Sex in medieval Hungary

English2020. dec. 14.Növekedé

The bathing culture flourished in Hungary even before the Turks arrived. Guests in spas often satisfied their lustful desires there – all this is described in a book by László Józsa, describing a barely discussed aspect of our history.

This insane old man, no matter what country or region he visits, never fails to have sex with cheap girls and pretend to be in love. He walks the streets with his entourage, singing songs, and, what makes his meanness even worse, gets out of his cart on street corners, touching harlots in a friendly way as if these wenches were like Penelope or Lucretia from Rome

This outburst was recorded by a provost named János about one of the most significant Hungarian kings in our history, Sigismund. Sure enough, the king himself had been well-known for his affairs before that. However, he wasn’t the only one in the court who loved to indulge in affairs. The later Pope Pius II wrote the following about Sigismund’s wife, the Hungarian queen:

She lived her disgraceful life among lovers, all in public. […] She rebuked her ladies-in-waiting, who often prayed and fasted, for torturing their bodies. 

Borbála Cillei allegedly did not believe in heaven or hell. As she said:

As long as life lasts you must live pleasantly and enjoy the pleasures.

Among other things, these are discussed in the book “Sex in Medieval Hungary”, which was first published in 2011. The work of the late anthropologist László Józsa tries to dispel the misconceptions about the sexuality in bygone eras. It is generally believed that during the Árpád or Anjou dynasties, or during the reign of King Matthias, people abstained from debauchery and our ancestors lived a very restrained, puritanical sex life, in accordance with the precepts of the Bible.

Such ideas, of course, are not totally unfounded. Medieval laws, for example, cracked down on adulterers very strictly.

According to the Buda Law Book, the unfaithful may have ended up being buried alive, or being pierced in the chest with a spike.

The church also wanted to have a say in which sex positions were acceptable for couples. St. Thomas Aquinas believed that sexual intercourse was only right if the man was on top. According to him, this position reflects the law of nature, i.e. the superiority of the stronger sex. Many people agreed with his ideas, although there were theologists who were a little more permissive. A Franciscan priest, for example, believed that as long as sexual intercourse could result in a child being born, the position was irrelevant.

Courtesans in Buda

László Józsa points out that the some of the regulations were quite permissive in Hungary compared to the general spirit of the era. The Buda Law Book, for example, did not condemn “secret lovers,” i.e. free people who had sex before marriage. Moreover, the articles of the law explicitly protected those girls who slept with their lover before the wedding, even if it was just a temporary fling.

If such an act is committed, or there is evidence that a girl has sinned or lost her virginity, as long as she is free and unmarried, she shall not be allowed to be harmed,

medieval legislators wrote.

From the late 1200s onwards, the rules also sought to protect prostitutes.

Courtesans were easy to recognize as they wore a yellow ribbon in their hair.

Whoever raped a courtesan in Buda, received exactly the same punishment as a person who dishonoured a nun or a virgin. The culprit was beheaded if his act was provable without doubt. Courtesans could pick their clients, but the law only protected them if they had previously registered as prostitutes in the city register.

Early bathing culture

Although there were plenty of restrictions in the Middle Ages, written and unwritten rules could not discourage people from messing around. Some of the most surprising parts in László Józsa's book are about dance events. The man of the Middle Ages did not restrain himself when it came to revelling.

According to the Limburg Chronicle, on one occasion hundreds of maidens became pregnant during a dance party in Cologne.

Even though it may have been an overstatement by the chronicler, it says a lot about those times. As for the Hungarian orgies, Péter Bornemisza wrote that at the parties he caressed the ladies "mouth, nose, ears, breasts. People loved to revel in so many different places that it had to be specifically forbidden to dance in cemeteries or churches.

Besides parties, people satisfied their erotic desires in the baths.

Contrary to popular belief, medieval Hungarians loved to bathe. They kept wooden tubs in their homes, and hot water spas were rather popular even in the Árpád era. Men and women bathed together, and on such occasions they were either completely naked or they were only wearing a tiny apron.

As the popularity of the spas increased, more and more services were available there. Servants helped guests wash themselves or just rubbed oil and perfumes onto their bodies. There were places where hair removal was also provided. People in those days did not get rid of body hair to follow fashion, but by removing hair from the armpit or pubic areas, they wanted to keep away lice. There were sometimes prostitutes working in the baths.

I have to say that neither home baths nor public baths served cleaning purposes as much as the pursuit of pleasure,

László Józsa writes. The emergence of STDs, however, put an end to the medieval bathing culture. After the outbreak of syphilis, most of the Hungarian baths were closed.

To those who want to immerse themselves in this subject, we recommend the book "Sex in Medieval Hungary".