The Value of Money

The gold Forint minted by King Szapolyai, 1540

The worth of the money in the 16th-17th centuries 

How much did Lord Nádasdy’s soldiers earn in the 16th century?
Life was not easy for the soldiers of the 16th and 17th centuries. In most cases, soldiers who were constantly in danger of their lives did not even receive a salary because of the Royal Chamber’s regular lack of money. The often-used solution of paying out broadcloth instead of cash was not often implemented either. Thus the sad saying spread: “No money, no broad-cloth.” If they did receive the expected pay, infantrymen could claim 2 gold Forints a month, and cavalrymen 3 Forints, which was barely enough to support a soldier’s family, or in the case of a cavalryman, his horse, and to buy equipment and food. To learn more details about Nádasdy Tamás (1498-1562):

Nádasdy Tamás
Members of private landowner bands were in a better position than the guards of the royal castles. Even if the payment was delayed, it was not delayed for months or years. This was presumably reinforced by personal connections: the lord knew his soldiers almost by name, and he was in daily contact with the servitors in his service, often through kinship.
Here is more about Nádasdy Ferenc (1555-1604):
Nádasdy Ferenc, the Black Bey
In the Nádasdy accounts we can find payrolls from the years 1540-50, as well as from the 1590s. On these, the soldiers’ allowances were indicated. Not individually, of course, but often for the servitors (serving nobles) in the service of the aristocratic family, who distributed the pay among their armed soldiers. The broadcloth register indicates that they received their allowances (or part of them) in the broadcloth.
The Nádasdy castle in Sárvár (Photo: Civertan)
According to an account of the year 1550 by Palatine Tamás, three purchases of broadcloth were made that year, totaling 123 “vég” (1 “vég” was about 20 meters). This is 4.6 meters per person, enough to clothe 550 people. One-third of the broadcloth was the most expensive “Londis” from London and “purpián” (purple), the other two-thirds were the cheaper brands: Karasia, Kentura, Iglen, and Lörömberger. The total came to 1650 Forints. At the beginning of the following year, another 50 “vég” of Karasia and purple broadcloth were taken over from the royal warehouse for 880 Forints. This meant that 8-900 people could be provided with these.
dresses were made of broadcloth
The more expensive, better quality material was given to the high-ranked men, Nádasdy Kristóf, Tamás’s brother, wore a red velvet “outer garment”, his dolman and trousers were made of white velvet, while Nádasdy Farkas, Tamás’s and Kristóf’s brother, wore a red velvet outer garment, a red Karasia “supicza” (subica = overcoat, upper coat, Hungarian “suba”) and dark blue Karasia trousers. Nádasdy Jakab had a gillyflower-colored outer garment and supicza, with “dotted” blue-purple trousers. Majláth Gábor, the nephew of Nádasdy Tamás, son of Majláth István, the Transylvanian Voivode was in lion-colored purple, and Tahy Bernát in maroon.
Captain Horváth Márk of Sztenyicsnyak received 3 “vég” grey “puripán”, 2 “vég” light blue Karasia, and one “vég” light blue broadcloth. The warriors of Zichy István, Csányi Ákos, and Terjék István got 12-12 “vég” light blue and dark blue broadcloth.
“But the young people now have nothing more than a pair of pants and a pair of trousers. The old “young” men must have a dolman made of blue Karasia and lined with yellow broadcloth; and trousers of that if they can get them, and if not, of Kentura. The other young men [i.e. the pages] must make both dolmans and trousers from the red Kentura broadcloth… Csáky László must be clothed from the red Stamete…” – Nádasdy wrote to his wife, Kanizsai Orsolya.
Nádasdy Tamás and Kanizsai Orsolya
On February 23, 1547, Komlóssy Tamás allocated to his overlord, Nádasdy Kristóf from his treasury a green velvet Foztan (a sleeveless robe), and a green Tafota subicza, a golden Futat, a bearskin collar and 5 new marten pelts for the collar of his “suba”. In addition, Lord Christopher also purchased a silver saber, a turban, and a cloak. When he went to war with his brother at Pápa castle, he was given 3 new saddles, one of which was velvet, and the other two were made of broadcloth. On the same day, Essegváry Farkas was fitted with a new saddle.
A ceremonial saddle of the Teleki family, 17th century (drawing by Somogyi Győző)

The Batthyany family also indicated the ranks among their servants by the color of the broadcloth. In 1641, for example, those serving with five or more horses received a blackberry-colored garnet, those with three or four horses a cheaper Chimazin, and those with two horses an even cheaper Rása for their cavalry service. At the same time, the captain was dressed in red scarlet.

The dolman of Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania (by Somogyi Győző)
The horsemen of the nobleman Nádasdy Tamás were either “jargalók” (meaning “nyargalók”, patroling hussars), i.e. hired for an annual fee, or they were paid monthly. In 1555, the jargalók’s fee was 16 Forints per person, but the following year the people of Kanizsa demanded 20 because they had heard that Bánffy, Batthyány, and Choron János also paid that much. In addition to cash, soldiers could receive benefits in kind. The grain and the wine were measured in “köböl” in Hungary, it is an obsolete measurement, a measure of volume for a grain crop, lumpy material, or liquid (comprising 62, 94, or 125 liters, or 64–125 liters, or (of wine) 12–42 liters. The Hungarian “pint” was equal to 1,696 liters. A “köböl” was also about 60kilos.
A footed beaker for wine, 16th century
“The (price of)”jargalás” (horseman service) of Lord Erdélyi was as follows: cash for 8 horses 108 Forints, 80 “köböl” wine, and a barrel of grape wine, 45 “köböl” wheat, 80 “köböl” oat, 100 hens, 100 pieces of cheese, 6 pints of butter, 8 whole bacon, 8 pounds of oil, 16 cubes of rock salt, 2 cows for meat, 50 pieces of fish on the days of fasting, 20 wagons of hay. The beginning of the allowance is the Day of Saint Andrew, 1558… As for Keledy’s allowance, it was like this: 140 gold Forints for 8 horses, wine similar to Erdélyi, 50 “köböl” of wheat, 50 “köböl” of rye, 100 “köböl” of oat. The rest of the allowance is similar to Erdélyi’s.”
A Hungarian hussar, 1593
It can be seen that both servitors served with 8 horses, but their pay was far from equal. In June 1552, Rajky János was at Nádasdy’s house, asking whether he could go to him to serve. Csányi Ákos promised him 16 Forints per horse for ten horses and 20 Forints for Rajky’s winter and summer clothes. In 1571, in Sárvár castle, the son of the Palatine, Nádasdy Ferenc II. gave Tarnóczy Jakab 20 Forints per horse for 8 horses and clothes as “knights’ wages”. The number of horses meant the number of horsemen the lords, i.e. the servitors or officers, were serving with, i.e. the aforementioned lord Erdélyi and lord Keledy were serving with 8-8 horsemen at Nádasdy. However, some served with twenty horses, as is clear from the accounts. For example, Tahy Bernát had 18 horsemen under Nádasdy Kristóf in 1558.
A Hungarian soldier on horseback, leading a spare horse, 1593
When the warriors joined the army in a campaign, they also received monthly payments. In 1554, the “gentlemen on horseback” and the young men (i.e. those who had advanced from the ranks of the pages) received 3 Forints per cavalryman. In addition, Lieutenant Nagy Máté was paid 9 Forints and 10 silver denarii for 13 horses. They also received money for fulfilling an order, i.e. they were entitled to reimbursement, like Pethő Gáspár, who was sent to Kanizsa by Nádasdy in April 1545, for which he received 10 Forints, half of which was paid to the groomers and half to his own servants.
Hungarian horses (photo: Hága Zsuzsanna)
At the same time, eight corporals came from Csepreg with Voivode Balázs, of whom Pintér János, Krajczár Benedek, Baranyai Lőrinc, and Kovács Benedek, who served with eleven horses, received 55 Forints, Molnár Benedek and Oszvald János, who had twelve horses, also received 55 Forints, while the corporals Antal Tamás and Valti Péter, who “only” had ten horses, were entitled to 50 silver denarii.
The silver Obulus of King Ferdinand from 1531
During the reign of Country Judge Nádasdy III Ferenc, Eszterházy Miklós, “captain of the court and of the field”, made an inventory at an unknown time. In the first period of Lieutenant Tulok György’s service, he had 100 horsemen living in the Sárvár estate, who “were not paid wages but were kept in the usual rights and liberties. If they were sent to a camp, they were paid monthly money, and if they were sent on a journey, they were paid travel expenses commensurate with the journey. Lieutenants were paid “annuatim” [annual] wages. And when he took leave of the service, he was allowed to go.” The statement also mentions Hajdú soldiers. “Some of them live in the estate of Sárvár, and some in foreign estates. Those living in the lord’s land were paid the same as the horsemen living in the lord’s domain….”.
The Gold Forint of King Ferdinand I
The servitors were paid according to the number of riders they had, i.e. the number of roles they played. In the 1580s, Batthyány Boldizsár paid 16 Forints per horse per year, and this did not change under his grandson Batthyány Ádám I in the 1630s-50s. There was also a separate payment for the rank of Lieutenant. Payments were usually made every six months, the first installment being paid between May and July and the second around St Andrew’s Day (30 November) or early January.
The Gold Forint of King János Zsigmond and Queen Isabella (1559)
Sometimes, of course, the lord also struggled with a lack of money, as the letters of complaint written to Nádasdy Tamás testify: ‘From this time onwards, Your Greatness has not given me more than two Forints. I lost my former horses in the service of Your Majesty [evidently in the Babócsa campaign in the summer of 1556]. I am not an outcast, but if Your Greatness does not give, I have nothing to do, I must be an outcast.” – lamented Kalauz Márton in 1556. In November, the soldier threatened to resign. Balka István from Senyér wrote to Csányi Ákos, Nádasdy’s officer in Kanizsa, also in that year: “… Your Grace take care of the monthly money for us, for God knows we are very short of it. Now our morrow is past, and we are so poor, … for the third day that we have eaten no bread. Though some weep, yet they shall cry for me…’.
A Hajdú soldier, 17th century
The year of war in 1556 probably exhausted Nádasdy’s financial reserves, and obviously, the soldiers lost a lot in the battle. In 1559 the guards of Kanizsa castle appealed to Magyar Bálint, the captain of Fonyód castle, to give them a promissory note for their missing pay. The captain refused and wrote to Nádasdy that “I was, and I am your greatness’s servant. just like them…”. At the same time, he asked the Palatine to pay the unpaid salary. Also, Magyar himself threatened to resign at the end of 1556.
Three Hungarian infantrymen (Hajdú) from 1591
At this time, the warriors were given (at least in principle) 2 pounds (about 1 kg) of bread, 1 pound of meat, and 0.5 pints (0.84 liters) of wine for their daily rations. This cost 7 denarii, so 25 Forints per person per year. In addition, officers were entitled to other allowances in kind: eggs, cheese, butter, chickens, wheat, wine, oats, rye, bacon, rock salt, cows, fish, hay, etc. Nádasdy Tamás was, therefore, able to spend roughly 24-25 thousand Forints on his army of about 2000 men. This was a huge sum in those days when the country’s total income was around 800,000 Forints. No wonder the lord received a subsidy of 12,000 Forints from the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce for his 1,000-strong band of warriors.
a Hungarian nobleman from the 16th century

The overlord also had to pay for other supplies: in 1555, Tahy Bernát, the commander of Bodonhely, asked Nádasdy Tamás for a helmet and armor. Batthyány Ádám I (1610-1659), for example, occasionally, especially on New Year’s Day, also presented his servitors with horses, weapons, horse tools, broadcloths, hides, and clothes. In 1634, Káldy Ferenc, Batthyány’s captain received 300 Forints in cash for his person, plus 9 “rőf” (1 reef about 0.8 m) of broadcloth, 40 “akó” (roughly 42 liters) of wine, 20 “köböl” of wheat, 20 “köböl” of rye and 25 “köböl” of oats. In 1662, Csányi Bernát, the captain of the Körmend castle’s cavalry, was paid 150 Forints, 6 “rőf” (4.6 m, the amount needed for a suit of clothes) of broadcloth, 64 “köböl” of grain, 20 “akó” of wine, 3 cows’ meat, 2 rock salts and 1 piece of fox fur.

Batthyány Ádám (1610-1659)
The first lieutenant, Kisfaludy Mózes, received 75 Forints in 1682. The lieutenants and their horsemen were given 16 Forints each, and the lieutenants could be enriched with 25 Forints and 6-9 “rőf” of Rassa, Stamets, or Garnet broadcloth. In the second half of the 17th century, one “rőf” of Garnet broadcloth 4-5 Forints. Some of the servitors could receive estates from the domains of the lord, Barocz Bálint, who served the Black Bey (it was Nádasdy’s nickname), acquired lands in Horpács, Gyalóka, Kövesd, Nemesvis and Szarkafölde in Sopron County, and another servitor called Csics Gotthárd acquired lands in Széplak, while Gadóczy Imre acquired lands in Sopronkeresztúr. The vice-captain of Pápa castle, Maróthy Mihály, obtained serf lands in Ebergőc, Göbös, Horpács, Iván, Lózs, and Széplak.
Pápa castle in 1597
In the 17th century, it became customary to establish settlements for the Hajdú soldiers. The lords, including the Nádasdy family, essentially obliged the Hajdú warriors to serve as serfs by settling them on their estates and demanding military service in return. In 1630, Nádasdy Pál settled Hajdús in Rábatamáski, in 1653 Nádasdy Ferenc III settled them in Rábasömje, and Draskovich Miklós, the partial heir of his son-in-law and his estates, settled them in Ikervár and also in Rábasömje in 1682. It was better to give them land that they could cultivate rather than endure the plundering Hajdús in the countryside.
Hajdú soldiers plunder the peasants
At the same time, he elevated Kálmán István of Nyőgér to the ranks of the “armed and horse-owner” Hajdús, together with his land. In 1652, Nádasdy Ferenc gave Dóczy Mihály a deserted place in Sömjén on the condition that he “serve faithfully and piously with his horse and his weapon” and that he pays nothing for the land “except the usual fee”. A year later, he accepted Horváth Gergely and Asbóth György as his fellow Hajdú soldiers of Sömjén, but he expected from them not only armed service but also the annual tax for the land. In 1663, the armed soldiers and Hajdús of Péntekfalusi (Sárvár) paid 4-4 Forints per homestead, it was their annual tax.

The worth of the money around 1609 in the Kingdom of Hungary

Talking about the worth of money outside the domains of the Nádasdy family: here is a summary taken from the post of the Hungarian historian, Szerecz Miklós who provided us with information about the financials in the Kingdom of Hungary from 1609:


Our historian from Sziget Castle, Szerecz Miklós writes about the question of the Hungarian warriors’ unpaidness along the Frontier. He takes his sources from Perjés Géza. At the end of the 15-Year-War (1591-1606) of Hungary, there was a Hungarian officer called Kornis Gáspár who was complaining to his superiors that he had lost all his properties during the long war:

One gold = 100 Denars

„Because of serving faithfully my liege-lord, all that I have remained is just my dolman on my back. I used to be a lord myself and became a common soldier. Now, what God might do with me, I do not know: your Lordship may think about what I can hope for. (=nothing)”
Yet, there were worse situations than his. By the end of the long and bloody 15-Year War against the Ottomans and the Truce had been made, the „honor” (meaning: the pay) of the warriors of the Frontier became not so important. Before it, the situation was quite miserable but now it has become a disaster. Note, that the expenses of war have pushed even the Habsburg Empire to the fringe of bankruptcy.

Gold of King Matthias Corvinus

The Diet of 1609 in Hungary declared that the soldiers’ pay must be restored according to the previous customs and habits: „…each horseman should receive three gold Forints and twenty denars while each infantryman should get two gold Forints a month.” (My remark: when the gold Forint used to be stable, it was worth 100 silver denars; later, 5-600 denars made up a Forint.)

Well, the above-mentioned pay would have been just enough to die of starvation, even if it had arrived in due time. (My remark: most of it was spent on wine, as a rule. Note, the Western mercenaries in Hungary earned three times higher pay, plus supplies.) Yet, we can see that even this above-mentioned amount was not increasing throughout the first part of the 17th century. Palatine Eszterházy Miklós and later Count Zrínyi Miklós were calculating these sums when it came to paying their soldiers. According to Perjés, the market value of this pay was like this:

One „köböl” (60 kg) of wheat was worth one Hungarian gold coin…Supposing that there were five persons in the family of a soldier, annually the price he had to pay for the grain was 25 Hungarian gold Forints. An infantryman would have gained 24 Forints a year (which never happened in reality) and obviously, he could not provide for his family. But there were other costs as well: industrial items, weapons, clothes, and in the case of the hussars, there were the horses to feed. (Note: these costs were usually covered for the foreign mercenaries by their lord. Additionally, the Hungarians received half of their pay in bad-quality broadcloth or salt cubes.)

Prince Bocskai’s coin

According to Zrínyi, he says that a full dress for a soldier would cost 12 Forints, (including the Dolman and the fur coat for 3 Forints, the hat and a pair of boots or shoes for 3 Forints, trousers for 2 Forints, underwear for 1 Forint) so half of the annual pay of a soldier was spent for his equipment. It didn’t include the costs of the Hussars’ horses.

 Some data about the value of the money: the price of an ox was 16-32 Forints, a cow was 20 Forints, and a calf was 2 Forints.
As for the weapons, a rifle cost 5 Forints, a pair of pistols was 4.5 Forints, and a saber cost 1.6 gold coins.
The biggest problem was not the low level of pay but the late and irregular time of paying it.

Prince Bethlen’s gold Forint, minted in 1625

It has been many times said that Vienna regarded the Hungarian soldiers as unreliable and didn’t trust them very much in the period of „Hungarian destruction seculum”. And there is some truth in it. They were rightly considered unreliable against the Transylvanian forces – but not against the Turks.
In fact, during the wars of the Transylvanian princes Bocskai István and Bethlen Gábor, the warriors of the Hungarian Frontier welcomed them and eagerly joined them against the Habsburgs. There were several reasons behind this but one of them was the fact that the Transylvanian princes paid their soldiers regularly, though not giving them more…

Transylvanian Thallers

According to Tóth Csaba, the Thaller (Hungarian: “tallér”) was the most important monetary item of the Early Modern period. It speaks for itself that many historians who research the history of money call the 16th-19th centuries the “Age of the Thaller”. A Thaller was a big silver coin, its weight was 28.5 grams, and it was about 4-centimeter wide. They were minted first in Transylvania during the reign of King János Zsigmond, in 1562. The last ones were minted by Prince Apafi Mihály in 1690. Here are a few nice ones:

A Thaller of King János Zsigmond (1568)
Prince Báthori Zsigmond (before 1602)
Báthory’s Thaller (reverse side)
Bocskai’s Thaller (1605)
Bocskai’s Thaller (1605) reverse side
Bethlen’s Thaller (it was more valuable if the corners were not cut off)
Bethlen’s Thaller (1613-29) reverse side
Rákóczi György I (1620-49)
Rákóczi György I (1620-49) reverse side, 1647
Kemény János (1661-62)
Kemény János (1661-62) reverse side
Apafi Mihály (before 1690)
Apafi Mihály (before 1690) reverse side

Source: partly from Nádasdy Ferenc Bandérium

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In the pictures below, you can see coins minted and used in our area during this period… Denar: silver coin; Forint: gold coin; Thaller: huge silver coin; garash: worth several denars…Take delight in the coins used in the “Hungaries”: