The turn of the millennium would always be remembered as a turning point for the Hungarians, as Hungary formally became an equal member of the Christian community of states.
Thanks to the joint decision of Otto III, the young Holy Roman emperor, and Pope Sylvester II, Stephen received a royal crown which he was able to don on Christmas of the year 1000 without becoming the vassal of either the emperor or the pope.
An independent Hungarian church organization consisting of ten dioceses was formed, with the Esztergom bishopric as its center. The royal counties became the regional and administrative units, with castles in their centers. These lent their names to the counties (most of them remained the same even after a thousand years).
Stephen even had money minted. So Hungary had all the important features of sovereign statehood at the turn of the millennium.
Stephen’s coronation at the beginning of the new millennium did not make him the de facto ruler of the entire country. This was accomplished only when troops defeated Ajtony in the south, whereupon the lord of Transylvania had to acknowledge the king. In his Admonition, written to his son Prince Imre (Emeric) – who was educated by Saint Gerald – Stephen described what a king should be like.
The most important factor, he wrote, was the maintenance and reinforcement of the Christian faith, and in this the ruler had to rely upon church leaders. The king was to ask for the opinion of the leaders and bailiffs supporting him. Stephen also emphasized the need to keep royal dignity, as well as patience and righteous and merciful judgment. He cautioned against despotism, because it was liable to cause disobedience (“Disobedience is a plague throughout the kingdom”). He stressed settlers from abroad were to be accepted. He tried to carry out his principles in full. His greatest problem was finding a worthy successor, one who would continue his life’s work. His son Prince Emeric, died suddenly in 1031, and he did not consider Vazul, the son of his uncle Mihaly, a true Christian (neither his sons, Andras, Bela and Levente). And because Vazul conspired against Stephen, Stephen had him blinded (making him unsuitable for the throne) and sent his sons into exile. Having no other male descendant, he chose his nephew Peter – born from the marriage of his sister and Otto Orseolo, the doge of Venice – as his successor, and took him in his court to aquaint him with the task waiting for him. It was not Stephen’s fault that his good intentions were thwarted.
To be continued,