1 Month, 1 Object, 1 Archaeologist - July 2019



Three thumb rings from Ottoman-era Buda
Chosen by historian Balázs Sudár



The Ottoman Empire invaded the southern and central part of Medieval Hungary in the 16th–17th century. The occupation lasted for 150 years. They were primarily conquerors who lived in castles, their society consisting mostly of soldiers. Due to the nomadic traditions of Turks, archery was quite popular in the Ottoman army. Although they started to equip the infantry with rifles already in the 15th century, the cavalry was dedicated to fight with the tried and tested bow and arrow even at the end of the 17th century. Combat archery disappeared permanently from the Carpathian Basin with the exclusion of the Ottomans. 



In addition to mass use, various archery tests and competitions appeared early on, and, similarly to Japan, archery as a sport and the spiritual approach towards archery developed here, too. Besides the daily archery practice of soldiers, sporting events provided entertainment for the elite – three flying archery ranges offered their services in Pest and Buda for those interested in such challenges. A pasha of Buda, Murteza (1626–1630) was considered as a skilled archer even in the Istanbul court, while one of his predecessors, Kalaylikoz Ali (1580‒1583, 1586‒1587) was the master of qabaq shooting, a horseback archery challenge.



There is a part of archery equipment among Eurasian nomads, which is practically unknown in Western Europe: the thumb ring. Since the archers of the steppe use only one finger – namely, the thumb – to draw back the bowstring, there is a lot of pressure on that one finger which is both uncomfortable and impairs the quality of the shot. In order to eliminate these drawbacks, they wore a special ring on their thumb – the bow string laid on the ring, and it slid away on the tongue of it. Wealthier people had ornate thumb rings made of valuable materials such as ivory or silver, sometimes even decorated with inlaid gemstones. Common people usually used rings made of bone, horn or cast bronze. Since the thumb ring also had a representative function as a symbol of battle-readiness, it can often be seen on portraits of Ottoman sultans.


The exhibited pieces were found in the areas of the pasha of Buda’s palace, the former royal palace (which functioned as the inner fortification during the Ottoman era) and the Rác spa. Two of them are richly decorated, however, they were definitely made for practical use; on the one from the Rác spa, even the maker’s mark is slightly visible. Considering their size, this latter one is huge compared to the other two – it was probably used by a grown man with a larger hand, while the latter ones fit the finger of a child or a teenager.


Balázs Sudár





Fig. 1 Qabaq-shooting on a 15th century Egyptian miniature  


Fig. 2 Detail of Mehmed II's (1451‒1481) portrait. On the right hand of the sultan, an upturned thumb ring can be seen


Fig. 3 Three thumb rings from Ottoman-era Buda

  • Ornate ring cast from bronze, found near the Rác spa
  • A simple ring made of deer antler, found in the collapsed cellar in the machicolation court of the Buda Castle
  • Ornate ring made of bone, found in the palace of the pashas in Buda




Mini interview


How did you become a historian? Was it a childhood dream or a career choice that came later in life?

When my mother was working as a paper conservator, she made numerous seal replicas that I was actually very fond of. Furthermore, ever since I was a little child, we hiked a lot – the castle ruins we often found at the end of these walks have always been the greatest reward since I could fill them with stories of my imagination. Since the past have always been a part of my life in some way, it was obvious from early on that my career lies in historical studies.


Which period is your specialty and why?

My main field of expertise is the period of the Ottoman occupation of Hungary, particularly the Turkish part. On the one hand, I believe I chose this era because without understanding the conquerors, our history cannot be understood either; on the other hand, I have always been attracted to the East. Rather obviously, my other main interest is the Hungarian Conquest.


What is best part of your job?  

I love new discoveries, and that I understand things that others might not even have thought about before. Research is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle – you have to find the pieces that fit together accurately. You need to create order. It is great when things finally find the place where they belong. 


What is the hardest part of your job?

The lack of time. I have so many ideas, and papers that I have only just started and never going to finish. It is actually terribly annoying.


What was the most surprising thing that you have ever discovered during your researches?

There were many surprises. They usually came from sources right before my eyes; I just haven’t noticed the connections for a long time. One example of these was when I figured out who Yakovali Hassan, who commissioned the building of the most well preserved mosque in Hungary today, was.


Why did you choose this particular object?      

Theory and practice always go hand in hand for me, and I love to fiddle with small everyday objects. I feel that that helps me understand and get to know a certain period much better – that is how music and archery became a part of my life. When I started using the thumb release technique 8 or 10 years ago, it instantly felt natural to me. I didn’t know for a long time that archery rings were found before at excavations in Hungary, and I am happy to say that their number is actually quite high. 



About the series


The Castle Museum of the Budapest History Museum has started a series entitled 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist in October 2017. Since August 2018, parts of the series are also available in English.  


All of the archaeological excavations in Budapest are carried out by the employees of the Budapest History Museum – the archaeologists of the Castle Museum are responsible for the ones connected to the Middle Ages. The objects unearthed during these digs become part of the Castle Museum’s collections.   


The aim of the series is to showcase the beauty and the importance of archaeology through personal stories by the employees of the Museum. There is always an interesting or exciting story connected to the object they one of them chooses in a respective month which not only tells you more about history but also about the relationship of the archaeologist to the item in question.


The series 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist is about showing the people behind the exhibitions – the ones who investigate, search, dig and look for connections between the past and the present; the ones whose choice hopefully provides something exciting to the visitors, joining together personal stories with historical knowledge strictly based on facts.   


The object chosen for a certain month is exhibited in the Királypince (King’s Cellar) which was originally a part of the medieval gardens.  


Parts of the series: