The country of Hungary came into existence due to the invasion of Europe by the Magyars, a tribe from Central Asia. Another invasion from another tribe from even farther east, however, will lead one Magyar king to be dubbed “the Second Founder of Hungary”: Bela IV.
King Bela IV was the king of Hungary prior to the invasion of the country by the Mongol Empire. It was indeed an unfortunate time to be an eastern European king. Armies had been sent out by Ogodei Khan, son of Genghis, to make conquests to the West, and the Mongols would achieve rapid success throughout the region, making their way across to the eastern European plains.
The defeat that King Bela was to receive can hardly be blamed on him. Militaries everywhere from the greatest armies that China could muster, to the great civilizations of the Middle East, had been soundly defeated by the Mongols in war after war. Bela’s Hungary was no match for the Mongols. Bela ended up only managing to raise up an army of 60,000, and his army would be annihilated at the Battle of Mohi in 1241.
Bela would only narrowly escape from the battlefield, while many of the great lords and barons of Hungary would be killed in the battle. His flee would be disgraceful, where he was forced to cede three countries to other dukes for safety, accept the Holy Roman Emperor’s suzerainty over him and write letters to monarchs everywhere asking for military assistance. He would end up holing himself in a well-fortified town. Luckily for him, the oncoming Mongol onslaught was permanently halted after news came of the Great Khan’s death in Mongolia.
When Bela returned to his country, he oversaw a series of reforms. Indeed, the reforms were very needed. The Mongol invasion had left Hungary devastated and in ruins; over 15% of the population had died from the Mongol invasion and a famine that had followed. Half of the villages were depopulated, while capitals and major cities, where government had traditionally been centered, were destroyed.
The king refused to give up, however. The population that died was replaced when Bela promoted colonization, allowing peoples of other ethnicities to settle into Hungary. Numerous fortresses were built along the Danube, which the king described as ‘the river of confrontations’; the number of soldiers were increased, with new high-quality units of cavalry. Cities were also rebuilt; Buda would become an economic hub soon after its reconstruction.
When the Mongols invaded once again in the 1280s, the result would be very different. In successive invasions the Mongols would lose most of their invading force, being defeated by Hungary’s armies thanks to Bela’s reforms. It is for his reconstruction of Hungary, even after his first defeat at the hands of the Mongols, that some Hungarians still remember him as the “Second founder of the country”.