Horse People


One of the great themes of Roman History is mapping which group of steppe horse people are causing problems for the current emperor.  The early Roman Empire met its match on the plains of Syria.  Parthian horsemen defeated Marcus Crassus and took the Roman Eagles.

Later it was Bulgars, Huns, Pechenegs, Cumans, Hephthalites, Khazars, and Magyars.  The Roman Empire, and later the Byzantine Empire struggled to come to terms with fast moving light cavalry armed with powerful composite recurve bows.

The reason for this is simple. People who live on horses always make better cavalry than people who ride horses.  They and the horse are one, they don’t think about the riding.  They are free to think about fighting.

People who hunt with bow and arrow every day for food make better archers than soldiers who practice every week.

Hungary is defined by the Great Hungarian plain, a broad horse steppe;  but one protected from the open steppes of Asia by the Carpathian mountains.  If an enterprising steppe tribe could find their way in it was a relativey easy patch of land to defend.  It was from Hungary that many of these tribes launched their raids on the Roman Empire.  To this day Hungary is home to Magyars who herd their cattle and horses on horseback and mesmerize tourists with their displays of daring horsemanship.

What is interesting to me is how the Magyars and the other Hunnic and Turkic tribes moved from poacher to gamekeeper with the rise of the Ottoman Empire.  When Byzantium fell and the Ottomans began to push into the Balkans, Hungary became the front line of the wars between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

On this day in 1456 the Hungarians led by John Hunyadi broke the Siege of Belgrade by Mehmet the Conqueror.  In doing so they protected Hungary from Ottoman conquest for a further 70 years, with some help from the vampires led by Vlad the Impaler of course.  It was Suleiman the Magnificent who eventually took Belgrade, and most of Hungary.

The Hungarians fell back and allied with the Austrians to defended Europe at the first Siege of Vienna in 1592.  This collaboration resulted in the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which became the bulwark of Europe against Muslim ambitions.

It was 1683 at the battle of Vienna, also known as the Second siege of Vienna, that the Christian Allies eventually turned the tide and drove the Ottomans out of Hungary and Transylvania.  In celebration they invented a pastry in the shape of the crescent moon, a symbol of the Muslim world.  Known as the Kipfel this crescent pastry traveled across Europe.  In Paris where the best bakeries were Austrian, it became a hit.  The French rechristened it in their own language and the Croissant was born.

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