*** Hungary Hungarian history

Hungarian History

Hungarian history
Figure 1.--Stalin after World War II used the Red Army and the dreaded NKVD to impose ruthless Stalinist Communist regimes on the people of Eastern Europe. Student, intelectuals, workers, and youthful soldiers rose up against the Stalinist Hungarian Communists (October 1956). Soviet Primier Nikita Khrushchev had to order Red Army tanks to suppress te Hngarian freedom fighters. This unidentified Hungarian boy had fled with his familt to the West durin the brief Hungarian Revolt against Stalinist rule and Soviet occupation (October 1956). He awaits resettlement in a Vienna refugee camp. The Hungarian revolt was one of several Eastern Ruropean uprising against Communism and The Soviet Empire. It woluld funally a similar uprising in Poland that would begin the unraveling of not only the Soviet Empire, but the Soiet Union itself.

The Hungarian nation is defined by the Carpatheian Basin. The history of Hungary more than any other European country is associated ethnically with central Asian nomadic tribes and these nomadic tribes have been attracted by the rich grasslands of the Carpatheian Basin. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Carpatheian Basin wasa center for both the Huns and Avars. The ancient history of Hungary has had almost no impact on modern Hungary because of the arrival of the Maygayars who conquered the Carpethian Basin (700 AD). The language with all its cultural connotations is unrelated to any other important European language, only Finland and Estonia. The Magyars were another fierce raiding people, but were brought in to the European mainstream by King Stwphen. Sandwiched between the Slavonic peoples to the east and the Germanic peoples to the west, this accomodation with Christian Europe was a major factor in Hungary's survival as a destinct nation. Hungary is almost unique in Europe. It is a small counbtry in central Europe that has survived for nearly a 1,000 years-despite repeated defeat in war and failed revolutions. The survival of Hungary over that period is a matter of considerable histotrical interst. One historian suggests that it was Hungary's capacity to assimilate individuals from neighboring countries. Prominent Hungarians are of Croat, German, lovak, Serb, and Romanian origins. In addition, Hungarians have immigrated t other countries, especially in the 20th cenury and played a major role in atomic physics, compuers, and Hollywood among other areas. [Lendval] The country was devestated by the Mongols. Much of the nobility was wiped out by the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Mohács (1526). Even so, the Hungarians played a major in prevebnting Ottoman pemetration deeper into Europe. The Hungarian crown passed to the Hapsburgs. Hungary was thus for enturies associated with the Haosburgs and Austria. The country emerged from Workd War as an independent nation for the first time in 400 years, but a mich reduced side. The inte-war era saw the rise of Fascism and association with Germany in World War II. Defeat in the War led to the imposition of a Stalinist Communist dictatorship. The Hungarian Revolution (1956) opened the eyes of many Western Europeans as to the true nature of Soviet Communism.


Much of western Hungary was within the borders of the Roman Empire. It was largely the province of Pannonia and the remains of Roman roads connecting it with Rome exist as well as Roman structures. The Pannonians along with the Dalmatians and other Illyrian tribes, participated in what the Romsns called the Great Illyrian Revolt (6 AD). They were defeated by Tiberius and Germanicus, after a brutal campaign lasting 3 years. Pannonia becme a border province east of Italy proper but north of Dalmatia. It was the area south of the Danube that Rome controlled. From an early point, threatening Barbrian tribes, appeared north of the Danube. Under Roman rule the boundaries changed with the province being drepeatedly duvided. The Germanic tribes including the Goths raided into Pannonia and the Romans, especially under Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the last emoor of the Pax Romana). He was a stoic schlr, forced by curcumstqnces to become an impressive military leader. He attempted to pacify Germania north of the Danube. He died while campigning there. His son and heir Commodus had less interst in milkitary cmpigning and gave up on his this effort. Constantine the Great enlarged the borders of Pannonia to the east, annexing the plains of what is now eastern Hungary, northern Serbia and western Romania (324). Rome began to lose control to the Huns and Avars (5th century). Byzntiuum brriefly regauned cintrol under Justinian (6th century). The Carpathenian Basin became a center for both the Huns and Avars. The conquest by the Magayars meant that Hungary's early history, especilly he Romns had almost no impact on modern Hungary. This is in shgrp contrast to the rest of europe west ofthe rhine and south of the Danube.


The origins of the Magayars are not known. The only available clues are linguistic. There origins seem to have been east of the Urals. Linguistic scholars detect contacts with both Iranian and Turkic speaking tribes. Some scholrs believe thst they may have originated in the Altai Mountains (third millennium BC). They split off from the ancestors of the Finns and Estonians with hom they share linguistic similarities. Béla IV dispatched Dominican friars east (1235). They described a large population east of the Volga that spoke a language very similar to Hungarian. That was the last glimse of those people. A second mission (1239) found that they had been anililated by the Mongols. The Hungarians by the time they become a force in European history consisted of seven tribes consisted of about eighty clans. They were a nomadic and pastoral people. They numbered about 100-200,000 people over time. The Hungarian tribes pressured by warlike Asiatic tribes migrated west from the Urals (5th century AD). They first appear in history as nomadic raiders living on the grrass lands north of the Black Sea (southern Ukraine). They raided into the Frankish Empire across Poland. They had developed strong contacts with the Byzantines and were paid to attack the Bulgars. The Bulgars in turn incouraged the Petshenegs (an even more war-like tribe to attack the Magayars. Árpád was one of their greatest leaders. He was the son of Álmos--a descendent Gengis Kahn, (and great-grandfather of Géza). The Magayars elected him supreme chief. He crossed the Carpathians from the east through the Verecke Pass and led his people into the Carpathian Basin (896). The Magayars were soon well-established there (900). This placed the Magayrs between two much lrger groups, the Slavonic peoles to the east and the Germanic peoples to the West. The arrival of the Magyars in the Carpatheian Basin meant a complete break with the former history of the region. They drove out some of the existng population and merged with the remainder.

Duke Géza ( -997)

Duke Géza is not as well known as his son Stephen, but it was Géza who first unified Hungary and brouht it into the orbit of the Christian West. Géza was the first Hungarian ruler to impose a semblence of central control over the Magayar tribes who until then had been an essentiially voluntary confederation of clans. They did cooperate in war against outsiders, but disinclined to cooperate in much else. It was Duke Géza who created a unified Hungarian nation. He also fundamentally changed the characyer of the Hungarian nation. The Hungarians were not yet a fully settled civilized people. They combined agriculture and animal husbandry which meant that they were still to a degree nomadic. They also persued Viking-style plunder mounted raiding into the fully settled agricultral lands of the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires. Hungarian raids had gone as far west as France and the Pyrenees. The raiding resulted in disastrous defeat at the hands of Emperor Otto at Augsburg (955). Raids into Byzantine territory continued for a few more years (970). Géza also moved to regularize relations with the Christian West. He persued peaceful relations with Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great. The Emperor approved the wedding of his nice Princess Gisella of Bavaria to Duke Géza's son Stephen. Duke Géza also finally ended hostilities with the Byzantine Empire. He played a major role in Christinizing Hungary. He invited missionary priests from Germany. Duke Géza himself never accepted Christianity. It is said that he claimed to be powerful enough to worship as many gods as he liked. He saw, however, the diplomatic benefits of Christianity. He had his son Stephen baptized.

King Stephen (997-1038)

One of the most important Hungarian monarchs was King Stephen (997-1038). He was Vajk, the son of Duke Géza. His father had him baptized in his teens. He was in his early 20sswgen he succeeded his father (997). The Magyars did not have a tradition of hereditary monarchy. More important was seniority within the ruling family. He was thus challenged by other tribal leaders, including relatives. Stehen ruthlessy exereted his claim to leadership. Once in control he asked the Pope to raise him to royal rank. Pope Sylvester II granted his rquest. By dealing with the papact, Stephen exerted Hungary's independence from both the Holy Roman Empire and he Byzabtine Empires. Stephen was crowned the first King of Hungary (1000). Thus Hungary became part of Christian Europe. He then proceeded to converting his people to Western (Latin) Christianity. He founding and financially endowing two Archbishoprics (Metropolitan Sees) and eight Bishoprics. He also founded several Benedictine monasteries. They played a role in Christinizing the Hungarians as well as introducing viniculture. Stephen promoted the construction of Parish churches. To encourage church attendance Stephen decreed that markets established in towns with churches on Sunday. To this day Sunday is market day (piacnap/vas�rnap) in Hungary. King Stephen within two decades converted pagan Hungary into a distinctively Christian coutry and pagan beliefs and customs rapidly disappeared. The Pope granted King Stephen the title Apostolic King and the right to use the Apostolic double cross. All subsequent Kings of Hungary styled themselves Apostolic until the fall of the monarchy after World War I (1918). The Hugarian nation continues to use the double cross is in Hungary's arms even to this day.

Hungarian Language

Church writing begins to appear in Hungarian (11th century). The Mongols invaded and devestated Hungary (1241).


The Mongols after the Hungarian campaign do not contnue west. Hungary did not recover for half a century.

King Matthias

King Matthias moves Hungary into the European mainstrem (1458-1490).

Ottoman Turks

The Turks defeated the Hungarian army at Mohács (1526). The Ottomans occupied Buda (1541). Hungary was divided in three parts.

The Hapsburgs

The Habsburg who inherited the Hungarian crown controlled western Hungary. Central Hungary was controlled by the Ottomans. The south-east (Transylvanian) became a principality losely controlled by the Ottoman. Christian forces retook Buda (1686). Failure to control Hungary was a major factor in the Ottomans failing to take Vienna.

Rákóczi Revolt

Ferenc Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, led a revolt against the Hapsburgs (1703-11). Rákóczi's forces won several battles against the Imperial Army, but the French did not intervene as promised and the revolt failed.

Hungarian Nationalism

Like the rest of Europe, Hungary was influenced by the French Revolutin (1789). A national reform movement began which promoted Hungarian language and culture. The National Anthem appeared and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was established. A key figure in the reform movement was Count István Széchenyi de Sárvár-Felsővidék . Political denmands followed.

1848 Revolution

A revolution broke out in Pest (1848). The revolt spread throughout the country and a Hungrian Army was fornmed which deive the Imerial Army out of Hungary. The Hungarians elected Lajos Kossuth Governor. The national revolution was suppressed with the intervention of the Tsarist Russian Army (1849).

The Ausgleich (1867)

Austria's defeat in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) forced the Habsburgs to revise the relationship with the Hungarian nobels. The result was the Ausgleich, a new double-centred monarchy seated in Vienna and Budapest--the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867). This provided Germans and Hungarians favorable treatment within the Empire. Hungary expanded its industrial development. Budapest emerges as a European metropolis. Many of the landmarks of the city date from this period: the Opera House, the National Gallery and Parliament as well as the subway.

World War I (1914-18)

Hungary at the inception of World War was part of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. The creation of the constitutional arrangements of the dual monarchy had reduced, but not eliminated desires for an independent Hungary. We do not yet have details specifically on Hungary during the War, although some information is included in the Austro-Hungarian section. The Austro-Hungaian Empire had been held together by the Empire's army. With the collapse of the Army at the end of the War, this was no longer possible. The long-term weakenesses of the Empire such as ethnic dissent coupled with the privations resulting from the War resulted in nationalit groups seizing power and demanding independence. This occurrred in Hungary as well. The monarchy collpsed and a republic proclaimed in Austria itself (November 1918). The Allies had planned to maintain Austria-Hungary as a political state, in part to offset Germany's influence in central and Eastern Europe. THe Allies thought that Wilson's 14 points, especially national self-determination, could be accomodated within a federalized and democratized Austria-Hungary. Developments in the region, however, spun out of control. Several countries declared independence (September and October 1918). The Allies had neither the men or inclination to try to control developments in the region. Emperor Karl I appointed Karl Karolyi Prime Minister in an effort to maintain the monarchy (October 31, 1918). He managed to replaced Alexander Wekerle who had declared independence (October 19). The Emperor engineered Wekerle's replacement. Karolyi was known for advocating land reform, universal suffrage and full civil status Hungary's non-Magyar subjects which put him on the fringe of Hungarian politics. His appoint was a last desperate attempt by Emperor Karl to save the monarchy. Karolyi realized that the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Army and the strength of the nationalist forces meant that independence was inevitable. Karolyi proclaimed an independent republic (November 11). A factor here was that a Hungary without attachments to the former Hapsburg monarchy might expect better treatment at the post-War peace settlement. The Allies nonetheless insisted on a much reduced Hunary than what nationlists had invisioned. This affected Karolyi's popularity. Bela Kun, the pre-War founder of the Communist Party, launched a Communist coup (March 1919). His popularity rapidly fell when he used force to persue a series of radical reforms seizing private popularity, both agricultural lands and industry. Czechs and Romanians military forces intervened as well as a French-supported counter-revolutionary force headed Admiral Miklos Horthy de Nagybanya. The Kun regime fell (August 1, 1919). Admiratl Horthy served as regent until replaced by the NAZIs during World War II (1944). The Treaty of Trianon ending the war between the Allies and Hungary (a successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) was signed June 4, 1920.

Inter-War Era (1919-39)

With the defeat of the Central Powers in the War, the German Empire and Habsburg Empire desintegrated (1918). Hungary became independent. As in Germany, the Communists attempted to seize control. The Social Democrats joined them. Béla Kun led the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919). Kun and the Communists began nationalizing industry and land. The nationalization policy proved unpopular. The Communist atheist policy was also resented. Kun attacked Czechoslovakia and Romania to spread the Revolution. Admiral Miklos Horthy, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, formed an army to oppose the Communists. Romanian forces occupy Budapest and hand power over to Horthy. Kun after his failure fled east and oversaw the bloody Red Terror in the Crimea (1920). He would eventualy become one of Stalin's victims. In Hungary reprisals followed the collapse of Kun's Soviet Repiblic. Many Communists were executed. The Trianon Treaty with the Allies ending the War reduced Hungarian territory by two thirds (1920). The National Assembly re-establishes the Kingdom of Hungary, but the Allies refused to allow the return of a Habsburg king. Hungarians held elections (January 1920). Parliament decreed that the throne of Hungary was 'vacant'. They elected Horthy regent (March 1920). The ousted Emperor Karl I made two unsuccessful efforts to regain his throne (1921). The Austro-Hungarian Empire mde little effort to industrialize. The only major industry developed in the Czech lnds with little imperial support. Thus Hungary when it became independent had a largely agricultural economy. Horthy made no effort to change this and itroduced authoritative rule. Hungary remained a relatively backward, poor country. It was, however, irredentist issues that dominsted Hungarian politics. Hungary under the Hapsburgs was not an indepedent coutry, but it was a political entity. The Hapsburg Hungary of more than 20 million had become a small country with less than 8 million people. The frontiers of Hungary began to approximate those of modern Hungary. Most of the lost territory was populated largely by other natinalities. About a third of ethnic Hungarians found themselves minorities in other countries. Hungarian nationalists were horrified. Not only did they find the new Hungarian state a fraction of what they had forseen, but large numbers of ethnic Hungarians were left within the borders of neighboring states. This would result in disputes with nigboring states (Czechoslovkia, Romania, and Yugoslvia and theats of war during the 1920s and 30s. Horthy's rule is characterised by resentment over the loss of Hungarian territories. And Fascist political parties bwgin to grow. The losses of land and population in World War I engendered resentment in Hungary and fueld the growth of Fascism. The Depression further move people toward radical parties, Communist and Fascists. As a result, Horthy with some trepedation begins to ally his country with NAZI Germany. Hungary moves closer to NAZI Germany and is rewarded with southern Slovakia (from Czechoslovakia) and northern Transylvania (from Romania).

World War II (1939-45)

German diplomacy during the 1930s sought to bring Hungary within the NAZI orbit. The NAZIs used financial enducements as well as the growing strength of Fascist elements in the country. Hungary also had territorial claims on neighboring countries which it hoped to avhieve through cooperation with the NAZIS. Hungary which had fought with Germany (as Austro-Hungary) in World War I, joined the Axis (November 20, 1940). Hitler rewarded the Hungarians with a substantial slice of Romania at the Vienna conference (November ? 1940). The Hungarians cooperated in the NAZI invasion of Yugoslavia (April 1941). Admiral ordered Hungarian military units to occupy territory claimed by Hungary in Yugoslavia. These areas had ethnic Hungarian populations. Hungary subsequently annexed a part of Vojvodina. German successes in the early phases of World War II convinced many in Europe that the NAZIs would prevail in the War. This strengthened the position of right-wing Fascist elements in the country. Admiral Horthy named right-wing politician Laszlo Bardossy to succeed Teleki as primeminister. Bardossy as a NAZI ally led Hungary into World War II. Hungary played a modest role in Basrbarossa (1941), but after the Soviet Winter ofensive (December 1941), the NAZI compelled Hungary to mobilize additional forces in the German Summer offensice (1942). The Soviets devestated the Hungarian Second Army as part of its Stalingrad offensive. Hungary subsequently withdrew its army rom the Eastern Front (April 1943). Hitler fearing that Hungary was preparing to sign a separate peace occupied the country (March 1944). When the Red Army arrived (September 1944), Hungary became an intense battlefield. Hitler rushed in reserves, but in doing so depleted the forces needed to defend Berlin.

Cold War

The Soviets seized control and turned Hungary into a servile Stalinist satellite. Control of Hungary after World war II became a contest between two competng versions of Communism. Imre Nagy spent years as a refugee in the Soviet Union. As Minister of Agriculture after the War he introduced a popular land reform program. Hungary had been dominted by large landed estates. Nagy was elected Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament (1947). He gradualy emerged as a leading spokesman for those with a liberal vision of Communism. Prime Minister Mátyás Rákosi dominated Hungary and imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime. Rákosi was one of the brutal dictators that Stalin had imposed on the people of Eastern Europe. Rákosi faithfully carried out orders from Moscow. He conducted a dreadgul purge in Hungary beginning in 1950 and lasting until Stalin died in 1953. In a country of only about 10 million, 1.3 million were targetted , about half of which were arrested. Here I have seen varying estimates. There were 2,350 were exeuted. [Sebestyen] Rákosi was Jewish, even so he joined in Stalin's anti-Semetic campaign. Rákosi brutal rule was questioned from withn the Party and Rákosi purged the Party membership, expelling 200,000 for disloyalty or lack of sufficent loyalty. The death of Stalin and then Khruschev's De-Stalinization program brought calls for reform in Hungary. A peaceful student protect was fired on by the security police, sparking the Hungarian Revolution. The Soviets brutally supressed the Hungarian Revolution (1956). The revolt against the Soviets was one in the list of military defeats and failed revolutions. But in the long run it was pyric victory for the Soviets. The Hungarian Revolution (1956) opened the eyes of many Western Europeans as to the true nature of Soviet Communism. Only gradually, however, were Soviet controls relaxed. A transition to democracy began as a result of Soviet reforms (1988). The Hungarians opened their border with East Germany (1989). This allowed a conduit to the West for East Germans trying to reach the West. This was an important part of the chain of events leasing to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collsapse of Communism ikn Eastern Europe.


Sebestyen, Victor. Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Pantheon, 2006), 340p.


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Created: January 21, 2001
Last updated: 11:37 AM 10/18/2014