The Magyars
(650-997 AD)
DBA III/30

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There are several theories on the point of origin of the Magyars, ranging from the Ural Mountains (classical Finno-Ugrian country), the far east, Central Asian (i.e. Scythians from the Turanian Plain), or as an amalgum of Huns and Avar remnants. It is clear that the Magyars have strong linguistic and cultural ties to the Finno-Ugrians. There is also some linguistic evidence (combined with archaelogical evidence) linking the Magyars to the Turkic culture, and some experts have even found Sumerian influences.  There is a Hungarian legend about a Magyar prince marrying a local Finno-Ugrian princess in the Urals, thus forging a link between two peoples.. It is also possible that as the Magyars migrated west, they became an amalgam of different tribes and cultures, including Finno-Ugrian tribes, whose language became predominant within the group. The truth is undoubtedly complex and lost to history, but clearly Magyar pride remains strong in Hungary to this day.

In any event, in the fourth century, the Magyars migrated southward from central Russia to the steppes of the Urals where they were scraped by as nomadic herders. By the beginning of the fifth century AD the Magyars were on the move again, settling in the lands between the lower Volga and Don Rivers to the Caucasus Mountains, as tributaries of the turkic Khazars. Their kin, the Huns-Avars, had already moved westward and settled beyond the Carpathian Mountains.

The Muslim victory at Al Laks (739-740 AD) caused great unrest in the Khazar empire and dislocated several tribes from the region of the Caucasus Mountains. Population growth in the region also increasingly exascerbated pressures among the nomadic tribes. Gradually, the Khazars hold on the steppes weakened. Surrounded by hostile horse tribes, some Magyars filtered northward to Baskiria at the foot of the Ural Mountains, where they were later overrun by the Mongols. The Khagan or chieftains of the seven Magyar tribes (Magyari or Megere, Nyek or Neke, Kurt-Djarmat or Kourtougermatos, Taryan or Tarianos, Yeno or Genach, Kari or Kare, and Kasi or Keszi) held an assembly to decide their collective future and elected Arpad, as their Gyula or warleader to lead them to new lands over the Carpathian Mountains. Arpad was the son of the Khagan Almos (who traced his lineage to Attila the Hun). The alliance was sealed by solemn vows sworn over a cup of mingled blood.

 

Unhappy at the faithlessness of their subjects, the Khazars and their allies, the Pechenegs harried the Magyars' journey westward. By 884 AD, the Magyars had occupied the city of Kiev. From here they continued, joined by three disaffected Turki or Ugrian tribes (the "Kabers") in a new federation of ten tribes referred to as the "Onorgur" or "Ten Arrows" (this is purportedly the linquisitic root of "Hungary"). They moved into the northern lands of the Bulgars between the Dneper and lower Danube rivers. Here they settled down for a time to scout the region and make alliances with the Greeks in Byzantium. They occupied the cities of Ladomir and Halich, built a fortified camp at Munkac and began cutting roads into the Carpathian highlands. During this period, the elder Khagan Almos died during the Magyar seige of Ung (Ungvar). Another tradition holds that Almos was killed after the crossing of the Carpathians in a ritual sacrifice so that his spirit would strengthen his son Arpad.


Magyars (led by Arpad) arriving in the Danubian Basis, from painting by Arpad Feszty

In 892-894, Magyar mercenaries fought in the service of King Arnulf of East Frankia against the King of Moravia, and got their first good look at the lands over the Carpathian Mountains in the Pannonian Basin between the Danube and Tisza rivers.

In 894 AD, Emperor Leo VI sought the aid of the Magyars against the Bulgars, who were threatening Byzantine territories in northern Greece. Arpad sent two armies under his son Levente and the Khagan Tash who burned the Bulgar capitol and ravaged their lands. Their quick success frightened Leo, who switched sides, offering his support to the Bulgars and recruiting the Besenyos to their aid. Their combined forces defeated the united Magyar armies in a battle in which Levente was killed and all parties suffered heavy losses. Although freed for a time from pressure by the Bulgars, the weakened Magyars found themselves exposed once again to retaliatory raids by the now similarly displaced Pechenegs.

In 895 AD, the Magyars, 500,000 strong, began to cross over the northern-eastern Carpathian passes in mass, following Arpad's army. They settled on the Hungarian plain near the Tisza river, absorbing the thinly settled Avars and Szekely. Over the next five years, they struck southward into the Pannonian Basin, enslaving the Slavs and laying claim to what would become the future Hungarian empire. Arpad's armies defeated a united Greek and Bulgar army under the Bulgar Salan on the plains of Alpar. Thereafter Khagan Tuhutum defeated the Bulgar armies at Kolozsvar, securing Transylvania and the key salt mines of Torda. lvania and the Khagan Huba then occupied southern Slovakia. By summer 900 AD, the Magyar occupation was all but complete. In 902 AD, a great parliment was held at Pusztaszer to fix tribal boundaries, renew the laws, and organize the kingdom.

In 898 AD, King Berengar of Lombardy sent an army against Arnulf of East Frankia. As allies of Arnuff, the Magyars invaded northern Italy and won a decisive victory over Berengar's forces in the summer of 899 AD. Arnuff died later that year, and Arpad took advantage by sending a Magyar force to occupy Transdanubia and the Moravian segments of Slovakia. Arpad then sent emissaries to the new Frankish emperor Louis the Child to confirm this new frontier. Louis rebuffed them and then sought an alliance with the Moravians against the Magyars. The Magyar ruler responded by sending two armies on preemptive slashing raids into Bavaria, seizing the Ostmark up to the Enns river in 901 AD. Thereafter, the Magyars sought to consolidate their gains and used diplomacy to build alliances as a buffer against the Imperialists. In 904 AD, the Magyars concluded a peace treaty with Berengar of Lombardy. With Magyar expansion, Greater Moravia had ceased to exist by 906 AD. In 907 AD, the Magyars inflicted two heavy defeats on the Bavarians, destroying their army at Bratislava and laying Germany open to Magyar raids.

When Arpad died in 907, he was succeeded by his younger son Solt (Zsolt) as Kende or king, who reigned until 947 AD. The Magyars crushed Louis the Child's Imperial Army near Augsburg in 910 AD. In 913 AD, they thwarted the Carolingians again by supporting the successful rebellion of Duke Arnulf of Bavaria. The German King Henry the Fowler, however, embarrassed a Magyar army at Merseburg. They responded to this setback by raiding south against the Bulgars and the Eastern Roman Empire, reaching the walls of Constantinope and as far south as Attica. The Byzantine Throne was forced to pay an embarrassing tribute to the Magyars for 25 years.

During the reign of Solt and his son Takson, Bulcsu the horka emerged as a great military leader (gyula) among the Magyars. While Otto the Great was preoccupied with suppressing revolts among his German princes, Bulcsu lead the Magyar army on a massive raid through Germany and France to the borders of Spain and then across the Appenines into Italy, where they traveled past the Eternal City of Rome as far south as Benevento, shaking Europe to its core. By 947 AD, when Takson assume the throne from his father Solt, the Magyars were indisputably the strongest power in Europe.

In 954 AD, Duke Ludolf of Swabia rebelled against his father Otto I. Count Conrad of Lotharingia took Ludolf's side, and sent a request for assistance to the Magyars. St. Ulrich reconciled Ludolf and Conrad with Otto, but the Magyars used the invitation as a pretense to launch a heavy raid into southern Germany culminating in the seige of Augsburg. When Otto's relieving army approached, the Magyars broke off and laid a trap for the Imperialists between the Rivers Lech and Schmutter. Otto marched his army by division straight into the Magyar infantry blocking force while Magyar cavalry in ambush flanked his column and fell on his baggage, becoming distracted by the loot. Despite the initial confusion, Otto recaptured his baggage and then sent four "legions" of Bavarian and Frankish knights in an impetuous charge that overran the Magyar battleline. The Magyar nobility including the Gyula Bulscu, the Khagan Lehel and other important Magyar leaders fought on foot vainly attempting to stem the tide, but were overwhelmed and taken captive. Rather than ransoming them as was the custom, Otto had them hanged at Regensburg. The defeat at Lechfeld and subsequent decimation of their warleaders so unsettled the pagan Magyars that they accepted Christian missionaries.

The Magyar list ends in 997 AD, with the death of the Geza (Geisa), son of Takson. Geza's death lead to a succession struggle between his Christian son Vajko and the pagan claimant Koppa. With aid from Slovakia, Vajko was able to consolidate control and in 1000 AD, he was recognized by the Pope as Stephen I, the first king of Hungary.

Enemies and Allies

The Magyars (A list) like to steppe out with the Early Slavs (III/1c), Bulgars (14ab), Khazars (III/16), Pechenegs ( III/47) and Rus (III/48).  When the later Magyars (B list) get hungary for action, its the Slavs and Bohemians (III/1bc), Bulgars (III/14bc), Italian Lombards (III/21b), Rus (III/48) and East Franks (III/52).  In Big Battles, the Magyars can make common cause with the Bohemians (III/1b).

Composition

650-895 AD 896-997 AD Description
1x 3Cv (Gen) 1x 3Cv (Gen) Magyar King/General with retainers and nobles.
1x 3Cv 1x 3Cv Magyar nobles/gentry.  After 896 AD, can include Avar guards and mounted Slavic gentry.
10x 2Lh 5x 2Lh Skirmish horse.  May be Szekely after 896 AD.
  3x 4Sp Slavic subject spearmen
  1x 3Ax Slavic subject javelinmen
  1x 2Ps Slavic subject archers.

Tactics

A high aggression Steppe army, the Magyars retain their high aggression rating after settling down on the Danubian plains.

Historically, the Magyars were nomadic light horse warriors famous for their use of powerful composite horsebows and horn-tipped arrows. Emperor Leo VI the Wise (886-912 AD) noted that the Magyars "have a liking more for fighting at a distance, setting ambushes, encirclement of their enemy, simulated retreat and about-turning, and for the scattering of fighting formations." These are the classic Light Horse tactics.

Having settled in Hungary, the Magyars absorb a large Slavic foot component, reducing the proportion of Light Horse in the army. The combination is somewhat awkward. There are no killer elements in this army. It is a highly mobile army with Cavalry and Light Horse, but hardly a compelling match against equally mobile Pechenegs, Khazars or Bulgars, much less the slower but deadly East Frank Knights. Moreover, the Magyars are slowed down by a third portion of infantry. Two elements of steady spear are not enough to slug it out in an infantry battle with the Russ or Frankish Blades. An element apiece of Psiloi and Auxilia give you some rough terrain potential but rough terrain can inhibit Magyar mobility in a cavalry battle. However, it may be that the Magyar whole is greater than the mere sum of this various parts. Used with skill, this army has considerable flexibility and can adapt to a wide variety of circumstances.

Camps

During their nomadic sojourns and raids, the Magyars sheltered in leather tents, covered yurts and tent-covered wagons.

Miniatures

Specific Magyar miniatures seem to be a rather sparce commodity. Essex and Donnington offer Magyar army packs.  Donnington has a single Magyar code (DSC8) in its Steppe Peoples range, while Essex makes up its pack with 15mm figures from their Horse Armies and Slav ranges. Outpost Wargames Services offers 15mm Avars and Slavs that can be used. Similarly Old Glory 15mm Asiatic Horse range can be put to service.  In 25mm, Old Glory sells a bag of 10 Magyar cavalry, along with convertible Avars, Pechenegs, and Slavic foot as part of their Dark Ages-Asiatic range. Several manufacturers offer Mongols, Huns, and other steppe army miniatures that can be scavenged for Magyars, and Slavic foot are available from a variety of sources.

On-Line Resources

Forthcoming


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Last Updated: 22 Oct. 2004

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.