Hungary and Transylvania, Part 2: The Lay of the Land: The Neighbors and the Inhabitants

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When talking about Hungary and Transylvania, basically and historically we mean one country that used to fill the Carpathian Basin with a corridor to the Adriatic Sea through Croatia. The valleys of the Danube and the Tisza Rivers provided very rich fields and pastures while the huge Carpathian Mountains protected the land on three sides between 895 and 1541 AD.

The total area of the Hungarian Kingdom used to be 325,400 square kilometers. Now, in the twenty-first century it is 93,000 square kilometers while present day Transylvania now is 105,000 square kilometers. Transylvania was bigger in the seventeenth century than now because the lands east of the Tisza and huge parts of the Hungarian Highlands in the north belonged at various times to the Principality of Transylvania, ruled under the likes of Prince Bocskai (1605-6), Prince Bethlen (1613-29), and Prince George Rakoczi I (1630-48).

At the time of the Ring of Fire, Royal Hungary was under the rule of the Habsburgs who considered it as their very valuable but dangerous larder.

The Turkish-occupied lands covered more than the size of modern-day Hungary.



Royal Hungary

The Kingdom of Hungary was divided into six administrative parts: the Croatian Captaincy, the Slavonian Captaincy, the Captaincy Between the Lake Balaton and the River Drava, the Captaincy Between the Danube and Lake Balaton and on the Highland the Captaincy of Mining Towns and the Captaincy of Upper Hungary. On the right side of the Occupied Lands, between it and Transylvania lay a land by the River Tisza called Partium. This rich agricultural area usually belonged to Transylvania but it was the subject of constant dispute between the prince and the reigning sultan.

Let's begin the description of the 1630s situation with the south-western and western part of the country, going from the Croatian Captaincy through the Trans-Danubian Captaincies up to Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava), towards Vienna.


The Croatian Captaincy and the Slavonian Captaincy

Croatia and Slavonia became part of Hungary in the eleventh century. Beginning with King Saint Laszlo I, the Hungarian kings wore the title of "King of Croatia and Slavonia." The king nominated two leaders called "Bán" who governed from its capitals, Zagrab and Varasd, on his behalf. Being an integral part of Hungary, Croatians and Slavonians remained mostly Catholics and bravely fought alongside the Hungarians against Venice and later against the Ottomans. This deep friendship did not include their southern Serbian neighbors. Enmity between Croats and Serbs also dates back to this time. As a minor buffer state, Orthodox Serbia tried to maintain a balance between Hungary and the Ottomans. However, by the time of the Triumph of Nándorfehérvár (now Belgrade) in 1456, Serbia had been consumed by the Turks. The Turks managed and governed Serbia as they did with the Balkans and tried to integrate these territories into their empire the best they could. Parts of Hungary and Croatia have had one hundred fifty to two hundred years of Turkish rule but the Balkan states suffered it for between four hundred to five hundred years. The resulting differences between their social and economic development are clearly visible. Partly because of their Catholic faith and partly because of common enemies, Croats are friendlier to Hungarians than to Serbians up to this very day.



The Captaincy Between the Lake Balaton and the River Drava and

The Captaincy Between the River Danube and the Lake Balaton

Looking from the west, the Croatian-Slavonian and the Trans-Danubian Captaincies directly separated the Austrian territories from the Turks. On the other side of the captaincies was the eastern frontier, and it went along the shores of the long Lake Balaton. It is called the Trans-Danubian region and was known as Pannonia in Roman days. The major castles and forts which guarded this side of the Turkish Frontier were manned mostly by Hungarians and by some Croats. Along the whole length of the frontier there were generally between 19,000 and 23,000 warriors on the Habsburg payroll. Their pay was three to four times lower than the western mercenaries', and it arrived late or never. Some of these soldiers died of starvation. Since these captaincies are the nearest to Austria, we can examine their finances.

According to the records of the Viennese court of 1578, in a time of peace they could spare 1,400,000-1,600,000 Rhine thalers/florins to maintain the frontier castles. This amount partly consisted of the tax called "Türkenhilfe" that came from the Austrian and Czech regions. The court thought that only thirty to forty percent of the total expenses could be collected from Royal Hungary.  Expenses always tended to be higher than income. While the pay of 16,724 frontier-warriors for one month was 83,700 florins in 1578, they also spent 1,000,871 florins for the upkeep of the castles annually. In the first part of the seventeenth century this amount decreased because they paid only 12,548 soldiers and that cost 53,477 florins per month. The money for maintaining the castles was reduced to 641,624 florins per year, and it did no good to the defense.

The market price for mercenaries in the 1600s when hiring 6,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry was 480,000 florins a year in Hungary. In contrast, the Transylvanian Prince Gábor Bethlen paid 75,000 florins to his 20,000 strong army per month or 450,000 florins for half a year. Bethlen's bodyguard consisted of 500 warriors, and he gave them 3,326 florins a month—39,912 florins a year.

At the time of the Ring of Fire, the income budget of Royal Hungary was about 200,000 florins, and 160,000 of it was spent on administrative expenses. Only 40,000 florins could be spared for military purposes. The cities of Royal Hungary contributed to this amount with 77,219 florins in 1626. Of course, it is questionable how much of the money finally reached its destination. Only the half or one-third of the frontier-warriors could be paid from Royal Hungary's income. On top of that, the Habsburgs' debts were over ten million florins in November, 1578, and that wasn't reduced by the 1630s. In the 1603s the price of keeping a 30,000-strong army in western Europe was two million florins. An equal number of Hungarian soldiers would have cost just 1.3 million florins (or thalers) at that time.

During the 1630s, the Habsburgs were supposed to pay from their annual budget one or one and a half million florins for keeping up the frontier. This amount included only the pay of the soldiers; the supplying and maintenance of the castles would have been another one million florins. The poor, neglected condition of the castles and the unpaid soldiers' misery became the usual state of affairs. Without the utter extortion of the Hungarian peasants, and the nobility's desperate help to collect the expenses, the Turks could have walked right into the middle of Vienna. It is no surprise that the warriors of the castles cultivated their own fields when they were not fighting the Muslims. Many times, the warriors collected their food from the Turkish territories or from the local villages, causing further misery. The peasants and the common folks were burdened with manual labor to build or maintain the forts. The Diet of 1554 declared that each peasant had to work six days a year at the nearest castle without getting paid. The nobility was also taxed with similar obligations; for example, they needed to provide four wagons for three days a year, one wagon per each one hundred of their peasants.

It was this time period which gave birth to the Hungarian proverb: "There is neither money nor broadcloth." Soldiers used to receive their payment partly in money and partly in a low-quality broadcloth, the so-called dreadnought.

At the same time there were approximately forty-five thousand well-paid Turkish soldiers garrisoned on the opposing side, not counting the irregular raiders. Almost every single Hungarian castle was defended to the last man or the last handful of gunpowder, except when foreign mercenaries held them as happened at Szolnok or Temesvár. When a fort went down, sometimes a whole county or dozens of villages changed masters. Sadly, most of the castles are in ruins now; the Habsburgs thought them useless and dangerous and exploded them when they "liberated" the country from the Turks, or did so after the 1703-1711 Hungarian rebellion led by Prince Ferenc Rákoczi II.



The Hungarian Highland:

The Mining Towns Captaincy and the Captaincy of Upper Hungary

These captaincies were on the northern part of Hungary, in the Carpathian Mountains. The first one was closer to Vienna, bordering Bohemia, while the second captaincy had a friendly border with Poland. Many Germans dwelled in their mining towns like Besztercebánya (Neusohl, Banská Bystrica) and Körmöcbánya (Kremnith, Kremnica), producing lots of gold and silver. Hungary in the Middle Ages provided vast quantities of salt, silver, and gold in Europe, all coming from the Carpathian Mountains' famous mines. Beside the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul), part of the reason why Christopher Columbus set sail to the Indies was that these mines' productivity had decreased by the late fifteenth century. Yet these mines were quite productive in the 1630s, and the possession of these cities was strategic. They produced iron ore and mercury as well. Many "tilting-mills" (mills that used trip hammers to crush the rock to more easily extract the ore) could be found there, too. A very fertile land lay between Pozsony and Vienna, the Csallóköz plains where agriculture was quite developed. Sopron on the west and the lands around Tokaj could boast world-famous wine production. Innumerable grey cattle were also herded toward Austria and Silesia and sold there at a very cheap price. It was the time when the gap between Western and Eastern Europe became highly defined; due to the Turkish wars, Eastern Europe began to export raw materials and received the industrial products from the West in return.

The capital of the western part of the Highland was Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava), the gateway to Vienna. It was never occupied by the Turks, who would have been destroyed by the cannons of Komárom before ever reaching it on the river Danube. Pozsony, just eighty kilometers from Vienna, was a coronation town and the seat of kings and princes and palatines. Laws and acts were issued by its Diets, and all the important people had a house there. The Holy Roman Empire's Austrian emperor could rule over Hungary only by being elected by the nobility of the Diet and crowned with the Holy Crown. A Hungarian king had to swear to rule according to the Hungarian laws and traditions, giving all the rights to the nobility that had been granted earlier on. Many times the Habsburgs had tried to take away the Hungarian feudal rights and turn Hungary into one of their provinces where they had the right to rule by inheritance rather than election. Due to the Hungarian nobility's resistance, they were never able to carry it out. The Austrians needed the Hungarians' rich resources and their manpower very badly while the Hungarians realized that they wouldn't be able to finance the fight against the Ottomans alone, especially not with an Austrian enemy on their Western border, as well. In addition to this delicate balance, the Transylvanians were gaining more and more ground in the 1630s.

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