Hungary is often described as a state in the middle of the so-called “Slavic ocean” (even though we are bordered by a Germanic country on the west and a Latin country on the east). But how did a nation so different get there?   Huns or Magyars? The people are usually referred to as Hungarians, assuming that their forefathers were the mighty, feared Huns. Incorrectly. The Huns were also nomadic people, who accompanied the Hungarian (Magyar) tribes on their journey from the Ural Mountains to continental Europe. During the reign of Attila the Hun, the Hungarians lived in his realm. He was considered the king of the folk, and according to some sources, he was the forefather of Álmos, the leader of the 7 Magyar tribes.   Before the Carpathian basin Before the Hungarians arrived, the area was roamed by several nomad groups and at one point it belonged to the Roman Empire (the territory was referred to as Pannonia). During this time, the ancient Hungarian tribes were living a gathering, fishing, hunting lifestyle in the Urals. They lived in yurts and moved around with all their belongings, in the hopes of finding new sources. The 5th century brought a wave of migration from the east to the west for the folks on the steppes of Eurasia. This wave inspired the Hun, the Avar, the Onogur and the Magyar tribes to migrate towards Europe. The new found home of the Hungarians around the Volga River is also called Magna Hungaria. They moved to Levedia around the 8th century, an area somewhere between the Don River and the Azov Sea, which was also a part of the Empire of the Khazars. The ancient Hungarians soon learnt about agriculture which shifted their primary focus from hunting.

(image source: Wikipedia)


In the 9th century the Magyars have left the Khazars behind and moved even further to the west, to a place called Etelköz. This was the last station before arriving to the Carpathian basin. Here, the 7+1 tribes have lived together (the plus one being the Kabars), protected each other and even farmed together.

  The blood pact Before the conquest of the Carpathian basin, the heads of the seven tribes (Álmos, Előd, Ond, Kond, Tas, Huba and Töhötöm) have decided to choose Álmos as the leader for their tribes and for all the future Hungarians. They have also agreed to form one big nation. To seal their agreement, the seven leaders have made a blood pact, cutting themselves slightly and dripping their blood into a cup, symbolising a stronger alliance, a brotherhood. These types of pacts were common among the nomadic tribes in Asia (Huns, Mongolians, etc.).

(image source: Wikipedia)

The legend of Álmos – the dream of Emese Once upon a time Emese, the wife of one of the lords had a divine dream. In her vision, a turul bird (similar to a hawk or a falcon) flew to her tent and covered her with its holy wings. Under the wings she saw a river flowing west, snowy mountains and a great plain. A golden tree, plenty with fruit, has grown from the waters of the river. Emese, amazed by the wonderful country, has lay down under the tree and fell asleep. The same night she was gifted with a son. This bird was the totem of the Magyar tribes. After the birth of the boy, his mother named him Álmos after the divine dream (Álmos means dreamy, sleepy).   The conquest and the discoveries The conquest of the Carpathian basin dates back to the years 895-896 and it lasted until about 907. Árpád, the son of Álmos has led the tribe through the Vereczke Pass, arriving to the territory of Transylvania and the Great Plain. In a few years they conquered the area from the nomads who were originally living there, and soon they have reached the Danube River. In 900, the Magyars have acquired Pannonia from the Francs, and in the next couple of years, they also reached the Moravian territories. In the following decades the new Hungarian tribe not only fought for keeping its new home from other tribes, but also lea some discoveries, scouting. The men were feared for their battling methods, one of them was the infamous “backwards archery”. Their light clothing and fast horses gave them an incredible advantage, too. During their travels, they also reached the Pyrenees and the Byzantium.

 (image source: Wikipedia)

The conquest otherwise: The legend of the magical stag Once upon a time there were two brothers: Magyar and Hunor. Their father loved hunting and when the boys became old enough, they joined him on his hunts. When the father saw that his sons have become fine hunters, he gifted them their own tents, people and territories. One day the boys decided to go for a longer hunt. They have each taken 50 men with themselves. They wandered further and further until they found a land full of prey. There were plenty of animals, but one magical stag caught their eyes. The brothers and their men chased after the beautiful stag, following it through valleys, forests, rivers and hills until they have lost its tracks. They looked around and found themselves in the most beautiful area they had ever seen. It had trees and flowers, bushes and animals, rivers and lakes. Hunor and Magyar were both amazed by it, so they have decided to ask for their father’s blessing and settle down there.

(image source: Wikipedia)

They spent 7 days and 7 nights on their journey back to their father’s realm. When they arrived their father was on his deathbed. The boys have described the wonderful place they had found and told him about their wishes. The father was first sad, but they convinced him that their other brothers can look after his realm. Eventually, the dying lord has agreed to let his sons go. After the funeral of their father, the boys and their men set off for their final journey to the magical land, taking their animals, tents and all their belongings with them. When they arrived to their new home, they discovered a group of beautiful girls. Hunor, Magyar and the men have soon taken them as their wives. Their children became the Hungarians.   The foundation of the Hungarian Kingdom After the conquest of the Carpathian basin the Magyar tribe settled down. During these years a certain order was formed by the most powerful lords. In the second half of the 10th century, Lord Géza’s supremacy was accepted by the leaders. During his leadership, the country was centralised and a better foreign politics structure was introduced. He married his children to powerful foreigners, ensuring a stronger alliance among the forming nation and the European countries. Géza was followed by his son, Vajk in 997. His leadership was not approved by the old lords, he faced resistance. One of these leaders was his relative, Koppány, who had a strong claim for the chair. Eventually he led his nomad followers against Vajk. His horde was quickly defeated, and he was captured. Vajk ordered the quartering of Koppány’s body and hang the pieces on the castle as a sign for other rebels. Vajk had a vision for his home. He imagined a united Christian state, a kingdom under his reign. On the 25th December 1000, he was crowned and he baptised as István (Stephen). On the 1st January 1001, the pope has blessed the new country, welcoming it among the European Christian states.

(image source: Wikipedia)

The symbols of the coronation A ceremonial coronation included several symbols. Today, you can find these objects in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. The holy items were: The crown – to symbolize the reign of the king The sceptre – to symbolize justice and the law The apple – to symbolize the country, the state The sword – to symbolize power and protection of the country The cape – to practice religious faith

(image source: Wikipedia)

During his reign, István worked on unifying his country and building a stable, Christian home for everybody. He ended the area of the nomad lords, funded several religious institutions, worked on the administration and structure of the state, created new rulings, and appointed Székesfehérvár as the city of coronations and as the royal burial place. He hoped to leave behind a country that respects the religious figures and teachings, respects its people, practices understanding, mercy and patience, and welcomes new cultures and languages for the sake of growth. István died in 1038 and was ordained as a saint on the 20th August 1083.   The 20th August Today, Hungarians celebrate the foundation of their country on the 20th August. This national holiday serves as the reminder of our history and our achievements in the last millennia. A typical “augusztus 20” in Budapest includes several activities. At the beginning of the day the officers of the Hungarian army and the most important politicians commemorate our forefathers and King Stephen, and raise the flag in front of the Parliament. Following the official commemoration, above the Danube River an air show can be seen. This day, the highest form of recognition, the award of the Order of Saint Stephen is presented to those who excel in their fields or achieved something spectacular. This year, Botond Roska was awarded for his research regarding the human eye and the ability of seeing. The afternoon is dedicated to the religious commemoration. A holy mess is conducted by one of the religious figures of the country. Following the mess, the holy right hand is presented to the people during the annual procession. The day is ended with fireworks over the Danube River, fired from nine separate locations. You can watch the fireworks live from 9 pm on the following link:

(image source: Wikipedia)

Besides Budapest, people celebrate with fireworks and festivals all over the country. Some of the most memorable ones are the following among many others:

  • Székesfehérvár – Royal days and the international folk dance festival
  • Debrecen – the flower carnival
  • Szolnok – preparation of the bread of the state, a bread made of 300kgs of flour
  • Hollókő – pretend tournaments in the castle

The conquest and the foundation in pop culture The early Hungarian history has served as an inspiration for several poems, stories and plays. The author of the national anthem also referred to these events in his work. Among these pieces, there are only a few very well-known. István, a király – rock opera Stephen, the king is a rock opera composed by János Bródy and Levente Szörényi. The story follows the differences of Vajk and Koppány and the coronation of István. The original play was first introduced in 1983 and has been since played on several stages in different variations all over the country. Magyar vándor – movie The Hungarian wanderer is a comedy movie released in 2004. The script follows the journey of the seven leaders from Magna Hungaria to modern day Budapest throughout the ages.

 (image source: Unspalsh)

Honfoglalás – movie The Conquest is a movie released in 1996. It follows the events of the journey of the Magyar tribe to the Carpathian basin Honfoglalás – music The Conquest is a song sung by Ferenc Demjén. It was composed for the 1996 movie. The lyrics talks about the importance of having a home and includes key motives describing the journey of the ancient Hungarians, such as the turul, the Carpathians and the legend of the stag. It can also be considered as the final blessing of the father of Hunor and Magyar.

(image source: ESN Hungary)


Written by Lilla Faragó

Reviewed by Lilla Halász

The Maison de l’Europe does not own any of the pictures used in the article!

20 août 2019