Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tarih-i Ungurus

            The Tarih-i Ungurus, written between 1543 and 1566, tells the history of the lands of Hungary from the conquest of the region by Alexander the Great to the death of King Louis II at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. The only known copy is held in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where it arrived after its rediscovery and initial publication by Ármin Vámbéry in 1860.[1] The 210 folios of unillustrated text are composed of a combination of Ottoman Turkish prose and verse. The title page reads Tarih-i Ungurus with the partially rubbed out subtitle Iskendername, or history of Alexander the Great. The page also includes the signatures of two previous owners, one Muhammed Amin Abu l'Is'ad Tusturzade[2] and the other of the nineteenth century scholar Vámbéry. Hazai, the publisher of the critical edition, found no evidence to suggest it exists in other forms, concluding that this was the autograph copy.[3]
            The author reveals his name, clues towards a date range, and claims a specific purpose in the dedication on folios 2b-3a:

“When Sultan [Suleiman]’s sword took Hungary, a few people from the fortresses fled to the King of Vienna and did not listen to the commands of the padisha, that is why he sent a sea of soldiers against them and with one motion conquered them. At that time, in a castle known as Ustulni Belgırad [Székesfehérvár], a Latin language book found its way into our hands. Its contents explored, it was revealed that it contained the history of Hungary starting from the ancient days.  It sought to explain how the land flowered, why it was named Hungary, how its capitol city, Buda, was given the name Buda, what was the name of its earlier capitol, what types of kings followed each other, when, and with whom they fought battles, how long they ruled, and lived. That is why I, the weak and poor servant, Tercüman Mahmud, decided that I would translate it. Perhaps the day will come when the current padisah and those that follow will turn their noble attention and happen upon this unworthy poor man’s present, and will with good-nature tolerate and be gracious to this pious submissive servant.[4]

Thus, the text cannot have been created before the capture of Székesfehérvár in 1543, given the reference to the event, and its dedication to Sultan Suleiman provides it with a terminus ante quem of 1566, the year the sultan died on the battlefield in Szigetvár.  The self depreciating request for favor from the “current padisah and those that follow” seems to be a formulaic request for support. Given the date range and the information contained within, it seems quite plausible that the work operated in dialogue with the ongoing consolidation of power in the conquered portions of the fragmented Hungarian territories.
            The author, Tercüman Mahmud, was a well known dragoman (translator) at the Ottoman court of Sultan Suleiman. His unusually prolific diplomatic career has been reconstructed by scholars from archives in Vienna and Istanbul.[5] Captured during the Battle of Mohács, he came from a Viennese Jewish family. Before his conversion, his name was Sebold von Pibrach, the son of a burgher merchant, Jacob von Pibrach. He was well educated and arrived in the palace schools reading and writing in Latin, German, and Hungarian. During his tenure he served in diplomatic missions to Transylvania (1550 and 1554), Poland (1543 and 1554), Paris (1569), Venice and Cypress (1570), Vienna (1550, 1574) and finally Prague (1575) where he died.[6] Some scholars question if Tercüman Mahmud composed the Tarih-i Ungurus, based primarily on the fact that tough while only one dragoman by the name of Mahmud operated at the time, he left no evidence that he wrote works of history outside of this volume. This led Hazai to suggest that he commissioned the work, or at the very least worked closely with a secondary author more well versed in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic.[7]
            Hazai’s critical edition includes a philological study of the quality and character of the Ottoman Turkish and Arabic quotations used throughout the text. Looking for traces of the author’s German roots in syntax errors, he concludes that text suggests multiple authors who wielded Ottoman Turkish and Arabic as native speakers.[8] Identifying few mistakes and few loan words, Hazai also suggested that the deformed names suggested the hand of a non-German speaker. In an earlier publication, Hazai also suggested that the missing words were probably meant to be written in a different color, and thus blames errors on a scribe rather than hypothesizing about a secondary author.[9]
            The sources of the work have been identified as a history of Alexander the Great, from the popular Ottoman Iskendername genre;  a corrupt late medieval version of M. I. Iustinus's World History; the Hungarian historical medieval chronicle Chronicon Pictum compiled by Mark of Kalt;[10]  an altered European edition of Johannes de Thurocz’s Chronica Hungarorum (used for all information post 1000 information); [11] and some early scholars took his introduction literally and believed there was a single mysterious Latin chronicle in Szekesfehervar combining the history of Alexander the Great with that of medieval Hungary that is no longer extant.
            Following its initial rediscovery, scholarship on the Tarih-i Ungurus centered largely on identifying this fictitious Latin source it purported to reproduce which would have provided information on the early history of the Magyar people and their settlement in the Carpathian Basin not available elsewhere.[12] The first person to put forth a serious alternative to the search for the Latin chronicle was István Borzsák, who showed that much of Alexander the Great material was derived from Iustinus's 44 volume Historiae Philippicae embellished with motifs borrowed from the widely popular Iskendername, or Alexander Romance.[13] The critical edition appeared in 2009 and led to a major growth in awareness of the manuscript and interesting new hypotheses about its origins and meanings. Balázs Sudár included it in his short analysis of the mental occupation of Hungary by the Ottomans to show how acquiring the territories went hand in hand with acquiring the past through rewriting it.[14] Specifically, Sudár argues that the focus on fictitious anecdotes from the life of Alexander the Great served to show that the Ottomans were heirs to the Alexandrine empire and thus rightfully in possession of the lands of not only the Kingdom of Hungary, but also the lands of Europe that lay beyond it. Sudár situates this within a context of other legitimizing actions, such as the appropriation of religious and ceremonial spaces and the creation of a new Eastern pedigree for the royal accouterments.

[1] Ármin Vámbéry, “Tarihi Engerusz, azaz Magyarország története czimű török kézirat ismertetése Vámbéri Armintól,” ed. Antal Csengery, Magyar akadémiai értesítő. Philosophiai, törvény-és történettudományi osztályok közlönye 1 (1860): 360–362.
[2] Unidentified. Needs archival research.
[3] Hazai 1996.
[4] “(2b) O zaman kim zarb-ı teğiyle fetheylediği Ungurus vilayeti kalelerınden birkaç kalenin ehalisi Bic kıralına itaat edip emr-i padişahiye imtisal ve inkıyad eyelemedikleri ecilden üzerlerine deryamisal asker çekip varıp cüzvi işaretle fetheyleyip Ustulni Belgırad nam kalede Latin ibaretince bir kitab ele girip mefhumuna nazar olundukta, Ungurus vilayetinin kadimü’l-eyyamdan tevarihi olup o vilayet ne vechile mamur olup  ve Ungurus dediklerine sebeb ne vechile olmuştur, ve tahtgahı olan Budine niçin Budin demişlerdir, ve kadim tahtlarının adı nedir, ve ne denlu kırallar gelip gitmişler, ve ne zamanlarda kimler ile ceng ü cıdal eylemişlerdir, ve ne miktar kırallık sürüp zindegani kırmışlardır beyan olunmağa sayedip (3a) bu biçare-i zayıf Tercüman Mahmud bende tercüme eylemeğe kasdeyledimç Vakat olda padişah-ı devranın ve sahibkıran-ı devr-i zamanın bu fakir-i hakirin tuhfesine nazar-ı şerifleri mukarin olup bendeleri hakkında himmeti ve inayeti mebzul buyurıla.” Transcription published in Hazai 2009, 13-14. Translation is my own based partially on the Hungarian translation in Hazai 1996, 26.
[5] Josef Matuz, “Die Pfortendolmetscher Zur Herrschaftszeit Süleymans Des Prächtigen,” Südost-Forschungen 34 (1975): 26–60. Hazai expanded on this work with archival research conducted by Petritsch. Some of this archival work was partially published in E. D. Petritsch, “Der habsburgisch-osmanische Friedensvertrag des Jahres 1547,” Mitteilungen des Österreichischen Staatsarchivs 38 (1985): 49–80.
[6] Hazai 2009, 12.
[7] Hazai 1996, 11.
[8] Ibid., 15.
[9] Ibid., 13.
[10] The manuscript is housed in the Országos Széchényi Könyvtár, Budapest (shelf mark Cod. 404) and dates between 1330 and 1360. The 147 illuminated illustrations represent a high point in Eastern European medieval art. It is rather curious that the Tarih-i Ungurus does not attempt to reproduce any images.
[11] Hazai 1996.
[12] József Budenz, “Tarihi Engerusz, azaz Magyarország története czimű török kézirat ismertetése Budenz Józseftől,” ed. Antal Csengery, Magyar akadémiai értesítő. Philosophiai, törvény-és történettudományi osztályok közlönye 2 (1861): 261–316.
[13] István Borzsák, “A ‘Hungarian History’ Through Turkish Eyes and the Alexander the Great Tradition,” in Occident and Orient: a Tribute to the Memory of Alexander Scheiber, ed. Sándor Scheiber and Róbert Dán (Leiden: Brill, 1988), 31–38.
[14] Balázs Sudár, “Az oszmánok és Magyarország mentális meghódítása [The Ottomans and the mental occupation of Hungary],” in Identitás és kultúra a török hódoltság korában, ed. Pál Ács and Júlia Székely (Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 2012), 40–49.

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