A very brief Hungarian history lesson

I know it doesn't seem as if it's going to be a brief history if I begin with the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895-896. But it is necessary because one must mention that before the arrival of the Hungarians the population of the Carpathian basin was mostly Slavic. Archaeological findings attest to this fact, but even in the Hungarian language there are tellings signs: the incredible number of early Slavic borrowings including such an important verb as "to speak" (beszélni). The word "tót," today a somewhat prejorative word for "Slovak," harks back to those days when the Slavs living in the area called themselves "teut" meaning "people." Geographic names endure: people may come and go, but the names of settlements, rivers, mountains stubbornly remain. And many, many place names in today's Hungary are of Slavic origin–for instance, Veszprém and Lake Balaton ("blato" in proto-Slavic meant marshland, mud).

So there is no question that just prior to the arrival of the Hungarians some kind of proto-Slavic population inhabited the area. The Romanians' presence in Transylvania is much more controversial, mostly because the Romanians claim that they are the direct descendants of those Roman legionnaires who were sent by Rome to defend the short-lived Roman province of Dacia occupied by Celts and Germanic tribes around 270. Hungarian scholars claim that the original population of the province couldn't have been Romanized so thoroughly in about 150 years by members of a relatively small Roman garrison. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine how this Romanized population managed to survive centuries and centuries of all sorts of vicissitudes. Hungarian sources first talk of "Vlachs" (later oláhs) in Transylvania only in the thirteenth century. To my mind it is also telling that originally the Romanian name for Transylvania came from the Hungarian "Erdély" meaning "across the mountains." The word "Transylvania" in Romanian appeared only in the late eighteenth century when there was a serious attempt to Latinize the language that is also full of Slavic words and a goodly number of Hungarian borrowings. In any case, whatever the pedigree of the Romanians, the important thing is that eventually the majority of the population of Transylvania became Romanian.

Initially the Hungarians inhabited the Great Plains and Transdanubia and only slowly moved north- and eastward. In those days there was no attempt to Magyarize the population, so the northern areas known in Hungarian as Felvidék (Uplands) remained overwhelmingly Slovak. Moreover, Romanians continued to move into Transylvania and gained a demographic advantage with their very high birth rate. In addition, the Turkish onslaught against Hungary in the sixteenth century and the subsequent 150-year occupation hit the central parts of the country the hardest. The Uplands remained in Habsburg hands, and therefore its development wasn't retarded. Transylvania became a semi-independent principality paying tribute to the Turks but remained free from Turkish occupation. Thus the most uniformly Hungarian-speaking territories suffered the most. A lot of people escaped to non-Turkish territories. Agriculture, industry, and commerce suffered. The incredible loss of population left the land barren. All in all, the Hungarians found themselves a minority in their country.

Fast forward to the end of the nineteenth century and language distribution in Greater Hungary as an indicator of the makeup of the population. I am excluding Croatia-Slavonia since it was not considered an integral part of Hungary and had its own government responsible for home affairs. It could also use Croatian as its official language. Moreover, in 1918-1920 Hungary never contested Croatia's secession from the Lands of St. Stephen. It had the right to do so according to an agreement between the two countries at the end of the thirteenth century.

In 1900 51.4% of the population was Hungarian-speaking. A decade later this percentage increased to 54.5%. But the number of Hungarians might have been exaggerated because the census takers didn't ask about mother tongue (that is, an individual's first language) but what language they spoke best. And because the possibilities for higher education in Slovak or Romanian didn't really exist Slovaks especially assimilated rapidly to Hungarian culture. Another impetus for Slovak assimilation was their mobility. The Uplands were poor and many thousands of Slovaks moved south, especially to Budapest, in search of a better life. And in a big city a generation later the Slovak family's son and daughter spoke and felt Hungarian. This was less the case with the Romanians in Transylvania perhaps because of religion. The Romanians were Orthodox Christians as opposed to the Slovaks who were either Catholic or Lutheran. Or perhaps because Transylvania was more isolated from the rest of Hungary. Whatever the case, Romanians didn't contribute to the growth in "Hungarians" according to the 1910 census. On the contrary, between 1990 and 1910 the Romanian population increased by 5.3%; in 1990 there were 2,798,559 Romanians; by 1910 their numbers had reached 2,948,186.

This was roughly the ethnic composition of the country when Hungary lost the war. Yes, the borders were always drawn in favor of the successor states. Sure, there could have been, especially in the case of the Hungarian-Czechoslovak border, an ethnically more defensible line that would have left about half a million Hungarians within Hungary. This was to my mind a serious mistake committed by the overly demanding Czechs and the not too wise Great Powers. Drawing the Romanian-Hungarian border was much more complicated since the bulk of the Hungarians lived in the middle of Transylvania, surrounded by solidly Romanian territories.

I didn't say anything about the Voivodina (Bánát-Bácska) in the south, today belonging to Serbia, or Western Hungary (today called Burgenland) belonging to Austria. Both are interesting; perhaps I will write about the history of these territories some other time.

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Thank you very much for this post. I had been in hungary for a year now, and every hungarian told me the story of trianon, and it really didn´t make any sense for me, i knew should be another side of the story that helped me to understand it better, and now you explained me very well: so thanks. i needed to know it. And i really like the comment from Csak egy magyar; is all the extreme nationalist non arguments at once. First there in no way to argue political ideas of the XXI century from arguments of the ice age, it just doesn´t make sense. Second if you call someone lie that many times without arguments you lost your position. Also there is not such thing as “we” that “writes our history”. There is a history that is a science done by historians and there are miths. And there is not a “we”, there are hungarians that think somethings about this issues, and others that think different. And by the way, if you were living in the carpathians since the ice age i´m quite sorprise how good is your health by now, it should be the ice that… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Professor Balogh There may be some truth in the Rumanians’ claim. The emperors of the time of Trajan pensioned off old Legionnaires with a gift of a farm (Hence the expression used in the US forces when someone is killed “he bought a farm”). Good farming land in the rest of the empire was in short supply except in Dacia so Legionnaires from all over the empire would be given their ‘farm’ in the newly conquered lands. A legionnaire could have marched from the north of England to his new home in Dacia in under 6 months. After all a legionnaire from the IX (VIIII) Pannonia had marched from Pannonia where he was recruited north to Eboracum (York) where he was stationed. The same would have applied to legions all over the empire. So the new colonies would be established containing old battle hardened veterans. Their tomb stones often reflect this. I do not think there is any answer to @Csak egy Magyar. There are none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear and none so blind as those who do not wish to see. Actually there is but I will not mention it here If we… Read more »
Okay, enough with the Yaqui indian alphabets… i’m now convinced you are even more insane than most of the right wing nut jobs we have here in Hungary and you belong in a tailored straight jacket, Mr. CsakEgy. Give it a rest! Sheesh! As for the origins of the Romanians, Albanian (like English, actually) is a “mixed” language of relatively recent origin, but it preserves much of the Illyrian features (vocabulary and structure) that were probably far more widespread in the Balkans during the period of Roman Dacia. Roman soldiers were settled along the Via Agnatia (the old Roman land road from Durres, Albania to Constantinople via Thessaloniki) after retirement at age 40 (usually taking a local Illyrian-speaking girl as a wife) – hence the Romanian word “batrin” meaning “old man” derives from the vulgar latin “veteran.” Depending on where the Roman legionaires originally came from, dialect differences arose that are useful to trace their origins: large amounts of Middle eastern (Syrian and Arab) Roman soldiers were settled in the Balkans as well as in Iberia: the term “galina” for chicken occurs in Portuguese, as well as in the Romanian dialect of Bihor, as does the term “mujer” for “woman.”… Read more »

Hey, dude, Mr. CsakegyFakeMagyar, it isn’t an extreme right wing Hungarian blog either! Go pee on somebody else’s forum!

Peter Crow

Csak egy magyar: “I found personaly the Yaqui nation…”
That explains it. You read Castaneda’s books, went looking for Don Juan, and what we read is the result of peyote abuse.


“hence the Romanian word “batrin” meaning “old man” derives from the vulgar latin “veteran”.
Any chance Hungarian “bácsi” derives from the same source?

There is a largeish hole in the description of the Rumanian expansion in Transylvania. The failure of the 1848 revolution and especially the preceding mistreatment the Romanian denizens received at the hands of the Hungarians, persuaded the Rumanian nationalists that they have to strengthen their position and found initially help from the Court. However, after the Compromise (1867) the Hungarian economy was forced into a competition with the entire dual monarchy. The conditions, as it is quite well known, were rigged in favour of Austria that made the fate of the Hungarian producer quite difficult. Since Hungary’s main industry was agriculture, and since the circumstances of production were somewhat primitive, the landed class has accumulated a recurring deficit year after year. The liberation of the serfs didn’t help either, because liberty has not provided land, the ownership structure retained the original feudal system. The aristocracy, thanks also to their own profligate ways, was sinking ever deeper into debt. The Rumanian nationalists soon discovered that there is increasing room for them to muscle in. They established a nationally subsidized bank for the purpose of buying up enormous tracts of land from the strapped aristocrats. And as soon as they acquired a… Read more »

Good. But chances are he’ll be back using a different name. Blogs are not democratic places, as such. No one has the right to undermine the purpose and intent of another person’s blog. If he and others like him don’t like being silenced they can bloody well set up their own blog.


Come now Eva!
Either be patient and suffer his slings and arrows, or be impatient and chuck the bum out .
But how can you be both?

Dr. Minorka

re: Dumneazu
Your interpretation is a possible one, but it is unconfirmed by archeology.
“The presence of Slavs is confirmed by modern archaeology, but no distinctive trace of Romanians had been found in the region. ” (at the time of Hungarian conquest) See:
This is from the History of Transylvania mentioned by Ms Balogh.
The whole book:

Eva S. Balogh

Dr. Minorka: ” See: http://mek.oszk.hu/03400/03407/html/60.html This is from the History of Transylvania mentioned by Ms Balogh. The whole book: http://mek.oszk.hu/03400/03407/html/
Thank you very much for the link. I didn’t even realize that the book was translated into English and is available online. This way, I can save myself a lot of work.