Geza, The Father

Miniature of Geza, father of St. Istvan

Miniature of Geza, father of St. Istvan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Geza the son of Prince Taksony married Sarolt the daughter of a duke of Transylvania, taking the first step toward asserting de facto power over the eastern part of Hungary.  After he recognized that his people had to accept Western Christian values and ideology to survive he did not hesitate to drive the Magyars into that direction.  First of all he had himself baptized (taking the name of Istvan- or Stephan-the first Christian martyr).  When his son Vajk was born, he had him baptized as well, also under the name Istvan.  In 973 his ambassadors-12 leaders-attended the major international meeting of kings and dukes in Quedlinburg, where the relations between the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary were settled peacefully.

Geza chose the town of Esztergom near the Danube River as his seat, and it also became the center of the Christian church.  In 996 he founded a monastery in northern Transdanubia, south of Gyor, on Mount Saint Martin (called Pannonhalma since the 19th century).  Conversion to Christianity was not an easy task at all, as the bishopric of Salzburg-pointing out that Charles the Great listed Pannonia among it church provinces-demanded the right of conversion and church powers for itself.  As a ruler, however, Geza refused to become anyone’s vassal and he did not want to place the Hungarian church under the guardianship of the German bishopric either.  It took some time until he managed to avoid the obstacles set by the Germans.  Geza himself did not become a believing Christian, and when he was blamed for worshiping several gods, supposedly he said that he was rich and powerful enough to do so.  All the more insistently, he forced others to adopt Christianity!

Some elements of the ancient Hungarian faith (pagan cult) were fairly reconcilable with Christianity, with some finessing, the Hungarians were not particularly opposed to the Christian faith even before the Conquest.  So it is small wonder that conversion was carried out relatively peacefully and that Christianity became solidly and irreversibly rooted among the Hungarian people.

Geza finished his life’s work by securing a marriage to Gizella, daughter of Henry II of Bavaria, for his son.  The Princess was escorted to her new home by German knights, who provided considerable military (and moral) support to the leadership of the country in transition.  Following the death of his father, Geza, young Istvan (Stephen) became the prince of the Hungarians in 997, when he was in his late teens.  However, the transfer of power was not easy at all, because Koppany, the oldest man in the princely family, deemed himself the rightful inheritor.  Moreover, he wanted to follow pagan tradition and marry Geza’s widow.  To get his authority recognized, Stephen had to take up arms.  The prince’s army led by the German knights won in a bloody battle near the town of Veszprem.  Koppany was killed.  His body was quartered and, at Stephen’s order, sent to the town gates of Esztergom, Veszprem and Gyor as well as Transylvania as a deterrent and warning.

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