The Komondor

THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE KOMONDOR

To understand the essence of any dog breed, we need to know about the people who developed it and the purpose for which it was intended.  To understand the Komondor, we must begin our story with the great migrations that took place almost one thousand years ago.  In 895, the Magyar tribes under the leadership of King Árpád arrived in the Carpathian Basin, the area that historically became the Kingdom of Hungary. Historical Hungary was approximately three times larger than present-day Hungary.  Much of Hungary's territory was given in 1920 to it's neighbors by the Treaty of Trianon, which was imposed on the former Austro-Hungarian Empire by the victorious allied powers after the First World War. 

It is known that the Magyars came from somewhere in the East, but the original homeland of the Magyars is not known.  There have been some attempts to make a connection between the Magyars and the Sumerians based upon, inter alia, certain linguistic similarities.  This theory is not accepted by mainstream linguists, historians and archeologists.  A few linguistic similarities only provide, at best, weak (and possibly misleading) evidence for a connection between two groups.  For example, we could use the large number of English words in modern French to infer that France was originally settled by English-speaking Americans, but this conclusion is obviously wrong.  The Hungarian language is in the Finno-Ugrian family of languages (Finnish, Turkish, and Mongolian are also Finno-Ugrian languages), which are unrelated to the Indo-European languages, the family to which most European languages, including English, belong.

The story of the Komondor would be rather simple if the Komondor were the dog of the Magyars, but recent archaeologic evidence suggests that the Komondor was, in fact, the dog of the Cumans (or Komans, from light yellow or pallid.), who were a Turkic speaking people originally living near the eastern bend of the Yellow River in what is now China .  The Hungarian name for the Cumans is Kuns, taken from the name of the Cuman ethnic group.  The language of the Cumans is known to have been Kipchak-Turkish, which is not to be confused with the Ottoman Turkish spoken in Turkey.

At the end of the tenth century, the Mongol expansion forced the Cumans to start migrating westward out of their ancestral homeland.  By the eleventh century, the Cumans had migrated westward to the Ural mountains and lower Danube and had clashed with the Russian Principalities.  By the 12th century, the Cuman tribes controlled a large area, and perhaps their territory would have continued to grow but for the Mongol expansion of the early thirteenth century, which brought the Mongols into direct conflict with the Cumans.  Figure 4 shows that by the beginning of the 13th century, the Cumans, fleeing from the Mongols, had reached the borders of Hungary.  By 1239, the leader of the Cumans, Köten Khan, asked King Béla IV of Hungary for  asylum, and the Cumans were allowed to settle in the center of Hungary.

In 1241 the Mongols were ready to invade Hungary, and the Cumans in Hungary were suspected by the public of being spies for the Mongols.  Despite the fact that Köten Khan and his family were taken under the direct protection of King Béla, they were massacred by German and Hungarian soldiers.  The Cumans who, as horsemen, were armed against the Mongol invasion, decided to leave Hungary and fled South, ravaging the countryside as they went in revenge for the murder of their leaders.  The Mongols captured Eastern Hungary in 1241 and by 1242 had entered Western Hungary.  King Béla was forced to flee.  Only the death of the Great Khan, Ögedei, caused the Mongols to withdraw so that their leaders could be present at the election of the new chief Khan.  Following the Mongol withdrawal, King Béla made every effort to strengthen his countries defenses.  In 1246, he made an appeal to the Cumans, who had been encamped on the lower Danube plain in Bulgaria, to return to Hungary.  Having heard the news that the Mongols were resuming their campaign against the West, King Béla arranged the marriage of his eldest son, Stephan V, to the Cuman Khan's daughter, who had been baptized Elisabeth.  After the marriage, the Cumans swore allegiance to the Hungarian Crown.  The Cumans returned to Hungary and were allowed to settle in the center of the country on crown lands and lands that had been abandoned because of the Mongol invasion.  The word ``Kun" is still found in many Hungarian place names in central Hungary.  Excavations of Cuman grave sites in Hungary have uncovered tombs containing the remains of dogs (and horses).  The dog's remains have been identified as komondor skeletons according to Horváth [Horváth 89].  Indeed, according to Horvath, the Cumanian origin of the Komondor is clear from the name, Koman-dor, i.e., dog of the Cumans. 

The Cumans migrated through Southern Russia, and in that region today we find the South Russian Sheepdog (or Owtscharka, which is Russian for sheepdog), a dog that is probably a relative of the Komondor.  To the South and West of Hungary, in the mountains, we find another dog that is probably a relative of the Komondor, the Bergamasco.  The Bergamasco also has a corded coat but is not white.  The Bergamasco today is found in the Southern Italian Alps.  We can speculate that there must have been some contact between this region and the Cumans, but proof will await further archeology. 

The Cumanian origin of the Komondor helps to explain one rather interesting puzzle: how could a country as small as Hungary have two different breeds of dogs, the Komondor and the Kuvasz, of similar size and function, and how did the the two breeds manage to stay separate over the centuries?  The answer is that the Komondor was the dog of the Cumans and the Kuvasz was the dog of the Magyars.  For much of Hungary's early history, the two peoples lived in separate areas in Hungary, and, as a result, didn't mix very much.  Indeed, Hungarian King Matthias was supposed to have kept several kuvaszes with him at all times as guards.  Since the peoples didn't mix, neither did their dogs.  Eventually there was some divergence of function, as the Komondor remained primarily in the rural areas as a livestock guard dog, while the kuvasz became more of a town guard dog.

Even though there isn't any archeological evidence yet, and the earliest historical references to the Puli are fairly recent, we can speculate that the Puli must have been the Cumans's herding dog because of the similarity of the Puli's coat to a komondor's coat. The other Hungarian herding dogs were probably developed from the Puli.  The Pumi is apparently a puli-terrier cross and the mudi is apparently a puli-spitz cross.

Reference: Horváth, András Pálóczi, Pechenegs, Cumans, Iasians, Steppe peoples in medieval Hungary, Corvina Kiado, 1989.

The AKC Standard is the standard of perfection that is used to measure a Komondor in the show ring in the United States.

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©1998 Dr. Arthur R. Sorkin

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