Castle Building and Its Social Significance in Medieval Hungary

Füzér Castle - Hungary, 13th century.

Füzér Castle – Hungary, 13th century.

Castle Building and Its Social Significance  in Medieval Hungary

S.B Várdy

Canadian-American Review of Hungarian Studies: Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall (1979)


The history of Hungarian fortification and castle-building has been a subject of Hungarian historiography ever since the 1870s, when Bela Czobor wrote his pioneering study, “Hungary’s Medieval Castles.” Yet, neither the reasons, nor the social consequences of castle-building has really become a central research topic of Hungarian historians; and — despite the appearance of a number of significant works in the course of the past two decades — this relative lack of attention is still evident today. Most of the recent works — including those by the prolific “dean” of Hungarian fortification historians, Laszlo Gero — deal only with the architectural and artistic significance of Hungarian castles, and pay little attention to their social, economic and political significance. It was this vacuum in Hungarian fortification studies that prompted Erik Fiigedi — a product of Elemer Malyusz’s famed Ethnohistory School at the University of Budapest — to try to deal with this question anew, and in particular to evaluate the social and economic implications of the great wave of castle building that flared up in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Fiigedi undertook this task by collecting a vast amount of data on 330 Hungarian castles built between c. 1222 and 1400, and then organizing much of this data under six separate headings in the appendix of his work.

In discussing the history of fortifications in Hungary — and here, of course, the reference is to “Historic” or Greater Hungary — Fiigedi points out that their origins go back to many centuries before the traditional Magyar conquest in the late ninth century. Some of these were Roman castri, while others were A var or Slavic earthen or wooden fortresses. With the Christianization of Hungary and with the founda- tion and expansion of the royal counties by King St. Stephen and by his successors, many of these earlier castri and fortresses became the “local administrative centers” in this new network of royal administration. But the majority of these fortresses were still made of perishable material (i.e. wood and earth), and remained so right up to the thirteenth century, when a completely different type of fortress began to spread into Hungary. This was the well-known stonecastle of Western Europe, that was usually built in inaccessible places, such as protruding hill tops, or within difficult-to-penetrate swamps, and contrary to its predecessors, was built largely for defensive purposes.

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