The revolution of transportation: the “kocsi” (coach)

a Hungarian “kocsi”, 16th century

The Western people used to like the Hungarian wagons, we have information from the Vatican from 1371 where two Hungarian wagons (currus) were mentioned as gifts. The makers of these wagons lived in the village of Kocs and were famous in 1421 because they made the wagons for the daughter of King Zsigmond.

According to the sources, the first light wagons in concern appeared in a document in 1426 when Pipo of Ozora gifted two such wagons to the traveling Italian envoys at Tata Castle.

a reconstruction of a “kocsi”

There was a French traveler in 1433, Bertrandon de la Broquière(wd) who described a Hungarian light wagon that was pulled by only one horse, was covered and was light, and the hind wheels were bigger than the frontal ones; leather belts helped the suspension of the vehicle. Even the ropes were protected by leather covers.

A coach is originally a large, usually closed, four-wheeled carriage with two or more horses harnessed as a team, controlled by a coachman and/or one or more postilions. It had doors in the sides, with generally a front and a back seat inside and, for the driver, a small, usually elevated seat in front called a box, box seat, or coach box. They removed the heavy flanks on the left and on the right and used lighter materials to make the weight smaller. The seats were covered by sheep fur and feather-pillows made the sitting more comfortable.

The breakthrough was the size of the wheel: the front wheels were smaller so the vehicle became very fast and they made the axis able to be turned left and right. It made the wagon capable of turning in a smaller circle. Besides, they attached a long pulling wood to the hind wheel on the right side of the wagon where they could tie the third horse.

As I’ve said, the term “coach” first came into use in the 15th century and spread across Europe.
It was King Matthias who introduced the mass production of these light wagons made in the village of Kocs (they are called “kocsi” meaning “from Kocs” in Hungarian) to improve the transportation and postal services of the kingdom. The king was told to have liked traveling on them when speed and comfort were needed, according to Bonfinius. Matthias built out the first postal system in Hungary in 1459 with the help of these excellent wagons. The postal system’s center later became the just-occupied Vienna in 1485. There were resting places at every 10 Hungarian miles (38 kilometers) where the horses could rest or were changed, one of these places happened to be the village of Kocs on the road between Buda and Vienna.

The new light wagon was faster and more comfortable than the contemporary vehicles, mainly because it was constructed of very well-chosen wooden materials which decreased the shaking of the wagon. The wheels were not reinforced by iron and broke quite easily but they were very flexible.

They were transporting letters, parcels, and money and carrying passengers. The “first-class” passengers sat in the back, the “second-class” sat in the middle and the man who handled the horses had the first seat. Also, there was an armed lad on the “kocsi” and the post was running day and night. 

Sadly, this system began to decline after the king’s death but the “kocsi” became a very good brand in Europe, its names got taken over by other nations:
– the English word coach, the Spanish and Portuguese coche, the German Kutsche, and the Slovak koč and Czech kočár all probably derive from the Hungarian word “kocsi”, literally meaning “of Kocs”. Also, the Catalan cotxe, Italian cocchio, Flemish goetse, Polish kocz, Slovakian koč, kočiar, Ukranian коч, Serbian кочије, Slovenian kočíja, Swedish kusk. If you go to the Caucasus Mountains, you will hear that the people there have a word for the light wagon which is “madzsar” (madzsar = magyar = Hungarian).

The first written mention of the “koczy” is from 1469. The first detailed description of this wagon was made by Sigmund von Herberstein in 1518.
We know that King Ulászló II of Hungary gave three great gilded wagons like that to his fiancee in 1502, drawn by eight horses.

Picture: Arpad Andy Zubrits

This new wagon was very important in the military because the entire Hungarian army’s transportation was based on wagons and light “kocsi” wagons, unlike the Ottoman army’s. The enemy relied rather on burden-carrying animals like camels and horses, donkeys, and even goats.

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