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Hungary was an important medieval kingdom settled by the Uralic Magyar people in the 9th century AD. During the Middle Ages, Hungary was a crucial piece of Christian Europe's defense against Ottoman incursion. The kingdom collapsed in the 16th century but Hungary persisted as an important battleground between Christian Europe and Muslim invaders. Hungary has remained relevant as a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 1800s, the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War, and the European Union since.

Geography and Climate[]

Like many places of human settlement, the area now known as Hungary features two major rivers, the Danube and the Tisza. The Danube is a key artery for most of Central Europe, and flows through the Hungarian capital, Budapest. Located in the Carpathian basin, Hungary is not particularly resoruce-rich, but it contains plenty of fertile land to support human settlement. Its location as a border between the Balkan Peninsula (and Turkey) and the rest of northern and western Europe has defined its role throughout history.

Early History[]

Before the arrival of the Hungarians, many empires controlled or occupied the Carpathian basin. It was part of the Roman empire beginning in 9 BC, and a small settlement was built, the remains of which are part of the city of Budapest. After the Romans came the Huns, which, despite their name, are believed to be unrelated to the Hungarians. After the fall of Rome, the Goths, Lombards and other so-called barbarians took control. Slavs, Avars, and Franks also played a role in shaping the Carpathian up until the arrival of the Hungarians.

Hungarian Conquest[]

Retreating after being attacked by the Bulgarians and the Pechenegs, the Hungarians migrated to the Carpathian Basin around 895. The Hungarians first had appeared in history as a Uralic people, but the coalition between their two assailants drove the Magyars (a term largely synonymous with Hungarian) to their current lands

The conquest of the Carpathian was not instantaneous.  The Hungarians first conquered the lands east of the Danube but the lands to the west – the former Roman province of Pannonia – took a few years longer. The Magyars were raiders – in 899 and 900, they ventured into Italy, plundering lands until they were halted by the Venetians.

Moravia, the polity that controlled these areas, ceased to exist soon after the year 900. The exact circumstances of the completion of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin is unclear. However, the nation and state known as Hungary would exist there from this point onwards.

Hungarian Invasions of Europe[]

After their conquests, the Hungarian people remained afraid of their neighbors to the east, the Pechenegs, feeling they were outnumbered. Large swathes of the region were left uninhabitated, concentrating the population for defensive purposes. Instead of fighting the Pecehengs, they turned westward, raiding into Western Europe. Swabia, the West Frankish marches, Bavaria and Saxony were all targets of the Hungarians, as was the Byzantine Empire. Defeat at the hand of the Franks at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 ended their incursions westward, while defeat by the Byzantines at Arkadopolis in 970 ended their exploits there.

These invasions occurred during a time where raiding was widespread throughout Europe – Muslims, Vikings and Hungarians were all wreaking havoc across Western Europe. Like with the Vikings, many of the Hungarian raiders were gradually assimilated into European civilization. After these defeats, the Hungarians abandoned raiding and nomadism for a more sedentary lifestyle in Central Europe.

Christianization and the Arpads[]

The Arpad dynasty participated in the conquest of the Carpathian, and ruled the Hungarians afterward. Geza was the first to initiate Hungarian contact with Christianity, while his son Stephen I became the first King of Hungary after doing battle with pagan forces led by his uncle. He was crowned in 1000 or 1001 with the blessing of the Pope, with Hungary becoming an Apostolic Kingdom.

After Stephen consolidated his power, he moved to Christianize and Westernize Hungary, establishing feudalism and Latin as the official language. Hungary grew in power and prestige. Another Arpad king, Bela III, was notably more wealthy than the kings of France and England at the time. Andrew II led the Fifth Crusade into the Middle East, raising a massive army. The Golden Bull of 1222, also issued by Andrew II, was the first constitutional document in continental Europe, being issued a mere seven years after the Magna Carta in England.

The Mongol Invasion[]

Like most of the world during the 1200s, the Kingdom of Hungary suffered greatly at the hands of the Mongols. Over half of Hungary's two million residents fell victim to the Mongol hordes, while many refugees of those fleeing the invaders took residence in Hungary and were eventually absorbed into the population.

After the invasion ended, Bela IV ordered the construction of many fortifications and defenses, in order to better protect against further Mongol incursions. The Mongols did indeed return in the late 1200s, and their forces were repelled much easier.

The Angevin Dynasty and Successors[]

After a few chaotic decades in the wake of the Arpad dynasty, the Angevins took power, with Louis the Great as one of their most powerful. Louis led campaigns all over Europe and became king of Poland from 1370 onward. After he died without a male heir, the Hungarian throne was again thrown into turmoil. It was only stabilized after Sigismund of Luxembourg (related to the Arpads) ascended to the throne. In 1433, he became Holy Roman Emperor.

The last significantly powerful Hungarian king was Matthias Corvinus, who reigned at the dawn of the Renaissance.  He was the first king elected that was not part of the prior dynastic structure. He created the Bibliotecha Corviniana, the second-largest library in Europe at the time behind the Vatican library. His mercenary army, the Black Army, won many victories against other Europeans and the Ottomans. Hungary declined after his death without an heir, paving the way for increased Ottoman influence in the region.

Ottoman Wars[]

In the 16th century, the Ottomans finally overwhelmed the Kingdom of Hungary. The specific point at which this event occurred is often given as the 1526 Battle of Mohacs. The king, Louis II, died, and the nobility, in disarray, elected two kings simultaneously. Buda, the capital, was conquered in 1541.

Hungary was divided, with the east under direct Ottoman control or suzerainty, and the west under the control of the Habsburg dynasty. In 1686, the Holy League, a coalition of Christian nations, sent an army that retook Buda from the Ottomans. By 1718, the entire Kingdom of Hungary was removed from Ottoman rule. Hungary was devastated by this prolonged occupation and war.

In the centuries after the Ottoman occupation, Hungary remained under the sway of the Habsburgs. Some politicians attempted to modernize, but this did not prove successful. Along with many other European nations, Hungary rebelled in 1848, against their Habsburg rulers. The rebels wanted a more democratic and more independent Hungary. The Habsburgs managed to subdue the revolution using populations from neighboring territories and eventually military conquest.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire[]

Austria-Hungary, a dual monarchy, was established in 1867. This combined polity was one of the largest and most populous in Europe, and spurred on a period of significant development in all respects.

In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumed heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo by Serbian nationalists. Hungarian elements in the Austro-Hungarian government attempted to prevent the outbreak of war, but they failed. Austria-Hungary was a large part of the Central Powers of World War I. The Empire drafted nine million soldiers, with four of those millions from Hungary. Hungarian troops specifically suffered more losses than any other part of the dual monarchy. While Serbia and Romania were captured, the Central Powers lost the war, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved into its constituent nations.

Interwar and World War II[]

The Aster Revolution, in 1918, brought the socialist Mihaly Karolyi into power as Hungary's first president. The army was disbanded. Serbia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia took areas of Hungary which had majority ethnic populations, but also some of the Magyar areas. These annexations were not contested by the victorious Entente. A communist revolution occurred in 1919, but was put down by Romanian troops.

The Treaty of Trianon, in 1920, took away 71% of its territory and two-thirds of its population. Many Hungarians became minorities in new countries. As a result, rightist forces took control of Hungary. During the Depression, autocratic and right-wing influences, including influence from Nazi Germany, drove Hungary in the direction of the Axis. The Germans and Italians granted Hungary part of the annexed Czechoslovakia in 1938. As 1939 progressed, Hungary began to reoccupy some of its former territories.

The Hungarians only formally entered World War II on the side of the Axis in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa. They fought largely on the eastern front. In 1943, however, the Hungarians sought a surrender, as they had suffered great losses. In response, the Axis invaded and occupied Hungary, installing a puppet fascist regime. The country's economy was rededicated to the war effort. Eventually, the Soviets took Budapest after a two month long battle. After the war, Hungary returned to its pre-1938 borders.

The People's Republic of Hungary[]

After the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945, Hungary fell into the Soviet sphere of influence. A Stalinist-style purge followed the emergence of a communist government, killing many and adding onto the devastation of the war. Matayas Rakosi's regime led to a decrease in the standard of living.

In 1956, the Hungarian Revolution ousted Rakosi. For a brief time, Hungary withdrew from the Warsaw Pact, and Imre Nagy restored multiparty democracy. A month later, the Soviets intervened, killing tens of thousands and putting a stop to any reform. Janos Kadar was installed as the new leader. His more inclusive and less repressive attitude, combined with free-market reforms introduced as part of the New Economic Mechanism, led Hungary to have a higher standard of living and a more functional economy than many other Eastern Bloc states. Kadar would rule until the peaceful fall of the People's Republic in 1989.


The modern nation of Hungary managed to join the European Union in 2004. Like many Central European nations, recovery from the socialist period has been mixed. Today's Hungary faces issues like controversy over the country's large Roma (also known as gypsy) population and the role that the European Union should play in the government of its constituent nations.


  • Although Attila was considered an ancestral ruler of the Hungarians for centuries, this is now considered false. The term 'Hungary' is believed, instead, to originate from a 7th Century Magyar alliance with the Bulgars, called 'On-Ogour,' meaning '(the) Ten Arrows.'
  • From 1000 AD to 1844, Latin was the official language of Hungary.
  • Hungary was described by Pope Pius II as 'the shield of Christianity and the defender of Western civilization' and was uniquely granted the title of Apostolic Kingdom.
  • Hungary has yet to be featured in the Civilization franchise, but hopefully one day...

Stephen I[]


The Hungarian kingdom was established by descendants of Arpad, a Magyar nomad from the steppes of Asia whose horsemen had terrorized central Europe in the first half of the 10th century. After a decisive defeat by the Germans at Lechfeld, just south of Augsburg, Bavaria, in 955, the Magyars, under Arpad's great grandson Taksony, settled down in what is now Hungary.

Taksony's son, the duke Géza, established a semblance of order and initiated moves to Christianize the Magyar/ Hungarians by appealing to the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I for Christian missionaries. His move has been termed the "Quedlinburg Mission." Fortunately, for the Hungarians, Otto did not take the request seriously. Although a number of German Benedictine missionaries came to the Hungarian lands and began the process of Christianization, their methods were so crude that they caused many problems and delayed progress.

When Géza died in 997, his son Stephen took a more direct action some three years later by appealing to Pope Sylvester II, asking that he be baptized and crowned Christian king of Hungary. This move reduced the possibility that the Holy Roman Emperor might assume the role of feudal lord over Hungary, making the Hungarian ruler his vassal.

Acting quickly, Sylvester II sent a bishop and a group of clergy; he also sent a crown which was slightly damaged en route. When the coronation took place on Christmas Day in the year 1000, that same crown with its bent cross was set on Stephen's head; the defect remains to this day, symbolizing the origin and function of the crown and its wearer.

Stephen was faced with great problems from all sides as he began the task of organizing, defending, Christianizing, and bringing his nation into the European fold. One of these problems was the revolt of a cousin who ruled in Transylvania. Koppàny claimed not only the throne, but the hand of Stephen's widowed mother. Immediately moving against him, Stephen finally defeated Koppàny, executing him in 1003. Then another Magyar—known only by the title Gyula—claimed the rule in Transylvania and usurped it. He too was disposed of by the new king, who was actively supported by German knights in the service of his wife/ queen, Gisela, a Bavarian princess.

Stephen established the seat of his kingdom at Esztergom, site of an old Roman settlement called Strigonium, allegedly where the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations. He lost no time in setting up a number of bishoprics and instituting a vigorous program of Christianization of his people. Some have reported that this was accomplished through forceful means—in much the same manner as the Frankish king Clovis Christianized his pagan tribesmen in the sixth century, and the Emperor Constantine his Roman subjects in the fourth century.

Stephen I ruled for four decades. Considering that his father Géza, who began the first attempts to Christianize the Magyars, had been anything but successful, Stephen achieved nearly miraculous results, leaving a clear majority of his subjects following the new religion at his death in 1038. In addition to establishing dioceses for the propagation of the faith, Stephen established schools and churches and encouraged his nobility to endow monasteries. He also invited Jewish and Muslim traders into the kingdom to build up the economy, ordering a strict toleration of their religious practices in order to profit from their trading activities.

He sponsored the drafting and enactment of law codes for his new nation, in what appears—retroactively—to be a close adaptation of what other European monarchs of the period were accomplishing. One element that makes Stephen's legal pronouncements different from the others is that he sought, with some degree of success, to prevent Hungary from becoming a theocratic protectorate. The laws were Christianized versions of Magyar customs and traditions; they reflected the need of his people as much as the requirement for order.

He allied himself with the Byzantine emperor, Basil II, in his battle with the Bulgarian ruler John Vladislav in 1018, the results of which action saw the establishment of pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem through Constantinople. In later years, Stephen's treatment of Bulgarian prisoners was humane and considerate and led to a satisfying relaxation of tensions between the two kingdoms. This was especially fruitful when the German emperor Conrad II launched attacks against the western parts of Hungary in 1030. Since he didn't have to worry about his eastern and southern flanks, Stephen was able to concentrate his forces and defeat the Germans in the west, forcing their withdrawal.

Stephen's personal life included a series of tragedies. His only son Imre (Emeric), who enjoyed a reputation for virtue and valor, died in what has been reported as a hunting accident (killed by a "wild boar"). But Stephen Sisa, in his book The Spirit of Hungary, alleges that the death was a successful assassination attempt by the Thonuzoba family, who were resisting conversion to Christianity. Sisa points out that the term, thonuzoba, means "wild boar" in the language of the Petcheneg (a pre-Christian steppe-dwelling people, some of whom settled in Transylvania). Because he had led an exemplary life and was well-loved by the Hungarian peoples who had accepted Christianity, Imre was canonized in the late 11th century, at about the same time as his father.

The successful implantation of a substantial group of non-Slavs in Eastern Europe in the midst of what was becoming a Slavic empire is one of the minor mysteries of European history. To the north, the Poles held sway, but the Hungarians successfully intermarried with Polish aristocracy, and it is a verified fact that Stephen sent to Poland two young men who might become eligible for his throne when their lives appeared to be in danger. They subsequently returned after Stephen's death and each of them later ruled for brief periods. To the east, Bulgars could have posed threats to the peace of the kingdom, yet Stephen, through careful diplomacy, managed to keep the Bulgarian rulers either pacified or immobilized. To the northeast the Bohemians (Czechs) represented a highly developed culture that acted as a buffer for their Slavic brothers to the east, while they did not pose any kind of a threat to the Magyar kingdom. Other minor groupings of Slavs— including Slovenes, Slovaks, Croats, Ruthenians, White Russians, Ukrainians, Serbians, Vlachs (Rumanians)— formed a demographic ring around the Carpathian Basin. Yet the Magyars/Hungarians survived and prospered. Their history and their historians assert that the chief architect of this was Stephen—Saint Stephen—whose vision and energy made the beginnings possible.

Unique Components[]


Stephen's ascension to the throne was in line with the principle of primogeniture, which prescribed that a father was succeeded by his son. On the other hand, it contradicted the traditional idea of seniority, according to which Géza should have been succeeded by the most senior member of the Árpád dynasty, which was Koppány at that time. Koppány proposed to Géza's widow, Sarolt, in accordance with the pagan custom of levirate marriage. He also announced his claim to the throne. Although it is not impossible that Koppány had already been baptized, in 972, most of his supporters were pagans, opponents of the Christianity represented by Stephen and his predominantly German retinue. A charter of 1002 for the Pannonhalma Archabbey writes of a war between "the Germans and the Hungarians" when referring to the armed conflicts between Stephen and Koppány.


Vegvars were sturdy fortresses designed to serve in protection of the Hungarian border with the Ottoman Empire, and to offer sanctuary to the citizens of the surrounding areas. By the end of the 15th Century, Vegvars lined the southern Hungarian border and proved invaluable to asserting the Hungarian claim of vassal-ship over Serbia, Wallachia and Moldavia against the Turks.