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European Kingdoms





Magyars (Finno-Ugrics)

MapThe Magyars were horsemen from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and seemingly served as auxiliaries of the Khazars to whom they deferred in their early days. But they were far from typical Turkic mounted warriors. It is generally accepted that this name, 'magyar', is a compound made up of the indigenous denomination of the Voguls and Ostiaks and a Turkish word meaning 'man', although there may be a Finno-Ugric influence which has yet to be fully explored. The Magyar tribal confederation seems to have comprised eight tribes (the traditional seven is a simplification), out of which at least six have names of Turkish origin (a complex subject, see below).

They spoke a Uralic language which is ultimately related to the Finno-Ugric of Finns, Estonians, and many other Northern European groups. Most of the latter are now scattered in pockets across the central and northern provinces of European Russia, such as the Mari, and north-western areas of Siberia. Therefore it is reasonable to surmise that at some point in time the Magyars inhabited the same regions and that they reached Hungary at the end of a long process of migration. For them to have reached Hungary via their long-accepted steppeland home, they must have spent some time living amongst Turkic-speaking tribes (which for a century or so were certainly under the control of the Western Göktürk empire), and Hungarian does indeed contain a great number of words that betray a Turkic origin. This influence may have come primarily through the Bulgar tribal state of Great Bulgaria in the seventh century. It has taken a long time for this view of Magyar origins to be accepted thanks to only a late beginning in the study of the Finno-Ugric rather than the Turkic connections in the Hungarian language.

Hungarian belongs to the eastern, Ugrian, group of Finno-Ugrian languages and its nearest relatives are Ostiak and Vogul, spoken today by a few thousand individuals in Western Siberia. Ostiaks and Voguls are called, collectively, the Ugrians of the Ob. The close relationship existing between their languages and Hungarian can only be explained at an historic level by admitting an equally close link between the peoples concerned. Carefully compiled linguistic statistics have shown that only about nine percent of Hungarian word roots are of Turkish origin (a figure that only just surpasses the eight percent of Latin words). A proportion of these present phonetic features that are peculiar to the Chuvash language. This is an extraordinary Turkish dialect that is now spoken in the Middle-Volga region and it is thought to be the continuation of the language of the Volga Bulgars, revealing a degree of influence by them on the Magyars.

(Additional information from Journal of World History 4(3), 513-540: The Outlines of Hungarian Prehistory, Denis Sinor, A honfoglaló magyarság kialakulása, Gy. Németh (Budapest 1930), and from External Link: The Outlines of Hungarian Prehistory.)


The most important single source on Hungarian prehistory is the De Administrando Imperio of Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. The tenth century work makes free and critical use of earlier sources and of information provided by Hungarians. It relates that the early Magyars, called at this stage Sabartoi asphaloi, live in the neighbourhood of the Khazars in a region called Levedia (named after their most senior chief). They are closely allied to the Khazars with whom they live together for three years, and whose king gives his daughter to their chief, Lebedias. According to Constantine, Levedia is adjacent to the land of the Khazars and has a river called Khidmas or Khingilous. Levedia cannot be located by these names, but is generally believed to be to the north of the Black Sea.

fl 880s?


Magyar senior chieftain before the migration. First chief?


In a war waged against the Pechenegs the Magyars are defeated and split into two parts, neither of which remains in its previous dwellings. The fate of Lebedias is unrecorded. One part migrates towards Persia (ie. it heads southwards, probably towards the Caucuses), the other towards the west to a place called Etelköz. Here, on Khazar advice, they decide to elect a ruler, selecting Arpad.

Etelköz has five rivers: Baroukh, Koubou, Troullos, Broutos and Seretos. Three of these can be identified with certainty: the Dniester, Prut and Seret. The name Etelkz in its Hungarian form simply means 'the tract between the river(s)' and is similar in construction and meaning to the name 'Mesopotamia'. Muslim sources are less accurate, which is only natural as the subject is of less immediate concern to them. They describe neither Levedia nor Etelköz, but the whole territory lying between the Don and the lower Danube.

c.890? - 896


Led the Magyars into Eastern Europe to found Hungary.

894 - 895

The Byzantines have arranged for the Magyars to attack the Volga Bulgars in an increasingly active struggle for control and influence on the steppe. In return the Bulgars arrange to have the Pechenegs lead another attack against the Magyars. With no room for manoeuvre, the Magyars are forced to take flight and again they migrate westwards, passing close to Kiev as they do so. At the end of 895 they invade the Carpathian basin, advancing towards the Danube. In doing so they sweep away Avar control of the region and lay the foundations of a state which maintains approximately the same territory thereafter.