The Legend of the White Horse

 “Munkácsy Mihály – Honfoglalás / The Conquest of the Carpathian Basin”

The war god in Hungarian mythology was Hadúr, who wears pure copper and is a metalsmith. The ancient Magyars sacrificed white stallions to him before a battle. Additionally, there is a story (mentioned for example in Gesta Hungarorum) that conquering Magyars paid a white horse to Moravian chieftain Svatopluk I (in other forms of the story, it is instead the Bulgarian chieftain Salan) for a part of the land that later became the Kingdom of Hungary. 

Actual historical background of the story is dubious because Svatopluk I. was already dead when the first Hungarian tribes arrived. On the other hand, even Herodotus mentions in his Histories an Eastern custom, where sending a white horse as payment in exchange for land means casus belli. This custom roots in the ancient Eastern belief that stolen land would lose its fertility. – wikipedia

 

The Gesta Hungarorum was not passed on for us in its original form, but this ancient chronicle about the Hungarians can be reconstructed fairly well from various transcriptions. One of its episodes tells about how Árpád dispatched an ambassador spy by the name of Kusid, the son of Künd, to the interior of the Carpathian Basin.

“When Kusid reached the middle of Hungary and descended to the Danube region, he found the place delightful, the land all around good and fertile, and its streams and meadows splendid. He had a liking for it. Then he went to the Moravian king of the domain, named Svatopluk, who governed after Attila.
He hailed him in the name of his people and stated the reason why he came. Hearing this, Svatopluk rejoiced greatly because he thought they were settlers come to cultivate the land. For this reason, he joyfully sent the ambassador back. Filling his flask with water from the Danube, loading his goatskin with meadow grass, and taking a sample of the black sandy soil, Kusid returned to his people. As he recounted everything he had heard and seen to them, they rejoiced greatly. He showed them the flask of water, the soil, and the grass. Tasting them with their tongues, they saw that the soil was very good, the water sweet, and that such grasses grew in the pastures as the ambassador had told them. Surrounded by his people, Árpád filled his drinking horn with the water from the Danube, and, in front of all the Hungarians, he asked for the grace of Almighty God on the horn, that the Lord grant them that land forever…

They sent Kusid back to the king with a large white horse with an Arabian saddle gilded with gold and a gold halter as a payment for his land.
Seeing these, the king rejoiced even more, for he believed they had sent them for the land as prospective settlers.

But the ambassador asked the king to provide land, grass, and water. Smiling at this, the prince said,

Take as much as you want for this gift!’

And so the ambassador returned to his people. At this, Árpád and the seven chiefs invaded Pannonia, not as immigrants but as the lawful owners of the land in perpetuity. Then they dispatched another ambassador to the king, sending him off with this message: Árpád and his men tell you not to remain any longer in any way on the land they have purchased, for they bought your land with a horse, your grass with a halter, and your water with a saddle, and because of your penury and greediness you have yielded your land, grass, and water over to them.

When the message was delivered to the king, he spoke as follows: Beat that horse to death with a club, throw the halter into the meadow, and cast the saddle into the waters of the Danube!
At this, the ambassador said: What loss would this bring to our lord? If you beat the horse to death, you provide food for his dogs; if you throw the golden halter into the grass, his men will come upon it at harvest time; if you cast the golden saddle into the Danube, his fishermen will pull it to the bank and take it home! Whoever owns the land, the grass, and the water, he owns everything!’

Hearing this and fearing the Hungarians, the king quickly assembled an army and called upon his friends for help, and gathering these together, he started off to do battle with them. In the meantime, the Hungarians arrived beside the Danube, and at the break of day they arose on a lovely field to do battle.
But the Lord’s support was with the Hungarians, at the sight of whom the king took flight. But the Hungarians pursued him to the Danube, and there in his fright he cast himself into the Danube and he drowned in its swift waters.”

This historical tale about how Árpád outwitted Svatopluk, the Slavic king, with a deceitful give-and-take agreement eerily resembles the one about how a couple of centuries later, the whites swarming over America duped the poor red skinned Indians. But can there be any kind of historical basis for the tale about the white horse?

Thus did the Hungarians reach the place where they have lived to this very day.

 

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