During the period from 500 to 1100, the Magyars, or Hungarians, underwent immense political and social transformations.
During the period from 500 to 1100, the Magyars, or Hungarians, underwent immense political and social transformations. Prior to their settlement in the
Pressure from another nomadic group from the east known as the
The Magyars established themselves within the Carpathian basin during the Conquest, and from there they staged raids across western and southeastern Europe. After the civil wars, the Árpáds under Stephen gained supremacy over the other tribes and created a Western-oriented kingdom. Stephen’s victory over the other Magyar tribes fashioned a viable state that eventually became fully integrated into Europe.
The Magyars conducted raids against Bavaria, Moravia, and Bulgaria while they still lived east of the Danube in the 880’s and 890’s. The Carpathian basin was, therefore, not unknown to them. In 895-896, the Magyars came under attack by a neighboring nomadic group called the
Following these defeats came a series of
Though by far the most important, the bow and arrow were not the only weapons used by the Magyars. For close combat, a short
The organization of the Magyar military experienced significant transformation during the time period in question. These changes were directly the results of the transition of Hungarian society to one based on landownership and the development of a Western-style monarchy. Before the rise of the Árpád Dynasty, the Hungarians were organized into a tribal alliance of seven tribes. Some historians have held that the army consisted of the retinues of the tribal and clan leaders and that the common freeman would therefore not have participated in warfare. However, consensus now generally holds that the population was divided between free and servile, and all free males (the overwhelming majority) would take part in war. The Hungarian army during the era of the tribal alliance was divided into units of tens, hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands. It is difficult to determine how many fighters there were among the Magyar tribes, but scholars have estimated their numbers to be approximately twenty thousand at the time of the Conquest.
Viking, Magyar, and Muslim Invasions, Ninth Century
The tenth and eleventh centuries saw a great transformation in the military system of the Hungarians. First Géza, then his son, Stephen, used foreign immigrant knights as their retinue. These German and Italian knights formed the elite units in the army and were completely separate from the native, Magyar units, which were still essentially mounted archers. After Stephen took control in the civil wars of the first part of the tenth century, the Hungarian military was reorganized. The organizational center of the army was the
Warfare provided the Magyars with a significant source of income, and Magyar campaigns were frequently raids in force with the purpose of obtaining plunder. Captives provided a significant source of income for the Magyars, as they were sold into slavery. The Magyars also commonly sold their military services to the highest bidder. Thus, in 881
The tactics of the Magyars were those common to other steppe nomads and centered on lightning raids, showers of arrows to disrupt the enemy, and the feigned retreat. At the beginning of engagement, the Magyars would release volleys of arrows from horseback into the enemy’s ranks in an attempt to disrupt them. The
The military reforms of Stephen took time to complete, and the Hungarian military was not fully Westernized until the thirteenth century. As a result, Hungarian tactics frequently relied on the mounted archer and feigned retreat through the eleventh century. For example, it seems likely that the Magyar tribal leader
The main literary sources regarding the pre-Conquest Magyar life and military affairs come from Muslim geographers or from Byzantine authors commenting on the steppe peoples. Unfortunately, several of the key works regarding the Magyars still await translation into English. The earliest Muslim source is the work of the Persian geographer
Byzantine authors provide the most detailed descriptions of Magyar warfare. Unfortunately, the relevant portions of the most important work,
For the transformations that occurred with the supremacy of the Árpáds, the early laws of the kingdom are very useful:
Engel, Pál. The Realm of St. Stephan: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895-1526. New York: I. B. Taurus, 1999. Horváth, András Pálóczi. Pechenegs, Cumans, Iasians: Steppe Peoples in Medieval Hungary. Budapest: Covina, 1989. Karasulas, Antony. Mounted Archers of the Steppe, 600 B.C.-A.D. 1300. New York: Osprey, 2004. Kristó, Gyula. Hungarian History in the Ninth Century. Szeged, Hungary: Szegedi Középkorász Műhely, 1996. Róna-Tas, András. Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History. Budapest: Central European University Press, 1999. Sugár, Peter. A History of Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. The Conquest (Honfoglalás). Feature film. Korona Film/Magyar Televizió, 1997.
The Franks and the Holy Roman Empire
Armies of Christendom and the Age of Chivalry
Crusading Armies of the West