Stephen (997-1038) became chieftain when Geza died, and he consolidated his rule by ousting rival clan chiefs and confiscating their lands. Stephen then asked Pope Sylvester II to recognize him as king of Hungary. The pope agreed, and legend says Stephen was crowned on Christmas Day in the year 1000. The crowning legitimized Hungary as a Western kingdom independent of the Holy Roman and Byzantine empires. It also gave Stephen virtually absolute power, which he used to strengthen the Roman Catholic Church and Hungary. Stephen ordered the people to pay tithes and required every tenth village to construct a church and support a priest. Stephen donated land to support bishoprics and monasteries, required all persons except the clergy to marry, and barred marriages between Christians and pagans. Foreign monks worked as teachers and introduced Western agricultural methods. A Latin alphabet was devised for the Magyar (Hungarian) language.
Stephen administered his kingdom through a system of counties, each governed by an ispan, or magistrate, appointed by the king. In Stephen's time, Magyar society had two classes: the freemen nobles and the unfree. The nobles were descended in the male line from the Magyars who had either migrated into the Carpathian Basin or had received their title of nobility from the king. Only nobles could hold office or present grievances to the king. They paid tithes and owed the crown military service but were exempt from taxes. The unfree--who had no political voice--were slaves, freed slaves, immigrants, or nobles stripped of their privileges. Most were serfs who paid taxes to the king and a part of each harvest to their lord for use of his land. The king had direct control of the unfree, thus checking the nobles' power.
Clan lands, crown lands, and former crown lands made up the realm. Clan lands belonged to nobles, who could will the lands to family members or the church; if a noble died without an heir, his land reverted to his clan. Crown lands consisted of Stephen's patrimony, lands seized from disloyal nobles, conquered lands, and unoccupied parts of the kingdom. Former crown lands were properties granted by the king to the church or to individuals.
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