Hungary/History

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Central Asia had long been the home of various nomadic tribes based on the practice of animal herding and horses. Humans had inhabited the region ever since the prehistoric period. The centuries before the Genghis Khan's conquests, various Turkic and Mongol-Tungusic tribes inhabited the steppes of Mongolia. These various ethnic groups alternatively ruled each other during this time, one group would gain power and subdue the others until another group formed to topple the previously superior power. The land lends itself to breed a people who were used to harsh living conditions, mobility and war — elements that make for an ideal military force, so it is no coincidence that some of the most successful conquerors and invaders came from this region of the world.

Coming of the Huns[edit]

One of the first politically organized groups were the Hsiung-nu (the Chinese name for a tribe called the Hunnu) had for a time been dominant in the region. They throughout this time, posed a constant threat to ancient China, and were the cause for China to build the Great Wall. The result of this however whas that a westward migration of these nomadic horse-riding tribes would course its way toward Europe. One of these groups would eventually arrive at the gates of Rome in the 4th century, to be known to the western world as the Huns. The Roman soldier Ammianus Marcellinus, who had the ill luck to fight them noted:

They have a sort of shapeless lump, if I may say so, not a face, and pinholes rather than eyes.
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Although the Huns under Atilla did create an empire that reached from Germany all the way to the Ukraine, centred around the former Roman province of Pannoia, it was not the Huns who laid the foundations for the modern Hungarian state, but the Magyars. Originally a confederation of nomadic tribes living between the Carpathians and the Urals of possible Turkish descent, the Magyar were driven out by the activities of the Pechenegs, another group of nomads, and so crossed into the Danube river basin and assimilated the Avars, whose own empire was crumbling into ruin.

Modern Hungary was said to have been born in the midst of the Byzantine-Bulgar wars of the 9th century. The Hungarian leader, Árpád, allied his tribe with the Byzantines and smashed the Bulgars, but were in turn driven out by a Bulgar-Pecheneg alliance, eventually settling in the Carpathian basin and proceeding to raid territories of the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire alike, until military defeats in 955 and 970 decimated their armies. By 1000, the Magyar kingdom was well on the way to becoming a unitary Christian state, centred around Esztergom (near present-day Budapest).

The Golden Age of Hungary[edit]

Vajk, Grand Prince of the Magyars, was crowned king in 1000 by Pope Sylvester on Christmas Day, with the consent of the Holy Roman emperor, Otto II. His reign would see the creation of modern Hungary as he strengthened Christianity throughout his realm as the official religion, and his successors would continue building up Hungary into a powerful nation which even exceeded the power of the French by the 12th century. Unlike other nations in Europe, which often experienced instability due to the feudal system, Hungary remained a rather stable kingdom. It opened relations with the Germans and the Poles, annexed Croatia into its sphere of power and even expelled the Byzantines from the Balkans. It was this same Hungary too that withstood the Mongols on their expedition into Europe in the 13th century.

Yet feudalism crept in. Originally, Hungarian kings were the largest land owners, but as time passed by and the complexity of the Hungarian state meant that trade and industry reduced the importance of agriculture and other primary economic activities, the kings of Hungary were forced to cede lands to nobles in order to maintain their allegiance to Esztergom. In 1222, frustrated with taxes to pay for wars with the Teutonic order (then active in the Carpathians), Magyar nobles confronted their king Andrew II and forced him to sign the Golden Bull (the word "Bull" being a from the Latin word for "seal"), a series of laws limiting the king and compelling his successors to pledge to uphold the Bull's statutes before he or she could assume the crown. The power of the king eventually waned in 1301 when king Andrew III died, leaving no suitable heir to the House of Árpád and a kingdom on the verge of civil war. A new series of kings was appointed from the House of Anjou, however; this guaranteed victory against the Turks; stability and prosperity in equal measures; and more heroic days for Central Europe, and the emergence of great figures such as Matthew Korvín (also known as Matthias Corvinus) and Hunyadi Janós. Matthew Korvín was an archetypical Renaissance man: he was equally adept in the martial science as much as he was well-versed with the arts and culture: Magyarophiles attest that Hungary experienced the Renaissance first before the Italians did. It was said that the great king Matthew was planning to become the next Holy Roman Emperor, when he died suddenly in 1490, supposedly by poisoning.

Decline of the Kingdom[edit]

This age of renewed growth and prestige however was not to last, as Hungary continued to suffer from the same problems brought on by feudalism: disunity and weak kings. After Matthew Korvín's death, the local magnates and barons decided to elect a Polish prince, Vladislaus II of Bohemia, to rule as their king. Vladislaus and his heirs would prove to be the downfall of Hungary: their acquiescence to the nobles weakened the power of Hungary's centralised authority. Over time, Hungary was partitioned by the Turks and eventually annexed to the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, unable to emerge as a sovereign state again until the end of the First World War.

References[edit]

  • Wallace R, & Krieger L (ed); Rise of Russia; (1967) Time and Life Books, New York
  • Keen M; The Pelican History of Mediaeval Europe (1969 new ed); Pelican Books