- This article is about the Magyar people. For the Magyar language, see Hungarian language.
Magyars are an ethnic group primarily associated with Hungary. In English they are usually called Hungarians, except in some historical texts.
The word Hungarian has a wider meaning, because - especially in the past - it referred to all inhabitants of the Kingdom of Hungary irrespective of their ethnicity (i.e. not only Magyars). Specifically, the Latin term natio hungarica referred to all nobles of the Kingdom of Hungary irrespective of their ethnicity.
There are around 9,416,000 Magyars in Hungary (2001). Magyars have been the main inhabitants of the Kingdom of Hungary that existed through most of the second millennium. Following its disappearance with the Treaty of Trianon, Magyars have become minority inhabitants of Romania (1,400,000; see: Hungarian minority in Romania), Slovakia (520,500), Serbia and Montenegro (293,000), Ukraine (170,000), Croatia (16,500), the Czech Republic (14,600) and Slovenia (7,700).
There was a referendum in Hungary in December 2004 on whether to automatically grant Hungarian citizenship to all Magyars living outside Hungary's borders. The referendum failed, because of lack of interest on the part of the population.
History after 896
The Magyar leader Árpád is believed to have led the Hungarians into the Carpathian Basin (and the Pannonian plain) in 896. Magyar expansion was checked at the Battle of Lechfeld. Hungarian settlement in the area became blessed by the Pope by the crowning of Stephen I the Saint (Szent István) in 1001 when the leaders accepted Christianity. The centuries between the Magyars arriving from the eastern European plains and the consolidation of the Hungarian Kingdom in 1001 were dominated by pillaging campaigns across Europe, from Dania (Denmark) to the Iberian peninsula (Spain).
Since the end of the 13th century (except for the period 1538/1541 - early 18th century) the multiethnic Kingdom of Hungary, founded by the Magyars in the 10th century, occupied the whole Carpathian Basin. Despite its name, in sum the state was inhabited by far more other nationalities than Magyars (e.g. in 1780 by 71.1% other nationalities). After WWI the ancient Kingdom was divided through the Treaty of Trianon in many regions based on ethnicities that were incorporated or formed national states of the same ethnicity.
Origin of the word "Hungarian"
The word derives from the old Slavic word og(ъ)r- for the proto-Magyars. Through Germanic languages, the word got into other European languags ((H)ungarus, (H)ungarn, Vengry etc.). The Slavic word is thought to be derived from the bulgaro-turkic Onogur, which could have arisen because the proto-Magyars were neighbours of the Empire of the Onogurs in the 6th century, whose leading tribal union was called the "Onogurs" (meaning "ten tribes").
The H- in many languages (Hungarians, Hongrois, Hungarus etc.) is a later error. It was taken over from the word "Huns", which was a similar semi-nomadic tribe living some 400 years earlier in present-day Hungary and having a similar way of life. In ancient times and in the middle ages such false identifications (Huns=Hungarians) often occurred in history and literature.
Still, Hun names like Attila and Réka are popular among Hungarians, and forms derived from Latin Hungaria are used like in the racetrack Hungaroring (mostly due to the strong English language pressure in tourism and international matters).
An equivalent use in English would be using Britannia, Hibernia and Erin besides the Anglo-Saxon words.
Magyar is today simply the Hungarian word for Hungarian. In English and many other languages, however, Magyar is used instead of Hungarian in certain (mainly historical) contexts, usually to distinguish ethnic Hungarians (i.e. the Magyars) from the other nationalities living in the Hungarian kingdom.
Ethnic affiliations and origins of the Hungarian people
The origin of the Hungarians (more correctly Magyars) is partly disputed. Despite many popular theories, however, most serious scholars both in Hungary and abroad tend to dismiss theories about the Magyars being descendants of the Sumerians or the Huns. A combination of linguistic, archaeological and anthropological data gives the following general picture, which is usually accepted by scholars:
East of the Ural mountains (before the 4th century AD)
In the 4th millenium BC, the oldest known settlements of Uralic peoples (Finno-Ugrians and Samoyeds) were situated east of the Ural Mountains. They were involved in fishing and hunting.
From there, some of the Finno-Ugrians, probably the ancestors of today's Finns, moved to and settled in the valley of the Kama river (on the other side of the Ural Mountains) around 3000 BC. The Ugrians , in turn, i.e. the ancestors of the Magyars, were settled in the wood-steppe parts of western Siberia (i.e. to the east of the Ural) – from c. 2000 BC. onwards at least. Their settlements were identical with the north-western part of the Andronovo Culture. Some more advanced tribes coming from the southern steppes taught them how to do agriculture, breed cattle and produce bronze objects. Around 1500, they started to breed horses and horse riding became one of their typical activities.
Due to climatic changes in the early 1st millenium BC, the Ugrian subgroup known as the Ob-Ugrians – until then living more in the north - moved to the lower Ob river, while the Ugrian subgroup being the ancestor of the proto-Magyars remained in the south and became nomadic herdsmen. From the definitive departure of the Ob-Ugrians (around 500 BC), the ancestors of present-day Magyars can be considered a separate ethnic group – the proto-Magyars. During the following centuries, the proto-Magyars still lived in the wood-steppes and steppes southeast of the Ural Mountains, and they were immediate neighbours of and were strongly influenced by the ancient Sarmatians.
Bashkiria and the Khazar kaghanate (4th century – c. 830 AD)
In the 4th and 5th centuries AD, the Proto-Magyars moved to the west of the Ural Mountains to the area between the southern Ural Mountains and the Volga river (Bashkiria).
In the early 8th century, a part of the proto-Magyars moved to the Don river (to a territory between the Volga, the Don and the Donets), a territory later called Levedia. The descendants of those proto-Magyars who stayed in Bashkiria were seen in Bashkiria as late as in 1241. Indeed, many historical references related both the Magyars (Hungarians) and the Bashkirs as two branches of the same nation. However, modern Bashkirs are quite different from their original stock, largely decimated during the Mongol invasion (13th century), and assimilated into Turkic peoples
The proto-Magyars around the Don river were subordinates of the Khazar khaganate. Their neighbours was the archaeological Saltov Culture , i.e. Bulgars (Proto-Bulgarians, descendants of the Onogurs) and the Alans, from which they learned gardening, elements of cattle breeding and of agriculture. The Bulgars and Magyars shared a long-lasting relationship in Khazaria, either by alliance or rivalry. The system of 2 rulers (later known as kende and gyula) is also thought to be a major inheritance from the Khazars. The Magyars were probably organized in a confederacy of seven tribes called Jenö, Kér, Keszi, Kürt-Gyarmat, Megyer (Magyar), Nyék, and Tarján.
Etelköz (c.830 – c. 895)
Around 830, a civil war broke out in the Khazar khaganate. As a result, three Kabar tribes out of the Khazars joined the Proto-Magyars and they moved to what the Magyars call the Etelköz, i.e. the territory between the Carpathians and the Dnjepr river (today's Ukraine). Around 854, the Proto-Magyars had to face a first attack by the Pechenegs. (According to other sources, the reason for the departure of the Proto-Magyars to Etelköz was the attack of the Pechenegs.) Both the Kabars and earlier the Bulgars taught the Magyars their Turkic languages, from which there are still at least 300 words and names in modern Hungarian. The new neighbour of the Proto-Magyars were the Normans and eastern Slavs. Archaelogical finding suggest that the Proto-Magyars entered into intense interaction with both groups. From 862 onwards, the proto-Magyars (in 862 referred to as the Ungri) along with their allies, the Kabars, started a series of constant temporary looting raids from the Etelköz to the Carpathian Basin mostly against the Eastern Frankish Empire (Germany) and Great Moravia, but also against the Balaton principality and Bulgaria.
Entering the Carpathian Basin (after 895)
In 895/896, probably under the leadership of Árpád, a part of them crossed the Carpathians to enter the Carpathian basin. The tribe called Magyars (Megyer) was the leading tribe of the Magyar alliance that conquered the center of the basin. At the same time (c. 895), the proto-Magyar Etelköz was attacked by Bulgaria (because the Proto-Magyars were involved in the Bulgaro-Byzantine war of 894-896) and then by their old enemies, the Pechenegs. It is uncertain whether or not those conflicts were the cause of the Magyar departure from Etelköz.
In the Carpathian Basin, the Magyars initially occupied the Great Moravian territory at the upper/middle Tisza river – a scarcely populated territory, to which, according to Arabian sources, Great Moravia used to send its criminals, and where the Roman Empire settled the Iazyges centuries ago. From there they intensified their looting raids all over continental Europe. In 900, they moved from the upper Tisza river to Transdanubia (Pannonia), which later became the core of the arising Hungarian state. Magyar allies - the Kabars –, probably led by Kursan , probably settled in the region around Bihar. When entering the Carpathian basin, the Magyars found a largely Slavic population there, such as the Bulgarians, Slovaks, Slovenians, Croats etc. and minor remnants of the Avars (in the southwest). Influenced by the Slavic population of this territory, the Magyars were gradually changing their pastoral way of life to an agricultural one and took over hundreds of Slavic words. See History of Hungary for a continuation and Hungary: Pre-History and Early History for the background.
Many of the (proto-)Magyars, however, remained to the north of the Carpathians after 895/896, as archaelogical findings e.g. in Polish Przemysl suggest. They seem to have joined the other Magyars in 900. According to other opinions, all the remaining Magyars defeated by the Bulgarians and Pechenegs from the Etelköz fled to Transylvania. Anyway, it is commonly accepted that in Transylvania (Erdély, Ardeal), there is a consistent Hungarian population that is historically not related to the Magyars led by Arpád: they are the Székely, the main ethnic component of the Hungarian minority in Romania. They are fully acknowledged as Magyars. The Székely people's origin is a matter of historical controversy. Some people think that the Székelys were settled in Transylvania in early times, long before the Magyar tribes left Khazaria. See Székely for details.
Later genetic influences
Besides the various nations mentioned above, which mixed with the Magyars during their long way to and at their arrival in present-day Hungary, the Magyars also include "genes" from other people that (were) settled in this territory after the arrival of the Magyars, for example the Cumanians, the Pechenegs and Germans in the Middle Ages, the Turks – which occupied present-day Hungary from c. 1541 to c. 1700 -, and especially the various nations (Austrians, Slovaks, Serbs and others) invited to resettle the depopulated territories after the departure of the Turks after 1700. All of them added their contribution in composing the modern Hungarian nation.
The following text is an example of how people relating the Magyars to the Huns or the Sumerians argue, although most scholars are claiming the opposite. The text, all errors and the lingustic quasi-analysis (which tries to directly relate two languages over a period of 5000 years) are shown without any comments:
The Hungarian Chronicles say very little about the early history of the Magyars. The main references to that period are found in two accounts, one of which is the Legend of the White Stag that suggests the unification of three nations: Magyars, Huns and Alans. Of course, the integration of Alans with the Hun/Magyar tribes refers not to the whole people of the Alans, but only to some of their tribes. A valuable document about the story of the magical hunt in early versions was taken from the Hungarian Royal Library captured by the Turks and re-published under the title "Tarihi Üngürüs" (History of the Hungarians), now in the Topkapi Museum of Istanbul.
The other reference to that period is very interesting since it mentions ancient rulers and Biblical patriarchs. That document starts with Tana, who is identified with Kush, the father of Nimrod - undoubtedly, the same as the Sumerian Etana of the city of Kish (Kush). The Kushan Scythians also had an ancestor called Kush-Tana. The Sumerian Etana was the first mighty one on earth who wanted to visit heaven, and did - this coincides with the Biblical account concerning Nimrod, and his role in the construction of the Tower of Babel. In the Hungarian account, is son is called Menrot (Nimrud), whose sons were Magor, Hunor, and the ancestors of the Iranians.
This resembles the myths recorded by Berosus, the outstanding historian of Babylon. Even the wife of Nimrud (Anuta/Bau) has similar names in the Hungarian version, Eneth/Boldog-asszony. Assyrian accounts refer that Nimrud had twin sons, one of whose names is Magor. Following this mythical ancestor there is a short list of patriarchs who can be associated to early Scythian ones as recorded by Herodotus. This period then is followed by the better documented historic Avar-Hun rulers, concluding with the early Hungarian leaders before and after the settlement in the Danubian basin. They emphasize the strong dynastic bonds with the Huns. The Hun tribes were the heirs of the Scythians by culture and consanguinity. An interesting reference is the burial rites of Scythians and Huns, which were quite similar: the same barrows, burial frames of logs and thick timbers, burial blocks, sacrificial horses etc.
The name of Árpád, the founder of the modern Hungary, can be found in ancient records, from Egypt to Northern Mesopotamia. According to the Hungarian legend of the Turúl Hawk (a mythical bird which corresponds to the Sumerian "Dugud"), Ügyek, the descendant of king Magog (the Scythian king Magog lived in Northern Mesopotamia, according to Assyrian records) and a royal leader of the land of Scythia, married the daughter of Ened-Belia, whose name was Emeshe (a word that means "priestess" in Sumerian language). From her was born their first son Álmos. Álmos, who was Árpád's father, is said to be a descendant of Attila the Hun.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04