carnuntum earthquake of the 4th century AD.47

There are a few promising initiatives elsewhere in the Carpathian-Pannonian region. A large portion of the Roman city wall in Siscia (modern Sisak in Croatia) lies, collapsed, several meters from the foundation.48 Damage observed to St. Michael’s Church in Cluj-Napoca (in Transylvania, Romania) indicates an earthquake of intensity IX, far larger than anything suspected before.49 Major subsidence in the floor of the Franciscan monastery at Visegrád indicates that there was a major earthquake, causing liquefaction, at some point between 1513 and 1540. Both the monastery and the adjacent church were ruined.50 Using numerical techniques to model the process of deformation and damage, we arrive at data on the energy released,51 and we can draw conclusions as to whether the damage was caused by a sudden, seismic shock or continuous loading.52

Preliminary information is given on two sites to show that archaeoseismological research is possible and desirable in Hungary. A Roman road in Savaria (modern Szombathely) shows asymmetric subsidence which may be attributable to seismic activity (Fig. 3): a person or a horse-drawn cart could not move or stand on the 1.5-meter wide tilted edge of the road. This kind of deformation seems a prime example of uneven subsidence caused by seismic-generated liquefaction. A minor trench or a hand boring might reveal sandy subsoil to corroborate the presence of liquefiable sand. Stairs of the spiral staircase from the fifteenth-century donjon in Nagyvázsony were displaced by roughly 4 cm, obviously caused by lateral loading, possibly due to an earthquake (Fig. 4).

Historical seismology is like a large-resolution snapshot: a single event is documented in great detail. An earthquake which took place in 1202 AD in the Middle East, which was the largest earthquake known to have taken place there, offers an example of a dramatic seismic event which has been thoroughly studied. It was recorded at more than hundred sites within a circle with a radius of 500 km.53 Later, the fault responsible was identified in Mount Lebanon.54 The more snapshots we have, the more accurate our hazard assessment.

Archaeoseismology is like a deep borehole: a single site might record successive construction-destruction-reconstruction events over the course of centuries. Although recurrent episodes of damage to the same edifice are not easy to recognize and date, a few promising results are available. For instance, the crusader fortress of Al-Marqab on the coast of Syria,55 the Roman theater in Capitolias (modern Beit-Ras in Jordan),56 and the Byzantine dead city of Umm al-Jimal (also in Jordan) each offer evidence of at least two successive seismic events. While dating is still ambiguous at the Jordanian sites, we find evidence for reconstruction after the first earthquake and abandonment after the second event. Usually, historical sources and archaeoseismology work hand-in-hand, especially when dating is considered.


Earthquake hazard can be reliably assessed only if we are aware of past seismicity. The relatively small number of seismic events and long return period of major earthquakes make it necessary to use historical data in seismic hazard assessment. However, the lack of documentary data in the central region of the Carpathian-Pannonian region makes this a challenging task. This area practically coincides with the maximum extent of two centuries of Ottoman rule in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An arithmetic assessment suggests that we have no record of 90 percent of the destructive earthquakes which, in all likelihood, occurred in the Carpathian-Pannonian region over the course of the past two millennia.

We suggest that, by using archaeoseismology, we can contribute previously unknown data to this discussion. Damage caused by earthquakes can be recognized, and earthquake parameters can be assessed. Preliminary studies identified previously unknown seismic events (Visegrád) and assigned intensity values to historical records. The damage observed on a Roman road in Savaria and in the medieval donjon of Nagyvázsony offer two examples of the potentials of archaeoseismology. Renewed extensive study of historical sources and the further use of archaeoseismological investigation are needed if we seek to arrive at a nuanced understanding of seismic hazard in the Carpathian-Pannonian region.


András Grynaeus called our attention to earthquake damage in the donjon at Nagyvázsony. Two anonymous referees suggested useful improvements. Thomas Cooper improved English. We are also grateful for their assistance.


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Roumane, Kahina, and Abdelhakim Ayadi. “Archaeoseismology in Algeria: Observed damages related to probable past earthquakes on archaeological remains of Roman sites (Tel Atlas of Algeria).” In The Geology of the Arab World: An Overview, edited by A. Bendaoud et al., 319–39. Bern: Springer Nature, 2019. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-96794-3_8.

Silva, P. G., F. Borja, C. Zazo, J. L. Goy, T. Bardají, L. De Luque, J. Lario, and C. J. Dabrio. “Archaeoseismic record at the ancient Roman City of Baelo Claudia (Cadiz, south Spain).” Tectonophysics 408 (2005): 129–46.

Skrgulja, Rosana, and Miklós Kázmér. “Deformed Roman monuments along active faults in NW Croatia: Archaeoseismological studies.” In 17th Symposium of Tectonics, Structural Geology and Crystalline Geology (TSK 2018), 19–23 March 2018, Jena, Germany. Abstract volume, 116.

Sternberg, J. v. Versuch einer Geschichte der ungarischen Erdbeben. Abhandlungen der Böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften. Prague–Dresden, 1786.

Stiros, Stathis. “Identification of earthquakes from archaeological data: methodology, criteria, and limitations.” In Archaeoseismology. Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper 7, edited by Stathis Stiros, and Richard E. Jones, 129–52. Athens: British School at Athens, 1996.

Szalay, József. A magyar nemzet története. 3. kötet [History of Hungary, vol. 3]. Baróti, L. and Hatsek, I. Magyarország a török hódoltság korában c. térképe. [Hungary under Ottoman rule, map]. 1897. https://dka.oszk.hu/html/kepoldal/index.phtml?id=5780 (Last access: 19 March 2020.)

Tari, Edit. Pest megye középkori templomai [Medieval churches in Pest County]. Studia Comitatensia 27. Szentendre, 2000.

Tóth, László, Erzsébet Győri, Péter Mónus, and Tibor Zsíros. “Seismic hazard in the Pannonian region.” In The Adria Microplate: GPS Geodesy, Tectonics and Hazards, edited by Nicholas Pinter, 369–84. Dordrecht: Springer, 2006. doi: 10.1007/1-4020-4235-3_25.

Vasconcelos, Graça, Paulo B. Lourenço, H. Mouzakis, and L. Karapitta. “Experimental investigations on dry stone masonry walls.” In 1st International Conference on Restoration of Heritage Masonry Structures, 24–27 April 2006, Cairo, Egypt, P31-1–P31-10.

Varga, Péter. “On the magnitude and possible return period of the historical earthquake in ancient Savaria, 455 AD (Szombathely, West Hungary).” Austrian Journal of Earth Sciences 112 (2019): 207–20. doi:10.17738/ajes.2019.0012.

Zolnay, László. “A történeti forrásanyag pusztulása” [Destruction of the historical record]. In Az elátkozott Buda: Buda aranykora [The cursed Buda: Golden year of Buda]. Budapest: Magvető, 1982.

Zsíros, Tibor. A Kárpát-medence szeizmicitása és földrengés veszélyessége: Magyar földrengés katalógus (456–1995) [Sesmisicity and earthquake hazard of the Carpathian Basin: Hungarian Earthquake catalogue, 456–1995]. Budapest: MTA Földtudományi
Kutatóközpont Geodéziai és Geofizikai Kutatóintézet Szeizmológiai Obszervatórium, 2000.

Zsíros, Tibor. “Earthquake activity and hazard in the Carpathian Basin.” Acta Geodetica Geophysica Hungarica 38 (2003): 345–62. doi: 10.1556/ageod.38.2003.4.8.


1 Hough, Predicting the Unpredictable.

2 Ambraseys, “Archaeoseismology.”

3 Grossinger, Dissertatio.

4 Sternberg, Geschichte.

5 Jeitteles, “Geschichte der Erdbeben.”

6 Réthly, Kárpátmedencék.

7 Ambraseys, Earthquakes, 6.

8 Zsíros, “Earthquake activity.”

9 Guidoboni and Comastri, Catalogue.

10 Ambraseys, Earthquakes, 6.

11 Hammerl and Lenhardt, “Erdbeben.”

12 Earthquake Catalogue.

13 Bada et al., “Present-day stress field.”

14 For the Pannonian Basin, see Tóth et al., “Seismic hazard.”

15 For the Vienna Basin, see Nasir, “Assessing the completeness.”

16 Kovács, “Römische Inschriften.”

17 Csukovits, “Források.”

18 Zsíros, A Kárpát–medence.

19 Tari, Pest megye, 210–14; F. Romhányi, “Medieval ecclesiastical buildings,” 259.

20 Zolnay, “A történeti forrásanyag,” 30–34.

21 Marco, “Recognition”; Kázmér, “Damage.”

22 Ambraseys, Earthquakes.

23 Varga, “Magnitude.”

24 Kázmér et al., “Tizenhatodik századi.”

25 Ibid.

26 Kázmér, “Evidence.”

27 Evans, Minos; Jones and Stiros, “Advent of archeoseismology”; Jusseret, “Contextualising.”

28 Stiros and Jones, Archaeoseismology.

29 Karcz and Kafri, “Evaluation”; Nikonov, “Methodology”; Korjenkov and Mazor, “Seismogenic origin.”

30 Galadini et al., “Archaeoseismology.”

31 Silva et al., “Archaeoseismic record.”

32 Vasconcelos et al., “Experimental investigations.”

33 Hinzen et al., “Quantitative methods” for monumental buildings. We appreciate the role of Morais and others “Cyclic behaviour” on using computer models to describe the behavior of vernacular buildings.

34 Akyüz and Altunel, “Geological”; Benjelloun et al., “Construction.”

35 Ellenblum et al., “Crusader castle”; Marco, “Earthquake-related damage.”

36 Roumane and Ayadi, “Archaeoseismology.”

37 Bahrouni et al., “Historical”; Kázmér, “Why seismic hazard.”

38 Bacchielli, “Cyrenaica earthquake.”

39 Karakhanian et al., “Archaeoseimological studies.”

40 Al-Tawalbeh et al., “Archaeoseismic analysis.”

41 Lewis, “Baalbek.”

42 Meghraoui et al., “Evidence”; Kázmér and Major, “Distinguishing damages”; Kázmér and Major, “Safita castle.”

43 Reicherter et al., “Aquisgrani terrae”; Hinzen et al., “Archeoseismic study.”

44 Kandler, “Erdbebenkatastrophe.”

45 Decker et al., “Earthquake of Carnuntum.”

46 E.g. Hammerl et al., “Carnuntum case.”

47 Konecny et al., Carnuntiner Erdbeben.

48 Skrgulja and Kázmér, “Deformed Roman monuments.”

49 Kázmér, “Evidence for earthquake.”

50 Kázmér et al., “Tizenhatodik századi.”

51 Morais et al., “Preliminary estimation.”

52 Besharatinezhad et al., “Modelling.”

53 Ambraseys and Melville, “Analysis.”

54 Daeron et al., “Sources.”

55 Kázmér and Major, “Distinguishing damages.”

56 Al-Tawalbeh et al., „Two inferred Antique earthquakes.”


Figure 2. Earthquakes measured using instruments and earthquakes to which there are references in historical sources larger than magnitude 4 in the Carpathian-Pannonian region and surroundings.* One notes the low number of earthquakes in the central part. Is it due to a lack of seismic activity or a lack of historical records? A dotted line marks the largest northern extent of Ottoman rule in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.** Recently discovered earthquakes are indicated by capital letters: Nagyvázsony (N), Visegrád (V), and Cluj-Napoca (K). S – Savaria.
* Source: Earthquake Catalogue. ** Szalay, A magyar nemzet.

Figure 3. Uneven subsidence of a Roman road in Savaria. This kind of deformation is often caused by seismically induced liquefaction of the subsoil. Szombathely, Roman garden. #2156


Figure 4. Displaced steps of the spiral staircase in Nagyvázsony donjon.
A coin with a diameter of 24 mm for scale. #0376



Transformations of Metal Supply during the Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin

Viktória Kiss*
Research Centre for the Humanities
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 Hungarian Historical Review Volume 9 Issue 2  (2020): 315-330 DOI:10.38145/2020.2.315

This paper presents recent research questions which have been raised and methods which have been used in the study of Bronze Age metallurgy in connection with available natural resources (ores) in and around the Carpathian Basin. This topic fits in the most current trends in the research on European prehistoric archaeology. Given the lack of written sources, copper and bronze artifacts discovered in settlement and cemetery excavations and prehistoric mining sites provide the primary sources on which the studies in question are based. The aim of compositional and isotope analysis of copper and tin ores, metal tools, ornaments, and weapons is to determine the provenience of the raw materials and further an understanding of the chaine operatiore of prehistoric metal production. The Momentum Mobility Research Group of the Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities studies these metal artifacts using archaeological and scientific methods. It has focused on the first thousand years of the Bronze Age (2500–1500 BC). Multidisciplinary research include non-destructive XRF, PGAA (promptgamma activation), TOF-ND (time-of-flight neutron diffraction) analyses and neutron radiography, as well as destructive methods, e.g. metal sampling for compositional and lead isotope testing, alongside archaeological analysis. Microstructure studies are also efficient methods for determining the raw material and production techniques. The results suggest the use of regional ore sources and interregional connections, as well as several transformations in the exchange network of the prehistoric communities living in the Carpathian Basin.

Keywords: Copper Age, Bronze Age, metallurgy, scientific analysis, exchange networks


Given the lack of written sources from the period in question, an important research question is simply where did the raw materials, used by prehistoric communities come from. If we determine the provenance of stone and metal raw materials, we can venture hypotheses regarding the connections among prehistoric groups. Over the course of the past decade, montan-archeological research (Montanarchäologie; archeology of raw material mining) and archeometallurgy have proven the existence of several prehistoric copper ore mining sites in various European regions. As a result, most current research trends in the archaeological study of the Copper and Bronze Ages are connected to scientific analyses of metal artifacts discovered in settlement and cemetery excavations, as well as ores found at prehistoric mining sites.1

Figure 1. Map of social interactions based on the archaeometallurgical analyses of the first copper artifacts in the Carpathian Basin2

In the central areas of the Carpathian Basin metal, ores were not available, or in a very small amount.3 Compositional analysis of the first small items of copper jewelry, which appeared in the late Neolithic period (the fifth millennium BC), revealed that they were made of high-purity copper. Thanks to recent lead isotope analyses, the conclusion has been reached that these artifacts came to the Carpathian Basin from communities living in the vicinity of mines in Serbia and Bulgaria (Fig. 1).4 The very few lead isotope data so far indicate that they are objects that were imported from the Balkans even in the Copper Age, possibly with the use of mines in the Slovak Ore Mountains and the eastern Alpine region.5 We can suppose that the development of local metallurgy began in the Copper Age.6

Analysis of Bronze Age Artifacts in Central Europe

The metalwork of the Bell Beaker culture (around 2500 BC), which began to emerge at the dawn of the European Bronze Age, is an important research topic, mainly because artifacts used by these communities were the first metal objects in the western part of Europe. On the basis of the available data, scholars outlined a uniform metal type, the so-called Bell Beaker metal, which consisted of 98% copper with arsenic, antimony, and nickel impurities.7 A selection of 1,943 trace element analyses of copper finds from the material of Central European communities (southern and central Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, and the Carpathian Basin) used between 4500 and 2000 BC resulted in a picture which differed from the western European Bell Beaker metal: the artifacts were categorized into 13 different groups. According to the compositional analyses, 65 of the 80 eastern Bell Beaker objects were made of tin-rich or fahlore coppers with varying impurities (antimony, arsenic, silver) and a small (less than 4%) amount of tin. The various dominant elements suggest that there was no uniform Bell Beaker metal in this region.8

Elemental composition data of the next period prove that the most widespread raw material of the Central European Early Bronze Age (from 2100 BC; contemporaneous with the 3rd phase of the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age in Hungary)9 was the so-called Ösenring metal, the characteristic fahlore type of the neck rings.10 The latter copper, which contained silver, arsenic, and antimony impurities, has been associated with ore occurrences in the triangle of the Eastern Alps, Slovakia, and the Czech-Saxon Ore Mountain range based on the distribution area of the mentioned neck rings (Fig. 2).11 Lead isotope tests which were used to arrive at more accurate determinations of provenance indicate that the raw material of these artifacts derived from the Slovak region.12

Figure 2. Prehistoric copper mining regions associated with Ösenring metal type13

Figure 3. Abundance of copper with fahlore and chalcopyrite signatures produced
in the eastern Alps from the beginning of the Bronze Age to the Hallstatt period based
on the compositions of approximately 1200 prehistoric metal artifacts from Tyrol, Salzburg, and southern Bavaria14

In the 1960s and 1970s, the transformation of the raw material used at the beginning of the Central European Middle Bronze Age (contemporaneously with the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age in Hungary) was detected by the Stuttgart metallurgy project (Studien zu den Anfängen der Metallurgie or SAM project).15 This metal type, which contained arsenic and nickel, spread in a wide region of Europe, also called Einheitskupfer or eastern Alpine copper. The new unified metal type, based on lead isotope data, was associated with chalcopyrite ores (Fig. 3) of the Mitterberg region, situating to the south of Salzburg.16 According to the most recent radiocarbon dates, these ore sources were exploited from the 16th to the 14th centuries BC.17

Analysis of Bronze Age Artifacts in Hungary: State-of-the Art and New Perspectives

As we have seen, research on Eurasian copper raw material has provided important data, although questions still remain regarding the origin of copper ores used by Bronze Age metalworkers in the Carpathian Basin.

Research on metal finds has intensified over the course of the past two decades in Hungary as well. Re-dating of the earliest axes from the 3rd millennium to the end of the 4th millennium provided important data concerning raw materials. Based on an evaluation of the Stuttgart database, 21 axes of the Bányabükk hoard prove that Copper Age and the earliest Bronze Age axes were made of pure copper. The raw material of later Fajsz-, Corbasca-, and Kömlőd-Kozarac-type axes18 show a more varied picture, with fahlores containing impurities at 1–2%, namely arsenic, antimony, and silver. Occasional low nickel content suggests a mixture of ores.19 This indicates that the raw materials the natural impurities of which made it possible to produce harder tools were sought and were not the result of intentional alloying.20

Analyses of metal finds from Bell Beaker burials (2500–2200 BC) were also begun. According to the findings, the raw materials out of which the daggers and pins were made usually consisted of pure copper (98–99%) with antimony, silver, lead, and tin impurities.21

Based on several metal analyses, neck rings, hair rings, spiral arm rings, pins, and daggers from the end of the Early Bronze Age (Fig. 4) which were excavated in western Hungary (2100–1900 BC)22 were manufactured from fahlore copper rich in trace elements, such as antimony, arsenic, and silver.23 Copper artifacts containing arsenic and nickel, beside fahlore copper ornaments and tools are known from cemeteries of the same period which were discovered in eastern Hungary.24

Figure 4. Typochronology of metal finds from the dawn of the Early Bronze Age until the first period of the Middle Bronze Age in Hungary25

At the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (2000/1900 BC), tin bronzes appeared with 4–10% tin, which is a clear indication of intentional alloying
(Fig. 5).26

Optical emission spectroscopy analyses of the aforementioned Stuttgart metallurgical project provided 116 data for Middle Bronze Age metallurgy of Western Hungary based on samplings of five hoards of Transdanubian Encrusted Pottery (1800–1600 BC; the so-called Tolnanémedi horizon) and artifacts of a burial from the same period. The findings indicate that 80% of the local ornament types were made of the characteristic fahlore type Ösenring copper alloyed with tin.27 Compositional analyses of the Zalaszabar hoard from the same period suggest that tools and jewelry, which were found together in hoards, were manufactured with the use of several casting procedures.28

Testing of the Koszider type hoards and several ornaments and tools from the end of the Middle Bronze Age in Hungary demonstrates a transformation in the use of raw materials similar to contemporaneous Central European Middle Bronze Age, with the dominance of so-called Einheitskupfer or containing arsenic and nickel.29 In connection with the research on the find assemblage of the famous Nebra Sky Disc, dating to the 16th and 15th centuries BC and discovered in the region of Halle (northeastern Germany), elemental analyses of the axes of the Hajdúsamson hoard, axes and a sword from Vámospércs and Téglás were performed. As in the case of the material of the Nebra finds, the compositional data all match the mentioned eastern Alpine copper (with two exceptions from Téglás). This research yielded the first lead isotope data from Hungary confirming the association of the mentioned raw material with the chalcopyrite ore mines of the eastern Alpine region. Investigations of the Apa hoard, which has close typological relations to the weapons from Hajdúsámson, and other contemporaneous find assemblages suggest that, in addition to Alpine and Slovak raw materials, ores from other regions of the Carpathians (in the area of Baia Mare and the Apuşeni Mountains) were also processed (Fig. 6).30

Figure 6. Lead isotope ratios of the objects from Apa and Hajdúsámson and of copper ores from Mitterberg, the Slovak Ore Mountains and lead ores from Baia Mare31

We have seen that data concerning elemental compositions suggest large trends, but the exact provenance of raw materials and the chaine operatiore of production need further confirmation.

The project of the Momentum Mobility Research Group of the Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities aims to study metal artifacts of the abovementioned period during the first thousand years of the Bronze Age in Hungary (2500–1500 BC). We analyzed ornaments, weapons, and tools from precisely dated inhumation and cremation burial assemblages of the Bell Beaker period (2500–2200 BC) and the Early and the Middle Bronze Ages in eastern and western Hungary (Fig. 7–8).

Multidisciplinary analyses of chemical composition are provided by non-destructive XRF, PGAA (prompt-gamma activation), and TOF-ND (time-of-flight neutron diffraction) analyses in cooperation with the Budapest Neutron Centre (Centre for Energy Research). XRF results can only be interpreted for the surface, while bulk area was analyzed by PGAA.32 Neutron radiography and TOF-ND are


applied in order to determine production techniques (see summary of research facilities and relevant technologies available for the archaeometallurgical testing in Hungary).34 It is important to note that while post-casting elaboration was formerly identifed by destructive microstructure analysis we could detect the hardening of the edge of flanged axes without any destruction of the artefacts (Fig. 8).35

Figure 9. Dendritic structure of an as-cast pendant from Zalaszabar36

We perform destructive metallographic examinations on some objects, selected on the basis of non-destructive analyzes, in cooperation with the specialists of the Department of Materials Science of the University of Miskolc and the Department of Solid State Physics of the University of Debrecen (Fig. 9). We also study the effect of cremation to the microstructure of the bronze jewelry found in cremation burials.37

Figure 10. Multidisciplinary analyses of Bronze Age finds from Hungarian Early and Middle Bronze Age sites (Balatonakali, Budakalász, Nagyrév, Polgár, Sárrétudvari, Zalaszabar, Zsennye) with Central European prehistoric copper mining sites38

There are 42 ongoing lead isotope measurements (Fig. 10) performed in collaboration with the Curt-Engelhorn Archaeometry Center in Mannheim. The significance of these lead isotope analyses is emphasized by the fact that, with the exception of the above mentioned nine objects from the region of Debrecen, no additional lead isotope data were available from the inner areas of the Carpathian Basin.

Our results complement the research performed in the 1960s and 1970s and over the course of the past two decades. Changes in raw material use over time show similar tendencies to those in Austria and other parts of Central Europe. Though compositional data are still matter of discussion,39 results suggest that, in the Early Bronze Age, copper ores which were mined in the territory of present-day Slovakia were used.40 Based on some artifact types dating between 2800 and 1500 BC we can suppose networks of relationships which stretched over long distances. In the case of these artifacts, the question has arisen as to whether they were manufactured at and exported from the same workshop or they are locally made copies that indicate long-distance connections among Bronze Age communities.41 E.g. lead isotope data concerning the weapons from the Hajdúsámson treasure and other swords and axes found near Debrecen suggest that the raw materials with which they were made originated from the Eastern Alpine region. The decoration motifs on these weapons, however, indicate that they were made locally in the Tisza region.42 The findings summarized here indicate interregional connections, as well as several transformations in the exchange network of the prehistoric communities living in the Carpathian Basin.


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1 Stöllner, “Montan-Archaeology”; Pernicka et al., “Lead Isotope Analyses.”

2 Siklósi et al., “New Data on the Provenance,” Figure 34.

3 Ecsedy, “On the early development,” 218–20; Szabó, “A késő bronzkori,” 24; Szabó, A dunántúli urnamezős, 69; Czajlik, A Kárpát-medence; Czajlik, “Lokaler, regionaler.”

4 Siklósi et al., “New Data on the Provenance.”

5 Schreiner, Erzlagerstätten im Hrontal; Csányi, “Das kupferzeitliche Gräberfeld”; Siklósi et al., “The spread of the products”; Siklósi, Szilágyi, “New data on the provenance.”

6 Bondár, A késő rézkori fémművesség.

7 Needham, “Analytical implications”; Needham, “Copper dagger.”

8 Merkl, “Bell Beaker.”

9 P. Fischl et al., “Old and new narratives,” Figure 1.

10 Schubert and Schubert, “Spektralanalytische Untersuchungen”; Pernicka et al., “Lead Isotope Analyses.”

11 Junk et al., “Ösenringbarren”; Höppner et al., “Prehistoric copper production”; Radivojević et al., “The Provenance, Use, and Circulation.”

12 Duberow et al., “Eastern Alps”; Radivojević et al., “The Provenance, Use, and Circulation,” Figure 7.

13 Höppner et al., “Prehistoric copper production,” Figure 7.

14 Radivojević et al., “The Provenance, Use, and Circulation,” Figure 10.

15 Schubert and Schubert, “Spektralanalytische Untersuchungen.”

16 Duberow et al., “Eastern Alps”; Pernicka, “Analyses of Early Bronze Age”; Radivojević et al., “The Provenance, Use, and Circulation.”

17 Pernicka et al., “Bronze Age Copper,” Figure 5–6.

18 Junghans et al., Kupfer und Bronze; Hansen, “Metal in South-Eastern”; Dani, “The Significance of Metallurgy”; Szeverényi, “The Earliest Copper Shaft-Hole Axes.”

19 Junghans et al., Kupfer und Bronze, vol. 1–3; Junghans et al., Kupfer und Bronze, vol. 4; Krause, Studien zur kupfer- und frühbronzezeitlichen, Datenbank, Anr. 8952–8971, 8987, 10937, 10939, 12501–02, 12504, 12515, 13402–13409, 14419, 48801, 48807, 48841.

20 Shalev et al., “Investigation of early copper-based alloys,” Table 2.

21 Endrődi et al., “Technological study.”

22 Mithay, Bronzkori kultúrák, III.t.1–7; Junghans et al., Kupfer und Bronze; Költő, “Megjegyzések az Ordacsehi-Csereföld”; Somogyi, “A kisapostagi kultúra”; Kiss, Middle Bronze Age,176.

23 E.g. Ösenring and Singen copper; Krause, Studien zur kupfer- und frühbronzezeitlichen, Datenbank, 39.

24 Krause, Studien zur kupfer- und frühbronzezeitlichen, Datenbank; P. Fischl and Kulcsár, “Tiszán innen Dunán túl,” Table 2.

25 P. Fischl et al., “Old and new narratives,” Figure 9.

26 Shalev et al., “Investigation of early copper-based alloys,” Figure 4; Kiss, “Arany, réz és bronztárgyak,” Figure 1.

27 Kiss, “The Life Cycle”; Kiss, Middle Bronze Age, 141–42, Fig. 39.

28 Kiss, “Arany, réz és bronztárgyak,” Figure 3.

29 Schubert and Schubert, “Spektralanalytische Untersuchungen”; Liversage, “Interpreting composition patterns”; Krause, Studien zur kupfer- und frühbronzezeitlichen; Duberow et al., “Eastern Alps”; Pernicka, “Analyses of Early Bronze Age”; Pernicka et al., “Lead Isotope Analyses”; Radivojević et al., “The Provenance, Use, and Circulation.”

30 Pernicka et al., “Lead Isotope Analyses.”

31 Ibid., Figure 20.

32 Maróti et al., “Non-destructive analysis.”

33 Kovács et al., “Auf Mitteleuropa,” Figure 2.

34 Szabó et al., “The possibilities and limitations.”

35 Kiss et al., “From inhumation to cremation.”

36 Kiss et al., “A zalaszabari bronzkincs.”

37 Kiss et al. “A zalaszabari bronzkincs”; Kovács et al., “Technológiai megfigyelések.”

38 Map after Pernicka et al., “Lead Isotope Analyses.”

39 Radivojević et al., “The Provenance, Use, and Circulation”; Szabó et al., “The possibilities and limitations.”

40 Kiss et al. “People and interactions.”

41 Kovács, “Auf Mitteleuropa”; David, “Eine mit Spiralhakenranken”; Stockhammer, “The Dawn of the Copy”; Kiss, “The Bronze Age burial.”

42 Dani et al., “The Hajdúsámson hoard – revisited.”

* The author is the PI of the „Lendület” (Momentum) Mobility Research Group at the Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (LP 2015-3/2015)


Figure 5. Tin–arsenic chart based on artifacts of the Zalaszabar hoard, Western Hungary


Figure 8. Texture results of the TOF-ND analysis of the flanged axe from Zalaszabar at the neck, and at the edge of the axe



Figure 7. Metal ornaments from inhumation and cremation burials of the Middle Bronze Age cemetery excavated at Bonyhád