László IV – a Hungarian of Kipchak origin

László IV – a Hungarian of Kipchak origin

Tens of thousands of Hun-Turkic peoples gathered in the small town of Bugac, Hungary, in 2012. Guests included representatives from Kazakhstan.

For what purpose, a stranger might ask?

Hungarian scientists report a blood-relationship between Kazakh and Hungarian peoples, a finding based on the results of their latest research. The descendants of these peoples, they claim, migrated from the territory of modern Kazakhstan in the IXth century.

It is undeniable that a sense of kinship and cultural ties have always existed between Hungarians and Kazakhs and, despite various centrifugal forces and separation, continue to exist. This fact is exemplified by the life and times of a Hungarian king of Kipchak origin, King László IV, known in his time as László III and Kun László.

The Dasht-I-Kipchak steppe, also known as the Kipchak, Great or Polovtsian steppe, has been from time immemorial a home to nomad peoples of Eurasia. In the territories of modern Kazakhstan, the Volga region, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, states formed and dissolved, heroes and legends were born. According to European and Byzantine historic sources, the Kipchaks, Cumans – Polovtsy in the Russian chronicles – were such a nomad, Turkic people who became an integral part in the formation of modern nations such as Kazakhs, Nogais, Kumyks and many others.

Over the centuries, Huns, Sarmatians, Scythians, Pechenegs and Kipchaks fell upon the European countries like an avalanche. They entered these countries as they moved west, bringing with them their traditions, philosophy, military arts and crafts. With time, Eastern Europe became a melting pot where the local European and the new nomad, mainly Turkic, elements intermixed. The arriving waves exerted a cultural influence on the local population, specifically on the inhabitants of Hungary, a country founded by Árpád Khan who, along with other tribes he also led, migrated from the territory of modern Kazakhstan to the territory of today's Hungary in the IXth century. These tribes included the Magyars and also, later, the Kazakhs of Argyn's clan (Middle jüz).

Several centuries later, in 1272, a descendant of the Kipchaks, the ancestors of the Kazakhs, László IV, the Kun, whose history has been closely associated with the Kipchaks, ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary. By then the Hungarians, or as they call themselves, Magyars, have abandoned much of their once-common culture including their once-common Tengrian faith, which they maintained up until the beginning of the XIth century. Nevertheless, the Hungarian king, Béla IV, gave the Kipchaks – numbering several tens of thousands of families – land holdings within the kingdom.

László's story begins with one prominent Cuman (Kipchak) figure to arrive in Hungary, Erzsébet (Elizabeth), the daughter of the Polovtsian khan, Kötöny (Kotyan). Following her father's defeat by the invading Mongol armies of Batu Khan in 1238, her family moved to the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom with the approval of Hungary's king, Béla IV, and married the king's son, István - later István V (Stephen V). László was born from this marriage.

The young László identified with his mother's culture. He preferred the company of the nomadic Polovtsy over that of the Magyar's nobility, who were by that time much westernized. He expressed his preference in both his attire and in his customs. Consequently, he earned the nickname “Kun” (Kuman, Kipchak), a name Hungarians used to refer to the ancestors of the Kazakhs, the Polovtsians (Kipchaks) of the Eurasian steppe.

In 1277 the Magyars convened a National Assembly during which they acknowledged 15-year-old László as their king. And so László ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary at an early age to endure the hardships of civil wars and attacks by neighboring states. Tired of the constant wars and hardship, the people rejoiced with one voice at the coronation of the new king. Henceforth, László began managing one of the largest states of medieval Europe.

The following year, in 1278, the Czech king, Ottokar II was killed in the Battle of Moravian Field. His forces were scattered, and the lands he previously captured were returned to the Hungarian crown. Young King László's successes in the struggle against foreign enemies raised his status and the importance of his power among the Kipchaks who settled in Hungary. He, in turn, relied on their allegiance, the same loyalty they had shown earlier when the country was in peril. Given his and his mother's roots, the Kipchaks willingly supported the king in all his endeavors. In fact, during László's reign, Kipchaks were the main strike-force of the Hungarian Kingdom – the military elite. Their loyalty was due in part to László's status and origin, and to a certain social status, guarantees and privileges they enjoyed during his reign.

Although László tried to accommodate the Church of Rome, that organization, nevertheless, considered him a defector to paganism, placed an interdict on him, and thereby drove a wedge between his major allies – those of the old faith and those converted to the new ideology. The result was the destruction of all that he had achieved. The country was left without a part of its army. Eastern Hungary was looted by the former wards of the King, the Cumans, who rebelled against him for betraying his heritage. Only after the suppression of the rebels was László readmitted to the Church. However, a mere five years later, in 1287, he was once again excommunicated. The Church of Rome even called for a crusade against the "negligent" Magyar king.

Thus, by age 25, László had been twice interdicted, overcame internal and external enemies, strengthened the Magyars state, and lost it all. In the summer of 1289, after a series of unsuccessful attempts to re-establish relations with the Church and to restore a strong royal power in Hungary, László distanced himself from public affairs. In his final years, he re-embraced his Kipchak identity and returned to his original traditions, faith, language and way of life, and thereby confirmed his Cuman self-image. Henceforth, his Polovetsian background governed most of his actions and, ultimately, formed his legacy. László IV, the Kun, was the last king of the Árpád male blood-line, a dynasty that ruled Hungary for more than four centuries. After the loss of its power, foreign kings began to foment a strong bias towards the Hapsburg Empire. A great story that had just begun ended suddenly, resulting in the loss of Hungary's independence.

All this shows that the Kipchak culture significantly influenced the Hungarian Kingdom, a culture which left its mark on the history of present-day Hungary. As a result, the first Kurultáj of Magyars was convened in Kazakhstan, in 2007, which provided the basis for the creation of kin-conventions of Hun-Turkic peoples. This event has been held continuously for several years in Hungary. Such events once again confirm the centuries-old cultural ties between our peoples, the Kazakhs and the Hungarians.

tm laszlo 01

Picture by Hungarian artist Than Mór The meeting of Laszlo IV and Rudolf I after Battle on Moravian Field

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Timur V. Mussin