Date: september-october 2009.
The historical background to the "Magic Caftan" of Kecskemét >>>
A mysterious and legendlike episode in the history of Kecskemét in the Turkish
era (the 16th and 17th centuries) was the story of a caftan given by the Turkish
Sultan, or as it is better known from Kálmán Mikszáth's novel, the "magic
The story, however, was not the product of Mikszáth's imagination as it has
survived in several 17th-century sources, of which Mikszáth also made a mention.
Of the extant sources there is only one in a manuscript form.
That document was found among the records of socage service in Kecskemét in
1668-69, has been preserved and is now kept in the Archives of the Council of
The importance of caftans and presenting caftans in the Turkish culture >>>
A caftan is long cloak open at the front and is one of the most characteristic
pieces of clothing among traditional Turkish garments. Originally it was meant
to be worn on special occasions, but it was also used as a dressing gown. Its
material and embroidery varied depending on who wore it and for what occasion.
The act of giving or presenting caftans first became widespread among the
Turkish. The Sultan, the reigning princes, the Pashas and the leaders presented
such embroidered garments to each other as a sign of their respect. During their
European conquest, the Sultan and other Turkish nobles began to present caftans
to Christians as well. In the course of time, the giving and wearing of the
garment acquired political significance.
Historical circumstances >>>
One of the hardest and most eventful periods during the
one-and-a-half-century-long Turkish rule in Hungary was the so called Fifteen
Years' War between 1593 and 1606. (Earlier 1591 was considered the starting date
of the war that is why the name.) At that time, one military campaign followed
the other, and the hinterland, Habsburg-Hungary and especially the territories
under Turkish rule suffered a lot from the continuous warring. It was the
inhabitants of these areas who had to support the army. It is no wonder that
from time to time the Turkish authorities made new demands from the remaining
people of the Great Hungarian Plain, sometimes for food and sometimes for
shipping or money. These difficulties keenly affected Kecskemét as well although
earlier the town had been in a much better position compared to the other areas
under enemy rule as it had been the demesne land of the Sultan, i.e. it did not
have a Turkish landlord so it paid tax only to the Sultan's Treasury.
Having considered the historical circumstances, we can conclude that the story
about the delegates of Kecskemét seems to be credible. On the other hand, we do
not have any knowledge of an event in the history of Kecskemét which could
undoubtedly be in connection with the delegation of 1596 so it is also unlikely
that the citizens of Kecskemét did in fact meet Mehmed III. The gift of the
caftan could not have been more than a common gesture of respect. The apparent
changes in the life of Kecskemét which took place around the date in question
were not as significant as to be in connection with any special events.