BELA III. (d. 1196), king of Hungary, was the second son of King Géza II. Educated at the Byzantine court, where he had been compelled to seek refuge, he was fortunate enough to win the friendship of the brilliant emperor Manuel who, before the birth of his own son Alexius, intended to make Bela his successor and betrothed him to his daughter. Subsequently, however, he married the handsome and promising youth to Agnes of Châtilion, duchess of Antioch, and in 1173 placed him, by force of arms, on the Hungarian throne, first expelling Bela's younger brother Géza, who was supported by the Catholic party. Initiated from childhood in all the arts of diplomacy at what was then the focus of civilization, and as much a warrior by nature as his imperial kinsman Manuel, Bela showed himself from the first fully equal to all the difficulties of his peculiar position. He began by adopting Catholicism and boldly seeking the assistance of Rome. He then made what had hitherto been an elective a hereditary throne by crowning his infant son Emerich his successor. In the beginning of his reign he adopted a prudent policy of amity with his two most powerful neighbours, the emperors of the East and West, but the death of Manuel in 1180 gave Hungary once more a free hand in the affairs of the Balkan Peninsula, her natural Sphere of influence. The attempt to recover Dalmatia, which involved Bela in two bloody wars with Venice (1181-88 and 1190-91), was only partially successful. But he assisted the Rascians or Serbs (see Hungary: History) to throw off the Greek yoke and establish a native dynasty, and attempted to made Galicia an appanage of his younger son Andrew. It was in Bela's reign that the emperor Frederick I., in the spring of 1189, traversed Hungary with 100,000 crusaders, on which occasion the country was so well policed that no harm was done to it and the inhabitants profited largely from their commerce with the German host. In his last years Bela assisted the Greek emperor Isaac II. Angelus against the Bulgarians. His first wife bore Bela two sons, Emerich and Andrew. On her death he married Margaret of France, sister of King Philip Augustus. Bela was in every sense of the word a great statesman, and his court was accounted one of the most brilliant in Europe.
For an account of his internal reforms see Hungary. Though the poet Ede Szigligeti has immortalized his memory in the play Bela III., we have no historical monograph of him, but in Ignacz Acsády, History of the Hungarian Realm (Hung.), i. 2 (Budapest, 1903), there is an excellent account of his reign.
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)