Nagy, Islamic objects at the Hungarian royal court under Béla III

Islamic objects at the Hungarian royal court: Ritual and symbolism during the reign of Béla III (1172–1196)

Péter T. Nagy (Central European University, Budapest)

The phenomenon of Islamic objects at the royal court of Hungary connects this central European territory into a Mediterranean network of interaction, where crusade, trade, travel and piracy in the Great Sea help us to explain their new location. As I briefly summarise in my paper, all Islamic objects used during the Árpád Age (1000–1301) can be associated with the same collector, Béla III. I then explain the ritual significance of Islamic objects among the royal regalia. Béla III has been credited with commissioning the royal sceptre and the crown (in more or less its present form), and for renovating the coronation mantle. Among these the sceptre contains an Islamic rock crystal head made in Cairo around the early 11th century. Several analogous rock crystal objects are known today, mostly in Germany, and I shall address the question of what they were originally used for in Egypt, and what function they fulfilled after arriving to Europe. Béla III was buried with an Islamic seal ring on one of his fingers, and he minted a type of coin which copied Islamic examples. We also know some pseudo-Arabic decorations on mural paintings in churches from this period. All these artifacts show an interest in Islamic objects unmatched either before or afterwards. The historical background of Béla III and his oath for leading a crusade might well help us to understand what Islamic artifacts meant for him, and what symbolic or ritual significance they held.