Monday, April 13, 2015

K: Killed by the Tatars (26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary)

Two hundred years before the Turks became a problem on our southern borders, there was another threat that almost managed to put an end to Hungarian history: The 1241 Mongolian invasion.
(In Hungarian, we remember it as "tatárjárás" which would probably be best translated as "the coming of the Tatars")

Hungarian history classes have a tendency to string our past 1000 years up on losing battles. You have already heard about Lechfeld, and Mohács - in-between the two, the most infamous is probably the Battle of Muhi, on April 11, 1241. In that battle, the Mongolian army led by Batu khan decimated the Hungarian army led by king Béla IV, mostly because the Hungarians were camped in a small crowded area where their own carts and tents kept them form standing into battle formation when the Mongolians attacked at dawn. The king barely got away, and spent the next year in exile.
The Mongolians swept across the kingdom between the spring of 1241 and 1242. And then they left. Sources say they returned home because Great Khan Ögedei (Genghis' son) died and Batu wanted to be elected as his successor. Others say they couldn't sustain their immense army on the resources found in Hungary.
Whatever the case, in that one nightmarish year they allegedly killed off 50% of the kingdom's population, raped, pillaged, and burned everything in their wake. It was a historic trauma that left deep-running marks in Hungarian folklore and psyche. All parts of the country have stories about hiding places - places where the villagers could run to survive the invasion, such as caves or marshes. There are also many stories about surviving, tricking the Tatars, or even scaring them off. If someone is too hasty, we still say "don't run, the Tatars are not chasing you." Even recently, 800 years after the fact, people still used to scare their children with "the Tatars will get you."

In 2005, an incredible find came to light at an archaeological excavation - something that drove it home for me how tangible the terror of the invasion must have been. At the site close to Cegléd a medieval village was found. In one of the small cottages the archaeologists discovered three skeletons: A girl about 8, a boy about 10, and their mother, probably in her 20s. The children were huddling inside the oven, the girl curled up behind the boy who was holding a metal kitchen tool; the mother couldn't get into the hiding place with them, but she lay there blocking the entrance. All three died like that, and the cottage burned down on top of them. They probably didn't have enough time to get away when the Tatars attacked, and the mother tried to hide her children the best she could.


  1. We can read about it in history books and it doesn't impact much, but seeing a picture like that brings it home on a personal level. To still leave marks on the national psyche 800 years later is pretty mind boggling.

  2. Wow, that is an amazingly poignant find. Seeing individuals always rams home the reality of a conflict.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  3. What a heartbreaking image, but it really does bring it home in terms of how horrific the whole thing must have been.

    Such a sad and brutal history. I feel like giving your entire nation a great big hug.

  4. That is terribly sad and heartbreaking.

  5. I loved reading some of these, very macarb but funny though this last one is very sad.

  6. I have heard many stories about this surrounding the bucolic town of Eger. The last story is fascinating but yes, it's horribly sad.

  7. Yes, that does bring it to life, the bones, the oven. I look forward to this taste of death in Hungary everyday.

  8. Dude! tell me about the Tatars! they destroyed the islamic Khilapha in Iraq. They say the river of Dijlah turned black because of the ink coming out of all the books they threw there. It was horrific, the things they did, unspeakable. Till today, in school when a history teacher is teaching their history and is a bet nasty students name him Hulagu. The mother was heroic as a mother should be, what a sad image.

  9. We all seem to have such violent histories

  10. That's so sad, to see that photo and imagine what those final moments would have been like...Sadder still because centuries later and people are still fighting over who is entitled to keep breathing.

    On a happier note, I love Puli! There's a commercial right now, it features a puli searching for his home, there's a scene where he looks in a shop window at a mop! He eventually finds his place...

    1. Oh yeah, I've seen that one! It's Dr. Pepper, right? So cute :)

  11. As sad as that find is, it is still amazing.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
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    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  12. sigh... I hope someone in a village nearby told the story of that brave young mother and kept her spirit alive...
    ...someone like you...
    ... you're amazing.

  13. I find history to be very interesting. Thanks for sharing this story, though sad.

  14. Wow. That is so sad. Moms are underrated heroines.

  15. That's really sad and horrifying. I know that when the Mongolians tried to invade Japan, a typhoon swept up the coast and killed thousands of their soldiers.... they had to retreat. Japanese history says that the reason the typhoon came was because all of the samurai prayed the night before. Talk about a divine wind!

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
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