Bél Mátyás / Matthias Bel or Matthias Bél (German: Matthias Bel; Slovak: Matej Bel; Latin: Matthias Belius; 22-24 March(?), 1684 – 29 August 1749) was a Lutheran pastor and polymath from the Kingdom of Hungary. Bel was active in the fields of education, philosophy, philology, history, and theoretical theology; he was the founder of Hungarian geography and a pioneer in descriptive ethnography and economics. A leading figure of Pietism. He is also known as the Great Ornament of Hungary (Magnum decus Hungariae).

Source: Orosz Örs

Bél Mátyás was born in Ocsova, Kingdom of Hungary (now Očová, Slovakia), the son of Matthias (Matej) Bel Funtík or Bel-Funtík, a wealthy Slovak peasant and butcher. Little is known about his Hungarian mother, Cseszneky Erzsébet, except that she was very religious.

He described himself as “lingua Slavus, natione Hungarus, eruditione Germanus” (“by language a Slav/Slovak, by nation a Hungarian, by erudition a German”) In 1710 he married an ethnic German woman from Hungary, Susanna Hermann, and the couple had eight children together.

Source: Orosz Örs

Bél attended schools in Losonc (Lučenec), Kálnó (Kalinovo), and Alsósztregova (Dolná Strehová), then grammar schools in Besztercebánya (now Banská Bystrica), Pozsony (Presporok, Pressburg, Bratislava), and briefly in Veszprém and at the Calvinist college in Pápa. Between 1704 and 1706 he studied theology, philosophy, and medicine at the University of Halle, after which he was appointed rector of the school at Klosterbergen near Magdeburg.

Later, on his return to the Kingdom of Hungary, he became an assistant rector and then rector of the Lutheran grammar school in Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica), where he was also a pastor. As a Rákóczi sympathizer, he was almost executed by General Sigbert Heister. Between 1714 and 1719 he was the rector of the Lutheran grammar school and then also the pastor of the German Lutheran Church in Pozsony. He published his articles in the Latin-language newspaper Nova Posoniensia, the first regular periodical in Hungary. In 1735 Bél drew up a proposal for the establishment of a scientific academy to be based in Pozsony.

Bél spoke Slovak, Hungarian, and German, and his works were mostly published in Latin, steeped in Hungarian national consciousness, as evidenced, for example, by his writing of the Notitia Hungariae novae historico geographica, a collection of essays on Hungarian history, influenced by his deep affection for the Hungarian language. Bel died on August 29, 1749. He was buried in Pozsony, the cemetery has now disappeared.

Religious Literature

Bél was a translator, editor, publisher, and distributor of several religious works. His long-term goal was to publish the Bible in a language understandable to the community he served (i.e., Biblical Czech, which was used as the church and literal language by Slovak Lutherans.) In the preface to the New Testament (Halle, 1709), he emphasized that the Bible had already been translated, but it was hardly available to the common people and even to preachers.

Verleger: Haid, Johann Jakob Maler: Kupezky, Johann Stecher: Haid, Johann Jakob

Bél then participated in the re-edition of the Bible of Kralice (Halle, 1722), in which he was especially responsible for the correction of Calvinism, he also participated in the publication of the Hungarian Bible (Leipzig, 1714) and the New Testament (Leipzig, 1717), and was the author of the preface for the reprint of Sébastien Castellion’s Latin New Testament (Leipzig, 1724 and 1735).

Reprint, by Tóth Gergely

He translated and published several influential works such as The Compendium of Christian Revelation (Johann Anastasius Freylinghausen, Hungarian translation), True Christianity (Johann Arndt, Czech translation, intended mainly for Slovaks), The Garden of Paradise (Johann Arndt, Hungarian and Czech translations).


As a teacher, Bél wrote books, introduced science lessons, and emphasized the importance of using visual aids and experimental education. His methods spread and had a modernizing effect on the educational system throughout Hungary.

Reprint, by Tóth Gergely


As a philologist, Bél was the first to study the Hungarian runic writing and also contributed to the development of the Hungarian literary language. He revised and republished Károli Gáspár’s translation of the Bible. He wrote Hungarian, Latin, and German grammars – in the latter, he also reviewed the German communities and dialects in Hungary. His work as a translator and editor in the field of religious works is also extensive.

Reprint, by Tóth Gergely

One of his notable writings is the Institutiones linguae Germanicae (Rules of German Grammar) written in Latin for Hungarians, of which a special edition was published in Halle in 1730 for Hungarian students studying in Germany. He also wrote a popular book on Hungarian grammar for Germans, “Der ungarische Sprachmeister”. He erroneously suspected that the Hungarian language was related to the Hebrew one. In a work of his called “Literatura Hunno-Scythica”, published in 1718, Bél endeavored to prove that there had once been a Hun-Scythian alphabet, which he thought the Székelys must have known.

The Hun-Scythian alphabet by Bél Mátyás

Letter from Bél Mátyás to his friend in Leipzig in 1718:
“There was, however, a codex in the library of the Debrecen College, which was written in old Hun letters, and about which the scholar Komáromi writes the following:
“We have a book written in Hungarian letters, and we can read and understand this ancient writing, and we can write it to this day.”

In the introduction to Grammatica Slavico-Bohemica by Pavel Doležal, he praises Biblical Czech as a language that positively influences the cultivation of Slovak.

History and Geography

A pioneer of collaborative research in the history of the Kingdom of Hungary, Bél undertook a comprehensive historical and geographical examination of the territory in his famous Notitia Hungariae Novae Historico Geographiaca. His work on the counties of Hungary was supported by many, while others accused him of espionage. The Chancellery commissioned Sámuel Mikoviny to complete his work with detailed maps. The complete edition of the Notitia could not be achieved during Bél’s lifetime.

Reprint, by Tóth Gergely

Only eleven county descriptions were printed: The description of Szepes County was published in Bél’s introduction to the Notitia project, the Prodromus; the other ten county descriptions – Pozsony County, Turóc County, Zólyom County, Liptó County, Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun County, Nógrád County, Bars County, Nyitra County, Hont County, Moson County – were published in five volumes of the Notitia.

Reprint, by Tóth Gergely

The remaining 37 county descriptions, together with the description of the Jász-Kun counties, remained in the manuscript due to the negligence or hostility of the revising county authorities and the problems with the printing press. These manuscripts are scattered in several archives and collections. In his works, he notes the greatness of the Slavic people and mentions many positive characteristics of the Slovaks, as well as their indigenousness in the Kingdom of Hungary.

Bél’s handwriting (Source: Orosz Örs)

Honors and awards

He was a member of several learned societies abroad (e.g. the Prussian Royal Academy (Berlin), the Royal Society of London, the Societas eruditorum incognitorum in terris Austriacis (Olomouc), Jena, St. Petersburg). He was ennobled by Charles VI of Austria and received a gold medallion with his (Bel’s) own portrait from Pope Clement XII.

His statue in Ocsó / Ocova (Photo: Ladislav Luppa)


Recently, Hungarian historians and philologists started to publish a critical edition of the manuscript descriptions of the counties, based on the results of the extensive research of the Hungarian historian Tóth Gergely. Calculating the length of the descriptions, they found it feasible to publish all the manuscript descriptions in 10 volumes. The first volume containing the descriptions of Árva and Trencsén counties has already been published.

Besztercebánya in 1860

Matej Bel University (Univerzita Mateja Bela) in Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica) is named after him, as are the elementary schools in Očová (Základná škola s materskou školou Mateja Bela Funtíka) and Šamorín (Základná škola Mateja Bela). The Encyclopaedia Beliana is also named in his honor.

Bél Mátyás

Source: partly from English Wikipedia

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