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They were chieftains (dukes, Princes) till c. 970, Geza (c. 970–997) as well as till 1000 his son Stephen were Grand Princes, from c. 1000 onwards they were Kings. The seniority principle was replaced by the primogeniture, which led to struggles for the throne between 997–1163. The line was extinguished by 1301/1338.
Árpád (died after 900), the founder of the dynasty who brought the proto-Hungarians to present-day Hungary in 896, was probably succeeded by his nephew, dux Szabolcs, who in turn was succeeded by Árpád’s grandson Fajsz (Fales, Falitzi). These two chieftains/dukes, who however did not control all proto-Hungarians yet, undertook almost fifty campaigns, by which they forced the Lombardy (905-950), the Saxons (924-932), the Byzantine Empire and Bulgaria (934-957) to pay tribute to them. They also destroyed Great Moravia probably around 907. The first two Hungarian chieftains/dukes (Bulcsu and Gylas ) were baptized in the Byzantine Empire in 950.
After the defeat of the Hungarians at the Lech in 955, the Hungarian dukes Lél , Bulcsú and Sur , who were not Árpáds, were executed (after they have been captured by the Germans) and their possessions were occupied by the Árpáds, who were led by Taksony at that time (c. 955-c. 971). Since the Nitrian principality (southwestern Slovakia) had been ruled by Lél since the 920s, it thus became part of the Árpáds' domain in 955. In addition, after 955, the defeated Hungarians decided to stay in what is present-day Hungary (more exactly Transdanubia ) and adjacent regions, and to stop their raids in Europe, so that a gradual unification of proto-Hungarian tribes led by numerous local chieftains/dukes began.
While Taksony (c. 955–c. 971) ruled present-day Hungary, his father Zoltan, Árpád‘s son, ruled present-day southwestern Slovakia (the Nitrian principality) and probably had to accept the supremacy of Bohemia in western Slovakia (c. 955 – c. 970). According to less reliable sources, Taksony and then his son Geza (see below) were the rulers of Nitra before 971 instead.
In 971, Geza (c. 971–997), the son of Taksony, became a „Grand Prince“, moved his seat to Esztergom and began to form a unified Hungarian state (hence the “grand” ) – a task completed only later by his son. Transdanubia was ruled by himself, the Nitrian principality was given in fief to his brother Michael (ruled there 971–995, see below), influence in Transylvania was gained through Geza’s marriage with the daughter of the Transylvanian duke Gyula I , but local proto-Hunagrian chieftains/dukes still ruled in other parts of present-day Hungary.
Although Geza was de facto only the ruler of Transdanubia, he is said to have made the Árpád dynasty the ruling dynasty of Hungary. Pushed by Henry II. the Quarrelsome (Heinrich II. der Zänker), under Geza the Hungarians had to leave Ostarrîchi (Austria) and make peace with Otto I and Otto II (in 972). In 995, Geza brought a Latin (i. e. not Byzantine) bishop to Hungary (namely Adalbert, the Bishop of Prague) and was introducing Christianity by force.
Geza’s brother Michael was married to Adelajda (Adelhaid) the „Beleknegini“, the daughter of the Polish Prince Mieszko I. By various deals with Slovak nobles, Michael managed to expand the Hungarian territory to some further parts of present-day Slovakia. Since Michael became too powerful, Geza had him killed in 995, and Michael's sons Vazul and Ladislaus the Bold fled abroad (see below).
In the same year, Geza’s son Vajk (after his baptism called Stephen) was made, by his father, the ruler of the Nitrian Principality (southern Slovakia) within Hungary. He probably brought his Christian wife Gisela (the date of marriage is disputed, most probable are 995/996) to the old Christian center of Nitra, and that is why he became an ardent Christianizer first in the Nitrian principality, later in whole Hungary. His marriage of Gisela promoted the influence of Bavarian clerics and nobles in Hungary. He also established friendly relationships with Slovak nobles in present-day Slovakia (esp. the Poznans and the Hunts), who helped him in 997 to defeat Koppány (the duke of Somogy, member of a collateral branch of the Árpáds), who, supported by old Hungarian chieftain families, claimed Hungarian leadership after Geza’s death.
On December 25 1000 (other sources: January 1 1001), the Grand Prince Stephen was crowned (the first) King of Hungary (1000–1038) by order of Pope Sylvester II. Between 997 and c. 1006, he managed to unify Hungary, by subjugating Transylvania and other domains that had been ruled by Hungarian tribal chieftains. He introduced the county (comitatus) system, founded an ecclesiastic organization with ten bishoprics and the archbishopric of Esztergom, and introduced taxes for common people, the minting of coins (initially in Bratislava), and the official use of Latin, which remained the official language of Hungary till 1836. He moved his seat from Esztergom to Székesfehérvár.
In 1001, Stephen lost the Nitrian principality to Poland. The Polish ruler made Stephen’s cousins Ladislaus the Bold (1001–1029) and Vazul (1029–1030), who had fled Hungary in 995, the rulers of the Nitrian principality (Slovakia) within the Polish principality. In 1030, Stephen reconquered Slovakia from Poland, Vazul was imprisoned, and in 1031 (when Stephen’s only son Imre died) he was blinded in Nitra so that he wouldn't succeed to the Hungarian throne.
However, Vazul’s three sons (Levente , and the two future kings Andrew and Béla , and Domoslav (Bonuslaus), son of Ladislaus the Bold, managed to flee abroad. As a result, it were Stephen’s nephews from the female line, Peter Urseolo (1038–41 and 1044–46) and Samuel Aba (1041–1044), who were fighting for the throne. Peter Urseolo, supported by the German king Henry III , was expelled by the brothers Andrew and Béla , who returned to Hungary from abroad. These two Árpáds were the ancestors of all the following Árpád rulers of Hungary. Domoslav , in turn, was temporarily installed as the ruler of western Slovakia in 1042, when the territory was conquered by Bretislav I and Henry III.
The Hungarian king Andrew I (1046–63) had his son Solomon marry Judith, the daughter of Henry III, in order to stop the continuing German attacks (1042–1052). In 1048, Andrew shared power with his brother Béla by making him apanage ruler of one-third of Hungary („tercia pars regni“, Ducatus, Nitrian Frontier Principality), the capital of which was Nitra, and which consisted of Southern Slovakia (Nitrian Principality ) and north-eastern historic Hungary (called Bihar, however not identical with the later Bihar). Béla received the title “duke” (1048-1063).
All the following dukes of Nitra were members of the Árpád dynasty and most of them were future Hungarian kings. Especially before 1077, the dukes had an independent foreign and internal policy and the duchy was accepted as a separate entity not only by Hungary, but also by the Pope and by the German emperor. For example, when King Andrew I was in conflict with Byzantium, the Byzantine emperor contacted Béla. In 1059, Béla fled to Poland to his brother-in-law Boleslaus II, after king Andrew I had his own son Solomon crowned future king in 1057 (to be able to engage him with Judith).
In 1060, Béla returned to Hungary and defeated King Andrew I. The wounded Andrew sent his son Solomon to Germany, then he died (in 1061). Béla I (1061–1063) became the new king of Hungary and parallelly remained the duke of Nitra. After Béla's death in 1063, Henry installed Solomon as the new king of Hungary and Béla's sons Geza, Ladislaus and Lampert fled to Poland (to their kin, Boleslaus II). When Henry left Hungary, Boleslaus II attacked Solomon, defeated him and forced him to accept Geza as the king of Hungary.
Finally, however, in 1064, peace was made between Solomon and the sons of Béla, under which Solomon (1063–1074) remained king and Geza and Ladislaus received the Nitrian Frontier Duchy; more precisely, Géza became the Duke of Slovakia (11 counties), Ladislaus received Bihar (4 counties) and Lampert stayed in Nitra together with Geza without receiving own domains. New conflicts arose again soon and in 1074, Geza, Ladislaus and Lampert defeated Solomon. As a result, Geza I (1074–1077) became the new king of Hungary. His brother Ladislaus became the new Duke of the Nitrian Frontier Duchy (incl. Bihar) and later, in 1077, he succeeded his brother as the king of Hungary.
Under Ladislaus I (1077–1095) and Coloman (1095–1116), Hungary annexed the coastal regions of old Croatia, Dalmatia, Bosnian territories to the south of the Sava river, and northern western and central Slovakia. Ladislaus managed to defeat the Pecenegs and Cumanians.
The Arpadian kings usually supported the reform Popes in quarrels between Rome and Germany. Ladislaus founded the bishoprics of Oradea and Zagreb, and unified the Greek bishopric of Bács with the Latin archbishopric of Kalocsa . Coloman founded the (renewed) bishopric of Nitra (1110, other sources: c. 1085). Ladislaus consolidated the proprietary relations by stricter penal laws; Coloman improved the organization of the kingdom. In 1077, Lampert became the new Duke of Nitra, however Ladislaus considerably restrained Lampert's powers and deprived him of an own army. In 1081, Ladislaus put an end to Solomon's rule in Bratislava, which the former king Solomon occupied in 1074, and Solomon renounced the throne.
Coloman's brother Álmos was the duke of the newly conquered eastern Croatia (conquered 1081; duke since 1084) and later – on the request of the Croats – the king of eastern Croatia (1091–1095). In 1095, he was then dethroned by Coloman and appointed the duke of the Nitrian Frontier Duchy instead. A conflict arose between King Coloman and Álmos, who was supported by Germany and Bohemia, in 1098, after Coloman had even declared himself the king of Croatia in 1097 (crowned in 1102).
Finally in 1108, peace was made between the two brothers, but Coloman violated it and had Almos (and his son Béla ) blinded and imprisoned in 1108 or 1109 to prevent him from becoming the future king. This act also marks the end of the Nitrian Frontier Duchy and thus a full integration of the territory of Slovakia into Hungary.
Coloman's childless son, Stephen II was engaged in a number of unnecessary wars (1116 Bohemia, 1123 Russia, 1127-29 Byzantium). He appointed Bela II the Blind (1131-41, see above) his successor. However Boris, the illegitimate brother of Stephen (whom his father Coloman did not legitimize), also wanted to become king and in 1132, supported by Polish and Russian troops, invaded the country, but was defeated (later once again in 1146). Since Béla was blind, his wife, the Serbian Ilona of Serbia , and his brother-in-law Ban Belos ruled instead of him. They had the supporters of Coloman killed during a Diet meeting, but as for international politics, they were good rulers. Béla II also became King of Bosnia.
Under Béla’s son Géza II (1141–1161), Hungary became one of the most powerful countries in Europe for about a century. Géza successfully won battles in favor of his brother-in-law Izjaslav (Prince of Kiew 1148–52), and defeated his kin Manuel Komnenos (Byzantine Emperor 1152–56), who had attacked Hungary. It was Geza who (around 1150) invited the first German (Saxon) settlers to Slovakia (esp. Spis) and Transylvania. Also, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) and the Knights of the Cross got to Hungary.
Géza's son Stephen III (1162-72) had to fight against Manuel I Comnenus all the time, who supported the rival uncles of Stephen and managed to make them kings for a short time (Ladislaus II (1162–63) and Stephen IV (1163)), during which Stephen III controlled only the region around Bratislava.
Finally, it was Béla III (educated in the Byzantium by Manuel) who became the new Hungarian king (1172-96). Béla III annexed Dalmatia and Croatia to Hungary again, reformed the financial system of the country, and founded Cistercian monasteries with his second wife Margaret Capet .
The elder son of Béla III Imre (1196–1204) married Constance of Aragon and his other son Andrew II (1205–1235) married Gertrude of Meran. Under these two kings, Western European influence was increasing in Hungary. The organization of the royal castles and court started to dissolve, the arising towns (mostly in Slovakia), received further foreign settlers (colonists). Under Imre's rule there were conflicts between the king and his brother Andrew (who was at that time the duke of Dalmatia and Croatia), so that Imre had Andrew even imprisoned in 1203. Under Andrew's rule (1205–1235), the international position of Hungary was improved, but within Hungary there were fights between the higher and lower gentry and the church. As a result, the king issued the Golden Bull , the Magna Carta of Hungary, in 1222 (revised in 1231).
The rule of his son Béla IV (1235–1270) was characterized by granting of the first civic privileges (town charter, town status) to arising towns in Hungary (in 1238 to Trnava, Banská Štiavnica/Selmecbánya), Krupina/Korpona and Zvolen/Zólyom), and by the disastrous invasion of the Mongols (wrongly called: Tartars) in 1241-1242 and the subsequent reconstruction of the country. As a result of the invasion, the king promoted the construction of castles made of stone and he also invited people living in Hungary, as well as foreign settlers, to settle in the depopulated territories (the Great Colonization). The nomadic Cumanians were settled in present-day central Hungary, and German settlers came mainly to present-day Slovakia and to Transsylvania.
By his decree of 1267, Béla also started to increase the power of lower gentry, which also triggered the change of the traditional Hungarian royal counties into quasi-autonomous territories under the control of certain nobles. The king had his ambitious son Stephen (duke of Transylvania between 1257–1259 and after 1260, duke of Styria between 1259–1260) marry the Cumanian princess Elizabeth and in 1262 he granted him the title Rex iunior and the eastern part of Hungary as fief, which entailed fightings between Béla and Stephen. As a result, Hungary was divided in two till Béla’s death in 1270, after which Stephen became the new king of whole Hungary.
The short rule of Stephen V (1270–1272) was followed by the rule of his son, the young Ladislaus IV (1272–1290), who was influenced by his Cumanian mother and her surroundings, which brought about royal conflicts with the church and the oligarchs. The oligarchs were certain magnate families in Hungary that started to behave like independent rulers on their respective territories (eastern present-day Hungary, western present-day Hungary, western Slovakia, eastern Slovakia, Transylvania, and Croatia) from the 1270s – 1280s onwards. There were also fights against Austria and against the Mongols.
After Ladislaus's death, Andrew III (1290–1301), an Árpád from Italy, was made king. He was a grandson of Andrew II by his third wife (but it is possible that his father was illegitimate). Due to the continuing rule of the oligarchs, total anarchy arose in the country in the late 1290s. The death of Andrew III on January 14 1301 ended the male line of the Árpáds and his only daughter Elizabeth died in the Dominican monastery in Töss (Switzerland) on 6 May 1338. After a short interregnum the Angevin dynasty seized power and Charles Robert (grandson of Maria, sister of Ladislaus IV) became the new king.
- List of Hungarian rulers, List of rulers of Slovakia, List of rulers of Croatia
- History of Hungary, History of Croatia, History of Romania, History of Slovakia
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