Falconry in Central and Eastern Europe

Central and Eastern Europe form a distinct region of influence – for much of recorded history forming or being part of a single empire, whether Czech-Moravian, Austro-Hungarian, Germanic or even Soviet.

Many sovereigns immortalised their favourite falcons by showing them on coins, the Silver Dinar of Béla the IV, King of the House of Árpád (present day Hungary). On one side of the coin you can see a hawk catching a rabbit.

There is also a falconer on horseback on a coin from 12th century Czech-Moravia and on the current Hungarian 50 Florin coin there is falcon. A wide spread legend in Eastern Europe is the “Turul” cycle, which cannot even be understood without a significant knowledge of falconry. The huge amount of medieval paintings that still exists in the region indicates the great impact falconry had on the development of fine art.

We know, that birds of prey used for falconry were very important goods of exchange of medieval trade and Eastern European sovereigns regularly imported gyrfalcons from Scandinavia, Iceland or Northern Siberia and other falcons from Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Trading with falcons was a significant part of medieval commerce and involved entire families.

Whole villages specialized in catching, training and trading of falcons and falconry-related handicraft, hand manufacturing of hoods, gloves, satchels, leg straps was practiced to a high artistic level. Hungary has been famous from medieval times to the present day for highly artistically decorated equipment and falconers still make these items in an almost unchanged form.

From 16th century Transylvania, during the Turkish occupation, sakers were regularly delivered to the Turkish Sultan. This tax, paid annually in return for peace, was called “Falco nagium”. Sales contracts have even been found where the parties mentioned exact cliffs where the falcons nested, stipulating to the buyer he would have to give the seller young birds from the nest each year for a set time.

The present-day Czech Falconry Club of the Czech-Moravian Hunting Union is one of the largest and most influential of the central European clubs and has researched the history of falconry in the region.

The earliest artefact is a 5th century clip in the shape of a falcon, now in the National Museum in Prague. The Fulda Annals report Prince Svatopluk rejoicing in his hunting falcons around 870 AD and later (13th century) the city of Sokolov began near the site of the Falcon’s Manor of Loket Castle. NB the Czech word “sokol” = falcon. Another falconry at Poděbrady continued until the 17th century with patronage of the Emperor Ferdinand 1st and his son Ferdinand the Vice-Regent of Prague.

Falconry held on with one or two dedicated individuals until 1967 when 71 falconers and guests founded the present club.

In Poland the earliest written records from XI century mention falconry as being widely practiced all over the country. There are physical artefacts of falconry from that time like a XIII century horn knife handgrip in the shape of lady falconer feeding falcon on her fist. Permission to hunt was a privilege given to aristocrats, clergy and nobles. Falconry, equipment and trained falcons, played also a role in politics. In XIV century the royal fief gifts sent every year by the Order of Teutonic Knights of Mary to Polish kings included 18 fine trained falcons. In 1584 Mateusz Cyganski published in Polish a book on bird hunting, which describes ways to hunt different species of birds, as well as methods of training birds of prey for falconry. The revival of Polish falconry started in 1970’s, in 1972 Gniazdo Sokolnikow of Polish Hunting Association was created and falconry legalised.