Hortobágy National Park Directorate
The Hortobágy - puszta becoming a regional unit

The Hortobágy-puszta becoming a regional unit

 

By the geographical name Hortobágy (puszta), we mean that plain part of Hungary that stretches between the loess table-land of the Hajdúság and the river Tisza. This area of 2500 square kilometers embraces the vast plain pastures of Egyek, Tiszacsege, Ujszentmargita, Polgár, Hajdúnánás, Hajdúdorog, Hajdúböszörmény, Balmazújváros, Debrecen, Nagyhegyes, Hajdúszoboszló, Nádudvar, Karcag, Kunmadaras, Nagyiván and Tiszafüred.

In public thinking, the Hortobágy of the present, as a geographical unit, has not taken shape until the 20th century. In 1914, István Ecsedi writes: "the real citizens of Debrecen do not go to the Hortobágy, but to the river of Hortobágy." Since the turn of the century, the plains belonging to Debrecen have also been referred to as the Great-Hortobágy, while the plain pastures of Balmazújváros were called the Little-Hortobágy.

So, the name Hortobágy means both a river and a landscape, and, since 1966, it is also a village of 2040 inhabitants.

The name Hortobágy is one of the oldest toponyms in Hungary. In the founding document of the abbey of Százd dated in 1067, it is mentioned as a dwelling place, where 20 Hungarian and 10 Pecheneg soldiers of the comes Peter lived. In the age of the Hunyadis, it is only referred to as a simple estate. However, the name of the river has always endured.

The etymology of the name Hortobágy has long been the concern of researchers. Most of them believes that the name is a combination and originally it only referred to the river. The debate has not been over yet. Up until the present day, it is the argument of István Ecsedi that seems to be the most convincing who revealed such a material of vernacular that is more acceptable than any former or subsequent argument. According to his theory, the main form of the word Hortobágy is bágy, that has already fallen out from the Hungarian language. It refers to such a wide, surface dip, maybe an aggraded fen of the Tisza, where the rainwater is accumulated, and after its evaporation, rich grass grows in its place. That phenomenon was called bágy in folk-speech. Two bágy toponyms are known, one is from Polgár, the other is the Bágy of Margita. The place of origin is the Bágy of Polgár which is joined by the waters Hollós, Hattyas, Bágy and Szandalik from Margita.

In depicting an organic Hortobágy image one could not neglect to review the former dwelling-places of the region. The first dwelling-places were the man-made barrows. Nearly two hundred "kunhaloms" (barrows named after the Cumanian ethnic group called "Kuns" in Hungarian), akin to the kurgans of the Great Russian steppes, prove that people have been living in these regions of the Hortobágy since the Neolithic period. These barrows were the watch-posts, dwelling and burial places of the nomadic peoples of the Great Migration. One of the east-west main roads passed through this land. According to Anonymus, at the time of the Conquest, the chiefs Szabolcs and Tas, with their troops, took this road to cross the Tisza at Dorogma to get to the Szihalom camp of Prince Árpád.

Presumably the Magyars were willing to occupy this area so suitable for stock raising. In the Carpathian Basin, settlements of the stock-raising Magyars were mobile for a long time. According to historiography, the consolidation of the settlements occurred during the 11th-12th century. In the regions of the Hortobágy, a close-knit system of settlements came about early. In possession of data from diplomas, Zoltai counted more than 30 smaller or bigger settlements from the Árpád-age. Almost half of those were ecclesiastic or church-places. It was a peculiar characteristic of the first conscious settling of Magyars that the compulsory church building, in order to confirm Christianizing, also secured the perpetuance of the village. Such settlements in the Hortobágy region were Hort, Bágy, Hahótmonostora or Ohat, Zám, Papegyháza, Derzsegyháza, Kócs, Szentmiklós, Fehérmargita (Szentmargita), Hetvenegyháza, Himes, Balmaz, Máta, Szabolcs and Csécs.

One could continue the enumeration with smaller settlements without a church or ecclesia, but the limitation of content does not allow that.

During the Árpád-era, several very small settlements emerged in Hungary. Many of those perished in course of time. Two important periods of desolation can be perceived. In the first one, development was accompanied by the depopulation of smaller settlements. The second is characteristic of the Turkish Occupation and the areas under Turkish rule. The first, the 14th-15th centuries, is the age of the great transformation of agriculture when the feudal estate system was consolidated and the stock-raising inhabitants of the country started to appear in the international stock market. The large-scale economic development necessarily entailed a sort of integration of the close-knit system of small settlements that emerged in the Árpád-age. It was a process where the more progressive, larger settlements absorbed the people of the more backward, smaller settlements. In the remote areas of the desolated villages, the puszta-tenements emerged, in other words the "szálláses", where the tenant-farmers settled for large scale animal husbandry. According to the bibliography, this process is considered to be the earliest period of the evolution of farm-steads. So the disappearance of small villages in this period should not be regarded as the result of some catastrophe, but as a natural consequence of the economic development. Those settlements around the Hortobágy that absorb one or two villagelets also outgrow the others. In this respect Debrecen takes a prominent role. The squire of the settlement was master Dózsa, Charles Robert's famous palatine, who also owned Máta and Zám. So these settlements were the belongings of Debrecen. In 1553, when the Transylvanian sovereign, Zsigmond Báthori donated the depopulated Máta and Balmaz-plains to Debrecen, he referred to the fact that the city had long been a peaceful and silent owner of Máta. At this time, the depopulated Hortobágy village already belonged to Máta. So the village can also be regarded as the first puszta of Debrecen. That is why it later became the center of the Hortobágy puszta.

The second part of the decay of villages is also a tragic period of Hungarian history. The settlements enduring the turmoils of centuries owe their perpetuance to their natural environment. Water is often a way of escape, the marshes; the reed-plots are often function as last resorts. The population often saves their livestock, their fortune and sometimes even their lives in the endless plain pastures, in the water-meadows and in the bushes. During the Turkish period, the most ravenous allies of the Turks were the tartars of Crimea, who raided the country in the 1590s. Ohat and Zám were also destroyed under the Turks. Debrecen was privileged with the status of a Free Royal Town in 1619. From this time on, it aimed to get hold of Ohat and Zám, too. The town seized Zám in 1671, and Ohat in 1680 from the Treasury as borrows; it leased them from 1808 and finally it succeeded in buying them on a perpetual price in 1854. With the properties Máta, Ohat and Zám, Debrecen dominated the Hortobágy area of 48,651 cadastral acres up to the Tisza. This area was first called Hortobágy puszta in the municipal records of 1701, and was also known as the Great Hortobágy from the beginning of the 1800s.

A considerable part of the pastures of the Hortobágy was owned by the neighboring settlements. In this regard, especially the growth of the hajdú cities verging on the puszta was significant.

The agriculture of the settlements around the Hortobágy started to decrease during the Turkish period. From the crop rotation they returned to fallowing and the once cultivated lands were reclaimed by nature. Our region was full of pastures in the 17th-18th centuries and shepherding in the Hortobágy was flourishing. This state affected the shaping of the settlements' appearance. The stock-raising culture of production resulted in the emergence of a peculiar settlement system. In literature these are called double inner-plot settlements or settlements with szálláskerts (~ where lands of the villagers is outside the settlement).

According to István Győrffy, the szálláskerts are equivalents of the auls of the pre-Conquest winter dwelling places. However, more recent studies regard them to be developments of the 16th-17th century, related to the prosperous export of the Hungarian cattle.

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