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European Kingdoms



Magyars (Finno-Ugrics)

The Magyars were horsemen from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, but horsemen with less-than-usual origins. Despite seemingly serving as auxiliaries of the Khazars - to whom they deferred in their early days - they were far from typical Turkic mounted warriors.

It is generally accepted that this name, 'magyar', is a compound which is made up of the indigenous denomination of the Voguls and Ostiaks, along with a Turkic word which means '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 which are 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 what is now Hungary at the end of a long process of migration. It seems that they started off as a Finno-Ugric tribe which was taught - or which voluntarily took up - nomadic horseriding.

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 the modern Hungarian language does indeed contain a great number of words which 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 connections in the Hungarian language rather than Turkic connections.

Modern Hungarian, therefore, belongs to the eastern, Ugrian, group of Finno-Ugrian languages. Its nearest relatives are Ostiak and Vogul, spoken today by a few thousand individuals in western Siberia. Ostiaks and Voguls are referred to, collectively, as the Ugrians of the Ob. The close relationship which exists 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 which only just surpasses the eight percent of Latin words).

A proportion of these present phonetic features are peculiar to the Chuvash language. This is an extraordinary Turkish dialect which 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 upon the Magyars.

Seto People of Estonia

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Journal of World History 4(3), 513-540: The Outlines of Hungarian Prehistory, Denis Sinor, from A honfoglaló magyarság kialakulása, Gy. Németh (Budapest 1930), from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), and from External Links: The Outlines of Hungarian Prehistory, and The Annals of St Bertin, Janet L Nelson (Translator, Manchester University Press, 1991).)


The earliest European reference to the Rus Khaganate comes from the Frankish Annals of St Bertin. A group of Vikings, who call themselves 'Rhos' (Rus) have visited Constantinople around this year. Fearful of returning home via the steppe which would leave them vulnerable to attacks by the Magyars, they are returning via East Francia.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states which had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click or tap on map to view full sized)

When questioned by Emperor Louis 'the Pious' at Ingelheim, they inform him that their leader is known as chacanus (Latin for 'khagan'), and that they live in the north of what is now Russia (which probably means Aldeigja-Ladoga or early Novgorod). Their ancestral homeland, though, is amongst the Swedes.

fl 840s - 850s?


Magyar chieftain of the Nyék tribe.


The most important single source on Hungarian prehistory is the De Administrando Imperio of Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. This tenth century work makes free and critical use of earlier sources, and of information which has been provided by the early Hungarians.

It relates that the early Magyars, referred to at this stage as 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.

The word 'sabartoi' is linked by many to the Turkic root, *sap-, meaning 'to go astray', in other words a nomad. The word 'asphaloi' is considered to mean 'steadfast', classing the Magyars as steadfast servants, clearly of the Khazars.

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.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 862-882
Tradition states that in AD 862 Rurik was invited to rule at Novgorod, with other Rus princes at Izborsk and Beloozero, and in 882 Oleg seized Kyiv at the heartland of Eastern Slavic tribal lands (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl 880s?


Magyar senior chieftain before the migration.

fl 850s? - c.895

Álmos / Almos / Almus

Son of Előd. Chieftain of the Nyék, pre-migration. Killed.


In a war which is 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 but Álmos - a tribal leader since perhaps 850 - quickly succeeds him as the head of a Magyar tribal confederation. One part of the Magyar division migrates towards Persia (ie. it heads southwards, probably towards the Caucasus), the other towards the west to a place called Etelköz. Here, on Khazar advice, they decide to elect a second ruler, selecting Árpád, son of Álmos.

Etelköz has five rivers: Baroukh, Koubou, Troullos, Broutos, and Seretos. Three of these can be identified with certainty: the Dniester, Prut, and Seret, all within modern southern-central Ukraine.

The name Etelköz 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

Árpád / Arpad

Son. Led Magyars into Eastern Europe to found Hungary.

894 - 895

The Eastern Romans 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 Volga 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 Kyiv of the Rus as they do so.

Berengar of Friuli
The determined Berengar of Friuli not only controlled the march territory between Italy proper and the Avars and Magyars to the east, but also claimed the Italian throne no less than three times during his eventful life

At the end of 895 they invade the Carpathian basin, advancing towards the Danube and attacking the Bulgarians there, only to be repulsed by Tsar Simeon.

It is close to the Danube that Álmos is stated to be murdered, leaving his son, Árpád, to lead the conquest. In carrying out their invasion, they sweep away any remaining Avar control of the region and lay the foundations of a state which maintains approximately the same territory thereafter. By 896 the Magyar kingdom of Hungary is established fact.

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