Archival and Manuscript Resources in Hungary

Zsolt Hunyadi, Central European University in Budapest

This paper is to describe the available written sources of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary for any kind of scholarly work in the Hungarian archives, libraries and to illustrate the situation concerning the amount, character, and accessibility of our medieval holdings. Since so many of the Hungarian medieval sources have been lost, some research projects, concepts, and methodologies developed in Western European and North American scholarship are simply impossible to pursue. Whereas others developed by Hungarian scholars have proven fruitful as they have been accustomed to the local circumstances. Thus, this survey attempts to shed some light not only on what is impossible to accomplish but also what is eminently feasible to achieve in Hungary. By summarizing the characteristics of the different archival and manuscript resources and their editions or accessibility, this paper and the attached bibliography should provide a useful tool for medieval scholars.

It is important to clarify that Hungarian medieval scholarship regards the year 1526 (the Battle of Mohács which the Hungarians lost against the Turks) as the dividing line between the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Most of the written sources produced by the kingdom's central governmental organs vanished from a considerable part of the country during the following 150 years of Turkish occupation. The extent of the destruction of the sources will never be fully known to scholars, and it is difficult for Western researchers to understand its gravity. This loss of records concerns not only the number of the sources, but the fact that almost entire types of documents were lost such as official or private letters sent to the Hungarian kings, many drafts of legal documents, accounts of the magister tawarnicorum or, later, that of the Master of the Treasury.

These circumstances have shaped the development of the Hungarian National Archives collection in Budapest and the various archival collections throughout the country. Collecting of medieval written sources began as early as the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century. A number of diligent historians/copyists, for instance, Gábor Hevenesi, Márton Czeles, and István Kaprinai collected and copied medieval charters into modern chartularia. It was Márton György Kovachich who espoused the project and announced the scholarly purposes end of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, a considerable part of the original sources is not extant and, moreover, the undertaking of the copyists falls short of the modern standards of source criticism. Most of these copy-collections were published mostly in György Fejér's Codex diplomaticus Hungariae (1829-1844), a monumental undertaking which is still not entirely replaced by new editions. Yet, Fejér's edition simply preserved the fundamental scholarly problems inherent in the copyists' work. Apart from the shortcomings of the Codex, Fejér's pioneer work was followed by several source-editions published from the mid-nineteenth century up to the Second World War. After a long hiatus, the work of source edition as such regained its former status. The best example is the monumental project initiated by Gyula Kristó and his colleagues, which is publishing the extracts (regesta) of all documents issued during the Angevin rule in Hungary (1301-1382).

Thus at present, there are three main groups of sources at the scholar's disposal: (1) the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century copy-collections, (2) numerous published sources, and (3) the surviving archival resources. Before surveying the published sources, let us review the depositories of the medieval, namely, the pre-Mohács (i.e. 1526) collections (the Collectio Antemohacsiana) and their development. In order of importance, it consists of the medieval collection of the Hungarian National Archives (MOL, Budapest) subdivided into the Diplomatics Archives (DL), which was established in the early 1880s, on the basis of the former Hungarian Chambers' Archives. At first, the nineteenth-century collection contained some 25,000 medieval records, but the criteria for selection was not clearly defined, and it included all the different types of documents which were issued in the period in question: letters of mandate, letters of relation, private letters, accounts, drafts, original and copied materials. This heterogeneity has led to certain misunderstandings during the last hundred years. Nevertheless, the Diplomatics Archives (DL) grew steadily in the decades following 1890 through several depositions and purchases. In 1934 the DL was merged with the collection of the Hungarian National Museum which mostly consisted of family archives left in its safekeeping. Thus, prior to the Second World War, the new DL counted more than 70,000 original pre-1526 items arranged in chronological order. During wartime, the Hungarian National Archives (MOL) began microfilming its holdings for preservation; nonetheless, many records burned to ashes in 1945, and another set, during the 1956 revolution.

The last significant stage in the major acquisitions of the MOL was the process of establishing of public ownership of all the archives in Hungary--ordered by the new regime at the beginning of the 1950s. Besides the original medieval records which counted 90,000 at that time, the MOL continued microfilming its own Diplomatics Archives and initiated the acquisition of microfilmed and/or photographed "Hungarica" materials from abroad, primarily, from the surrounding countries/regions once belonged to Hungary. As a result of the cooperation with Austrian, Romanian, and present-day Slovakian and Croatian archives, the MOL acquired some 70,000 copies of original materials with reference to Hungary. This corpus became the core of the Diplomatics Photocopy Collection (DF). The DF includes photographs of the medieval records deposited outside the MOL even of those documents found within the borders of present-day Hungary but outside the capital. Archivists still expect to find some more records, primarily, from Ukraine, since the archives of the regions east of the Carpathians have yet to be processed.

In addition to the collection of the Hungarian National Archives, the municipal, ecclesiastical, local public archives, and local libraries should be taken into account. These archives, with a few exceptions, have also separated their pre-1526 materials from their main corpus. Thus, it was easy to integrate the microfilms of these materials into the structure of the MOL. Although these archives retained the original documents in their possession, scholars can work with the photocopies and microfilms kept in the MOL. Nevertheless, those who plan to investigate the original materials can find some 9,000 documents in municipal archives ca. 10,000 in ecclesiastical collections, and some 2,000 items in different libraries.

Today, there are about one hundred and eight thousand original medieval records (DL.1 - ca. 108100) and ninety-two thousand photographs (DF. 200001-ca. 286000) in the MOL. These some 200,000 records contain the text of ca. 318,000 charters. This collection, in its present stage, incorporates the archives of the former Hungarian Chamber; the archives of the Hungarian and that of the Transylvanian Chancellery; the archives of the Treasury; archives of governmental organs in Transylvania; documents originating from the archives of Vienna; the Regnicolaris archives; judicial archives; family archives; institutional archives (especially, places of authentication); and other miscellaneous collections. The vast majority of the records is written in Latin, while--especially in the later Middle Ages onwards--a significant amount is in German, several Slavonic (e.g. Slovakian), and Greek manuscripts can also be found.

The MOL's inventories contain the most important pieces of information about each documents such as its call number, inventory number, dating, surviving form, remarks, original signature, issuer/grantor, and seal. Moreover, extracts have been prepared and attached to 70% of the collection - unfortunately they are available only in Hungarian. A new initiative plans to merge the inventories of the Diplomatics Archives and the Diplomatics Photocopy Collection which were hitherto been separate. The inventories have been digitized (BRS: full-text data-processor system) and made available on-line through the Internet along with the traditional auxiliary tools, 10,000 extracts from the period of 1438-1453 are also accessible on-line. The reasons why archivists prepared the extracts of these particular charters of this period leads us back to the field of source edition.

One of the most serious criticisms concerning the medieval collection is that the Hungarian National Archives itself lacks an inventory that allows scholars to determine whether the given document has been published, and if so where. In the attached bibliography, the major source editions can be found, starting with Fejér's Codex diplomaticus up to the most recent volume containing the charters of the Sigismund era (1387-1437). In addition, three comprehensive bibliographies contain almost all the published sources: the Emma Bartoniek's manual of historical scholarship contains the pre-war titles (collected in the 1920s, reprinted and edited by I. Gazda, 1987); the relevant chapters of D. Kosáry's general work provide the most detailed list, while Draskóczy's article (1990) summarizes the recent charter editions. I would like to point out the most important characteristics of this list. Certainly, the least problematic period is the Arpadian Age, that is, from 1001 (the beginning of literacy in the Kingdom of Hungary) up to 1301. Even if some editions fall short of modern scholarly standards, the works of Wenzel, Szentpétery/Borsa, Kubinyi, Nagy, Györffy, Theiner, Smiciklas and others contain the majority of the extant charters. The documents from the Angevin and the Sigismund periods (i.e., 1301-1437), however, are partially published. Only a selected number of documents issued between 1301-1365 and 1387-1416/20 have been published or extracted (mainly in Hungarian) by Wenzel, Nagy Imre et al., Nagy Iván, Jakó, Smiciklas, Sedlák, Mályusz, Borsa, and Kristó's team. There are two on-going projects which plan to publish the extracts of all the documents of the Angevin and Sigismund periods. The Angevin series contain already 7 volumes (1301-1317, 1323-1324, 1327) and several other volumes are forthcoming. The fifth volume of the Sigismund series was published very recently, thus, it contains documents up to 1416, and the volumes up to 1420 will be in print soon. Apparently, the published "kindred" archives may reduce the lack of source publication of both the previous and subsequent periods. However, it cannot replace the missing editions. For this reason calendars were prepared to be available, principally, for the period from 1438, that is, the archivists attempted to bridge the striking gap between 1438 and 1526. Unfortunately, most of these projects gave up the long lasting tradition of publishing the sources in extenso. Instead extracts now replace the full text of the documents, and these extracts are usually written in Hungarian. Unfortunately, the choice of Hungarian as the language for these publications represent a serious language-barrier to non-Hungarian scholarship. This is particularly unfortunate if one considers the fact that both the Angevin and the Luxembourg dynasties played important roles throughout Europe, and therefore numerous comparative, cultural, institutional and other projects could yield important results. Finally, the exclusive use of summaries deprives all researchers of the formulaic sets. The translation of these editions does not seem feasible regarding that the Angevin series alone will amount to some seventy volumes.

The vast majority of the codices and incunabula made, copied, printed or simply kept in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary also perished during the last four centuries. According to fairly cautious estimations there must have been at least 45-50 thousand medieval codices, though some scholars put this number over one hundred thousand. Today, less than thirty-five hundred remain extant, and less than 1,500 of those can be found in Hungary. In addition, many of these codices have been brought to Hungary as late as the nineteenth century. Recent studies, on the basis of certain book-lists found in charters, reported more than 3,000 lost titles. However, it is quite difficult to estimate the number of volumes in which these works were included. Turkish wars and occupation of the country imperiled book-collections, moreover, Protestant literate believers recycled liturgical manuscripts for binding materials--from time to time.

The first attempts to gather and catalogue the manuscripts and codices took place in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, only the second half of our century yielded satisfactory and concise catalogues of the holdings of Hungarian collections or general "Hungarica" materials abroad. The first main group of these works would be the general ones which include all opus of a particular collection or that are kept in Hungary. The list represents the most important collections or holders: the Hungarian National Library (OSzK); University Library, Budapest (ELTE); the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTAK); the Library of the Esztergom Cathedral and the Simor Library; the Library of the Kalocsa Cathedral; the Episcopal Library of Székesfehérvár; the Central Library of the Benedictine Order in Pannonhalma and the Library of the Episcopal Seminary, Gyor. The manuscripts preserved by these institutions are mostly Latin ones, nevertheless, a good number of codices, incunabula or fragments can be found in (Old High) German, Greek, Hebrew and Italian. Fortunately, most of the catalogues or inventories of these collections, from the very beginning, met scholarly standards, that is, the general descriptions, the apparatus criticus, and other appendices have been added to the items either in Latin or in Western languages.

The next two groups of items report the surveys which have been accomplished alongside a particular genre or pertinence, namely, the catalogues and descriptions of medieval holdings of liturgical and ecclesiastical nature and the Bibliotheca Corviniana. As for the first, Polikárp Radó's activity should be highlighted since his work, especially the revised edition by László Mezey, is still an up-to-date scholarly production. As for the latter one, the Corvinian Library--founded by King Matthias (1458-1490)--has always been treated as a "library" of outstanding value due to its contemporary and present-day European-wide reputation. The extant stock of the Corvinas consists of some 170 authentic codices and incunabula including Latin, Greek and Italian manuscripts. Unfortunately, only a part of the whole surviving collection is kept in Hungarian libraries.

The printed volumes of the Corvinian Library are also listed in the first complete catalogue of Latin, Greek and Hebrew incunabula of Hungary edited by E. Soltész and G. Sajó. This catalogue describes 3,550 items (7,107 copies) held in 56 Hungarian libraries. Half of these are to be found in three libraries in Budapest. A decade-long survey by a team of the Hungarian National Library (OSzK) endeavored to produce a complete catalogue, and the librarians found that the major collections of incunabula had developed in those libraries established during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The most recent catalogue of the Bibliotheca Hungarica was edited by Csaba Csapodi. It provides a summary of the results of several researches performed on medieval books (codices and printed books) in the last two centuries. This edition also includes the results of the "Medieval Codices" Research Team of the MTA, which was founded in 1978 and is directed by Csaba Csapodi. His book reports that further investigations are needed in foreign libraries/archives and it asserts that approximately 70-80% of all medieval books, which were ever kept in Hungary, are known at the moment.

In 1973, another research team from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences endeavored to catalogue and study the Latin fragments of the Hungarian collections: it is called the Fragmenta Codicum, being led by László Mezey, and since his death, by András Vizkelety. The team has catalogued and published a detailed description of more than 700 fragments from the University Library (Budapest), the Pauline Library of the Seminarium Centrale, the Esztergom collection, as well as the Episcopal and canons' collection in Gyõr (the latter one is forthcoming). The project is, indeed, interdisciplinary as the fragments concern the history of liturgy, music, canon law and art history. The research fellows of the team are working with the collection of Sopron at the moment.

Although the catalogues and inventories of the manuscript resources are highly regarded, it is hard to say the same about the text editions. Undoubtedly, the most important narratives have already been published, however, hitherto the scholarship lacks most of the critical and/or facsimile editions of medieval (11-14th century) texts. In many cases, scholars still have to rely upon last century text editions. The conditions of later medieval and early modern texts are somewhat better. It is chiefly due to the Renaissance Research Team of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences which continued the project initiated before the Second World War. Several manuscripts are also available in facsimile edition, but the number of such publications is very low; and, in addition, there are no translations into Western languages, or bilingual editions. Nevertheless, an alternative--and promising--way to bridge the gap might be the CD ROM editions, for instance, the recent edition of the Chronica Picta, or the Hungarian Angevin-Legendary which is the production of the Medieval Studies Department of the Central European University.

Last but not least, one should also consider the newest medium: the electronic resources and electronic catalogues. First, the inventory of the medieval charter-collection of the Hungarian National Archives might be mentioned which is available via the Internet (both telnet and http) and it provides access to the most important data of some 318,000 medieval records. Hopefully, in the immediate future, the HTML version of the Angevin charter-edition (presently 1301-1328) will be available as well. The description of several collections are also available on the World Wide Web, such as the Sopron Municipal Archives, the Eger Archbishopric Collection and the Benedictine Archives in Pannonhalma. Web-sites exhibit smaller or larger parts of the holdings of a particular institution or collection, for instance, the virtual exhibition of old Hungarian books at the JATE University, Szeged.

In addition, the main public and research libraries are also accessible from remote hosts either one by one, or via the united catalogue of the nine major scientific libraries of the country. Another recently established collection is the Hungarian Electronic Library (MEK) which includes and coordinates several Hungarian services. This project aims at gathering the most significant works--as well as links to works--written in Hungarian or having reference to Hungary, including primary historical works translated into Western languages. The number of the content-providers is fast increasing, so the above list is only a snapshot.

To sum up, it may worth quoting one of the convictions of the Medieval Studies Department of the Central European University: "In spite of enormous losses during the many wars since the Middle Ages, this region is rich in medieval monuments, documents and vestiges of the past yet to be unearthed. Neither the artistic and architectural monuments nor the collections of ancient documents in archives and libraries have been exhaustively examined with up-to-date methods or analyzed from the perspective of modern scholarship."


This paper was delivered at the 33rd International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan Univ., Kalamazoo in a session sponsored by CARA: Medieval Resources in Central Europe and the Balkans; Organizer and Presider: Christopher Kleinhenz, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.