Matthias Bel

Matthias Bel (de)
Bél Mátyás (hu)
Matej Bel (sk)
Matthias Belius (la)

Matthias Bel
Born (1684-03-22)March 22, 1684
Ocsova, Kingdom of Hungary
(now Očová, Slovakia)
Died August 29, 1749(1749-08-29) (aged 65)
Pressburg, Kingdom of Hungary
(now Bratislava, Slovakia)
Citizenship Hungarian
Occupation lutheran priest, writer, historian, geographer, alchemist
Religion Lutheran
Spouse(s) Susanna Hermann

Matthias Bel or Matthias Bél (German: Matthias Bel; Hungarian: Bél Mátyás; Slovak: Matej Bel; Latin: Matthias Belius; March 22, 1684 – August 29, 1749) was a Lutheran pastor and polymath from the Kingdom of Hungary. He is also known as the Great Ornament of Hungary (Magnum decus Hungariae). He described himself as "lingua Sla-vus, natione Hungarus, eruditione Germanus" ("by language a Slav, by nation a Hungarian, by erudition a German").[1][2]

Origin, life

Matthias Bel was born in Ocsova, Kingdom of Hungary (now Očová, Slovakia)[3] to Matej Bel Funtík[4] or Bel-Funtík,[5] a Slovak wealthy peasant[6] and butcher,[4][7] and Veszprém-born Erzsébet Cseszneky, who hails from the Hungarian noble family, Cseszneky.

According to some Slovak sources, he considered himself an ethnic Slovak.[8][9][10][11] though Bel described himself as "by language a Slav, by nation a Hungarian, by erudition a German". His fathers double family-name is part Slovak (Funtík) and part Hungarian (Bél). In 1710, he got married to an ethnic German woman from Hungary, Susanna Hermann, and the couple had eight children together.

His fathers double family-name is part Slovak (Funtík) and part Hungarian (Bél). In 1710, he got married to an ethnic German woman from Hungary, Susanna Hermann, and the couple had eight children together.

Bel attended schools in Lučenec (Losonc), Kalinovo (Kálnó), and Dolná Strehová (Alsósztregova), and then grammar schools in Banská Bystrica (Besztercebánya), Pressburg (today Bratislava), and briefly in Veszprém and in the Calvinist college of Pápa. Between 1704–1706, he studied theology, philosophy, and medicine at the University of Halle and he was appointed rector at the school of Klosterbergen near Magdeburg after that. Later, returning to the Kingdom of Hungary, became an assistant rector and became afterwards the rector at the Lutheran grammar school in Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica), where he was also simultaneously a pastor. As a Rákóczi-sympathisant, he was almost executed by General Sigbert Heister. Between 1714 and 1719, he was the rector of the Lutheran grammar school and then also a pastor of the German Lutheran church in Pressburg.

Bel died on August 29, 1749. He was buried in Pressburg, the cemetery has now disappeared.

Selected works

Bel spoke Slovak, Hungarian, and German, and his works had been published mostly in Latin, which were steeped in the Hungarian national consciousness as had been manifested for instance in his writing, the Notitia Hungariae novae historico geographica, which is an extolment of the Hungarian history, influenced by his deep affection for the Hungarian language.[12]

He never edited a language book in Slovak,[13] as the first attempt to codify the written form of the Slovak language was performed only in 1787, well after his death. Domestically, Slovak Protestants used at that time the so-called biblical Czech language instead, introduced by a translation of the Bible known as Bible of Kralice.[14]

One of his notable writings is the Institutiones linguae Germanicae (Rules of the German grammar) written in Latin for Hungarians, of which special edition was published in Halle in 1730 for Hungarian students studying in Germany.[13] He also wrote a popular book, "Der ungarische Sprachmeister" (Hungarian language master), on Hungarian grammar for Germans.[13] He mistakenly suspected that the Hungarian language was relative of the Hebrew one.[13] In the one work of him whose name is "Literatura Hunno-Scythica" published in 1718, Bél endeavoured to prove that there existed, at one time, a Hun-Scythian alphabet, of which he thought that that must have been known to the Székelys.[15]


Bel was active in the fields of pedagogy, philosophy, philology, history, and theoretical theology; he was the founder of Hungarian geographic science and a pioneer of descriptive ethnography and economy. A leading figure in pietism, Bel wrote sacred works in Lutheran liturgical language.

As a teacher Bel wrote books, introduced natural science lessons, and emphasized the importance of using visual aid and experimental education. His methods spread and had a modernizing effect on the education system of the entirety of Hungary.

As a philologist, Bel was the first to study the Hungarian runes and also contributed to the evolution of the Hungarian literary language. He revised and republished Gáspár Károli's Bible-translation. He wrote Hungarian, Latin and German grammars – in the latter he also reviewed the German communities and dialects in Hungary. His work as a translator and editor in the field of religious work is also copious.

A pioneer of collaborative research in the history of the Kingdom of Hungary, Bel undertook a comprehensive historical and geographic examination of the territory in his well-known Notitia Hungariae Novae Historico Geographiaca. His work about the counties of Hungary was aided by many – while others accused him of espionage. The chancery entrusted Sámuel Mikoviny to supplement his work with detailed maps. The Notitia's complete edition could not be achieved during Bél's lifetime. Only eleven county descriptions were issued in print: Szepes County's description was published in Bél's Notitia project introduction, the Prodromus, the other ten county descriptions – namely Pozsony County, Turóc County, Zólyom County, Liptó County, Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun County, Nógrád County, Bars County, Nyitra County, Hont County, Moson County – were published in five volumes of the Notitia. The remaining 37 county descriptions along with the Jász-Kun districts' description were left in manuscripts due to the revising county authorities' negligence or hostility, and the problems with the printery. These manuscripts have been scattered to several archives or collections.

Recently Hungarian historians and philologists began to publish a critical edition of the county descriptions remained in manuscripts, based on the results of a comprehensive research made by the Hungarian historian Gergely Tóth. Calculating the length of the descriptions, they find it achievable to publish all the descriptions left in manuscript in 10 volumes. The first volume, which contains the descriptions of Árva and Trencsén counties, has already been published.

In 1735 Bel drew up a proposal for the creation of a scientific academy, to be based in Pressburg.[16]

Honours and awards

Bel's works met with recognition and respect beyond the Kingdom: he was a member of a number of learned societies abroad (e.g., Prussian Royal Academy (Berlin), Royal Society of London,[17] Societas eruditorum incognitorum in terris Austriacis (Olomouc), Jena, Saint Petersburg). He was elevated to noble rank by Charles VI of Austria, and received a golden medallion with his (Bel's) own portrait from Pope Clement XII.

Matej Bel University (Univerzita Mateja Bela) in Banská Bystrica is named after him.



  1. Rainer, Rudolf; Ulreich, Eduard (1988). Karpatendeutsches biographisches Lexikon, Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Karpatendeutschen aus der Slowakei (1 ed.). Stuttgart. p. 368. ISBN 3-927096-00-8.
  2. Weston Evans, Robert John (2006). Austria, Hungary, and the Habsburgs:Essays on Central Europe. Oxford University Press. pp. 139–140. ISBN 0-19-928144-0.
  3. Stiftungen, Franckesche (2003-01-01). Die Hungarica-Sammlung der Franckeschen Stiftungen zu Halle (in German). Verlag der Franckeschen Stiftungen Halle im Max Niemeyer Verlag. ISBN 9783484841079.
  4. 1 2 "Pamätná izba Mateja Bela" (in Slovak).
  5. Lorad, E. (1957-01-01). Umelecko-historické pamätné kostoly na Slovensku (in Czech). Spolok sv. Vojtecha.
  6. Šišulák, Stanislav. "Matej Bel – slovenský polyhistor" (in Slovak). Vydavateľstvo Perfekt.
  7. Kriegleder, Wynfrid; Seidler, Andrea; Tancer, Jozef (2002-01-01). Deutsche Sprache und Kultur im Raum Pressburg (in German). Edition Lumière. ISBN 9783934686076.
  8. Kníchal, O., Kniha o M. Belovi v maďarčine – Posledný veľký polyhistor. Ľudové noviny, available at:
  9. Fraňo, J. : Múdry Matej alebo rozprávanie o Matejovi Belovi a jeho dobe. Bratislava, Mladé letá. 1984
  10. Jozef Fraňo: A tudós Bél
  11. Doležal, Pavel: Grammatica Slavico-Bohemica, 1746
  12. Petro, Peter (1995). A History of Slovak Literature. Montréal: McGill-Queen's Press.
  13. 1 2 3 4 A Magyar Irodalom Története II. (History of Hungarian literature) (in Hungarian). Hungarian Academy of Sciences. ISBN 963-05-1641-1.
  14. "Bibličtina (Biblical Czech language)" (in Slovak). . Retrieved October 26, 2011. External link in |publisher= (help)
  15. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1889). Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. Cambridge University Press for the Royal Asiatic Society. p. 607. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  17. "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
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