Because we had a commentator a while back who had fanciful ideas about early Hungarian history, I thought it might be appropriate to say a few words about Hungarian roots and what is happening nowadays in extreme right-wing circles in trying to "reinterpret" the nation’s origin.
Without going into great detail, most of today’s western Russia, that is the area west of the Ural Mountains, was inhabited by Finno-Ugric people prior to the arrival of the Slavs. And then a "fanning out" of ethnic groups took place. The Slavs began spreading eastward while the Finno-Ugric people started moving westward. The Finns northwest, the Hungarians southwest. The Finns and the Hungarians most likely lived together about 3000 B.C. Each picked up a lot of loan words from cultures they encountered in their wanderings. So lexically speaking the two languages are very different. However, as far as grammar is concerned there are significant similarities.
The Hungarians’ westward movement can be pretty well illustrated by the words they borrowed from the different cultures they encountered. The earliest loan words were from various Persian languages, which point to some trading activity and perhaps animal husbandry. Hungarian words for "gold," "cow," and "milk," for example, have Persian roots. After leaving the central Asian region came a period when Hungarian tribes lived close to Turkic groups, and again Hungarians picked up Turkic loan words, once again especially in connection with livestock breeding: bull, ox, calf, ram, goat, pig, etc. Also certain words connected to agriculture: wheat, barley, peas, hemp, hop, apple, pear, nut, fruit, and one could continue. And, of course, once the Hungarian tribes (also containing some Turkic elements) arrived in the Carpathian basin, they picked up an incredible number of Slavic words, from both Western and Southern Slav languages. I’m not going to go into the hundreds and hundreds of borrowings from these languages. Enough to say that the word "to speak" in Hungarian is of Slavic origin.
How many Hungarians arrived in their present location at the end of the ninth century? Of course, we can only guess, and most likely we would be wrong. But the invaders had to be numerous enough not to disappear in the sea of Slavic people inhabiting the area. For example, the Huns who vanished from the face of the earth actually moved from today’s Hungary to territories that now belong to Bulgaria, but their numbers in comparison to the local Slavic population were so insignificant that assimilation to the majority language became inevitable. Obviously that was not so in the Hungarian case.
Accustomed to a nomadic existence based mostly on fishing and hunting, Hungarians kept to their old ways. There was a loose federation among the different tribes, but actually each warlord pretty well conducted his own "foreign policy." Very much in quotation marks. It meant that each of them, on his own, decided to attack the neighbors, rob them, and return home with some slaves as well. Apparently their success depended on their fast horses and their excellent horsemanship. These raids, which are somewhat glorified in Hungarian history and euphemistically called "adventures" (kalandozások), eventually came to an end by the middle of the tenth century when at Augsburg, Otto I showed the Hungarians that the Bavarians were strong enough to defeat the marauding Hungarians. From there on the Hungarian tribal leaders, including the most important of the tribes, later called the House of Árpád, realized that they had to give up their old ways and become more like their western neighbors. They had to renounce paganism and become Christians. They had to become Europeans! It was Géza who began the process that led to the eventual coronation of his son, Stephen (born originally as Vajk,) with a crown received from the pope. Stephen married a Bavarian princess, Gisella, and with not very gentle methods, converted the pagan Hungarians to the faith of Rome, earning him sainthood.
This is this period the extreme right would like to reinterpret. But they often expand their heritage. The Finno-Ugric fishing and hunting ancestors are not elegant enough. They go back to the Sumerians or even to fanciful ideas that the Hungarians didn’t arrive in the Carpathian basin at the end of the ninth century but have been there for tens of thousands of years. Some of them idolize the pagan existence, blame St. Stephen for forcefully converting the Hungarians to Christianity who, according to them, therefore lost their "distinctiveness." They use all sorts of runic writings, allegedly the writing of the pagan Hungarians before they learned the Latin alphabet. Among the lunatic fringe one often sees characters dressed in what they think was the dress of the pagan Hungarians. (Mind you, these outfits are usually copied from romantic nineteenth-century paintings.)
How big is this group? Hard to say, but they sure like to talk about "history." Or at least what they think history is.