The history of the Jászság began with a tribe (or rather a nation) of people called the jászok (jász in singular). These people were a tribe of the Alans inhabiting the area north of the Caucasus during the 1st millennia CE. The name Jász is a Hungarian term which comes from the word Asi – another ancient tribe which eventually subjugated the Alans. From then on, the name Alan and Asi is said to had been used interchangeably as many Asii and Alans intermarried.
The Alans are also said to have been the descendants of the Massagetae, an Iranian Sun-worshipping tribe who practiced ritual cannibalism before the 4th century BCE. This theory was put forth by Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman soldier during the 4th century CE:
“This race of untamed men, without encumbrances, aflame with an inhuman desire for plundering others' property, made their violent way amid the rapine and slaughter of the neighbouring peoples as far as the Halani, once known as the Massagetae.”
Escape of King Bela IV of Hungary from the Tartars (1241) - Wikimedia Commons
Almost a thousand years before him, in 5th century BCE, the Greek philosopher, Herodotus published bits of information about the culture of the Massagetae:
“[The Massagetae] are said to be a great and powerful people dwelling towards the east and the sunrise, beyond the Araxes and opposite the Issedones; and some say that they are a Scythian people.”
“Now for their customs: each man marries a wife, but the wives are common to all. The Greeks say this is a Scythian custom; it is not, but a custom of the Massagetae. There, when a man desires a woman, he hangs his quiver before her wagon, and has intercourse with her without fear. Though they fix no certain term to life, yet when a man is very old all his family meet together and kill him, with beasts of the flock besides, then boil the flesh and feast on it. This is held to be the happiest death; when a man dies of an illness, they do not eat him, but bury him in the earth, and lament that he did not live to be killed. They never plant seed; their fare is their livestock and the fish which they take in abundance from the Araxes.”
It is important to note that these ancient accounts should be treated carefully, though, as for one thing, no other source mentions any kind of connection between the Alans and the Massagetae whatsoever, and for the other, ancient sources on unknown tribes tend to be fairly inaccurate. One sure point in history however is the advancing of the Mongol army towards the west during the first half of the 13th century. Everyone knows the end of this story – raiding, plundering, killing, and subjugation. But many fail to mention the massive wave of migration it brought.
Forty thousand Cumans (kunok) packed up and travelled hundreds (or even thousands) of miles west to finally reach the Kingdom of Hungary where in 1239, King Béla IV granted them refuge against the Mongols in exchange for their military service. Their assimilation did not go so well, and the Hungarian population’s hatred towards them culminated in the killing of their high prince, Kötöny. The Cumans soon left Hungary, leaving it almost defenseless against the invading Mongols. A couple of years later, King Béla IV invited them back in and settled them between the Danube and Tisza rivers. The Jász people are thought to have come with them, although the first written mention of them dates from only about a hundred years later.
DID YOU KNOW?
King Béla IV’s son, King István V married a Cuman princess in 1254. Their son, László became King of Hungary in 1272 and was known by the nickname “Kun.”
jász – n. a Jász (Jassic) person; adj. Jassic
jászok – n. plural form of jász
Jászság – n. the Jász area
Jász kerület – n. the Jász district
kun – n. a Cuman person; adj. Cuman
kunok – n. plural form of kun