A Brief Sketch of Hungarian History

It is thought that the Magyar existed as a group of seven tribes in the region of the Ural Mountains. The earliest attestation of their being a distinct grouping may exist in Herodotus (c.5th C BC), but this is uncertain. Clearer references are seen almost 1000 years later, when the Byzantines make reference to a tribal group that bears some resemblance to the Magyar.

The name ascribed to the Magyar by the west –Hungarian- was not due to a perceived similarity to the central Asiatic group led so famously by Attila the Hun but rather the name ‘Ten Arrows’. Around During the 9th century AD three tribes of khazars joined with the Magyars and the 300px-Migration_of_Hungarians
resultant union was named On-Ogur, or ‘Ten Arrows’. This was translated first into Byzantine Greek as Oungroi before being Latinised as Ungri – a name which holds clear linguistic links to the modern Hungarian.

The principality formed by the invading Uralic tribes was replaced by a kingdom in 1000; after a brief power struggle with his elder brother, Stephen I brought Hungary within the folds of Christianity. This is the first instance of recorded high-level integration into the social structures of Europe, almost a century since the Magyars first migrated into the Carpa thian basin and Central Europe. The strength of the state created by Stephen would see the Arpad Dynasty rule until 1301 and weather two Mongol invasions.

After a brief and tumultuous interregnum the Capetian House of Anjou, a cadet branch of the House Capet, wrested control of the crown. Ruling only during the 14th century, the house brought previously unknown prosperity to Hungary. Louis I, second monarch of the dynasty, brought Hungary into a position of prominence throughout Europe and in 1370 became King of Poland.

The relative stability of the High Middle Ages was followed by a series of short-lived royal houses in an era defined by power squabbles. Although some achieved periods of relative success none seemed able to gain security of succession. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the Hungarians defeated the advancing Ottomans first in 1457 and again in 1479, at the Siege of Belgrade and Battle of Breadfield respectively. However, another Ottoman expedition defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526. This proved disastrous and resulted in the death of the King Louis II as well as the collapse of central authority. Although the Ottomans were stopped at Vienna in 1529 the kingdom became three states until the late 17th century; Royal Hungary, under Habsburg rule, Ottoman Hungary and the Principality of Transylvania were the successor polities to one of mediaeval Europe’s most powerful kingdoms.

It wasn’t until the failed Ottoman invasion of 1683 that the Habsburgs were able to retake the Ottoman held lands and reintegrate Transylvania into Hungary. Hungary was ruled from Vienna through the ‘Hungarian Chamber’ until 1848. After a period of decline related to the overhanging impacts of Ottoman rule the Habsburgs used a policy of colonisation to almost double the population during the 18th century; when coupled with agrarian economic reforms, Hungary was able to re-establish itself as a prosperous state. The nation was subject to the reforms of the enlightenment under the direction of successive Austrian monarchs.Flag_of_Austria-Hungary_(1869-1918).svg

The revolution of 1848, caused by disaffection sown in the post-Napoleonic Wars economic slump, first brought direct and absolute rule from Vienna then, in 1867, a compromise that resulted in the creation of the dual-monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This action resulted in the transition of Hungary from a constituent part of the Austrian Empire to a co-equal body that was both apart from and joined to Austria.

800px-Magyarorszag_1920The significance of the First World War to Hungary lay initially in the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then in the division of the lands that once constituted the Kingdom of Hungary. The Treaty of Trianon in 1920 was based upon the concept of providing self-determination for linguistic groups through the device of the nation state. The result was the creation of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and a large territorial gain for Romania. Many ethnic Hungarians were stranded in other nations as a result of the division.

After the declaration of a democratic republic and a Soviet republic between 1918 and 1920, Hungary returned to a nominal state of monarchy. Admiral Horthy was appointed regent after it was decided that the Entente powers would not allow the return of a Habsburg monarchy, a slightly odd system that would remain until after WWII.

The Second World War saw Hungary side with the Axis powers aft800px-TeritorialGainsHungary1920-41.svger their support for the return of the land lost in 1920, carried out in the form of the Vienna Awards. Hungary fought primarily against the Soviet Union, although they also engaged with Yugoslavia in an attempt at expanding their local territories. When, in 1944, Admiral Horthy attempted to sign a peace treaty with the USSR Germany promptly invaded and carried out a coup. The immediate impact was a sudden increase in the deportation of Jews to the death camps; between 1944 and the end of the war at least 400,000 Hungarian Jews were deported and killed.

The Second Hungarian Republic was established after the Flag_of_Hungary_(1949-1956).svgwar and returned to pre-Vienna Award borders, but by 1949 the Hungarian communist party had achieved power and signed a constitution declaring the state to be a people’s republic. From the advent of the new state until 1956 Hungary was ruled in a Stalinist fashion, largely built on a cult of personality surrounding Prime Minister Matyas Rakosi. Imre Nagy replaced him after Stalin’s death and began liberalising the economy and removed state control of mass media; although met with popular support he was removed from the Hungarian Working People’s Party for supposed rightist behaviour, a coup that was motived by Nagy’s on going power struggle with Rakosi. Nagy was reinstated to the Party after Khrushchev undermined Rakosi, an event that was immediately overshadowed by the revolution of 1956.images

Beginning as demonstrations demanding the exit from Hungary of Soviet forces, the demonstrations soon received the backing of Nagy, reappointed as Premier as the situation escalated, who promised large-scale democratisation and his intention to withdraw Hungary form the Warsaw pact. Khrushchev reacted by sending the Red Army into the nation, crushing the revolution and arresting Nagy.

Post-revolution Hungary began to slowly liberalise; an amnesty was declared and the cultural and economic course taken was aimed at appeasing the problems that had caused the uprising.

Hungary achieved a smooth transition from Communism, beginning in 1988 and reaching fruition in 1989. The Communist Party seemingly recognised the inevitability of change and by 1989 were willing to aid in creating a smooth transition to a western style democracy. This resulted in the establishment of the Third Hungarian Republic on the 23rd of October 1989. The economy was decentralised and in 2004 Hungary joined the European Union.

Attempting to synthesise 1200 years of Hungarian history into a little of 1000 words is always going to result in glossing over, vagaries, generalisations and the judicious exclusion of some major events. As such, it is best that you view this piece as a picture of the diversity and richness of Hungarian history, attempting to probe all ends of the spectrum whilst not being comprehensive in any.




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