THE FOUNDING OF HUNGARY IN THE CARPATHIAN BASIN



Anthony Endrey

(Excerpts)

 

After crossing the Carpathians with the main Hungarian army, Árpád descended into the plains along the right bank of the Tisza River. Here he joined up with the Hungarian expeditionary force which had remained in the area and then turned to the south. The region they traversed, the north-eastern portion of the present Great Hungarian Plain, was largely inhabited by scattered remnants of Avars and ethnic Hungarians who had settled there during the preceding centuries and who were no glad to welcome their kinsmen from the east. The main purpose of the campaign, however, was not to gather these relatives into a common fold, but to crush Bulgarian power in the Carpathian Basin. The center and the southern part of the Great Hungarian Plain and corresponding areas of Transylvania were occupied by wellorganised Bulgarian forces which were entirely intact as Levente’s attack only affected the Bulgarian homeland in the Balkans. These Bulgarians presumably knew of the Hungarian invasion of Bulgaria and were keen to repay the Magyars in kind. The Hungarians on their part were fighting for a new homeland and, as it soon turned out, their very national existence. The struggle was therefore bitter and merciless. The main battle took place near Alpár between the Danube and the Tisza where Árpád won a decisive victory over the Bulgarian general Salan. This crushed Bulgarian resistance in the plains and the victorious Hungarians quickly mopped up the remaining Bulgarian forces between the two great rivers. At the same time, a smaller Hungarian army led by Tuhutum swept into Transylvania and administered another defeat to the Bulgarians near Kolozsvár, securing the vital saltmines of Torda at the same time. Yet another Hungarian force under the command of Huba attacked the southern portion of present-day Slovakia and through the valleys of the Rima, Zagyva, Ipoly and Garam rivers, penetrated up to the primeval forest region of Zólyom. In this blitzkrieg which was executed with great precision and was almost certainly completed before the winter set in in 895, Árpád’s  armies secured complete mastery over the center and eastern portions of the Carpathian Basin right up to the Danube and the lower foothills of the Carpathians in the north-west.

 

The well-organized equestrian forces, left behind by Árpád, and the Hungarian civilian population – womenfolk, children, old people, servants and the farmers and tradesmen who had remained at home – trekked along the waste plains north of the Black Sea, covered by bitterly fighting frontier guards, until they crossed the eastern Carpathians and reached Transylvania which by that time had been cleared of the Bulgar military by Tuhutum’s forces. At the same time, Levente’s army which had finally shaken off the pursuing Simeon, also entered Transylvania and blocked the further advance of the Bulgars from the south.

 

The gathering of the Hungarian tribes in Transylvania was clearly prompted by the geographical features of the area, offering shelter against invaders from the east and the south, but it was probably also encouraged by the presence of the Szekelys, a branch of Hungarians who had settled in the Carpathian Basin with the Huns in the fifth century and survived in their mountainous stronghold comparatively intact until the arrival of the main body of Hungarians from Etelköz. The Szekelys immediately joined forces with the Magyars and were promptly utilized as frontier guards to protect the eastern Carpathians against attacks.

 

Having secured their national survival, the Hungarians quickly cleared the Carpathian Basin of all remnants of Bulgarian occupation and established themselves firmly in the area east of the Danube. They did not enter the Transdanubian region which was a vassal territory to the Frankish Empire. The Magyars preferred to await further developments in the west before acquiring additional enemies. They wisely sat back and held their peace.

 

In 898, Berengar, king of Lombardy, rose against Arnulf and endeavored to oust him from the entire Italian peninsula. Arnulf invoked the assistance of the Hungarians, concluding a solemn treaty of friendship with them and paying for their services in advance. In the next summer, a Hungarian force invaded northern Italy and won a crushing victory over Berengar. These Hungarian were still roaming all over the Po valley when Arnulf died in December 899. This produced unstable conditions throughout the Frankish Empire which left the Transdanubian area virtually defenseless. His alliance with Arnulf having come to an end, Árpád recalled his expeditionary force from Italy and sent them to occupy Transdanubia which the accomplished without much resistance. At the same time, the main Hungarian army moved against the territories still occupied by the Moravians in the north-western segment of the Carpathians and ousted them. By the end of the summer of 900, the entire Carpathian Basin was in the hands of the Magyars and the Hungarian (re)Conquest was complete.

 

Having attained his objectives through the superiority of the Hungarian armies, Árpád was anxious to stabilize the situation of his people by diplomacy.

 

Around 902 the Hungarians held a mss assembly at Pusztaszer (originally SZER) at which Árpád sorted out tribal rivalries and finally allocated the country among the various Hungarian clans and their allies. Having secured their new homeland and acquired a firm place of residence within it, the Magyars now settled down to a period of consolidations and peaceful pursuits. They still had to remember, however, that enemies surrounded them on every side.

 

The total strength of the Hungarians who entered the Carpathian Basin in the Hungarian (re)Conquest has been variously estimated but they probably numbered not less than five hundred thousand. They also found there Szekelys, other ethnic Hungarians and Avars totaling at least half as much, so that together they constituted a people of three-quarters of a million. This number was quickly augmented by the incorporations of scattered settlements of other ethnic groups in the Carpathian Basin, resulting in a reasonably substantial nation which was highly organized and well able to take care of itself.

 

After 902, the Magyars did not mount any major wars against their neighbors, as all their objectives had been accomplished and they were engaged in building their new homeland. It was, however, necessary to maintain the pressure on the countries surrounding them so as to prevent them from forming an anti-Hungarian alliance and to nip any hostile plans in the bud. The conquest of the Carpathian Basin was therefore followed by a period of sustained military excursions carried out by Hungarian forces of moderate size and coupled with clever diplomacy, in the course of which the Magyars repeatedly intervened in the internal affairs of the German Empire and northern Italy, and altogether dominated the European scene for nearly half a century.

 

The Hungarians of the (re)Conquest period were, as they had been for centuries, fierce horsemen, fighting exclusively on horseback and able to cover vast distances in an astonishingly short space of time. They were also great archers and had a magnificent composite bow whose range outdistanced the comparatively primitive instruments of contemporary European soldiery by three to one. In addition to these attributes, they had a superb military organization, with highly disciplined troops and extremely capable generals. They were thus able to traverse Europe at will from Constantinople to the Pyrenees and lay down the law as they went along.

 

It is also important to bear in mind that in their own ideology, the Magyars considered themselves the „scourge of God”, with a divine mission to chastise the peoples of Europe for their sins. Bringing with them an ancient civilization which had its roots in the Near East, they were also culturally equal, and in some ways superior,to their fellow-Europeans who were still coming out of the Dark Ages and whom the Hungarians regarded with at least as much disdain as they themselves were viewed by contemporary western chroniclers.

 

(Anthony Endrey; Hungarian History Part One; The Hungarian Institute, Melbourne, 1982)

 

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(In 907, Árpád, the founding father of the Hungarian state died. He established and secured a Homeland for his people. After more then onethousandonehundred (1100) years the thankful Magyars still remember him with great love and reverence. KME)

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