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History of Hungary

The people of modern-day Hungary are ethnic Magyar, but ancient history from the region revolves around the Huns, which is another Asiatic group, but not related to the Magyars. The Huns however established the reputation that the Magyars later inherited; that of a barbaric group of warriors.

The Magyars arrived in the 800s as nomads and horse-masters, but as the neighboring empires grew, they forced the Magyars into peace and settlement in the 900s. In 973 the leader of the Magyars asked the Holy Roman Emperor to convert his people to Christianity, which later encouraged the Holy Roman Empire to crown his son the first king of a Christian Hungary.

Immediately after the adoption of Christianity, King Stephen welcomed missionaries and priests along with a more organized and centralized government. The country became a destination for these people, but over the next couple hundred years the country was relatively unstable and in 1241 was overrun by the Mongols.

After a return to power and expansion, Hungary slowly grew until 1396 when they were overrun by the Ottoman Turks, but by 1456 they had defeated the Turks and established a large and well trained army. However all this fighting left the local Magyar people neglected and soon both the nobles and the peasants were fighting the king as the pendulum swung the other direction in 1541 when the Turks returned and took the then Austrian-controlled Budapest (at the time two separate cities: Buda and Pest).

Until 1686, Hungary was divided by Turkish, Hungarian, and Austrian control, at which point the Polish armies defeated the Turks, but the Magyars didn't gain independence since the Hapsburgs came in and took over the land previously controlled by the Turks. The relationship was inconsistent over time as independence movements came and went as the Hapsburg power declined and eventually created the dual monarchy of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1867.

During much of early Austrian rule (prior to the dual monarchy) the countries experiences wars, in particular the counter-reformation, the Thirty Years War, and further battles with the Turks. The 1700s were much the same as Austria got involved in wars with the Russians, Swedes, Prussians, and French among others.

The 1800s began with further wars with the French as Napoleon swept across Europe. In his wake he left various revolutionary ideas behind, including rule by the people and greater power by the people to determine their own destiny. This led to Hungarian revolts and in 1867 Austria united with Hungary in a dual monarchy to overpower these thoughts and movements. This union created a government in which the two countries operated fairly independently of each other, only sharing a few governmental branches.

World War I (WWI) began in 1914 with the assassination of the Austrian-Hungarian archduke in Sarajevo. After losing the war, Hungary and Austria parted ways, but Hungary lost nearly half their land, creating bitter relations with neighboring countries.

World War II also found Hungary on the losing side. They joined the Germans in order to regain their lost lands from WWI, but as defeat seemed unavoidable, Hungarian leadership secretly turned to the Allies to negotiate a separate peace agreement, which the Nazis soon found out about and attacked Hungary. In the war much of Hungary was destroyed and afterwards the Soviets installed a rogue communist government to rule over the country for the next 45 years.

The Hungarians hated communism and protested in October of 1956 by actually taking Budapest and holding off the Soviets for a few days, but eventually the Soviet tanks rolled into the city and the Hungarian protests ended.

In 1989 the Hungarians removed the fence along the border between them and Austria, creating a flood of people rushing west, Hungary proclaimed independence and in 1991 the Soviets left the country. Since independence, Hungary has had unsteady relations with some of their neighbors due to the number of Hungarians in these countries, which at one time were part of Hungary. Despite this, Hungary joined the European Union in 2004.

This page was last updated: March, 2013