He was a literary translator, the first collector of Hungarian proverbs, the headmaster of a reformed ecclesiastical college, and one of the most knowledgeable writers of the 16th century.

Decsi János (Johannes Decius Barovius)

The Transylvanian historian was born after 1560 in Decs, Tolna County. His original surname was Csimor. He was educated in Tolna, Debrecen, and Kolozsvár, then in 1587 he went abroad as a tutor of Losonci Bánffy Ferenc. They studied first in Wittenberg, where Bánffy was elected rector of the university, and then from 1590 they went to Strasbourg. In the meantime, Baranyai Decsi traveled through France and Italy. In the meantime, the Turkish war had broken out and Decsi’s family home had been destroyed. In 1592 he settled with his family in Kolozsvár, and a year later he moved to Marosvásárhely, where he taught in a school until his death.

Strasbourg in 1600

During his years in Marosvásárhely, he visited Gyulafehérvár, Kolozsvár, and even Strassburg, collecting material for his forthcoming work on the history of Transylvania. He visited not only written sources, but also prominent politicians, church leaders, and nobles, and gathered useful information from eyewitnesses.

Kolozsvár in 1617

Baranyai was close to the official documents of the Transylvanian court, he mentioned Pethe Márton, Naprágyi Demeter, Dersffy Ferenc, Thököly Sebestyén, Hommonai László, Czobor Miklós as sources. He even interviewed the Turkish Bey Mohamed of Lippa Castle (now Lipova) in prison.

Prince Báthory Zsigmond

His work was dedicated to Prince Báthory Zsigmond, so he simply ignored some of the ruler’s – questionable – actions, but he didn’t say anything that wasn’t true. His source for earlier periods is often Antonio Bonfini. His relationship with the Catholic prince was contradictory; on the one hand, Baranyai needed the prince’s support to finance his own work, but on the other Baranyai often spoke out against what he perceived as the prince’s crimes and incompetence in military and political matters. He often quoted the facts without comment. However, looking back over the years, the dates of certain events are inaccurate.

Baranyai Decsi János and the Chronicon Pictum of Kálti Márk

In the age of the Anjou kings of Hungary, the cultivation of historical literature gained new momentum. Both the court of King Károly Róbert I (1301-1342) and that of his son Lajos I (the Great) (1342-1382) produced Gestas and chronicles. The most elaborate and famous of these was written by a cleric more than 600 years ago.

A scribe from the Chronicon Pictum

“In the year of our Lord 1358, on Tuesday, the eighth day of Holy Thursday [15 May], this chronicle of the old and recent deeds, origins and history, victories and bravery of the Hungarians, collected from various old chronicles, begins, recording their truth and completely refuting their errors. In the name of the Lord. Amen”.

That’s how the chronicler of King Lajos I began his work. His name is not on the parchment, but his identity can be determined. Our Latinist historian Baranyai Decsi János referred to him in the 1590s like this:

“If a certain barbarian writer named Márk had not chronicled the origins and deeds of our ancestors, we would certainly have been forced to be only strangers and foreigners in our own homeland. He took all the material for Thuróczy’s writing…”.

The first page of the Thuróczy Chronicle

The comment of Baranyai Decsi János, with his Latinist self-consciousness, criticizing the medieval style, is not correct, because the chronicle of Thuróczy János, the magistrate of King Hunyadi Mátyás (1458-1490), printed in 1488, clearly refers to two main sources, a chronicle of the time of King Károly and a chronicle of the time of King Lajos. This means that one of the chronicles he used was written by this Márk.

Baranyai wrote the “History of Hungary 1592–1598”, poems in Latin and Greek, and a thesis on the Hunnish-Scythian alphabet. He also made a Hungarian translation of Erasmus of Rotterdam’s collection of proverbs.

Hungarian Székely rovan alphabet from 1598

The author died suddenly, probably while working on his unfinished work. As a result, two copies were made in which the copyists attempted to make up for the shortcomings of the original. The original manuscript was lost and the copies were not found until centuries later.

Baranyai Decsi János also produced other works. His account of his travels, Hodoeporicon, written in Wittenberg in 1587, also provides considerable historical insight. In 1593 he published his legal treatise “Syntagma institutionum iuris imperialis ac Ungarici” in Kolozsvár, in which he compared the Werbőczi Tripartitum, a collection of laws, with classical Roman law and proposed certain reforms on this basis.

In 1595 he published two works of Sallustius, Catilina and Jugurtha, in Hungarian translation.
He died in 1601 when Báthory Zsigmond returned to the principality for the third time. He could not finish his main work on Hungarian history because he died suddenly.

Zsámboky’s Map of Transylvania

Source: Szibler Gábor, Szabados György PhD and Hungarian Wikipedia

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