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  Beginnings of the formation of Aristocracy on the territory of Slovakia--As seen on the Hunt-Poznans in the Nitra region)
by Ján Lukačka

A natural component of every ethnic group was its elite or leading stratum, which due to their abilities and later also to their origin influenced the events in society. The nascent aristocracy consisted already in early middle-ages from two entirely different strata. The first were the members of the so called lineage aristocracy who predominantly originated from the pre-state period. These were originally regional rulers, who had maintained their position and part of their properties even throughout the process of building the state due to their loyalty to the ruling dynasty. They had disposed with relatively large estates, which were hereditary in the families which fact was generally accepted by the ruling princes or kings. During the process of state-building a new, serving (administrative) aristocracy came into being and rose only thanks to the ruling dynasty. These were originally free inhabitants of the country, eventually foreigners, who served the ruling family as members of their retinue. For either their military or administrative services they were donated by the rulers hereditary estates. The mentioned model of the aristocracy's origin could be observed besides in Hungary also in Bohemia and in Poland (1). The essential question concerning the beginnings of the Slovaks' ethno genesis is whether the beginnings of the creation of aristocracy can be ascribed to the period of the duration of Moravia Magna.

Some historians and archeologists do admit this possibility, others strictly reject it (2). It is necessary to stress, that no relevant historical source has been retained which would prove the existence of the so called hereditary aristocracy from the period of Moravia Magna. However we positively know about the existence of duke's retinue and aristocracy, the members of which were the most important dignitaries and administrators / representatives of the castle organization. The Life of Method in Chapter XI speaks about a very wealthy companion and councilors of King Svätopluk (3).  For sure, that was not the only wealthy man on court. Above all, we are interested in what did the wealth of the mentioned Great Moravian aristocracy consist of? Undoubtedly, these could have been the incomes which they were donated for the administrative services.

There was on one hand the ownership of lands (alodii), which the mentioned principals/magnates could own as part of their lineage property, or gain it for loyal services to the ruler. The process of feudalization in Moravia Magna was obviously not a general henomenon but it cannot be denied especially during its highest flourishment during the reign of King Svätopluk. For the permanent military exploitation of the military stratum of the Great Moravian society, it was necessary to stimulate its leading stratum – the aristocracy by donating them the ownership of fields besides rich military prey. It is known about Svätopluk that he was immensely influenced by the Francs, where donations of domains to the aristocracy had been a general practice. Therefore, an attempt of similar practice under Great Moravian conditions cannot be excluded. Best proof for starting this process seems to be the existence of magnates' courts on the territory of Moravia Magna representing the nascent hereditary aristocracy. The begun process of feudalization at the beginning of the 10th century interrupted the disintegration of the Great Moravian state organization. The large extent of Moravia Magna and the internal dynastic feuds between Mojmír II and his younger brother Svätopluk II significantly weakened Moravia Magna. Then the state collapsed under the twin pressure of the Bavarians but mainly of the incoming tribal union of the Old Hungarians. The members of Mojmír`s dynasty and most of its retinue died in the battle with the Old Hungarians; one which probably took place in the Transdanubian region (4).

The representatives of some powerful regional families (old aristocracy) who retained their important posts and obviously also property in the period of highest development of Moravia Magna shared considerable responsibility in the destruction of the central state power. Not all of them were incorporated in the Prince's retinue and therefore some of them survived without undue harm the terrible defeat of the Great Moravian military power in 905 – 906. Part of this Great Moravian aristocracy took advantage of the changed situation and began openly join the militant Hungarians. Together with them they participated in raiding expeditions to Western Europe. The alliance with the Hungarians enabled them to survive and also retain some significant posts on the territory of Slovakia, which had not completely been occupied by the Hungarians and formed only part of their sphere of interest (5). This may be proved by archeological finds from the Old Hungarian graves from the first half of the 10th century. It may be deduced from their location that their watch settlements did not cross in the North the line Bratislava – Trnava – Hlohovec – Nitra – Levice – Lučenec – Moldava nad Bodvou – Trebišov. North of this line not only was the older settlement structure preserved but also the administrative organization headed by the local nobles. Daniel Rapant(6) has earlier expressed the hypothesis as to the existence of a local Slovak ruling class after the fall of Moravia Magna. In his case it was perhaps intuition, because at the beginning of the 1950s he could not base his theses on any specific archeological or historical data. It was the systematic exploration of the noble’s courts at Ducové near Piešťany and later also in the Nitra region Blatnica, carried out by Alexander Ruttkay in the 70s, which unambiguously supported Rapant‘s hypothesis (7). At the same time they made more accurate the chronology of gradual annexation of the territory of South-Western Slovakia by the nascent Hungarian state.

The Old Hungarians crossed the Danube and started to locate their vanguard in South Western Slovakia according to the testimony of archeological findings during the 20s of the 10th century. Consequently, in the course of the 30s and the 40s the first settlements of humble Hungarian people began to occur there and were wedged among the old settled population. Gy. Györffy supposes in his works, that the territory of Nitra principality fell prey to the Árpád princes' dynasty right at the beginning of the 10th century. However the oldest Hungarian narrative sources prove that the Nitra region was originally occupied by the Old Hungarian chieftain Lél, who obviously did not descend from the Árpád family and stayed in the territory between Nitra and Hlohovec (8). In 955 Lél together with Bulchu and Shur took part in the raiding expedition to German countries, where they suffered a horrible defeat at Lech. The dukes were first captured and then executed. Their possessions were occupied by the Árpáds. Thus the Nitra region became part of the Árpáds' domain only after 955, in particular of Árpád's grandson Taksony, who started with the process of the integration of the divided tribal lands into larger units. His sons Géza and Michael successfully continued this activity from the beginning of the 970s. Géza as the elder son became Grand Duke with seat in Esztergom and his younger brother Michael acquired a domain in Nitra. We should connect the intensive effort of the nascent Hungarian state to penetrate deeper into the mountainous valleys and hollows of the Carpathians with Michael’s activities as prince, though of course they had to face the resistance of the local nobles. The most important of these were the Nitra Poznans in the region of today's North-Western Slovakia and the Hunts in the south of Central Slovakia (along the river Ipeľ).

The ancestors of these ancient clans must have acquired their positions in the period of Moravia Magna and preserved them until the last quarter of the 10th century. Then their position was endangered by Michael from the house of the Árpáds, who enlarged his domain northwards as far as the court of Ducové, which he destroyed and eventually occupied, as he did also the Upper Nitra region. He settled his guard units along the border of his domain (Uherce, Uhrovec). In the further phase of this expansion he went as far as Trenčín and began to expand to the Upper Nitra region as well. However, there must have been some negotiations between the local nobles and Michael in the tense atmosphere. The conditions for stopping the military confrontation was the surrender of the local nobles and consequently the acknowledgement of the total sovereignty of Michael over their former domains. In reward, most obviously, Michael allowed them to keep part of their original possessions situated in the region of Central and Northern Nitra, in the Hradná archdeaconry, the Upper Turiec region and the Rajec basin. The Hunts kept their dominant position in the Hont and Small Hont region. The Poznans and the Hunts soon understood that resistance to a more powerful opponent has no sense. So they reconciled with the loss of their sovereignty and became nobles at the court of Michael of the Árpád family in Nitra.

On the basis of some evidence it is obvious that the Nitra Poznans did not give up their Christian faith even in the course of the 10th century. They were using churches in their fortified courts even in that turbulent period (in Nitrianska Blatnica, Šišov, Vyšehrad) and it was the Poznans in particular who took care of the dilapidated Benedictine monastery below Zobor and became its secular patrons in the last quarter of the 10th century. They renewed there the monastery community and granted the Abbey several estates which they had nominated from their possessions (10). The Hunts in the Central Ipeľ region enjoyed a similar position to the Poznans in South-Western Slovakia. On the evidence of the foundation deed of the Bzovík Benedictine monastery it can proved that the Hunts had hereditary family estates at their disposal (hereditorium), they had acquired by purchases from minor neighbouring owners and the estates they gained as donations form the first Árpád Kings. At the same time it is typical that hereditary family estates of pre-Hungarian origin prevailed in their property (11). Both the Poznans and the Hunts remained in Michael’s service until his early death in 995, when he was most probably murdered at the behest of his elder brother Géza. Géza's son became the new Prince of Nitra. His Bavarian Wife Giselle, with a large German retinue, came with him to Nitra. Stephen and his wife became ardent Christianizers and had reconstructed the destroyed cathedral of St. Erasmus and founded a priorate. Within a short time young Stephen and the local nobles represented by Poznan and Hunt developed very close personal relationships. Their relationship underwent a serious test as early as 997 when after the death of Prince Géza a member of a collateral branch of the Árpáds, the Somogy duke Kopány voiced his claims to rule the region and organized an open revolt against young Stephen. In the days of greatest hardship Stephen took shelter with his faithful dukes (duces provinciales) Poznan and Hunt. These representatives of the two significant noble families together with their retinues considerably strengthened Stephen's military force, whose nucleus consisted of German knights from his wife Giselle's retinue. Stephen also expressed his absolute trust in Poznan and Hunt by the fact that he appointed them for his body guards. Their united armies then defeated the rebellious Kopány at Veszprém (12).

The influence of the dukes Poznan and Hunt at the Grand Prince's Court in Esztergom had rapidly increased. Both of them acquired further estates in the Nitra principality, particularly in its southern regions around the Danube. Besides these nobles obtained large land properties in Somogy, which Stephen had gained from the defeated Kopány (13).  Poznan and Hunt were constantly escorting Stephen and they influenced all his decisions to a considerable extent. This fact remained even after Stephen's coronation to the first Hungarian king in 1000 (14). Histography has understood Poznan's and Hunt's performance as that of two important individual persons. In the times of the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries the two mentioned dukes could not have achieved anything as individuals if they had not been supported by their large families, who had also participated (though to a lesser extent) and benefited from the new donations from the first Árpáds. From the 11th century on both families developed in two principal lines. The so called narrow line was represented by the direct descendants of the Poznan and Hunt dukes, they had the privilege to use the title ”de genere Poznan” and ”de genere Hunt” which then at the beginning of the 13th century became ”de genere Hunt-Poznan”. In this direct lineage, apart from the original family estates, the donations from the first kings of the House of Árpáds, significant positions at the royal court and the patronage of the Zobor and Bzovík monasteries became hereditary.

Apart from the principal family line there existed also the distant relatives of the Poznans and the Hunts, who benefited on the large new donations to a lesser extent. However, those relatives acquired upon the division of the original family estates considerably large properties consisting of 5 - 7 settlements which then became in the course of the 12th century their permanent seats. Then after the new estates new independent families were named, too. But as early as the 13th century their members lost their awareness of a common origin and contacts with direct descendants of the ducal families of the Poznans and the Hunts. The oldest genealogical data on both direct and distant relatives of the Poznans have been preserved in the so-called Zobor deeds dated form the years 1111 and 1113. The first of them mentions 12 nobles from Nitra who had to confirm by oath the privileges granted to Zobor Abbey by King Stephen I. (Saint Stephen). At least four of the nobles mentioned came from the family of the Poznans.

It is typical that all of them occupied the Nitra principality administrative positions for quite a long time. The first mentioned was Una, the second Bača (Bacha), who, on the basis of his name can be identified as an ancestor of the aristocratic Vašardicky family, the aristocrats form Báb and those of Lovčice owning estates in the Nitra and Bratislava district. Further two witnesses were the consanguinal brothers Dedo (Deda) and Gečä (Cace), the sons of ”comes” Bukven (15). Most probably these two noblemen, both of them were about 80 years old when the deed was drawn, were Duke Poznan`s grandsons. This conclusion may be valid owing to the existence of the above mentioned names among the members of the so called closer Poznan line throughout the 13th century. Undoubtedly the princes of the kingdom (principes regni) Moses (Moyses) and Kozma (Cosma) belonged to the direct line mentioned, who were in 1113 visited and requested by the Zobor Abbot Godfrid to testify the ownership of the monastery (16). We know for certain that Kozma originated from the Poznan family and was one of the prominent Hungarian nobles. He led the nobles in1123 to revolt against King Stephen II on an expedition to Galicia. Moses was probably his brother or cousin. They were descendants of Dedo and Geča. Kozma most probably was holding a higher position at the royal court and at the beginning of the 12th century Moses was the administrator of the Nitra principality for many years. Kozma and Moses may have lived until the mid of the 12th century.

One of their descendants (most probably of Kozma) was Poznan who had several sons himself. We know only Farkas (wolf) by name, who had no male heirs and who bequeathed his estates to the Benedictine monastery in Sväty Beňadik in around 1164-1165.17 We can suppose that Farkas` brothers were Csanád, who owned estates around Nitrianska Blatnica, Ambróz with properties around the lower Váh and Hron rivers – the oldest known ancestor of the Forgách Ivanč family? and most probably father of the Nitra administrator Thomas, the ancestor of the counts of Svätý Jur and Pezinok. Moses' (Mojs`s) descendants were most probably the aristocrats from Sek, Šišov Hradná and the Gečs from Bučany. Thomas and his sons Alexander and Sebes occupied the most important posts of the whole family at the beginning of the 13th century. Alexander and Sebes in particular as faithful adherents of Duke Andrew in his fights with King Emerich acquired immense estates, notably the Bratislava district in the years 1206 – 1218. There is no record of such an increase of property in any representative of the individual branches of the Hunt-Poznans as in the case of the district administrator Thomas and his sons. We can speak of an enlargement of the family estates in the region of Suchá dolina and in the Hradná ”archdeaconry” only in the line represented by ”comes” Nicolaus and his son Becend. In the period after the Tartar invasion the son of Ivanka Andrew, an ancestor of the Forgáchs notified a considerable increase in properties due to King Béla IV gratitude. Around the middle of the 13th century we can distinguish altogether 8 individual branches – lines of the Hunt-Poznans in south-western Slovakia.

The family branch from Svätý Jur and Pezinok held the important position, followed by the Ambróz-branch represented by the brothers Peter, Marcel and Fabian. Concerning the ownership of properties and the social importance the third position was ascribed to the Šišov-Hradná branch represented by Becend. These were followed by branches of the families with numerous descendants from Sek, the Gecs form Bučany and Nevidzany and by the Blatnica-Novosad branch. The Forgách branch represented by the royal tavern-keeper Ondrej grew to an importance only in the second half of the 13th century. All other branches had originated from Poznans descendats. The only exception is the 8th branch (Bin branch) which originated from Hunt. Its representative was Kazimír and his sons Pangrác, Ugrin, Peter, Lampert, Ladislav and Štefan (18). The predecessors of this branch had acquired the wide-spread estates on the territory of the Nitra district obviously by a marriage with a female member from the Poznan family line.

In the region of south - west Slovakia we know besides the Hunt-Poznans some other aristocratic families, whose properties show similar parameters. These are the families of the Diviacký, Ludanický and Branč-Lipovnícky. It is very interesting to state that all these families disposed with properties divided into several independent, from each other distant units – entities. While mapping these estate properties of the mentioned families an interesting fact is obvious. These estates are located in the near vicinity of the Hunt-Poznan properties and it seems that in many regions they resulted from the division of greater estates. Further, the Ludanický, the Branč-Lipovnícky families similarly to the Hunt-Poznans had estates in Somogy, too, which can prove the common origin of the mentioned aristocratic families.

The example of the Hunt-Poznans throws a new light on the role and position of the leading social stratum of the old Slovaks at the beginning of the Hungarian state. The autochthon population did not become a constituent of the new state as a mass with no rights, but as an organized social structure with part of the aristocracy willing to collaborate with the new ruler of the mid-Danube region, the Hungarians. Thus the old Slovaks were not only suffering objects, but active subjects of the nascent Hungarian state.

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