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The Jewish Seal

Of the prominent men discussed here, we have seals of Mendel and Jacob son of Mendel, the first two Jewish prefects. Although no seals are recorded in Hungary for the other figures mentioned, in the opinion of this writer this is because the documents to which their seals were appended have been misplaced or destroyed. During the Tartar and Turkish invasions there was widespread destruction. Either ignorance or disinterest in the remaining official archival material seem to have been prevalent before World War II, and sacking of archives occurred during the war itself. But the economic and juridical conditions of Hungary were such in the late Middle Ages that seals were required, and Jews in high places must have had seals. We have clear evidence of the importance of these seals from the charter of protection given by King Béla IV in 1251. Clause XXV of the charter stated that seals on notes of Christians borrowing from Jews were juridical proof of debt. The precise wording of the Austrian charter of 1244 is repeated in this Hungarian document (see Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, 1:130).

This authentication required of Christian magnates is a separate matter from the question of whether Jewish seals would be authorized and accepted. As has been pointed out, throughout most of the Holy Roman Empire Jewish seals were treated as of equal validity with Christian seals, and this seems to be the case in Hungary as well, though the evidence is sparse. Somewhere around 1100, King Kolonaan (1070–1114) issued an undated decree regarding financial transactions between Christians and Jews. Its wording is quoted by Sámuel Kohn (1884, p. 72):

If a loan of a worth of two or three coins* is made, then the lender must find for the borrower a well-known witness so that if the borrower attempts to deny the loan, the witness can verify the events. However, if the loan exceeds a worth of more than three coins, the amount of the loan and the name of the witness must be written on a document, and the writing must be confirmed equally by the seal of the borrower and the lender so that if there is any disagreement between them this will confirm the truth.

This decree indicates that Jewish seals existed in the late eleventh century, over a century before the period usually considered as the beginning of seal use for commercial transactions of the bourgeoisie.

Furthermore, Samuel Bettelheim, in an article on the acts and documents involving the Jews of Pressburg (Pozsony) (1932, entry for 1371), makes a pertinent observation: “The city of Pressburg has a Judenbuch legalized by a Christian and a Jewish delegate with their own seals. The dates entered here have the power of law.” This is verified in a negative sense: Kohn quotes a distinguished Hungarian historian to the effect that the Jewish sealing function was limited to the city delegate at Pozsony: “But there are a number of instances when, although the Jews could not have their own seals, we have communities like Sopron [a city in western Hungary] which prepared its own” (1884, p. 166). No date is given for the Sopron or any other Jewish community seal, which therefore might be post-medieval. Nevertheless, it is clear that Jewish seals, both individual and community, did exist and had a legitimate legal function. Again we can turn to the important study of Kohn in this matter: “Just as the Jews had their own financial affairs, so they designed their own seals. Some villages were forbidden seals altogether and had to turn occasionally to the seals of their Christian neighbors” (p. 329). The evidence for such Jewish seals therefore seems indisputable.

It is instructive that this same conclusion was reached independently by a Hungarian scholar, Iván Bertényi, in an address to the International Sigillography Committee in Paris in September of 1979 on “The Emergence of the Private Seal in Hungary.” Mr. Bertényi has permitted me to quote from his address:

The existence of the private seal in Hungary in the first half of the twelfth century is instructive from the methodological point of view because it counsels prudence. The seals conserved on the charters are not the unique souvenirs of the sigillographic material of an epoch. Other sources—historic facts, noble records, texts of the law, charters—can considerably modify the image that we would be able to make of the sigillographic material of an epoch when based solely on archival sources.

The dearth of early Hungarian Christian seals is thus in the same class as the Jewish ones; we know they existed, but they have vanished with time and the disasters of war. The evidence does indicate, however, that in certain areas and at certain times Jewish seals had a binding legal effect in Hungary and were not, as in countries following Latin law, merely decorative or prestigious. To support this view, a detailed study of the known documents involving outstanding Jews, who would own such seals, is necessary.

Count Teka of Austria-Hungary

The history of the Jews of Austria and Hungary, most especially in the thirteenth century, is entwined. The two principal cities of Austria and Hungary at that time, and the Jewish centers, were Vienna and Pozsony or Pressburg. They were only some thirty miles apart. The other main Hungarian cities were rather closely clustered on the west, near the Austrian border. Free movement of capital went on all the time, and, as has been mentioned, we are dealing with an economic distribution based on the Danube River rather than one broken up into ethnic or national units. Monied interests flowed back and forth in these areas, where the accident of birth in one country or another was less important than the general investment possibilities. Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Moravia were either at war or in temporary alliance at alternate periods. The Austrian House of Babenberg was wiped out in 1246, when Duke Frederick was killed by the Hungarians. Premsyl Ottaker II, Margrave of Moravia, then became duke of Austria and later king of Bohemia as well. Rudolf, the Holy Roman Emperor, challenged King Ottaker’s title to the Austrian possessions and in 1282, with the aid of the Hungarians, defeated Ottaker and gave Austria to his son Albrecht. Thus commenced the Hapsburg reign.

In this fluid political situation, the Jews of Austria and Hungary, utilizing their mobile capital, penetrated the highest ranks even in a feudal order in which they were legally considered personal chattel. Unlike the various countries on the Iberian peninsula, where the situation was similar in other respects, in Hungary the evidence indicates that the most prominent Jews were officially ennobled; in Austria the process also took place, but in a much more limited way.

The earliest such figure whom we know, Teka,* was the son of a rich landowner, a fact referred to casually in a document from 1232. Teka himself was not only a lord of large domains and an outstanding financier but one of the first known businessmen whose activities bridged Hungary and Austria. I have attempted to read in the original or in translation all documents or compilations from original documents available regarding this figure.

The first reference is indirect. In 1222 King Andrew II, who ruled Hungary from 1205 to 1235, under pressure from the nobles and the Church, was forced to decree that counts of the treasury and officials leasing the mints, the salt mines, and the collection of taxes had to be of the nobility and could not be Jews or Moslems. Obviously, an edict of this nature is only called for when such persons have already occupied or are presently occupying such positions, and the records indicate that Jews had been lessees in the salt industry from the tenth century. More practical evidence is supplied by Hungarian coinage of the time, which shows both imitations of Arab dinars and stampings of Hebrew letters,* as we shall see shortly. There is further evidence as to the plight of King Andrew. On his return from the Holy Land in 1219, he wrote a letter to Pope Gregory IX complaining that in his absence the country had been so devastated that he could not pay the costs of his trip, and he felt it would take at least fifteen years to restore Hungary to its former position. This, of course, was an indirect attack on the great feudal lords who had taken advantage of his absence to despoil the treasury of its tax collections.

King Andrew’s 1222 charter, called the Golden Bull, was only a hint of a deadly struggle going on in Hungary, a country that was only semi-Christian at that time, and in which not even the Christians were necessarily obedient to Rome. The Roman Catholic religion had been introduced more than two centuries earlier, when the Magyar king and court had ceased being pagans; but there were still many pagans, along with Moslems, Jews, and Greek Catholics, well in evidence. Thus the 1222 edict was among the first of a purging nature forced on the king by the pope, in an attempt to complete the work of extending papal supremacy to the country and to limit the power of the king over the aristocracy. The Golden Bull, like many such charters, failed in its purpose, however. Andrew II, despite his own edict, ignored its restrictions. The king needed capital, and it was the Jews (as well as the “Saracens,” or Moslems) who had it.

Though the records have gaps, a document from 1225 seems to indicate that Teka was the richest person in Hungary. A war over territory between Austria and Hungary went badly for the latter power, and a peace treaty was signed on June 4, 1225. It provided that King Andrew II of Hungary had to indemnify Duke Leopold VI of Austria with a large sum of money. Both rulers agreed to use Teka as the financial intermediary. Two thousand marks, an enormous sum for the time, was to be paid by Andrew in two installments within the year and, in the exact words of the original Latin treaty, was to be “deposited upon the security of Tekanus the Jew by agreement of this same Jew.” Perhaps the most interesting point of all is not the opulence of Teka, the guarantor of the treaty, but the fact that the Austrian ducal court had as high a regard for his financial integrity as did the king of Hungary.

In 1228 Teka appears again, this time in disadvantageous circumstances. A document reports that King Andrew, after weighing the evidence, concluded that Teka had unjustly taken for his own use the major part of the property called Ruhtukeur (Röjtökor, in Hungarian), situated above the castle of Sopron, originally built on the Austrian border for defensive purposes. This land had been granted to Simon, a soldier from Aragon (Spain), and though the king had asked Teka many times to prove his right of possession, he had not done so. Therefore, according to the document, until Teka could prove his case, the privilege of the land was assigned to Simon. Apparently either Teka seized land against an unpaid loan which he could not substantiate or was caught in some dubious and quasi-legal brigandage. The most fascinating aspect of this document is the care with which the king words his decision, keeping open the matter of Teka’s right to the land if he can prove his case. Samuel Bettelheim (1932) has published an abridged German version of the Latin document. Referring to Simon of Aragon, he writes “Jew” parenthetically. This word does not appear in the Latin text and seems to be a mistake on Bettelheim’s part, as evidenced by the fact that Simon continued to live in Hungary after the prominent Jews left a few years later.

In 1230 King Andrew again leased the royal revenues to Jews and Moslems, which led to another collision with the papacy. In 1231 the pope insisted that the king abide by the provisions of the Golden Bull. The king persisted in ignoring this demand. In 1232 there appears a most extraordinary document: King Andrew confirms that Count Teka, as operator of the business of the royal chamber (a phrase almost surely meaning lessee of the office of the exchequer*), owes money, which is to say that Teka is deficient in his payments on the lease concession. To settle the debt, with the will and consent of the king, Teka has sold to Count Simon for five hundred silver marks the land known as the farm of Bessenseu (Besenyő, in Hungrian), which Teka’s father had been given by the king.

There is no question that King Andrew has ennobled Teka, for the Latin word used to describe him in this document comes, can only mean count. The exact quotation is “iudeus Teha comes in reddenda ratione nostri negocii de opere camere,” or “the Jewish Teha count by reason of our chamber [treasury] business” (Horvath and Huszár, 1955–56, 22). Elsewhere the Latin used is comes camerae or “chamberlain.” Kammergraf is the translation in German texts, gróf in the Hungarian. Though these words have been variously translated as count of the treasury, chamberlain, or royal fiscal bailiff, it is undeniable that in the early thirteenth century a Jew was ennobled by a Hungarian king (and indeed is referred to as a count by Hungarian sources as well), the first such case known to us. As we will discover, Teka was not the only legitimate Jewish count in Hungary in the thirteenth century. The records also indicate that the Christian Simon was likewise made a count, and the two men seem to have been rivals for the king’s highest honors. Teka appears to be a lessee of the state finances, farming the taxes and running mints, as did Jews in the Spanish states of Castile and Aragon at that same time.

This extraordinary elevation of a Jew to the nobility despite the Golden Bull, when combined with other discontents, was too much for the Pope. Gregory, who now lost his temper, on February 29, 1232, put the ban on the entire country of Hungary, which meant that the churches were closed and priests could not christen, perform marriages, or administer the last rites. This act broke the will of the Hungarian king. In 1233, on King Andrew’s solemn promise under oath that he would observe the provisions of the Golden Bull, Gregory lifted the ban. In doing so, he assured the king of his basic goodwill but complained that Jews and Saracens in Hungary lived better than Christians and sometimes even married them.

King Andrew this time must have kept his word, for some time in 1233 or 1234 Teka left Hungary and settled in Austria. In 1235 he was well established there: an Austrian document dated January 28, 1235, records that a mortgage held by Teka (“dem Juden Techau zu Wien,” “the Jew Teka of Vienna”) had to be paid off before certain property could be donated to the cloister at Richersberg. Indeed, his rise to power under Duke Frederick II (1230–46), the last of the Babenberg rulers, was even swifter than it had been under the Hungarian king, which has led certain historians to think that he must have maintained a position of dual allegiance for many years, as evidenced by his role in the 1225 peace treaty between the two countries.

Teka was a key adviser to Frederick, to whom he suggested, successfully, that he place an embargo on the export of grain because of unrest at home due to famine. Shortly thereafter Teka is referred to as “State Banker of Austria,” a post which included, but was not limited to, being a master of the mint. According to Max Grunwald (1936, p. 6), Teka may really be considered the first government minister acting for both Austria and Hungary.

From the point of view of Jewish history, the supreme service of Teka occurred in 1238, when the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, after conquering Vienna, granted the Jews a liberal charter. This edict was of prime importance for the Jews of eastern Europe because the charter (as modified six years later by the Austrian duke) was imitated in the territories of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, and Lithuania, giving Jews a haven when they were expelled from western Europe. It is not certain that Teka was responsible for this most important charter, but, as the leading Jewish banker of Vienna, one may presume that he was a key figure in its adoption.

King Andrew II of Hungary died in 1235 and was succeeded by his son Béla IV (1235–70). When he ascended the throne, Pope Gregory IX insisted that Béla take an oath to accept the provisions of the Golden Bull. However, events unfolding farther east made this demand impossible to meet. The Mongol and Tartar hordes streaming out of Asia had joined forces, and their combined military might was sweeping away all opposition. Storming steadily closer, they conquered Russia and were approaching the Hungarian border. Béla IV desperately needed money to prepare a defense, and a very important source of money were the Jews. Recognizing the danger, in 1239 Pope Gregory freed the king from the anti-Jewish (and anti-Moslem) provisions of the Golden Bull, and Béla promptly invited Teka to return to Hungary.

Teka mysteriously disappears from history at this point except for two references. In the first, on January 13, 1243, King Béla IV gave Count Simon the Spaniard, Teka’s old competitor, the island of Chenke (Czenke, in Hungarian) as a reward for his many services in the struggle against the Tartars. The king states that the property had belonged to Teka (the original Latin no longer refers to Count Teka) and that, as Teka had held the land as a gift from the king, so no one could molest Simon in the future as to its ownership. It thus seems logical, and is assumed by the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (S.V. “Teka”), that Béla IV probably gave Teka the Chenke property on his return to Hungary in exchange for an important loan, and that sometime between 1239 and 1243 during the Tartar invasion, Teka was either killed or died of natural causes. One Hungarian source specifically states that the king bestowed on him “his old office”—presumably that of count of the chamber—while another makes the more general statement that the Jews and Moslems were in active control of leasing the royal revenue collections by 1242. Numismatic proof, as will be shown shortly, indicates that Teka was indeed a mint lessee in this last period.

The second reference to Teka occurs over fifty years later. On July 17, 1299, the diplomatic codices indicate that the descendants of Count Simon requested a confirmation of their ownership of the property of Ruhtukeur, the cause of the litigation between that count and Teka in 1228. The judgment in favor of Count Simon was reconfirmed. One does not know why such a reconfirmation should be required more than seventy years later unless a title claim was advanced by others, and this would suggest that there were descendants of Teka in Hungary.


As noted, Lublin and Nickel used a seal, but it is recorded in Austria rather than Hungary.

*The writer assumes the word pensas here refers to a weight of silver coin that evolved into pens, the obsolete form of “penny” in England, equivalent to the silver denier on the European mainland. Elsewhere in this period there are references to pensa auri, the same coin in gold.

*This writer has found the following variant spellings for this person: Teka, Teha, Theha, Theka, Techa, Teche, Teku, Techau, Tekanus, Techanus, Techani, Tekanum, and Thehanum.

*In this same period Hebrew also appears on the coins of Poland and Moravia, indicating control of the mints by Jews. Moslems also were prominent mint lessees in Hungary at this time, stamping their coins with Kufic inscriptions.

Teka’s origins have been debated inconclusively by various writers. Some Hungarian sources claim he was a Cossack, others a Khazar. A Jewish source states he came from Spain because the name Teka appears on a Spanish Jewish gravestone: this stone, however, is dated a century later, and the name on it is indistinct. Another source claims that “Techau” means “from Dachau” and that therefore Teka was Bavarian. Arthur Koestler (1976) uses Teka as evidence for his theory the main body of Ashkenazi Jews were really Khazar by descent. We will never know the real answer.

*As noted, this occurred in 1232. The Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Hungary,” states that when Andrew II needed money in 1226 he farmed the royal revenue to the Jews. This may be true, as evidenced from other sources, but the earlier date does not appear in the Latin chronicles of Monumenta Hungariae Judaica (1959).

NUMISMATIC EVIDENCE FOR JEWISH COUNTS

Count Teka

It has long been known that Hebrew letters appear on Hungarian coinage of the thirteenth century. It has been surmised that they stood for the initials or identifying 320 marks of Jewish mint lessees. In 1972, Gyula Rádóczy published a fascinating article on the subject, in which he compared the coinage of this period with the mint records and clearly established the identity of five Jewish mint lessees, whom he refers to sometimes as bailiffs and sometimes as counts. The subject was amplified in an article published by Loránt Nagy in 1974. Nagy adds little except to provide a useful chart listing the Jewish mint lessees, their letter marks, and the approximate dates of their activities.

Coin of Count Teka. Left: obverse, showing words BELAE REX surrounding Hebrew letter tet. Center: reverse, showing angel killing dragon. Right: enlargement of obverse.

A lessee of various mints, Count Teka struck the money with a Hebrew letter tet in the center of the obverse, with the name BELAE REX, or “King Béla,” around the tet, standing for “Teka.” As to whether Teka also struck coins with his initial under King Béla’s father, the evidence, though not conclusive, seems to indicate that he did (Nagy ascribes two of the coins of Teka to the last years of Andrew II*). Such coins are not rare. These coins marked tet, as well as similar types issued by other Jewish mint lessees, occasionally still appear for sale at auctions of medieval coins. They must have been struck in rather large quantities, in deniers as well as the smaller obols. (It should be understood that we are referring to official state money, the actual coinage of the realm, and not private issues.)

Thus in the early thirteenth century a Jew from Hungary was ennobled as a count, ran the finances of the state, stamped his initial on state money, was the intermediary in economic dealings between his nation and Austria, and seems to have been a factor in persuading one of the most important Holy Roman emperors to issue a charter so beneficial to the Jews that its adoption throughout eastern Europe enabled them to survive in that immense area when driven out of the west. In view of the frequent mention of Teka’s name in the records, and the importance of the seal to validate documents in central Europe during the thirteenth century, the writer feels quite certain that an ordered search of those remaining early city and ecclesiastical archives of the territories now known as Hungary and Austria would reveal that Teka had and used a seal.

Count Chenok (Ḥenok)

Count Chenok (also spelled Hanokh, Henuk, Henel, and Henul) is a rather shadowy figure of whom less is known than of Teka. He seems to have been a favorite of King Béla IV, who ennobled him in 1250, the Latin quoted from the document being “Henel Judeus comes camerae regiae,” or “The Jewish Henel count of the royal chambers [treasury].” (See Thallóczy, 1879, p. 223.) Rádóczy claims that his name comes from the biblical Enoch and that he emigrated from Austria to Hungary. For services rendered, Béla granted Chenok the fortress castle Komorm (Komárom, in Hungarian), twenty-one villages, and the Tata mill.

Coin of Count Ḥenok. Left: obverse, showing floral wreath surrounding Hebrew letter ḥet. Center: reverse, showing battlement tower flanked by heraldic lilies, with half-moon and star below. Right: reverse greatly enlarged, showing more clearly the half-moon and star, two common medieval Jewish symbols.

The numismatic evidence that Chenok was mint lessee is stronger than the documentary evidence. Chenok used the initial of his name in Hebrew, the ḥet, which is closest to a gutteral “H” in English, encircled by a wreath on the obverse of the coins he issued. It is generally accepted that though Chenok operated as a lessee of the royal revenues from 1250, coins with his initial date from closer to 1260. We have proof that he died in 1265, at which time he owed a large sum of money to the crown.

Chenok’s importance to this study, aside from the fact that he too must have owned a seal, lies in his four sons, Altman, Lublin, Nickel, and Wolfel.* Altman stayed in Hungary and inherited his father’s prestige and position, becoming a Hungarian count himself. Lublin, Nickel, and Wolfel moved to Austria and held equally important positions there: in fact, Rádóczy writes that the three brothers became Austrian counts. Though Altman apparently is the only son who remained in Hungary, we know that all four sons carried on financial activities there. As noted, their father died in 1265 owing money to the king. Three years later the records indicate that the sons of Chenok took on lease, with the King’s confirmation, the thirtieth part of the property of his wife, Queen Maria. Since they were in debt at the time, apparently due to assumption of their deceased father’s obligations, the sons mortgaged the Komárom fortress and the Tata mill which King Béla had given their father. This was done with the stipulation that after a certain time their debts would be paid off. But when they had not done so and the interest had grown, Queen Maria, at the request of the debtors, accepted the fortess and mill as payment for the principal of the debt plus interest.

Coin of Count Altman. Left: obverse, showing words MONETA VNGARIE (“Hungarian Money”) and king’s head to left. Center: reverse, showing Hebrew letter aleph between two birds. Right: enlargement of reverse.

This document is worth summarizing because of the degree of equality and familiarity shown among the parties. In an unusual twist, the Jews are in debt to the king and his wife, who treat them with justice and equity. In fact, most of these Hungarian documents exhibit a different spirit than can be perceived in the debt quittances between Jews and Christians elsewhere in Europe.

Count Altman

Altman stayed on in Hungary despite this reverse of fortune. Retaining the trust of the king, he became a lessee of royal mints. Again the numismatic evidence is paramount in following his career. On the reverse of his coins, between two birds, Altman put the Hebrew letter aleph “A” in English, standing for the first letter of his name. He, like his father, issued imitation Viennese deniers. Gyula Rádóczy shrewdly notes, after observing that Altman stayed in Hungary while his brothers went to Vienna, “With these Austrian-Hungarian minting connections, with which there are simultaneous family connections, perhaps we can find the link to the question of the Viennese denier and the Hungarian imitations” (1971–72, p. 35).

The accepted dates for the minting activities of Altman are from 1265 to 1272; two coins are specifically dated to 1270–72. This means that Altman continued in his official capacity after the death of Béla IV and through the short reign of Béla’s son, Stephan V.

Count Lublin

The first indisputable connection between these Hungarian Jewish noblemen, who must have owned seals, given the legal structure existing in that country, and Jews from Austria, who we know had seals, is now clear. Three of Altman’s brothers, Wolfel, Lublin, and Nickel, went to Austria. One of the few extant documents sealed by Jews in the Austrian records, and indeed the earliest document bearing a Jewish seal from central Europe, is dated February 18, 1257. This involves a dispute between two Jewish brothers, who held the official positions of counts of the treasury under Duke Ottaker II, with Bishop Konrad of Freising. Their names are given in the Latin text as Lublinus and Nekelo. The document was sealed by Lublinus; this seal has fallen off (see No. 153).

The facts start to fit together. The Hungarian archives are in disarray, with much material missing, and seals cannot be traced. The Austrian archives—especially those of Vienna—are better preserved, though still not catalogued for the earlier centuries. But we see that two of the four sons of Altman, while still preserving their Hungarian contacts,* were mint lessees in Austria, one of them, Lublin, being particularly mentioned as having sealed a document with his seal, which seal, according to the Latin wording of the document, may have been shared with his brother. And now we refer to the statement by Rádóczy that the Hungarian mint operators imitated the style of the deniers from Vienna: the numismatic evidence indicates that such imitations were issued by Jewish mint lessees (See Réthy and Probszt, 1967, Pl. XVII, Items 347–54). It seems apparent that these early Jewish capitalists in Austria and Hungary, as Rádóczy surmised from his limited evidence, had created a kind of syndicate—similar to many such Jewish partnerships we know of and have referred to through the study—and pooled their capital and their technical knowledge in these adjacent areas. Such was their pre-eminence that they were ennobled and granted the right to stamp documents with their seals.

Count Samuel

Count Samuel was likewise a legitimate nobleman. In a document of February 25, 1232, he was referred to as “Samuelem quondam Comitem Camere” (Horváth and Huszár, 1955–56, 22); the “quondam” or “formerly” indicating that he functioned in his capacity as a count of the treasury before this date. From the available evidence, he was a contemporary of Teka. As a mint bailiff, his mark was a star rather than an initial of his name. However, a recent study points to the possibility that he marked his coins with the Hebrew letter “shin,” standing of course for the first letter of his name (Scheiber, 1983, 77).§ Count Samuel is the least known of the Hungarian Jewish counts, but there is some indication that, like Count Teka, he returned to power during the reign of Béla IV, for a reference is made to the later date in another document (Nagy, 1973–74, 46). More research will without doubt establish which mints, and at what periods, Samuel leased.

Coin of Count Fredman. Left: obverse, showing words REX STEPNS surrounding king’s head to left. Right: reverse, showing Hebrew letter feh between two dragon-like birds.

Count Fredman

The review of Jewish noblemen from Hungary concludes with Count Fredman (Fredmann, Fredmanus, and even misspelled Tredman). The matter of his nobility is unequivocal, for a document from 1282 states: “Fredmanus iudeus comes camere nostre,” or “The Jewish Fredman count of our chamber [treasury]” (Hárvath and Huszár, 1955–56, 22; also Hazai Okmánytar 8, Budapest, 1891, 221). Count Fredman used the letter peh or feh in Hebrew to stand for his name, equivalent to the Latin “F.” The Hebrew letter appears on the reverse of his coins, between two dragon-like birds, whose obverse shows the crowned head and name of King Stephan V. This establishes the dates of 1270 to 1272, the brief reign of that king, and indicates that Altman and Fredman were leasing state mints at the same time.

Because no more Hebrew markings appear after 1272, Nagy (1973–74) claims that the later references to Fredman as a count of the treasury seem to be incorrect. However, this matter can be clarified. By 1263 Pope Urban IV was already complaining about non-Christian mint lessees, an old bone of contention with the Church. Bishop Bruno von Olmutz likewise complained to Pope Gregory X (1271–76), that there were too many Jewish monetarii (state minters) in Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria. In 1279 a formal interdiction was delivered by the pope. It would seem that King Ladislaus IV (1272–90) devised a common-sense solution which also was used in Poland about the same period: he continued to employ Jewish lessees of the royal mints but forbade them to stamp Hebrew letters on their coinage. Not only is the 1282 reference to Count Fredman indisputable, but another curious allusion to a Jewish mint lessee occurs on December 2, 1291 (see Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, vol. 1, Item 32), the first year of the reign of Andrew III, who succeeded Ladislaus. When the Christians of Pozsony complained about the activities of Jews in their city, the new monarch admonished them, stating that the Jews of the city had the same liberty as the citizens themselves under the authority of the archbishop.* The king supported his position by reminding the citizens that “a Jewish man is head of our monetary system, who has made our city become widely celebrated.” He meant that Hungarian money at the time had a higher silver content than German money and was highly prized. Since no other Jew is known as a mint lessee from this period, Count Fredman must have pursued his successful career for at least twenty years, through the reign of three monarchs. As a Hungarian count, he likewise must have had a personal seal.

SEALS OF MENDEL AND HIS DESCENDANTS

At the end of the thirteenth century these Hungarian Jewish counts disappeared, though they had lesser counterparts in the fourteenth century. Men such as David Steuss, Musch, and Chatschim operated in both Hungary and Austria, with the records proving that Musch used a seal. But it was in the fifteenth century that the Hungarian Jews really regained prominence, chief among them Mendel and his descendants at Buda.

An apostate named János Ernuszt, perhaps a relative and certainly a friend, apparently suggested to King Matthias Corvinus that he appoint Mendel to the new office of Praefectus Judaeorum or Jewish Prefect. This office nominally came into existence to smooth relations between the court and wealthy Jews. Its real purpose, however, was to organize and increase tax collections from Jews.

Mendel was already known in 1474 as representative of the Jews of Buda. He started to use the title of prefect in 1482. His son, Jacob, called Jacob Mendel, assumed the same position in 1493 (or 1490 according to one source) and continued until his death in 1522. He is the most famous of the prefects. Jacob was followed by his son Israel, who died after only three years in office. He was succeeded by his son, Isaac. When Hungary fell to the Turks in 1526, the family lost power, though Isaac continued to hold his title and the shadow of his former authority for several more years.

There are four known seals relating to Mendel and his descendants. The last of these is attached to a document dated 1502, so the seals must be those of the first two prefects. Much of the information concerning these seals is fragmentary.


*See Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, vol. I, Item 26. As usual, the names are spelled in different ways. Dated April 1,1265, the original Latin refers to the father as Henel and three (of the four) sons as Voluelino, Oltmano, and Neklino. In Hungarian the names are Henel, Woluelin, Oltmann, and Neklin. In a document from 1268, Item 27 in MHJ, the father is called Henuk; the three sons mentioned are Welven, Oltmanus, and Nekkul. In Hungarian they are Henuk, Welven, Oltman, and Nekkel. Other variants are found elsewhere. The nobility of the father is again noted: the text states “Henuk comiti iudeo.” Lublin, who left earlier for Austria, is not mentioned in these two documents, but in the Freising document of February 18, 1257, “Ego Lublinus et frater meus Nekelo” are noted, and Rádóczy (1971–72) specifically refers to the four brothers.

*The 1268 document involving the foreclosure of the estates formerly granted by the king to Chenok specifically refers to the sons (plural) of the deceased count.

Rádóczy also writes that the style of coins from Friesach was likewise imitated. Friesach, a small town in Carinthia, did issue its own coinage in the thirteenth century.

The use of this word seems to indicate that these ranks of nobility were given and revoked at will by the king. The tide of count of the treasury at that time in Hungary may have been co-determinate with the duration of the office.

§Scheiber disagrees with Nagy and ascribes the coins of Samuel to the reign of Andrew II. His reference is to Réthy and Probszt, 1967, Pl. XIII, Item 227. There does indeed seem to be a shin on the obverse of this coin.

*A good many of these city dwellers in western Hungary were ethnic Germans, who brought with them their traditional hatred of the Jews. The freedom given to the Jews by the Hungarian kings, which led to competition with the Christians organized in guilds, exacerbated this animosity.

In 1407, when Emperor Ruprecht appointed a man named Israel as head of an office authorized to handle Jewish matters and speed Jewish tax collections (a function equivalent to that of Praefectus Judaeorum, but called in Germany Judenmeister or Hochmeister), the imperial rabbis promptly excommunicated Israel and forced an end to the experiment. They understood what the purpose of the office was. The Jews of Hungary were either more naive or too impotent to do the same.

As noted, Lublin and Nickel used a seal, but it is recorded in Austria rather than Hungary.

§Scheiber disagrees with Nagy and ascribes the coins of Samuel to the reign of Andrew II. His reference is to Réthy and Probszt, 1967, Pl. XIII, Item 227. There does indeed seem to be a shin on the obverse of this coin.

*A good many of these city dwellers in western Hungary were ethnic Germans, who brought with them their traditional hatred of the Jews. The freedom given to the Jews by the Hungarian kings, which led to competition with the Christians organized in guilds, exacerbated this animosity.

In 1407, when Emperor Ruprecht appointed a man named Israel as head of an office authorized to handle Jewish matters and speed Jewish tax collections (a function equivalent to that of Praefectus Judaeorum, but called in Germany Judenmeister or Hochmeister), the imperial rabbis promptly excommunicated Israel and forced an end to the experiment. They understood what the purpose of the office was. The Jews of Hungary were either more naive or too impotent to do the same.

*The writer assumes the word pensas here refers to a weight of silver coin that evolved into pens, the obsolete form of “penny” in England, equivalent to the silver denier on the European mainland. Elsewhere in this period there are references to pensa auri, the same coin in gold.

*This writer has found the following variant spellings for this person: Teka, Teha, Theha, Theka, Techa, Teche, Teku, Techau, Tekanus, Techanus, Techani, Tekanum, and Thehanum.

*In this same period Hebrew also appears on the coins of Poland and Moravia, indicating control of the mints by Jews. Moslems also were prominent mint lessees in Hungary at this time, stamping their coins with Kufic inscriptions.

Teka’s origins have been debated inconclusively by various writers. Some Hungarian sources claim he was a Cossack, others a Khazar. A Jewish source states he came from Spain because the name Teka appears on a Spanish Jewish gravestone: this stone, however, is dated a century later, and the name on it is indistinct. Another source claims that “Techau” means “from Dachau” and that therefore Teka was Bavarian. Arthur Koestler (1976) uses Teka as evidence for his theory the main body of Ashkenazi Jews were really Khazar by descent. We will never know the real answer.

*As noted, this occurred in 1232. The Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Hungary,” states that when Andrew II needed money in 1226 he farmed the royal revenue to the Jews. This may be true, as evidenced from other sources, but the earlier date does not appear in the Latin chronicles of Monumenta Hungariae Judaica (1959).

*The 1268 document involving the foreclosure of the estates formerly granted by the king to Chenok specifically refers to the sons (plural) of the deceased count.

Rádóczy also writes that the style of coins from Friesach was likewise imitated. Friesach, a small town in Carinthia, did issue its own coinage in the thirteenth century.

The use of this word seems to indicate that these ranks of nobility were given and revoked at will by the king. The tide of count of the treasury at that time in Hungary may have been co-determinate with the duration of the office.

*See Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, vol. I, Item 26. As usual, the names are spelled in different ways. Dated April 1,1265, the original Latin refers to the father as Henel and three (of the four) sons as Voluelino, Oltmano, and Neklino. In Hungarian the names are Henel, Woluelin, Oltmann, and Neklin. In a document from 1268, Item 27 in MHJ, the father is called Henuk; the three sons mentioned are Welven, Oltmanus, and Nekkul. In Hungarian they are Henuk, Welven, Oltman, and Nekkel. Other variants are found elsewhere. The nobility of the father is again noted: the text states “Henuk comiti iudeo.” Lublin, who left earlier for Austria, is not mentioned in these two documents, but in the Freising document of February 18, 1257, “Ego Lublinus et frater meus Nekelo” are noted, and Rádóczy (1971–72) specifically refers to the four brothers.

Chenok’s importance to this study, aside from the fact that he too must have owned a seal, lies in his four sons, Altman, Lublin, Nickel, and Wolfel.* Altman stayed in Hungary and inherited his father’s prestige and position, becoming a Hungarian count himself. Lublin, Nickel, and Wolfel moved to Austria and held equally important positions there: in fact, Rádóczy writes that the three brothers became Austrian counts. Though Altman apparently is the only son who remained in Hungary, we know that all four sons carried on financial activities there. As noted, their father died in 1265 owing money to the king. Three years later the records indicate that the sons of Chenok took on lease, with the King’s confirmation, the thirtieth part of the property of his wife, Queen Maria. Since they were in debt at the time, apparently due to assumption of their deceased father’s obligations, the sons mortgaged the Komárom fortress and the Tata mill which King Béla had given their father. This was done with the stipulation that after a certain time their debts would be paid off. But when they had not done so and the interest had grown, Queen Maria, at the request of the debtors, accepted the fortess and mill as payment for the principal of the debt plus interest.

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HUNGARY

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165. Seal of Mendel

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
315-326
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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