Past of Pécs

Although we know a lot about the past of Pécs, the truth is sometimes distorted by biased or inaccurate historical sources. For example, Vandals – who invaded also the ancient territory of Pécs – had a much more developed culture, similarly to the conqueror Hungarian mounted nomads, than certain professional sources claim. As Ottomans did not settle down in great strength in Hungary after the occupation, the period of the Ottoman occupation was not an era of decay and destruction either. One of the best examples for that is Pécs, which was enriched with several emblematic buildings and valuable relics in this period.

The Neolithic and bronze-age finds found in the surroundings of the settlement imply that this area was populated already in the ancient times. Its Roman name was Sopianae. The Romans developed the cities that were built by Pannonians – mainly Celtic and other ethnic groups. The occupation of Pannonia started with Octavian’s campaigns (as of 44 B.C.), when he conquered the area of Sava. In the following decades, Romans reached the line of the Danube with aggressive (Tiberius) and then peaceful (Nero) military advancement tactics. Pécs was occupied by the Roman Empire in 10 B.C.

Sopianae – the Roman Pécs

csgyk_fototar_pecs_tettyeikilatas_191x_c.jpgIn order to protect against different barbarian groups, an increased military presence and construction of military camps and stone fortresses were required in the period between 81 and 96 A.D. After melting it into the Roman Empire, the territory of today’s Pécs belonged to the province of Pannonia. It received the city title during Hadrian Caesar’s rule, and then under Diocletian in the 3rd century, it became the capital of the province of Valeria. Certain sections of the Roman aqueduct can be found in Pécs even today. The Romans interfered in the religious and cultural lives of the tribes under the control of the Empire in a rather organised way typically:

“The subjects’ respect to the supremacy of the state was ensured by the organisation and feasts of the Caesar cult (…) they organised the worship of the Caesar as a divine creature very skilfully in relation to each tribe’s ancient sacral feasts and shrines, here as well.” – Alföldi

Vandals, early Christians and Magyar tribes

Teuton nomads and Vandals started invading and settling as of 271 A.D. Vandals had a very bad reputation, that is the reason why they are identified with violence, devastation and inhuman, uncivilized behaviour, but this was not the reality. Procopius’s notes unveiled that they had a much more sophisticated culture than today’s common knowledge thinks.2010_166_1_e.jpg The main reason for their negative assessment – besides Christian persecution, conquests and pilferage – is that their enemies’ records about them survived predominantly.

Not only Vandals but also Romans persecuted Christians from time to time, depending on the religion policy of the ruling emperor. The periods of persecution and non-persecution lasted until the beginning of the 4th century, when Constantine the Great (Flavius Valerius Constantinus) converted to Christianity. In fact, the Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs was created after the period of the Christian persecution; the walls are decorated with murals of early Christian symbols, which are illustrious art pieces of the Late Roman Early Christian art. Later, the conqueror Magyars arrived in the area of Pécs with tribes led by Ete and Bojta – according to Anonymus Gesta’s notes.

Life under the Ottoman crescent moon

ttee_1915paxx_pecsostroma1664_00_b.jpgThe presence of Ottomans started with the siege of Pécs in September 1541, although they could occupy it only in 1543. Simon Athinai tried to protect the city with the castle soldiers from the enemy. As the people of Pécs anticipated that the Ottomans would defeat and forage them, some of the locals started foraging the valuables left behind after that the bishop and the German population fled. Surprisingly, the Ottomans did not forage finally – owing to the sultan’s ban – and as they needed to cooperate with the representatives of the Hungarian ruling class, this resulted in a kind of friendly imperial politics. For example, they asked the Hungarians of Pécs whom they wanted to be their ruler. The inhabitants elected Kasim Beg.

2011112_d.jpg It shows that the entering and presence of the Ottomans in Pécs did not happen as it lives in common knowledge. After the conquest, Ottomans did not stream into Hungary (only about 50-80 thousand persons), because their empire was too large for them to live on the whole territory, and their cultural effect was also limited and affected cities mainly. It is true that Ottomans converted many churches for their own use in Pécs, but interestingly, they allowed practicing Christian religion too. Their relationship with Christian religions could seem strange nowadays. In 1565 for instance, an Ottoman magistrate sentenced a Calvinist citizen to death, because he had snatched the Eucharist from a Catholic priest’s hand, dropped it to the ground and treaded on it.

ttef_1914xxxx_szechenyiter_04_b.jpgPasha Yakovali Hassan ran a kitchen for the poor and a monastery for whirling dervishes behind the mosque, which had a busy social life and many guests visited its ceremonies. Although Pécs lost a lot with the church conversions regarding architecture, it was also enriched with new buildings, mosques, public baths and Ottoman relics that are still preserved in museums. Many beloved and frequented buildings remained from the period of the Ottoman occupation, which contributed to the image of Pécs as special dashes of colour.

“May the uneducated learn, (…) may the intellect grow”

csgyk_fototar_pecs_egyetem_191x.jpgBeatific Pope Urban V approved of King Louis the Great’s intentions to found a university in Pécs in 1367. The Hungarian Kingdom supported the establishment of higher education, adjusting to western-European trends. They thought that the growth of intellect would do good to the development of the country. Their aim was:

“May the faith spread, the uneducated learn, may they serve equality, so that the order of legislation can strengthen and thus may also the intellect grow.”

The first stone theatre of the city was built in the 1800s, and the economic boom resulted that well-known manufactures of the country could prosper; like the glove manufacture Hamerli, the leather producer Höfler, the leather processing Erreth, the organ and harmonium manufacturer Angster and the business of the family Zsolnay.

Erdélyi Károly

Translated by Zita Aknai


  • Tamás Aknai Pécs, (1997). ISBN 9639001163 (In Hungarian)
  • Fülep F., Bachman Z., Pintér A.: Sopianae - Pécs ókeresztény emlékei, Budapest, (1988). ISBN 9633363853 (In Hungarian)
  • Erika Hancz Pécs mindennapjai a török félhold alatt. Pécs, (2013). ISBN 9789630880565 (In Hungarian)
  • Gyula Gosztonyi A pécsi Szent Péter székesegyház eredete. Pécs, (1939).  (In Hungarian)
  • Görgy Darabosy, András Bojár: Nagy Pécs könyv. (2017).  ISBN: 9786155773006 (In Hungarian)
  • Múlt Kor Töténelmi magazin: Vandálok - A rossz sajtó áldozatai? ( 20. May, 2014. (In Hungarian)
  • MTI: „A tanulatlanok okuljanak” – jogot és orvoslást is oktattak az első magyar egyetemen Pécsett ( 1. September, 2017. (In Hungarian)


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