György Dózsa


György Dózsa Makfalvi (Dálnok, c.1470 – Timisoara, 20 July 1514), descendant of the noble family of the old Székely noble family, descendant of the Dálnok horse-owner family of Trisszék, valiant of the end of the war, leader of the Hungarian peasant uprising of 1514.

In 1513, Pope Leo X appointed Tamás Bakócz, Archbishop and Cardinal of Esztergom, as the full apostolic legate of Northern, Central and Eastern Europe.On 9 April 1514, in his capacity as papal legate, he proclaimed the papal bull calling for a crusade against the Turks in Buda and entrusted the gathering of the crusading soldiers to the obedient monks. The backbone of the European crusading army was to be the Hungarians, and the Archbishop entrusted the Székely soldier Dózsa with its leadership. On 24 May he withdrew the crusade. In their sermons, the Franciscan friars and parish priests, who had already joined the crusade, incited the peasant army, claiming that the nobles had thus deprived them of the possibility of the pardon promised in the papal bull because of their selfish interests. As a result, under the leadership of the Székely Dózsa, the assembled armies “rose up unexpectedly in the so-called Kuruc rebellion”, which later widened into a war between the “lords” and the “peasants” in Hungary. Dózsa called on his army to exterminate the “disloyal nobility”. According to historians, he was a defining figure in Hungarian history.

For a long time there was a debate about his origins, as several contemporary sources erroneously identified him as “György Székely” or “Georgius Zekel”.

This “Cegléd proclamation” was issued on behalf of Dózsa by one of the rebels” lieutenants, Mihály. In 1972, Jenő Szűcs proved that the manifesto did not exist in his article “The ideology of the peasant war” (Valóság 15 (1972) 11, pp. 12-39).However, the document written by Lénárt Barlabási, Transylvanian sub-major and Szekler deputy bailiff of Barlabási on 17 July 1507, in which he identifies György Dózsa in Latin as Georgius Dosa Siculus de Makfalva in Sede Maros existent, proves its origin beyond any doubt. According to this document, György Dózsa is a member of the Dósa family of Makfalva, a Szovát branch of the Örlöcz-nem Szovát branch of the Szekler lófő family.

It is interesting to note that Gábor Vályi, statistician, and Gyula Vályi, mathematician, are also descendants of the Dózsa family.

According to the chronicle of the historian Miklós Istvánffy, the place of his birth is Dálnok in Tricis, but historians believe that his origin is also possible in Makfalvi. He is mentioned as György Székely in contemporary documents, letters, chronicles, most poetic and historiographical works, in the 1514 retributive laws and in István Werbőczy”s Tripartituma. According to Sándor Márki, he was christened Székely after the people from which he came. The exact date of his birth has not been recorded, but contemporary sources suggest that he was forty years old at the time of his death, which puts his date of birth in the 1470s. He spent his childhood in Dálnok with his brothers and sisters, and after his father”s death he moved to Makfalva. He was always attracted to the military career, and wanted to follow in his father”s footsteps, so he later became a soldier.

He may have served in several fortresses, since – although no records have survived – he participated as a cavalry captain in the 1513 campaign led by János Szapolyai, the Transylvanian Viceroy, to repel Turkish attacks. After the campaign he remained on guard at Nándorfehérvár. According to tradition, he fought a victorious duel on the field between Nándorfehérvár and Szendrő on 28 February 1514 with Ali of Epeiro, the leader of the Spahs on horseback from Szendrő, who had already caused the death of many a soldier. For his deed, King Ulászló II, in addition to granting him two knighthoods and a gold chain, presented him with a village and allowed him to add a bleeding arm cut off with a sword to his family coat of arms in memory of his feat. This is how Taurinus commemorated the event in his contemporary Latin heroic poem.

“Székely, seeing the oft-drowned and someday-appointed day : his reprobate soul, piety, with grace, he covers with a matzah, and hurries to Buda Castle in his perilous barrier, with which he will cover all.”

The royal council, meeting on 23 March 1514, agreed, after much debate, to launch the crusade the Pope wanted. On 9 April 1514, Tamás Bakócz, Archbishop of Esztergom and Holy See envoy, promulgated the papal bull of Pope Leo X, issued on 15 July 1513, ordering a crusade against the Turks. Bakócz appointed Dózsa to lead the crusade on 24 April 1514. On 30 April, after a solemn service, the Cardinal presented Dózsa with the white flag with the red cross, blessed by the Pope. There was not a part of the Kingdom of Hungary from which they had not marched under the banners of the cross. The masses of peasants and ”stray” monks, who were gathering for war and disobeying the discipline of the order, were not looked upon favourably by the nobles and members of the principal orders, because the peasants, staying away from the spring work, were a threat to them, armed with weapons in their hands. And members of the clergy of serf descent, standing among the rebels, became ideologues of sedition. With their help, Dózsa threatened the faithful soldiers of his army with excommunication if they betrayed their holy movement.

His role in the Peasants” War of 1514

Due to the biased exaggerations and contradictions of contemporary historical sources, it is difficult for historians to accurately reconstruct the events and motivations of the 1514 peasant uprising in Hungary. At the beginning of 1514, Europe was preparing for a campaign against the Turkish Sultan, which led to the announcement of the Crusade. Under circumstances that are still unclear, Tamás Bakócz, Archbishop of Esztergom, chose Dózsa to lead the crusading army. By mid-May, some 40,000 peasants armed with scythe and battle-axes had gathered in the country under the Crusader banners in the camp in Pest. Organizational deficiencies, Bakócz”s withdrawal, attempts to call off the Crusade, the opposition of the nobles and the conditions prevailing at the time all combined to lead to the outbreak of an uprising. “You know that the good nobles” vile pretzel now rejoices that their ancestors have been granted titles. But the title of ancestor does not make a man noble: it is virtue, not pride, that makes a man noble.” wrote the poet István Taurinus, humanist bishop of Transylvania, in his heroic poem Stauromachia id est Cruciatorum Servile Bellum (Peasant War), published in Latin in 1519 and still extant. According to Sándor Márki, Dózsa and his fellow rebels wanted to change the church and the world. They wanted to leave a single bishop for the whole country, to make all priests equal in rank, to abolish the nobility and to divide their lands equally. They were determined that there should be only two orders: the burghers and the peasants, and they also aimed to abolish kingship. Dózsa himself wanted to be only the leader and representative of the people: subordinating himself in everything to the decisions of the people. Bakócz, a serf of noble birth and envied for his wealth, was accused by the lords of announcing the anti-Turkish crusade, that he had knowingly and willingly caused the uprising. The Archbishop therefore issued an order on 24 May to disband the army, but it was too late. The news of the recruitment drive had completely unnerved even the peasants who were still at home but who wanted to join the crusade for forgiveness.

When they were camped near the field town of Nagytur, György Dózsa killed a tax collector and stole 5 marks in cash from him. The uprising turned into a peasant war when the first serious clash between Dózsa”s troops and the gentry army took place on 23 May near Apátfalva. The soldiers of István Báthori, the Timis ispan and Miklós Csáky, the bishop of Csanád, crushed the vanguard of the peasant army. While the victors celebrated their victory, Dózsa had the Bishop of Csanád captured and impaled with several gentry prisoners. The uprising brought fatal days to the castle of Csanád, about which Samu Borovszky wrote in his History of Csongrád County: ”The bloodthirsty crusaders were not content with executing the bishop and the priests they had captured by means of torture, but broke into the churches like robbers and laid bloody hands on the treasures of the churches, and destroyed the altars and tombs. They also scattered the relics of St. Gellért.” The greatest outrage was caused by the execution of István Telegdy. With this massacre, the rebels finally turned against the entire Christian Church and the feudal Hungarian state system.

György Dózsa, justifying his military reputation, won many victories. Although the rebels were defeated in several places, he and his army captured the salt chambers, minting centres and most of the castles along the Mures River. He was not defeated until the Battle of Timisoara (15 July 1514). György Szerémi, court chaplain to János Szapolyai, historian, wrote in his contemporary memoirs: ”György Székely says to the crusaders: behold, the Lord Viceroy is coming to our defence; behold his letter written under his faith; let us fear nothing: “My lord, let us in no wise believe him, for he is Catherine.” However, János Szapolyai, the Transylvanian Viceroy, intervened with his army and defeated the rebels in a great battle. György Dózsa and his brother Gergely Dózsa and his other vassals were also taken prisoner.

The most notable of Dózsa”s fellow leaders:

György Dózsa was executed with his brother after the battle, but most of the rebellious serfs were left alive by the nobles, who had no interest in mass slaughtering their peasants who were profiting from their cause.

According to historians, the retaliation weakened the effectiveness of the Ottoman Empire”s defences against its conquering ambitions, as the serfs who had been called up to fight in the Crusades were less interested in defending their country.

An Austrian traveller to the Kingdom of Hungary in the early 16th century described the situation of the Hungarian serfs thus: ”for if they have an abundance of crops, they become the prey of the nobles. The nobles rob the peasant of what he has in abundance, and this makes the peasant negligent and lazy. Otherwise, this land, if cultivated, yields enough crops to feed two kingdoms, but all the food of the poor is a spoil and prey for the nobles, who torture their subjects to death when they see them abounding in food and other necessities.”

) „Paraszti háború” (Stauromachia, id est, Cruciatorum servile bellum) című latinul írt verses eposza, a felkelés költői leírása. Dózsa György alakja a keresztes hadjáratot meghiúsító, önző parasztvezérként jelenik meg, ugyanakkor a szerző a nnemesség embertelen cselekedeteit is elítéli. A mű részletesen bemutatja a háború lefolyását és végkifejletét, valamint Dózsa beszédeit is rekonstruálja.

Although in the Middle Ages, particularly cruel methods of execution were used as a matter of course to modern eyes, some contemporary records describe the death of George Dózsa as even more brutal than usual: “first, he was crowned with a fiery iron, then, while still alive, naked, bound by the feet, his own soldiers, commonly called hajdúk, whose deeds had brought so many horrors, tore him to pieces with their teeth and devoured him, and finally, cutting his body in four, hung him on a stake.

“They cut his brother into three pieces in front of him, then cut the body into four pieces and hung him on the gallows.”

Some elements of the cruel execution are only legends created after the fact, and the fact that they happened is called into question by certain variations in the elements. For example, it can be stated quite safely, with the consensus of historiography, that there was no fiery throne (he was put on a wooden “throne”), but rather a fiery crown was placed on his head (none of the contemporary sources of the execution – Taurinus, György Szerémi, Antal Verancsics – write about the fiery throne). This legend only became widespread after Sándor Petőfi”s poem In the Name of the People.

While earlier executions were only aimed at the taking of life, in the 16th and 17th centuries Hungary also adopted the forms of qualified death penalty adopted from foreign, mainly German, jurisprudence, where the infliction of pain was also emphasised and, in keeping with the spirit of the times, the idea of retribution and deterrence also prevailed.

According to the historian Jenő Szűcs, the noble class began to distance itself from serfdom from Werbőczy”s action. The feudal oppressive nobility excluded the majority of the people from the active Hungarian national community. For centuries, after the death of the peasant leader, there was only a negative opinion of Dózsa and the uprising among the literati. In later times, his person became a symbol of the struggle against the oppressive noble power (see below the poems of Endre Ady and Sándor Petőfi). In the People”s Republic of Hungary, socialist cultural policy overemphasised his historical role and, beyond history and culture, many streets, public spaces, sports clubs and social organisations were named after him. Dózsa provided an illustrative Hungarian example of the main motif of the official Marxist view of history, the class struggle between the nobility and the peasantry – but it is important to note that Dózsa himself was also a nobleman.

The Romanian communist leadership was also fond of him – mainly because of his Transylvanian origins – and Gheorghe Doja Street is located in several Romanian cities, and a settlement (Lukafalva) near Târgu Mures bears his name. In the 1940s, a statue was erected in Timisoara”s Maria Square to commemorate her death and the events that took place, but it is a proven fact that she was executed behind the current cathedral, on the banks of the Béga.

The often biased historiography of the nobility later unfoundedly claimed that György Dózsa had served as an example for other great uprisings in the Hungarian crown, such as the revolt of Jovan of Czerni, which took place barely twelve years after the Dózsa War, and the peasant uprising in Croatia led by Máté Gubecz in 1572-1573. In fact, neither of these had a direct impact.

Today”s Hungarian historiography is increasingly critical of the role of György Dózsa (Attila Bánó: Another 33 astonishing cases from Hungarian history, Athenaeum Kiadó Kft., 2013, ISBN 9789632932460), which some people consider almost harmless, and blame the Mohács massacre – instead of feudal anarchy – on the Dózsa peasant uprising, saying that they did not dare to conscript the peasantry because of him. According to these opinions, only the communist authorities of the time made a hero out of him, based on the “mistake” of Petőfi and Ady.

The time-changing Dózsa cult and myths in Hungarian history and public thought were fuelled by anti-feudal and socialist aspirations. His cult reached its peak in the decades after 1945 and his figure became deeply embedded in the Hungarian national consciousness.

According to the journalist András Zsuppán, the leaders of the medieval peasant movements in Western Europe (Wat Tyler) were nowhere included in the national pantheon, while in the former European socialist countries it was different (Thomas Müntzer, Jan Žižka, in Romania three villages were named after Dózsa). In 1919, during the Hungarian Soviet Republic, stamps were issued with the inscriptions Magyar, Rat, Köztársaság (Hungarian, Council, Republic) and the portraits of Karl Marx, Sándor Petőfi, Ignác Martinovics, György Dózsa and Friedrich Engels. Almost every village in the country had a public square named after each of these individuals, and several primary schools and community centres throughout the country bore their names. Although historians do not know exactly when George Dózsa was born, the Communist Party leadership assigned him a birth date of 1472 to celebrate. From 1950 in Budapest, except during the 1956 revolution, until 1990, Újpest TE carried the name of György Dózsa, while in Szeged, from 1950 to 1994, one of the city”s teams bore the name Szegedi Dózsa. In Körmend, the Dózsa of Körmend, in Pécs, the Dózsa of Pécs, and in Eger, the Dózsa of Egri.

It is believed that his army”s property was buried near Kiskunhalas, which was later found.

According to a local legend in Szeged, György Dózsa”s head was buried there because the Franciscan friars sympathised with the peasant uprising and sent the head of the peasant leader to the monks of Szeged as a threat. This event was recorded by Gyula Juhász in his poem The Head of Dózsa.

At the site of his death in Timisoara in September 2021, traditionalists re-enacted the 12 episodes of the peasant uprising and the execution of Gheorghe Doja in Romanian, in a historical show dressed in period costumes and with period weapons.

Representation in the arts

No authentic portrait of György Dózsa has survived, so the depictions of Dózsa in the works of art below are all idealised, reflecting the imagination of the artists.


  1. Dózsa György
  2. György Dózsa
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