There were cheetahs in medieval Hungary

Gerhát Petra

2024. July 7 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Although there was no longevity of large swift-footed carnivores in Hungary, there was a period during the Middle Ages when cheetahs lived in the country.


Ercole Pio di Savoia, also known as Pious Hercules, was the medieval episcopal governor, replacing Hippolytus of Este, who became Archbishop of Esztergom at the age of seven. Hippolytus was not captivated by the high dignity of the Church, he exchanged the Esztergom high priesthood with Tamás Bakócz for the one in Eger but instead fled Hungary, leaving the job to pious Hercules. He was the nominal ambassador of Archbishop II. also before Vladislaus II. ( King of Hungary, in hungarian II. Ulászló), to whom he gave a cheetah in the name of Hippolytus.

Medieval letters tell of the cheetah of the King of Hungary

The pious governor arrived in Hungary in the winter of 1508, via Vienna, as a delegate of the Bishop of Eger. His first trip led to Vladislaus II., bringing gifts from the Bishop of Eger, including a cheetah

There was the cheetah on a horse, which His Majesty was looking at from a window in a room on the ground floor, and he admired it very much, asking me what it was for. I told him what it was for and how fast he was, and he liked it so much that it’s impossible to tell.

Neither the King of Hungary, nor the royal court had ever seen a cheetah before.

“If Your Excellency had seen how those Hungarians were staring at the cheetah, you would have been surprised: the whole country seemed to be crowding there.”

– he wrote in his letter. He also reported that two trainers arrived at the yard with the animal.

The Hungarian cheetah has gained international fame

Although  hunting with cheetahs was special in Hungary, in Pio’s home country of northern Italy it was not at all. This type of hunting probably came to Europe from Persia. According to some scholars, the first hunting-guards arrived at the religious centre with the Byzantine delegates to the Council of Florence-Ferrara. Shortly afterwards, in the second half of the 15. Century they were widespread in the Italian overlords’ wildlife parks.

Even though the cheetah caused quite a stir in the Hungarian royal court, there was already a tradition of exclusive gifts of big cats: the city of Florence had sent a live lion as a gift to King Matthias shortly before.

And King Vladislaus II.’s hunting guards went on to have a major international career. Two years later, in 1510, he presented the exotic animal to his brother, Sigismund I (the Old), King of Poland. And this was not the only cheetah imported for hunting in Hungary. Suleiman II. also hunted with cheetahs on the former hunting grounds of Mátyás

If you are interested in other wild felines, for example leopards,
click here.

cheetah Hungarian big game hunting King Matthias lion medieval hungary

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