Tartars on the Frontiers of Europe: The English Perspective

Tartars on the Frontiers of Europe: The English Perspective

By Zsuzsanna Papp

Annual of Medieval Studies at CEU, Vol.11 (2005)

The Mongols from Matthew Paris

Introduction: This article will examine the image of the Mongol invasion in Europe as reflected in contemporary English sources. Understanding this brings us closer to comprehending the medieval frontier concept, at least the way it was reflected in contemporary historiography. The relevant records in English chronicles reveal little about the actual historical events of the East Central European region in the thirteenth century but say a great deal about the perception and knowledge of a core country about the periphery of Western Christianity. “A frontier implies a center, just as a periphery implies a core:” core and frontier are relative, self-definitive terms which often do not correspond with geographical or political boundaries. England, a core country of Christian Europe, implies the existence of frontier where Western Christianity meets non-Christian regions. On this premise, the kingdom of Hungary, as I will point out in the conclusions, was seen as a frontier in the specifically medieval sense of the word.

It appears that the authors of thirteenth-century English sources worked in relative ignorance of the Eastern end of Europe even though some of them definitely had access to information about the region, as is more or less noticeable in their works. Generally speaking, their attention turned towards the region in times of great cataclysms when the shockwaves were expected to reach England at some time. The Mongol invasion was such a series of events, which shook an unready Europe in the middle of the century amid the growing popularity of apocalyptic expectations for 1250.

The increased intensity of references to the East Central European region is an apt terrain for examining the underlying characteristics of the Anglo- Hungarian relations of the age as well as the knowledge and perceptions of the two countries, which in turn can be a basis for further conclusions about the concept of frontier and the complex nexus of core and periphery. The study of Anglo-Hungarian relations looks back to a long series of publications. This examination of the contemporary perceptions of a major trauma on the eastern end of Europe is the analysis of only a tiny segment in the line of such works. However, as such an inquiry provides another building block in our understanding of the medieval concept of frontier and periphery, it is indeed interesting to embark on a close analysis of the English records.

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