Medieval Peasant Rebellions, Part 2: Transylvania by axeloxenstierna
May 19, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: history

The Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary was something of a superpower in Eastern Europe from its foundation in the 900’s to as late as 1490. But like its neighbor, Poland-Lithuania, Hungary was decentralized and unable to field a large professional army — unlike its new neighbor to the south, the Ottoman Empire.

In 1514, the Hungarian government, at the urging of the Pope, decided to finance a crusade against the Ottoman Empire. Instead of raising its own force, the Hungarian government ordered a petty nobleman named Gyorgy Dozsa to go and raise an army of peasants, with the promise that they would pay him later with the money needed to clothe, feed, and supply the army. Dozsa was able to raise a substantial force of social dregs in Transylvania and provide it with rudimentary military training. But the funding never came. According to legend, the Hungarian nobility — who truly controlled the country — instead demanded that the peasants go back to toiling the fields.

At this point, Dozsa decided that instead of a crusade, he was going to lead a peasant rebellion. Pretty much everybody in Transylvania who had some disagreement with the ruling nobility joined the movement — including nascent religious reformers. Because the Kingdom of Hungary didn’t actually have an army, Dosza had free reign over anywhere he could march to. His followers captured over a half-dozen forts and cities in Transylvania, frequently impaling local nobles and bishops.

Finally, the Kingdom of Hungary was able to raise a force of mostly foreign mercenaries under the command of a young Janos Zapolya (not yet Janos I Zapolya), and Dozsa was defeated and captured at the Battle of Temesvar.

Dozsa was executed in a most curious manner. Six of his followers were intentionally starved for a number of days. Then, Dozsa was placed on a throne made of heated iron and made to wear a similarly heated iron crown. This had the result of slowly cooking him. Then, his starving followers were released into the room. According to legend, the famished peasants were unable to resist the smell of cooking flesh, and Gyorgy Dozsa was eaten alive by his own supporters.

Here are some woodcuts of his execution:

Fourteen years after Dozsa got eaten, the last independent King of Hungary died while retreating from a massive military defeat at the hands of Suleyman the Magnificent. Most of Hungary became an Ottoman province. Transylvania, however, was turned into an autonomous Ottoman satellite, whose purpose was to serve as a buffer between the Turkish and Austrian empires. The new Principality of Transylvania was ruled by elected princes, most of whom came from the major Transylvanian noble families that Dozsa had rebelled against. Indeed, many Transylvanian nobles converted to Calvinism, and Transylvania became one of the first countries in Europe with complete freedom of worship.

In the 20th century, Transylvania was transferred to the new country of Romania. This meant that after WW2, when new Communist regimes began searching history for peasant heroes to legitimize their rule, Dozsa became revered by not one, but two communist parties.

In Red Hungary, he was upheld as a proto-Marxist-Leninist-Kadarist and began appearing on communist currency and inspirational artwork:

In Red Romania, he was re-christened Gheorghe Doja. The city where he was defeated — Temesvar in Hungarian, Timisoara in Romanian — became home to a monument to him:

Indeed, today one of the major streets in Timisoara is named for Doja. A google image search for “Gheorghe Doja Strada” reveals that it seems to be home to a sizable population of stray dogs.

Throw them some warm meat if you’re ever there.


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