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Hungary-The Medieval Period

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Before the Magyar tribes conquered the Carpathian Basin in 896, they lived a seminomadic life on the Russian steppe (see Early History , ch. 1). Their military organization and weaponry resembled those of various Bulgar-Turkish tribes who also inhabited the steppe at that time. Riding on swift steppe ponies, the Magyar horsemen used recurved bows for battle at long distance, and they used sabers, short lances, axes, and clubs for hand-to-hand combat. In the ninth century, Arab historians wrote that the Magyars could muster 20,000 horsemen for battle.

In the mid- to late ninth century, the Magyar tribes inhabited the territory lying to the north of the Black Sea between the lower Don and lower Dnepr rivers. From there they made armed forays against kingdoms to the west, first against the Bulgars on the lower Danube in 839 and then in 862 against Pannonia (see Glossary), which at that time was part of the eastern Frankish Kingdom.

In the last decade of the ninth century, the Magyar tribes engaged in a series of military actions that culminated in their conquest of the Carpathian Basin. From 892 to 894, they raided Moravia (in what is today the central part of Czechoslovakia) and Pannonia, gaining valuable knowledge about the fortified passes in the Carpathian Mountains, the natural defenses of their future homeland. In 894-95 three Magyar forces were operating in the Danube Basin--one allied with Byzantium against the Bulgars in the south, one allied with the Franks against the Moravia in Pannonia, and a third that was invading what is now the TransCarpathian oblast in the Soviet Ukraine. With most of their armed men away in battle, the Magyars remaining in the Dnieper-Dnestr region could offer little resistance to the Pechenegs, a steppe people who attacked them from the east. Suffering great material losses, the Magyars on the steppe fled westward, through the Carpathian mountain passes, into their future homeland.

Even though their conquest of the Carpathian Basin was not yet complete, in 899 the Magyars launched their first plundering expedition against the rest of Europe. Terrorizing Europe for more than half a century, the Magyar raiders reached southern Italy, France, Spain, northern Germany, Greece, and even the gates of Constantinople. However, the raids against Western Europe ended when in 955 the Magyars suffered a disastrous defeat near Augsburg (in Bavaria) against a coalition headed by the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto II.

Hungary was one of the strongest military powers in Europe for nearly 250 years following its establishment as a kingdom in A.D. 1000 (see Medieval Period , ch. 1). Engaging in small wars for either territorial or dynastic reasons, the country successfully resisted German and Byzantine attempts to meddle in its internal affairs. However, Hungarian armies could not stop the Mongols, who invaded the country in 1241. Although the attack was expected and the border fortifications reinforced, the Mongols easily swept through the Carpathian passes into the Danube Plain in March 1241. In April the Hungarian army met one of the Mongol armies in the area between present-day Leninvaros and Miskolc. The Hungarian force was surrounded and totally annihilated at Mohi, but Hungary's King Bela IV managed to elude the Mongols and escape.

The Mongol occupation was brief but devastating, wiping out at least half the population. The country soon recovered economically but remained militarily weakened until the beginning of the fourteenth century. Charles Robert (1308-42), the first Anjou king of Hungary, required the nobles to maintain small armed units, or banderia, which served as a reserve force in addition to the nobility and mercenaries serving in the royal army. This renewed military strength, combined with the fact that Hungary's neighbors were either militarily weak or preoccupied elsewhere, helped create a relatively peaceful Eastern Europe in the fourteenth century. Even the increasing threat from the Ottoman Turks, starting in the 1360s, was successfully resisted during this time.

Data as of September 1989

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