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Hungarian History. A Short Outline

Wonder deer, legend, Hungary


Legendary times
– According to a chronicle from the 13th century, Nimrod (Ménróth), the founder and king of the first empire after the Flood, participated in the construction of the Tower of Babel and finally settled in Persia. He begat two sons while there, Hunor and Magor, fathers of the Huns and the Magyars (Hungarians: the word for Hungarian is “magyar” in Hungarian, so there is a clear resemblance with both names). According to "the legend of the wonder deer" (a csodaszarvas legendája), Hunor and Magor set out to hunt along the Don river (located in today's Asia), and in pursuit of the beautiful game, which led them on by disappearing and emerging again and again, they found the land of today's Hungary in the Carpathian Basin.

13-8th century BC
– Roman legions invade the land west from the Danube, and name the territory Pannonia (the Pannons were a people living in this region, related to the more significant Illyrian tribes). They build massive roads (some still in use today), along which merchant and military towns evolve. Aquincum (in today's Old Buda, 'Óbuda') becomes the military headquarter of lower Pannonia. Magnificent buildings are erected, including a governor's palace, amphitheaters, public baths, and an aqueduct. Ruins of these can be observed today in a large open-air museum in Budapest.

1st millennium BC
– Ancestors of the Hungarian people live in Asia (slowly moving West on a long migration route), in tribal communities. They cultivate the land and keep domesticated animals.

5th century BC – The Carpathian Basin, which becomes home of the Hungarians’ ancestors in the 9th century AD, has been an inhabited territory since the earliest times. Cultural and ethnic diversity characterized the area. Alliances and wars alternated; many nations called this fertile land home for shorter or longer periods.

5-9th century AD
– Hungarian tribes move further west, and live by the Don River for a time. They keep in contact with a great number of related tribes, with which they form an extended Empire. Warriors go booty hunting, and are occasionally hired by local monarchs to strengthen their own army in conflicts. The Hungarian warriors were unsurpassed in archery, horse riding, and disciplined warfare.

End of the 9th century AD
Árpád and Álmos lead the seven Hungarian tribes into the Carpathian Basin. The event is known as the Hungarian ’Conquest’ (Honfoglalás).

11th century AD
– Monarch Géza invites missionaries from the German-Roman Empire, and starts to build a Christian State (or convert the Hun-Hungarian Empire into one).

1000 – Géza’s son, Szent István ((Saint) Stephen I, whose pagan name was Vajk) receives a crown from Pope Sylvester II, and the Kingdom of Hungary is established. The crowning ceremony is commemorated and celebrated today on the national holiday of August 20th.

End of the 11th century
– (Saint) László I, the knight-king consolidates the Christian Hungarian Kingdom, pacifying the rebelling heathens, and putting an end to discordance caused by those who also claim the throne. Numerous frescos and paintings depict him as a brave, faithful warrior of the nation. Könyves Kálmán follows him on the throne and, as a result of his expansionism, attaches Croatia to the Hungarian Kingdom.

1222 – King András (Andrew) II issues the Golden Bull, a freedom bill with a golden seal, a major milestone in Hungarian law enactment. This bill ratifies István’s state establishment measures, delegates powers to a social class called ’the servients’ (forerunners of the gentries), legalizes impeachment of rulers who do not uphold the law, and constrains foreign political influence. This document remains in force and is authenticated at every coronation ceremony until 1916, when the last Hungarian king leaves the throne.

1241-1242 – The expansion of the Mongol Empire brings tartar legions into the territory, and armies led by Batu khan devastate half of the kingdom, killing a great number of people. Béla IV builds stone fortresses along the borders and in major cities (in Buda as well), and invites foreigners to settle the land and replace the slaughtered population.

1301 – Extinction of the Árpád dynasty. A sequence of internal wars follow, and the Anjou dynasty occupies the throne. Károly Róbert (1307-1342), the first Anjou king consolidates the economy by introducing a stable monetary system: the silver dinar and the golden forint.

1342-1382Lajos (Louis) I, also called the Great (Nagy) is king over Poland and Hungary. By conquering Dalmatia and Naples, he gives the country dominant power in Central-Europe. Knight culture flourishes in his court.

1395 – A short lived university is established in Old Buda.

15th century
Luxemburgi Zsigmond (Sigmund of Luxemburg) reigns, initiating the brightest era of Hungarian culture. He is king over the German, Hungarian and Czech people, and as emperor over the German-Roman Empire, he is the most honored ruler of the time. Internal affairs are managed with an eye to abridging the power of the Roman-Catholic Church, and to advocating free royal cities (thus, creating a bourgeois social class). He moves the royal seat to Buda, where the building of the castle accelerates. Humanist scholars reside in his court; Buda becomes an influential European city. During his reign, Turkish troops attack the border area, and the country has to organize its defense.

1456 (July 22)
– Siege of Nándorfehérvár or Belgrade. The joint Hungarian troops, under the command of János Hunyadi (the governor) and János Kapisztrán (Franciscan monk), miraculously beat the much larger Turkish army of Mehmed the 2nd. With this victory, the Hungarian army saves Europe of the impending Turkish invasion. In the memory of this victory, churches still ring their bell at noon throughout Europe.

1458-1490
– Reign of Corvin Mátyás (Matthias). Known as “Matthias, the just” in folk tales and poetry, he was nevertheless a harsh ruler, organizing the first Hungarian paid army (the black army “fekete sereg”) to defeat all internal opposition. He stabilizes the economy by imposing extreme taxes on the people. These measures greatly strengthen the country as a whole, and he successfully fights against the Turks on many occasions. His marriage to Beatrix from Saragossa encourages the spreading of renaissance education and arts in Hungary. The court in Buda and in Visegrád becomes a famous cultural center. His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana, was one of the largest humanist collections in Europe.

1514György Dózsa leads a peasant uprising. Originally a crusade leader against the Turks, he attacks gentry courts with his people. Upon defeat of the rebellion, the leader is burned upon a flaming throne.

1526 (August 29)
– Battle of Mohács. The army of Szulejmán (Suleiman) I, Turkish sultan, beats the Hungarian army of noblemen. The best of nobility from the king's (Lajos II) court is killed on the battlefield, and the defeat marks the end of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. The country splits into two.

1541 – The Turks capture Buda by stratagem, and the country previously divided into two splits into three. The Turks seize the major, central part, the Habsburgs rule over the western and northern region (called the Hungarian Kingdom of the time), and only the Principality of Transylvania (Erdélyi Fejedelemség) remains independent (most of the time, at least: some periods are spent under Turkish influence). This remains the situation for 150 years.

1566 (August 6 - September 8) – Siege of Szigetvár. In the fight along the borders against Turkish expansion (Esztergom, 1543, Eger, 1552, etc.), Miklós Zrínyi, a Croatian nobleman, makes a brave sally from the fortress to end the lengthy combat and weaken the assailant army. All his people (including himself) die in the battle, but they kill Suleiman the 2nd, and thwart the Turkish plan of reaching Vienna.

1571-1586
István Bocskai rules over the Principality of Transylvania, gains the royal title of Poland, and establishes a Polish-Hungarian unity of interest. The essence of his policy is to preserve autonomy, even when squeezed between two superpowers, the Habsburgs and the Turks.

1613-1629Gábor Bethlen, lord of Transylvania, supports religious freedom. In Europe's 30-year war, he fights in alliance with the protestant countries of England, Denmark, Holland and Sweden. Transylvania gains standing and influential power in Europe.

1635Péter Pázmány, Jesuit friar and cardinal, archbishop of Esztergom, institutes a university in Nagyszombat. This becomes Hungary's oldest institute of higher education. The university still operates in Budapest as Eötvös Loránd University - ELTE.

1686 – Recapturing of Buda. Under the command of János Sobieski, Polish king, the joint Polish-Bavarian-Austrian-Hungarian army drives out the Turks from Buda. The Hungarian nation once again joins Europe, as part of the Habsburg Empire.

1703 - 1711Ferenc Rákóczi II, Lord of Hungary and Transylvania leads a war of independence, to break from Habsburg rule. The Hungarian troops are compelled to lay down their arms, and the war ends with the peace pact of Szatmár, which provides relative freedom for the gentry, but strengthens Habsburg influence.

1741 – In the parliament, stationed in Pozsony (Bratislava), the Hungarian nation offers its „life and blood" to Mária Terézia (Maria-Theresa), archduchess of Austria and possessor of the Hungarian and the Czech crown. In the name of enlightened absolutism, she cancels the agency of the Hungarian parliament, enacts an educational reform (Ratio Educationis), and lightens the tax burden of the serfs.

1784 József (Joseph) II, also called “the king in a hat”, refuses the Hungarian crown, and forces Germanisation of the country by declaring German as the official language of Hungary.

1825 – In the first reform parliament session, Lord István Széchenyi, dedicates a one-year income of his estates to the establishment of a Hungarian Science Academy, to be located in Pest. This symbolic act (which, nevertheless, provided a substantial amount of money) marks the beginning of a Hungarian liberal reform movement.

1842 – The foot-stone of the Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) is laid down. This will be the first permanent bridge between Pest and Buda.

1848 (March 15)
– A revolution breaks out in Pest. Claims laid down at this point (for example: freedom of the press, establishment of a liable Hungarian Bureau, proportioned national taxing, equal rights in court) will later be integrated into the constitution of Hungary. Independent Hungarian government is formed, under the leadership of Lajos Batthyány, with the aim of a thorough societal reform. Hungary becomes an independent state.

1848 (April 11) – The “April laws” that abolish serfdom and gentry privileges are ratified by King Ferdinand the 5th.

1848 (September 11) – Jelačić, Croatian nobleman exhorted from Vienna, attacks Hungary. The Hungarian war of independence begins.

1849 (August 13) – In Világos, Hungarian troops led by Artúr Görgey surrender before the armies of the Russian tsar, who fight in alliance with the Austrians.

1867 Ferenc Deák leads the nation to reconciliation with Austria. The Kingdom of Hungary becomes part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Parliamentary democracy gives rights to a choice few of the society.

1867-1916
– Reign of Ferenc József, the era of dualism. In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the ministries of foreign affairs, –of war, and –of finance are joint; the rest of the ministries differentiate.

1873 – With the union of Pest, Buda and Óbuda Budapest is born. The Hungarian capital gains more and more ground in the political, social, and cultural life of the monarchy.

1914-1918 – Hungary fights along Austria and Germany in World War I, sacrificing a great number of soldiers on the Italian and Russian front lines.

1920 (June 4) – The peace pact of Trianon. Nearly two-thirds of the former Hungarian kingdom's territory (and one third of its Hungarian-speaking, resident population) is affixed to the surrounding countries.

1941 – Hungary enters World War II on the side of Germany, Italy and Japan, and sends soldiers to the Russian front.

1944-45 – The front line of the War reaches Hungary; Russian troops drive out the German army, and invade the country. The result is half a million human (civil and military) casualties and total devastation of the country's infrastructure.

1948 – With the union of the Social Democrats and the Labor Party the Party of Hungarian Workers (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja) is established. This marks the beginning of a total dictatorship, based on the model of Stalinism. Mátyás Rákosi becomes the key figure in Hungary.

1956 (October 23 - November 4)
– Revolution and war of independence against the dictatorship of Rákosi, and against Soviet occupation. It starts out with peaceful student demonstrations; the Hungarian police and parts of the military join later on. Imre Nagy becomes the secretary of state; a system of multiple parties is revived, and Hungary declares its independence. Within a few days, Soviet troops (tanks on the streets of Budapest) repress the revolution; the communist single party system is reinstated, and János Kádár becomes the new secretary of state. Imre Nagy, along with a large number of participants, is executed in the years to follow.

1973 – The Oil Embargo intensifies the deepening crisis of the Hungarian economy.

1987-89 – Series of mass demonstrations for a transition into democracy.

1989 (October 23) – The first free commemoration of the revolution of '56, declaration of the Hungarian Republic, and regime change in Hungary.

1999 – Hungary joins NATO.

2004 (May 1)
– Hungary joins the European Union.