Saint Stephen and the Foundation of the Hungarian State

The example of King Stephen I and his work are immortal as he was the first king to found the Christian Kingdom of Hungary.

Saint Stephen’s coronation was a milestone in terms of both his personal fate and the country’s future. The crown represented an overt break with previous traditions and contributed to the increase and international recognition of Stephen’s authority as he led the Hungarians to the community of Christian peoples and countries in Western Europe. The act of coronation gave rise to the Christian Kingdom of Hungary, which later overcame a millennium of hardships due to Stephen’s work in state organisation and church policy.

King Stephen had to establish new institutions and adopt unknown measures to implement his programme. The most spectacular and powerful change was the establishment and operation of public administration on a territorial basis. He created an administrative regime which covered the whole of society and applied to all. He set up a royal army, imposed taxes and contributions which were paid to the Monarch’s private treasury. The old customs and traditions were replaced by a new regime as the Hungarian people’s law was supplanted by royal law. The King’s orders were recorded in charters and his Acts were written down, which marked the beginning of secular literacy. We have inherited two codes including a total of 56 articles under King Stephen’s name. The Acts reflect an intention to provide the Kingdom and the Church with maximum protection.

In parallel with the establishment of public administration, King Saint Stephen worked to create a Western type church organisation. The establishment of dioceses (bishoprics) was linked to the birth of counties (as the basic institutions of public administration). On Stephen’s death, there were probably eight bishoprics in the country. The Sovereign reinforced the Church with huge donations of land. He created a network of parishes as a real guarantee for introducing the new faith. His well-known order required every ten villages to build a church. Bishoprics were authorised to collect crop tithes and an Act regulated the practice of the Christian religion (fast, confession, going to Sunday mass). King Stephen erected monasteries for the Benedictine monks who settled in the country at the time of his father, Géza.

He strove to pursue a balanced peace policy with the key empires in the 11th century, which was vital for him as the only way to complete his grandiose tasks in home policy.

 By the early 1030s, King Saint Stephen had risen to the top of his power. His power prevailed over the entire Carpathian Basin as the new state and Church organisation came to completion. However, Saint Stephen’s successor Prince Emeric died in 1031. From this point, he spent the rest of his life among successive controversies in his court. With his death on 15 August 1038, an extraordinary personality of the Carpathian Basin made his exit.

Ladislaus I arranged for the canonisation of Stephen on 20 August 1083. 45 years after his death, Saint Stephen’s figure entered the realm of immortality. This launched a millennium of cult. In the Middle Ages, government and court sessions were held on Saint Stephen’s Day, his orders were respected as the source of all law, and medieval measures were increasingly deduced from King Stephen’s orders and Acts. This medieval cult of Stephen anticipated a Modern Age idea whereby the state founder’s person was also a symbol of statehood.

Literature used

A magyarok krónikája (A Chronicle of Hungarians). Officina Nova, pp. 48-57

Gyula Kristó: Szent István király (King Saint Stephen), available at:

Gyula Kristó - János Barta – Jenő Gergely: Magyarország története (A History of Hungary) Előidőktől 2000-ig. (From prehistory to 2000) Pannonica Kiadó, 2002, pp. 37-45

Magyar Királyok Könyve (A Book of Hungarian Kings) Inkvizítor Kiadó, Budapest, pp. 5-10