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History of Hungary

Hungary's more than 1000-year long history shaped the country: its culture, language traditions, the cuisine, and the Hungarians' way of thinking.

If you want to discover and understand Hungary and Hungarians skim through our pages about history of Hungary.

Before the Magyars Arrived
The Magyar Conquest
Hungary in the early Middle Ages
Renaissance Hungary 15th century
The Turkish Rule - 16th-17th centuries
The Habsburg Era 17th-19th centuries
Hungary during the 1st World War
Hungary during the 2nd World War
The Communist Regime
Hungary Today


Before the Magyars Arrived

Traces of prehistoric man living in the the Carpathian Basin around 500 000 years ago were found in Vértesszőlős or in the caves of the Bükk Hills in Northern Hungary.

The Romans had a great impact on the developement of the settlements west of the Danube which they conquered in the 1st century and transformed into a Roman province called Pannonia (the area is called Trandanubia today).


Aquincum Museum in Budapest
The 400 year long Roman era brought about thriving towns and prosperity the evidence of which you can see in Budapest (called Aquincum in the Roman times) and in towns like Szombathely and Sopron in Western Transdanubia, or in Pécs, in Southern Transdanubia.
The Romans realised Pannonia's main treasure, the abundance of thermal springs and medicinal waters and they built the first baths.

Aquincum Museum in Óbuda (III. district) Budapest

In the 5th century the Romans were forced to gave up Pannonia to the Huns lead by their legendary leader Attila. After the fall of the Hun Empire a few other tribes followed each other in the Carpathian Basin during the era called the great migration: Goths, Lombards and Avars.

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History of Hungary - the Beginnings

Conquering the Carpathian Basin

After years of wandering 7 Magyar Tribes lead by Árpád (great-grandfather of Géza, father of King St Stephen) conquered the Carpathian Basin in 895.

Scythian Golden Deer

Scythian Golden Deer from 5th century BC, the best known relic from the era of the ancient Hungarians, found during in Tápiószentmárton

The nomad Magyars finaly found a permanent home after yearrs of roaming in the steppe however they have to gave up their former lifestyle in order to settle down and be accepted by Christian Western Europe.

The ancient Hungarian were excellent fighters. They excelled in archery on a horses back. Hungarians raided Europe until I Otto and his army stopped them in the battle of Augsburg in 955.

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Foundation of the Hungarian State

Duke Géza (947-997) realised that Hungarians' had two choices in order to survive and found a state: either become the ally of the two main empires ruling Europe at that time: the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, or be crushed by these two dominant forces.

Holy Crown of Hungary

Géza wisely decided to convert Hungarians into Christianity: to set an example he and his son Vajk were baptised Géza had also requested a crown for his son from Pope Sylvester II.

Vajk chose the Christian name István (Stephen) when he was crowned as Hungary's first king in 1000. You can see the Holy Crown of Hungary, one of the country's most precious relics, in the Parliament in Budapest.


King Stephen (975-1038) consolidated the country and Christendom though he had to fight with those who were against the new religion and Stephen's provisions.

King Stephen were canonized in 1083 and he became the patron of Hungary. We celebrate the work of St Stephen and the foundation of the Hungarian State on 20th August.

King Stepen founded bishoprics, one primateship in Esztergom, several abbeys and built churches throughout the country the remains of some are the cathedral in Székesfehérvár, the monasterys in Pécsvárad and in Zalavár. Esztergom and Visegrád, the two royal towns in the Danube Bend also have many monuments from King Stepen's era and from the early middle ages.

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Hungary in the Early Middle Ages

Following the turmoils after King Stephen's death in 1038, kings from the House of Árpád reigned in Hungary, ruling a strong and large state in the heart of Europe.

During the realm of Saint Ladislaus (1077-1095) and Coloman (Könyves Kálmán 1095-1116) increased country's territorry by annexing regions in Croatia, Dalmatia and Bosnia to Hungary. In the early Middle Ages Hungary became one of the most powerful countries of Europe.

The Mongol Invasion (1241-42) however put an end to Hungary's flourishing who devastated the settlements and decimated the country's population during their raids.

The Mongols had to go back to Central Asia due to their leader's, Genghis Khan's unexpected death. King Béla IV (1235-1270) rebuilt the country. He realised that in order to protect the country from attacks similar to the Mongolians strong stone fortresses needed to be built.

He built a castle on the Buda Hills that latter many kings added to and rebuild creating the Royal Place in Budapest's Castle District. To offset the loss of people, he invited Germans to Buda and the nomadic Cumians to settle down in the area of today's Southern Great Plain and Northern Great Plain.

The House of Árpád died out with the death of Andrew III (1290-1301).

Under the rule of Anjou kings (1308-1387) then kings from the Luxemburg dinasty (1387-1437) Hungary expanded its territory, while grand buildings were established and cultural life and arts were thriving throughout the country. King Charles Robert from the Anjou House moved the court from Visegrád to Buda. His son Louis the Great built a new Palace in Buda's Castle District.

Since Louis the Great died without a male heir his son-in-law, Sigismund of Luxemburg followed him on the throne who also became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1433.

Despite some stormy events during his reign, Sigismund built several great castles like the Gothic Friss (New) Palace in Buda, and castles of Visegrád or Tata.
After Sigismund's and his army of crusaders disastrous defeat by the Turks at Nicopolis in 1396, the Turks launched frequent attacks against the southern part of Hungary.

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Renaissance Hungay - King Matthias 15th Century

Under the rule of King Matthias (1458-1490) from the Hunyadi family Hungary, especially Buda became one of the great cultural centres of Europe. Many stories and legend retell the great deeds of Matthias who were the defenders of the poor against the unfairness caused by their lords. Hence his name Matthias the Righteous.

Royal Palace in Budapest

He implemented several reforms in jurisdiction, public security, he also facilitated the development of industry and trade.

He expanded his royal residence in Buda by adding a Renaissance style wing to the former palace, the beauty of which was renowned in whole Europe.

The Royal Palace today in Buda's Castel District

As a Renaissance king, Matthias supported culture and arts. His famous library the Bibliotheca Corviniana consisting of at least 500 volumes was the largest collection of historical, scientific and philosophic works in 15th-century Europe, second in size to the Vatican's library.

Aritsts from Italy and from other countries came to work in the court of King Matthias. Apart from Buda Palace architectural masterpieces from the era inculde the castle of Visegrád and the fortress of Diósgyőr in North Hungary.

Royal palace in Visegrád Hungary

Visegrád Palace

With his effective army of mercenaries, equipped with modern weapons, Matthias managed to suppress the Turkish army for several decades. He conquered Moravia and Silesia and even occupied Vienna where he died in 1490.

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Hungary under the Turkish Rule 16th-17th Centuries

In the summer of 1526 the Sultan Suleiman II (1496-1566) launched an well-organised attack against Hungary and made a destructive victory over the much smaller and less equipped Hungarian army at Mohács, a town now in Southern Transdanubia.

In 1541 th Turks took over Buda as well and the country lost its independence. Hungary was divided into 3 parts:

  • the central Part under Ottoman rule,
  • Ferdinand of the Habsburg dinasty governed northern part of the country as the Kingdom of Hungary, and
  • the Princedom of Transylvania.

Monument Park in Mohács

Historical Memorial Park in Mohács - around 15 000 soldiers died in the battle rest here

The 150-year long Turkish occupation threw back Hungary's development and and the flourishing induced by King Matthias.

Despite the devastation the Turks built some monuments that still can be seen today: the magnificent Turksih baths of Budapest, the minaret in Eger, or the dzsamis in Pécs.

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The Habsburg Era - 17-19th centuries

A Christian army facilitated by the Roman Emperor and Pope Innocent XI freed Buda and Pest in 1686. Many bulidings were destroyed during the siege.

By hte end of the 17th century the Turks were chased away from the country, that lsot a considerable part of its population, whole areas became deserted.

In the coming decades Germans, Croatians, Slovakians and Romanians settled down in Hungary to counterbalance the loss in Hungarian population.

You might think that after the departure of the Turks Hungary became an independent country and started to reconstruct what were destroyed. Unfortunatley insted of national freedom Hungary became a province of the Habsburg Empire.

The Rákoczi castle in Sárospatak

Castle of the Rákóczi family in Sárospatak

Ferenc Rákóczi whose castle stands in Sárospatak, Northern Hungary lead the unsuccesful Kuruc war of independence against the Habsburgs in 1703-11.

Some other anti-Habsburg movements were attempted to gain back Hungary's independence or at leat some of it. In the first half of the 19th century a reform activity started for preserving national identity the Hungarian language and culture.

One of the most eminent personalities of this era was Count István Széchenyi often referred to as the "Greatest Hungarian", the other outstandig politician was Lajos Kossuth. He facilitated the construction of the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest over the Danube, the Chain Bridge.

Chain Bridge in Budapest

In the spring of 1848 the a revolutions sweeping through Europe caused an uprising in Budapest on 15th March lead by poet Sándor Petőfi. The uprising evolved into War of Independence that the Habsburgs managed to broke down only in 1849 with help of the Russian army. The Habsburgs began retaliation by executing 14 Hungarian generals in Arad (now in Transylvania) on 6th October 1849.

The years of terror were ended in 1867 when Hunagarians made a Compromise with the Habsburgs that resulted in an Hungary's independent governance and legislation and only foreign affairs, defense and financial issues were managed jointly. Farncis Josepg were crowned King of Hungary in the summer of 1867.

Although feudalism and all its drawbacks were still persent, industry started to develop in Hungary. Railway lines were constructed that connecting araes through Budapest.

Buda, Pest and Óbuda wer unified in 1873 establsihing Hungary's capital, Budapest. The unification put the city on the track of fast development which made the Hungarian capital one of the most prominent capitals of Europe. Grandiose building projects were launched to celebrate the Millennium in 1896 (the 1000th anniversary that Hungarians settled down in the Carpathian Basin)

Heroes' Square Budapest

Heroes' Square in Budapest one of the great monuments created for the Millennial celebrations of 1896

Behind the facade of flourishing some serious problems existed: small land owners go bankrupt due to lack of money wich caused thousands of land workers to leave Hungary and find work and home in foreign countries. Meanwhile the growing working-class demanded more rights by going on strikes.

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Hungary During the First World War

Hungary lost around 1 milion men fighting on the side of the Habsburgs as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the 1st world war. The defeat at the end of the world meant the breaking up of the Monarchy.

The revolution in Russia in February 1917 had a significant impact on Hungary. Left-wing forces became more influential on the political scene. Strikes and demostrations broke out all over the country.

In 1918, before the capitulation of the Habsburg Monarchy a National council came into power in Hungary led by Count Mihály Károlyi. Károlyi demanded separate peacemaking and the independence of Hungary. On 16th November, 1918 Hungary was declared a republic with Mihály Károlyi as prime minister.

On 21st March communists lead by Béla Kun took over the republic but their regime laste only until August 1919.

In 1920 the parliament elected Miklós Horthy regent. In the Trianon Treaty Hungary was forced to gave up cc. 68% percent of her territory to the neighbouring countries. It was a devastating blow to the country that took her decades to get over.

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Hungary During the 2nd World War

The urge to regain the territories taken away in the Trianon Treaty made Hungary enter the 2nd world war on the side of the Germans.

In October 1944 Miklós Horthy tried to withdraw from the war by making a separate peace with the Allies but with the help of the Germans the fascist Arrow Cross Party seized the power.

The fascists deported hundreds of thousands Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and other camps where around half million of the deported died. The Red Army laid siege to Budapest on Christmas 1944. The fights and bombing destructed most of the Hungarain capital.

By 4th April, 1945 the Russians liberated whole Hungary. In 1946 Hungary became Republic and the government signed the Paris Treaty in 1947 that restored the borders established by the Trianon Treaty.

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Under the Communist Regime

In 1947 the Communist party won the elections and a one-party communist dictatorship was established ruled by Mátyás Rákosi (1949-1956)and a henchman country of the communist Soviet Union. The party leaders and the farms assimilated privately owned lands taken away from people into collective farms. The economy was managed according to centralised, 5-year plans following the Soviet example. The KGB-trained secret police the ÁVH brought about terror, arrests, and tortures.

The former headquartes of the ÁVH on 60. Andrássy út was transformed into a museum called House of Terror. The name tells you eevrything what exhibitons you can see there.

House of Terror (Terror Háza) Museum Budapest

House of Terror (Terror Háza) Museum on Andrássy Avenue in Budapest

Everyone was suspicious; people reported even their neighbours to the police. Thousands were deported to Siberia. The forced industrial production according to the Stalinist modell ruined Hungary's economy in a few years. The reign of terror and the deteriorating standard of living lead to the revolution of 1956

On 23rd October in 1956 university students marched onto the streets of Budapest and demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary and the fall of the communist dictatorship. The Soviet army intervened: tanks appeared in Budapest and many were shot during the fights. On some apartments you can still see the bullet holes from 1956.

Demonstrators pulled down the 20 m high statue of Stalin on Heroes' Square the symbol of terror and dictatorship. After the fall of the communsit regime these statues were removed to a park in the outskirt of Budapest.

Imre Nagy was proclaimed prime minister. Nagy promised to dissiolve the AV, political prisoners were released and given amnesty.

Despite Imre Nagy's activity fightings continued. On 1st Novemeber Imre Nagy announced the Hungary would leave the Warsaw Pact that cause a large scale offensive from the Soviet side. Nagy asked help from the UN to protect establish an independent and neutral Hungary, however Western nations decided not to intervene. The Soviets crushed the uprising within days. Around 3000 died and 200 000 people left Hungary. Imra Nagy was executed.

Statue of Imrea Nagy in Budapest

Memorial of Imre Nagy on Vértanúk tere in downtown Budapest, V. dsitrict

After the revolution János Kádár (1912-1989) came into power as leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. After a few yeras of retaliation Kádár introduced a soft-dicatorship, the so-called "goulash communism": the standard of living improved, everyone had a workplace with reasonable salary. Later, travel to capitalist, western countries was alowed though within strict limits.

During the coming decades Hungary accumulated a huge amount of foreign debt. Inflation grew, standard of living started to decrease, the economy was in poor shape. The opposition wing became stronger and stronger and János Kádár had not other choice but retire.

Hungary managed to accomplish a peaceful transisition from centralised, communist adninistration to a democratic, multi-party political system that accelerated the fall of communism in every Central and Eastern Eurpena country.

In May 1989 Hungary dismantled the barbed wire along its border with Austria an act symbolising the demolition of the imaginary Iron Curtian separating West and eats Europe for decades. In 1989 Miklós Németh and his reform-communist party

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Democratic Hungary

On 16th June, 1989 victims of the 1956 revolution were reburied and a huge crowd gathered to witness the event.

On 23rd October - which is a public holiday since then - in 1989 Hungary was declared republic.

In spring in 1990 the first free election was held after 45 years marking the establishment of a democratic, multi-party system.

A centre-right coalition won with József Antal as prime minister. The strenuous transformation of Hungary's economy into market economy started. The road to market economy was bumpy. Inflation rose many became unemployed.

In June 1991 the last Soviet troops left the country. The Budapest Farewel (Budapest Búcsú) celebrates this with music and theatrical performances on various venues (City Park, Vörösmarty Square) in the capital every June.

People were distressed and the 1994 election brought back many former communists now as members of the Socialist party to the political scene. Gyula Horn who played a major role in the reforms as the minister of foreign affairs he iniated the breaking down of the wire fence on the border with Austria in 1989. - became prime minister and he assured everybody that his and his party's aim is to sustain and develop the democratic system and market economy.

The foreign policy of Hungary was to establish strongeer connections with Western countries. Hungayr became the full member of the NATO in 1999.
In 1998 negotiaons started on Hungary's full European Membership.

After winning the 1998 elections the centre-right FIDESZ (Alliance of Young Democrats) with coalition of the Hungarain Democratic Forum and the Smallholders Party formed government with the 35-year old Viktor Orbán as prime minister.

The result of the 2002 parliamentary elections had made the Socialist Party to make coalition with the liberal SzDSz Party in order to form government with Ferenc Meggyessy as prime minister. Due to a conclict with the SzDSz Meggyesy resigned and Ferenc Gyurcsány, a young and ambitious entrepreneur took over his position.

On 1st May 2004 Hungary became member of the European Union.

In 2006 the coalition of the Socialist party and the SzDSz party won the election again. After the fall of the communist regime this was the first time that the same political power was entitled to form a government .

In August 2006 an audio recording taken on a party meeting leaked in which Gyurcsány confessed that "we've been lying in the last 1.5-2 years".

The confession resulted in public outrage that resulted in the riots in autumn.

In September 2006 series of demonstration started in front of the Parliament building in Budapest demandig Gyurcsány's resignation. Some parts of the demonstrators consisted of football hooligans and extreme right wing supporters who attacked the Headquarters of the Hungarian Television in Budapest and clashed with the police several times.

On 6th October Gyurcsány won a vote of confidence in the Parliament. Riots break out again on 23rd October 2006 on the Memorial Day of the 1956 revolution.

To establish a financial equilibrium (lessen the budget deficit and inflation rate) required for Hungary's joining the Eurozone severe financial measures, wage restrictions increased taxes and many more were introduced in the 2nd half of 2006 and in 2007. If Hungary manages to implement sad measures the country could join the Eurozone around 2012-13 the earliest.

Meanwhile large scale highway constructions are in progress and building of the 4th metro line in Budapest has started finally.

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