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Budapest has been called the ‘Paris of the East’ and it doesn’t take long  walking around this photogenic city to understand how it earned this nickname.
But the truth is that comparing Budapest to another city doesn’t feel right because it is very much its own.
There is so much history to talk about and so many things to see that it’s hard to know where to begin.  I want to show you around some of the top spots.
One of my favourite parts about Budapest is how walkable it is and Marc and I went everywhere on foot.
Let’s start with the building that took  my breath away the first time I saw it:  the parliament building.  I mean, just look at it!  In the 1880s a  contest was held for the design  and, if it reminds you a bit of the  British parliament building then you’re spot on,  because the winning   architect – a Hungarian  named Imre Steindl – found inspiration there.  It took 17 years to build but sadly  Steindl went blind before it was completed.  He died in 1902, which was the same year construction was finished  and the first sessions took place.  The parliament has 691 rooms,  20 kilometres of stairs,  and is not only the largest building in Hungary,  it’s also the third largest  parliament building in the world.   It’s beautiful at any time of day but especially  at sunset when it seems to float on the river.  The best view at night is from nearby Margaret  Bridge  where you can also see the  dramatically lit Holy Crown of Hungary.  The parliament is 96 metres tall  which is exactly the same  height  as another of Budapest’s iconic buildings:  St. Stephen’s Basilica.  What I find really interesting  is that this is intentional:  it  represents the balance  between church and state in Hungary.  St. Stephen was the first Christian king of Hungary and it’s the largest church in Budapest. It took over half a century to build because in 1868,  the dome collapsed during a really bad storm  and the entire thing had to  be torn down and rebuilt again from scratch. It was finally completed in 1905 and it’s been standing tall ever since. Budapest was formerl two cities that united:


Buda and Pest (or PESHT, as you say in Hungarian).
It’s hard to imagine now but there was some question at the time of whether the newly united city should be called Pestbuda. Doesn’t quite roll of the tongue the same way, does it?  For a city divided by a river, bridges are obviously very important. The Chain Bridge, also known as Szechenyi Bridge, was the first permanent bridge in Budapest in 1849. Before that, the closest bridge was in Vienna so people either used a boat or walked across when the river froze. The problem was that if the water thawed while you were on the other side, you were stuck until it froze again. This once happened to Szechenyi, an important man in Budapest’s history, and he missed his father’s funeral because he was stuck on the wrong side for a week.  This upset him so much that he set to work getting a permanent bridge built. The lions represent power which is fitting when you think about poor Szechenyi being helplessly stuck before the bridge was built. You should feel quite empowered being able to cross whenever you feel like it. When you reach the Buda side you’ll see the funicular right in front of you. It’s been shuttling people up and down Castle Hill since 1870, although it was completely destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt. You can take one of the tram cars 95 metres up to the top where Buda Castle sits looking out over the Danube River and the Pest side of the city. This was formerly a royal palace – and it’s been destroyed and rebuilt many times in its long history – but it’s now where the National Gallery, the Castle Museum, and Szechnyi Library call home.
It’s a nice little walk through pretty streets as you walk away from the castle towards my favourite part of the Buda side:
Fisherman’s Bastion.
There are 7 turrets here that represent the 7 Hungarian tribes who founded Hungary in the year 895.
The name comes from the fact that the fish market was just below here in the middle ages and this stretch of the castle wall was protected by fishermen then.
There’s an incredible view from here – one of the best in the entire city. Fishermen’s Bastion was built by the same architect who built the Matthias Church right behind it, which is also very striking. Parts of the church are more than 500 years old but most of it was built in 1896. You’ll notice that year keeps coming up around Budapest’s architecture because it was the year of a huge celebration for Hungary’s 1000th birthday party. To cross back over to the Pest side of the city you can take the Liberty Bridge, which was also built for the 1896 anniversary. It was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph himself and you’ll notice trams also cross this bridge. The Gellert Baths are on the Buda side and when you cross you find the Great Market Hall. It’s the biggest market hall in Budapest and you’ll find fresh food being sold on the main floor and lots of souvenirs available on the second floor.

If you walk back towards St. Stephen’s Basilica you’ll come across a lovely park called Erzsebet Square. Just look for the huge Ferris wheel you can see from a distance. It’s called the Budapest Eye and I love the way it looks with the sun beaming through as the cars go round and round. In front of the Budapest Eye is a beautiful fountain that has an interesting history. At the top is a figure who represents the Danube River and the three women below symbolize three tributaries of the Danube. This fountain used to be in a different location until it was heavily damaged during World War II then it was repaired and placed in this park. The park also has a collection of locks, which are not uncommon to find in different cities but, to me, they’re always a nice little reminder that love is everywhere. If you head up Andrassy Avenue, one of Budapest’s major streets, you come across the Opera House, which you can tour the inside of.
The exterior alone is worth the stop though. I loved looking at the Sphinx statues and the painted roof of the entranceway. There are lots of little details to find just looking at the façade. A little further up the avenue is the Terror Museum. This is one of the most memorable museums I’ve ever been to and I can’t recommend going here enough. It’s located in the former headquarters of the Nazis which later served as the headquarters for the Communist secret police. I had a very physical and visceral reaction to this place. The first thing you see when you enter the central courtyard is a Soviet tank and a wall covered in the pictures of people who were victims of the terror carried out here. But the first thing that hit me was the earthy smell and the dampness in the air. To me it seemed the building was rotting so badly from its history that it couldn’t be hidden and I thought about the portrait of Dorian Gray as it becomes more and more disfigured with every act of evil. Every exhibition space is extremely effective in this museum and the Nazi era blends seamlessly
with the Communist era. It’s made very clear that, although the uniform may have changed, the reign of terror did not and people continued to suffer. When I walked out of the elevator into the basement floor I’m not exaggerating when I say that I almost threw up immediately. I’m sure some people will understand and some won’t but I have really strong reactions to energy and it felt so, so bad in the basement of the Terror Museum that I literally had to stop and put my hand to my mouth to stop the vomit. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the basement
is where people were routinely tortured and executed for many, many years. Before exiting the museum there’s a wall with photos of people who perpetrated these acts or supported those who did. Many of them are still alive today
and it serves as a sad reminder that justice hasn’t been served. The more positive takeaway, however, is that the fight against these terrible regimes was not in vain because you can walk away from that building as a free human being. At the end of the avenue is Heroes’ Square – it’s the largest square in Budapest and impossible to miss. The 36 metre high pillar in the center is called the Millennium Monument because this square was also built to celebrate Hungary’s 1000th anniversary.
The Archangel Gabriel standsat the top of the monument and he’s holding the holy crown and the double cross of Christianity.
The seven leaders of the Hungarian tribes who founded modern Hungary  are represented as well as other important figures. I’d recommend seeing Heroes’ Square both in the daytime and at night when it’s lit nicely.
It’s a popular gathering spot and we were lucky   to see a guy doing tricks  on his bike while strolling through.  On the other side of the square is City Park  where the Szechenyi baths are located.  If you want to see more  about Budapest’s thermal baths
I’ll link below but City Park is also home to Europe’s largest outdoor ice rink during the winter months. It’s 15,000 square metres and people have been skating here – gracefully or otherwise – since 1869. I loved seeing this because, as a Canadian,
I always feel at home in the presence of a Zamboni. Behind the skating rink is Vajdahunyad Castle.
I don’t know any rinks in Canada with a castle view. This one was modelled after a fortress in Transylvania
and it’s on an artificial island so you have to cross
a little bridge over the moat to get inside the gate.
The best thing I learned about Vajdahunyad is that it was originally built out of wood planks and cardboard because it was just intended
to be a temporary structure. But the people of Hungary loved it so much it was eventually built out of permanent stone to be enjoyed forever.
There’s something really touching about a castle being turned from cardboard paper to stone through the sheer power of human love and appreciation.
There’s a fairy tale quality to that story that extends around all of Budapest. The long history of the city, with all its darkness and lightness,
feels strong to me walking around. You can see and feel how love can not only turn paper to stone but also bring a city out of dark times of terror  and into the light.
I hope you enjoyed walking all over Budapest  and seeing some of the highlights.
I absolutely loved visiting this lovely cityand we made a bunch  there so I’ll link those in the description box
if you want to see more about where we stayed, what we ate,the incredible Christmas Markets, the thermal baths, the nightlife, and all of those things.


It is Hungary’s capital and seat of Pest megye (county). Budapest is the country’s political, administrative, industrial, and commercial center. The site has been continuously settled since prehistoric times and now is home to about one fifth of the country’s population. Area city, 203 square miles (525 square km). (2011) 1,729,040; (2019 est.) 1,752,286.

The city’s character

In addition to being the focal point of the nation, Budapest is also a vibrant cultural center. As the Danube (Hungarian: Duna) River runs through the city, the hills of western Hungary meet the plains stretching east and south to create a magnificent natural setting. A series of bridges connect Buda and Pest, which are situated on opposite sides of the river.

Enjoy scenes of the Hungarian capital along the Danube while learning about Budapest’s formation

Explore the Hungarian capital on the Danube River while learning about Budapest’s formation

Although the city’s roots date back to Roman times, modern Budapest is essentially an outgrowth of the 19th century empire of Austria-Hungary, when Hungary was three times larger than the present country. Hungary’s reduction in size following World War I did not prevent Budapest from becoming, after Berlin, the second largest city in central Europe. One out of five Hungarians now lives in the capital, which dominates all aspects of national life. Tens of thousands of commuters converge on Budapest daily, more than half the country’s university students attend school in the city, and about half the country’s income from foreign tourism is earned there.

Castle of Buda

Budapest stood out from the other capitals of the Soviet-bloc countries; it maintained an impression of plenty, with smart shops, good restaurants, and other amenities. The dissolution of the Soviet bloc and Hungary’s transition away from socialism brought Budapest new opportunities for prosperity and an influx of Western tourists—along with the stresses of transition to a more Western-style economy. The city, including the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, and Andrássy Avenue, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

Budapest occupies a strategic location in the Carpathian Basin, located on an ancient route linking the hills of Transdanubia (Hungarian: Dunántúl) with the Great Alfold (Great Hungarian Plain; Hungarian: Nagy Magyar Alföld). Because of its few islands in the middle of the Danube, Budapest was always fordable. The city has marked topographical contrasts: Buda is built on the higher terraces and hills of the western side, while Pest spreads out on a flat and featureless sand plain on the river’s opposite bank.

The climate

The climate of Budapest is transitional between the extreme conditions of the Great Alfold and the more temperate climate of Transdanubia, with its abundant rainfall. The mean annual temperature is in the low 50s F (about 11 °C), ranging from a July average in the low 70s F (about 22 °C) to the low 30s F (about −1 °C) in January. Mean annual precipitation is 24 inches (600 mm). Winter snowfalls can be heavy, and the temperature may fall below 5 °F (−15 °C), but, on the other hand, heat waves combined with humidity in the summer can make the air oppressive. Flooding in Pest was endemic before the river was regulated in the 19th century. The Danube has become heavily contaminated, and air pollution, from which most inhabitants of Buda have largely been able to escape, has afflicted most districts in Pest.


Until the late 18th century, Pest remained a tiny enclave, but then its population exploded, leaving Buda far behind. In the latter half of the 20th century, growth has been more evenly distributed between the two parts. Contemporary Budapest covers 203 square miles (525 square km), of which about half is built up. Buda’s hilltops, still crowned by trees; the Danube flanked by three lower hills; the bridges; Margit (Margaret) Island; and the riverfront of Pest lend a remarkable visual identity to the city.

Bastion of the Fishermen

Near the Royal Palace, in a central position, is Castle Hill (Várhegy), 551 feet (168 metres) above sea level and crowned by the restored Buda Castle (Budai vár, commonly called the Royal Palace). The structure was destroyed or damaged and rebuilt several times over the centuries, most recently when it was razed during World War II. Restoration of the palace was completed in the mid-1970s, and it now houses the National Széchényi Library, Budapest History Museum (commonly called the Vármúzeum, or Castle Museum), and the Hungarian National Gallery. Nearby is Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom), commonly called Our Blessed Lady’s Church (Nagyboldogasszony templom), with a spire thrusting into the skyline above Castle Hill.


To the south of Castle Hill rises the higher Gellért Hill (771 feet), a steep limestone escarpment overlooking the Danube, which provides a panoramic view of the whole city. At the top stands the Citadel (Citadella)—built by the Austrian army in the mid-19th century to keep watch over the town—which serves today as a hotel and restaurant and doubles on St. Stephen’s Day (August 20) as the stage for a splendid fireworks display. The Liberation Statue near the Citadel commemorates the victory of the Soviet army over German forces in 1945. Rózsa (Rose) Hill, north of Castle Hill, lies most fashionable district of Budapest, where Hungary’s elite have houses. The Lukács (Lucas) Bath at foot of hill is frequented by Budapest’s literati.

Below the three hills stretches the city. Along the bank, facing Castle Hill on the Pest side of the Danube, is the ornate Parliament Building (Országház). Designed in Neo-Gothic style and influenced by the Houses of Parliament in London, it has been little used since the end of World War II. Further along the bank lies the Neo-Renaissance building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1862–64) and the Vigadó, a large hall built in the Romantic style (1859–64).

The pest

The heart of Pest is the Belváros (Inner Town), which is an irregular pentagon with its longest side running parallel to the Danube. Only traces of the original town walls remain. The district accommodates offices, parts of Loránd Eötvös University and shops. The Váci utca, a narrow street turned pedestrian thoroughfare, is the most fashionable shopping centre of Budapest. Another, newer pedestrian-friendly street, the New Main Street, also stretches through the city centre. The Town Hall (Fővárosi Tanács), a Baroque building erected between 1724 and 1747, is in the northeast corner of the Belváros next to Pest County Hall (Pest megyei Tanács). The Inner Town Parish Church (Belvárosi plébániatemplom) is the oldest building in Pest. Rebuilt in the Baroque style in the 18th century, as were many other churches in Pest and Buda, the church had been the most impressive of medieval Pest. St. Stephen’s Crown, the symbol of Hungarian nationhood, is on display in the Hungarian National Museum, a

Theatre National

Basilica of St. Stephen

Many of Hungary’s main boulevards form concentric semicircles around the Belváros. The nearest to the center follows the line of the former city walls. The Nagykörút (Great Boulevard), which formerly bore the names of Habsburg archdukes and archduchesses, is now divided into four named sections. Most of the ministries and other government offices are to the north of the Belváros. The part Neoclassical, part Neo-Renaissance St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Neo-Renaissance State Opera House, the National Theatre, and the concert hall of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music were all built in the 19th century. However, these buildings’ stucco facades have not weathered well over time.

Andrássy Avenue, one of the most famous streets in Budapest, runs in a straight line from the centre of Pest to City Park (Városliget), which contains the Millennium Monument. The monument is made up of a semicircular colonnade displaying statues of Hungarian kings and national leaders, with a statue of the archangel Gabriel surmounting a 118-foot-high central column. Nearby are the Museum of Fine Arts, other museums, the Budapest Zoo, the renowned city circus, and an amusement ground (which was once called “the English Park”).


The capital is almost 10 times larger than Hungary’s next largest city. The rate of increase from about 100,000 in the 1840s to 1,000,000 in 1918, for example, far outstripped that of London during the same period. The population has been phenomenal: its rate of increase from about 100,000 in the 1840s to 1,000,000 in 1918, for example, far outstripped that of London during the same period. By the late 20th century, however, the rate of growth had slowed and the population had begun to shift from the central districts to the periphery and adjacent communities. Residential districts—such as Pesterzsébet (Pestszenterzsébet) and Kelenföld in the south, Rákoskeresztúr in the east, and Óbuda, Békásmegyer, and Újpalota in the north—have been growing as the inner city has been redeveloped.

A city of marked social divisions, Budapest once revealed the deep-rooted contrast in lifestyle between the aristocrats, who built palaces in the town centre, and those who lived in the slum districts and sprawling temporary barrack settlements on the city’s perimeter. During the Stalinist period after World War II, these contrasts largely disappeared, but an acute housing shortage has persisted. The majority of the inhabitants continue to live in relatively small flats. Economic reforms since the late 1960s created new wealth, which in turn sharpened the differences between the more ostentatious lifestyle of the new middle classes—whose privileged members are able to build second homes in the Buda Hills and on Lake Balaton—and that of the workers who populate the gigantic faceless housing estates of the drab outlying residential districts.

Apart from its large number of foreign visitors, the capital, Budapest, is entirely Hungarian-speaking; in the past it never was. The remarkably diverse ethnic background of Budapest’s population has been one of the city’s greatest strengths. In the past Buda was run by German and later German and Hungarian burghers. In the early 19th century the government of Pest was in the hands of German burghers, shipping was controlled by Serbs, and the merchants were largely “Greek” (i.e., Greek and other Balkan peoples). German-speaking industrial workers were brought in from the west, and large numbers of Jews moved in from the east. By 1900 nearly one-fourth of the inhabitants of Budapest were Jewish, but the Jewish community was largely destroyed during World War II. Postwar Budapest became culturally homogeneous and, notwithstanding the presence of small minorities of other ethnic groups—including most notably Germans, Romanians, Russians, and Roma—it has remained so in recent years.

The economy

In early times, the town served as the center of the country’s economy and was capable of producing its own food. Buda’s wine was renowned before Phylloxera (a genus of plant louse) and urban expansion destroyed the vineyards covering the upper Danube terraces. There are only a few orchards, gardens, nurseries, and dairy farms in the Buda Hills that supply food to the capital of Hungary today.

Industry and commerce

This sentence is about the history of Buda and Pest. To avoid repetition, in the same tone of voice, we could say:

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the city—which had neither local raw materials of any sort nor even skilled workers (they had to be imported from Austria and Moravia)—was transformed from a commercial base to the country’s most prominent industrial centre. Except for a few engineering factories, manufacturing was at first limited to the processing of raw materials, particularly food, and huge grain mills were built on the Danube. Primary-metal and engineering works (especially for agricultural machinery and ships) and munitions and electronics factories soon followed. Automobiles have been produced since 1905, but light industries grew fast only after World War I.

The Budapest metropolitan area had transformed into one of the world’s fastest-growing urban economies by the second decade of the 21st century. It had become an important center of finance, banking, and commerce, as well as the focus of significant foreign direct investment. As well as being a major hub for research and development, Budapest is also home to most of the country’s largest software companies.

The transportation industry

The Hungarian capital

Transportation has been the key to Budapest’s rapid expansion. A famous crossing point on the Danube where highways have always converged, it has become the hub of the country’s trunk roads and main railway lines, all of which radiate from the capital. It also developed Hungary’s largest bus terminal as well as its largest commercial airport, Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. The head office of the international Danube Commission is in Budapest. Of the capital’s eight bridges, the oldest and best-known is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd), built in the 1840s and named for Hungarian reformer István Széchenyi.

Since the 1870s, horse-drawn trams have been common in Hungarian cities. Although electric trams were introduced in 1887, they soon expanded into a large network. In 1945, after World War II, city transport became more efficient with the introduction of buses and the Metro, a subway system constructed primarily in the 1970s. Despite congestion caused by the colossal expansion in the use of the private automobile and the reduction in the number of tramcars, city transport has once more become efficient. The Metro, a subway system constructed primarily in the 1970s, operates four lines, including one that runs under the river and connects Buda to Pest. It is a showpiece that is clean, fast, and absurdly cheap.

Conditions of administration and social welfare

The government

Budaújváros, the capital of Hungary, is also the seat of the Hungarian government. It is also the seat of Pest megye (county) and Buda járás (district). The city is divided into 23 administrative districts—6 on the Buda side, 16 in Pest, and Csepel Island—each with its own government and mayor, though Budapest also has a chief mayor. Control of the city is formally vested in the 34-member General Assembly of Budapest (made up of the mayor of Budapest, the mayors of the 23 districts, and 9 representatives from “compensation party lists”).

Services provided by the public

As evidenced by the improvements in public transport and the renovation of the telephone system undertaken in the 1970s, the city has a tradition of good public services, at least in the center (gas was introduced there in 1856 and electricity in 1893), and the city is well renowned for its good public services. Although hospital care and social services are adequate in Budapest, suicide rates are alarmingly high.

Life in the cultural sector

The economic hypertrophy of Budapest is compounded by its dominating position in Hungarian culture, which has drawn writers and poets, traditionally said to be excessively preoccupied with rural life and the peasantry, to the capital. Leading grammar schools are concentrated in Budapest and its universities and colleges attract most of the country’s best students. Furthermore, Hungary’s leading research institutions are all located in Budapest.

Watch a play at the Vígszínház, one of Hungary’s most important theatres

The city also claims the best libraries, museums, art galleries, orchestras, sports facilities, and theatres in Hungary. Founded in 1802, the Hungarian National Museum has extensive historical and archaeological holdings. The music academy, established in 1875 by the pianist and composer Franz Liszt, has acquired international fame. The Opera House was restored to its 19th-century splendour in 1984. Completed in 2002 and located next to Müpa Budapest (Palace of Fine Art), the National Theatre complex includes a large park and sculpture garden. It houses the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, the Ludwig Museum (displaying contemporary art), the Festival Theatre, and additional halls. Together they provide venues for classical and popular music alike, jazz, opera, dance, film, and other fine arts.

During a Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, a woman wears a brightly-colored feather headdress. Rio Carnival. Brazil Carnival.

Cities around the world

Aside from its bookshops, Budapest has an unparalleled number of hairdressers and swimming pools (sometimes combined), as well as thermal baths. There are numerous underground hot springs that contain radium and other minerals. Since Roman times, bathers have sought them out for their supposed healing properties.

The history of

Buda’s early settlement and medieval development

Budapest’s location is a prime site for habitation because of its geography, and there is ample evidence of human settlement on the Danube’s western side from Neolithic times onward. Two miles north of Castle Hill, in what became Óbuda, a settlement named Ak-Ink (“Ample Water”) was established by the Celtic Eravisci. This became Aquincum when the Romans established a military camp and civilian town there at the end of the 1st century CE. Aquincum grew into a thriving urban center with two amphitheatres. After the collapse of Roman authority in Pannonia in the early 5th century, some of the large buildings were inhabited by Huns and later by Visigoths and Avars, each group controlling the region for a while.

Kurszán, the Magyar tribal chieftain, probably took up residence in the palace of the former Roman governor at the end of the 9th century. After Stephen I of Hungary had established a Christian kingdom in the early 11th century Buda, for whom the settlement was named, was probably the first constable of the new fortress built on Castle Hill, and Óbuda (“Old Buda”) to the north became known as Pest (“Lime Kiln,” which is also suggested by Ofen, the German name for Buda). On the opposite side of the river, a Slavonic settlement, Pest (meaning “Lime Kiln,” which is also suggested by Ofen, the German name for Buda), was already in existence.

Medieval Buda prospered and declined along with its patron, the Hungarian royal court. The municipality was established by royal charter in 1244, by Béla IV. He bestowed on the citizens of Pest, whose town had been devastated by the Mongols in 1241, the right to settle in full possession of their privileges in the fortified castle. At that time, parity status was conferred on the Hungarians in municipal government. Buda’s preeminence, developed under royal protection, was underlined by its judicial authority (as a higher court) over other free royal towns, although the proximity of the king’s court undermined its own self-government. The palace was rebuilt by Matthias I, whose death in 1490 marked the decline of both royal power and the town. After a devastating siege it was liberated by a Christian army organized by Leopold I. Little of Matthias’s Buda survived into the 18th century.

The “budas” and the “pestas”

Pest, a German commercial centre in Hungary and by then part of the Habsburg empire of Austria, had begun to grow in the late 18th century. Buda, where in the early 18th century only German Roman Catholics were allowed to settle, remained an imperial garrison town and developed once more under the eye of the monarch. A new royal palace was built in the 1760s during the reign of Maria Theresa. The university was moved from Nagyszombat (modern Trnava, Slovakia) to Buda in 1777; since 1949 it has been called Loránd Eötvös University. In 1783 Joseph II turned Buda into the country’s administrative centre; that same year the Curia (High Court) was moved to Buda, and the university was transferred to Pest. For centuries floods were a serious problem, and one in 1838 took a particularly heavy toll: more than half the houses in Pest were destroyed, and Buda suffered as well.

Hungarian capital

The character of Buda under the Habsburgs remained aristocratic and distinctly alien. Pest, into which the gentry and intelligentsia moved, became wedded to the national cause; the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, linking Buda with Pest, was a metaphor for unity. The town of Pest was still partly German, but the nobility of Pest megye led the campaign for Hungarian home rule. After the outbreak of revolution in Pest in March 1848, a Hungarian ministry, transferred from Pozsony (modern Bratislava, Slovakia) and responsible to the Diet, was established there. In the ensuing civil war Buda was besieged in May 1849 by the revolutionary army of the patriot Lajos Kossuth. Repression followed the revolution until 1867, when Austria-Hungary was placed under the Dual Monarchy. Governments were established in Vienna and Pest.

Modern cities

Its governing body, the City Council, consisted of 400 members elected by the districts. The influence of wealth was ensured by a provision of the law (Prussian in origin) that half the council was to be elected from among the 1,200 highest taxpayers of the capital (the so-called “virilists”), while the other half of the council’s membership was elected from the rest of the electorate, based on a rather narrow franchise.

After Ferenc Deák’s death in 1876, the Belváros constituency was inherited by leading politicians from Budapest, which dominated national politics.

Budapest map c. 1900

After unification the spectacular growth of the city began in earnest. Baroque and Neoclassical Pest was ruthlessly sacrificed to the building fever that gripped the city fathers. The two most prominent buildings of the period, the new Parliament in Pest and the rebuilt Buda Castle, standing face-to-face over the Danube, were a powerful reminder of the age-old political conflict between the alien monarchy and the national Parliament. Meanwhile, Budapest underwent a major change because of rapid industrialization. Protective tariffs could not be introduced under the dualist system, and the idea of state support for industry gained ground only in the late 1880s, but results were runaway growth and creation of an industrial city in which workforce lived appalling conditions.

Urban and industrial growth created social tension and the emergence of a working-class movement before World War I. After the disintegration of Austria-Hungary in the autumn of 1918, the National Council (a revolutionary body), headed by Count Mihály Károlyi and supported by antiwar radicals and socialists, took power in Budapest. The following March the Károlyi regime collapsed; communists seized power in the capital and held it for four months while also controlling the central regions of the country. Romanian troops occupied and sacked Budapest before an old social order was restored by a counterrevolutionary army marching into the bűnös város (“sinful town”) in November 1919.

After the signing of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, Budapest—now the capital of an independent Hungary—grew disproportionately large compared with the rest of the country. Social conditions deteriorated in the interwar years. Buda Castle, where Miklós Horthy, the country’s regent, resided after 1920, played a fateful role in World War II. Hungary, a satellite of Germany in the war, was occupied by German army units in March 1944. In October Horthy sued for a separate peace and renounced the German alliance, but the coup failed. Between the end of December and the middle of February 1945, German army units put up a fierce resistance to the Soviet advance. In the process, fighting reduced Castle Hill to a large, sprawling ruin; more than a quarter of Budapest’s buildings and factories were destroyed or damaged and all bridges were blown up. It took years for Budapest to recover from this devastation.

Revolution in Hungary

The city was enlarged considerably in 1950, when seven satellite towns and 16 villages on its outskirts were merged into its territory. These were then divided into 22 administrative districts. One of the most momentous events in the city’s postwar history was the uprising in October 1956, which began as a demonstration by students in the streets of Budapest. For the first time, a communist government was overthrown by the people. After bloody reprisals, the city settled down to a role of providing a model for “goulash” (i.e., market) socialism and for being a shop window to the West. As the capital of one of the most Western-influenced countries of the Soviet bloc, Budapest enjoyed a measure of free enterprise and investment capital from the West even during the era of the Cold War. Hungary again became the focus of national political drama in the late 1980s, when it led the reform movement in the Soviet bloc that broke the communist monopoly on political power and ushered in the possibility of multiparty politics. Despite its relative prosperity and experience with private enterprise, Budapest was not immune to

During the 1990s Budapest underwent dramatic change as the city made the transition from a closed to an open society. This long-defunct stock exchange reopened and became an important market in central Europe, the city’s breathtaking architecture and cultural landmarks made it a popular tourist destination, and the Hungarian government’s privatization program transferred most industries and businesses from state control to the private sector and attracted significant foreign investment. Despite its long experience with communist rule, by the beginning of the 21st century Budapest had emerged once again as one of Europe’s most vibrant cities. Moreover, a widely cited 2013 survey found Budapest to be Europe’s “most welcoming city.”

Pest megye (county), central Hungary. It borders Slovakia to the north and the counties of Nógrád and Heves to the northeast, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok to the east, Bács-Kiskun to the south, and Komárom-Esztergom and Fejér to the west. Pest is by far the most populous and most industrialized county in Hungary. Budapest, the national capital, is the county seat despite being administratively independent. The majority of county-level institutions are located in Budapest, and only a few operate outside the city boundaries: notably, the cultural center and the museum directorate in Szentendre, the county hospital in Kistarcsa, and the social security directorate in Cegléd. The population of Pest county is diverse with a Hungarian majority as well as significant ethnic German, Slovakian, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Roma (Gypsy) communities.

The northern part of Pest county is covered by hills and mountains. Pest lies at the intersection of the Great Alfold and the Transdanubian Mountains. In the region known as the Danube Bend, the Börzsöny and Pilis hills cause the Danube River to turn south and flow past Szentendre and Csepel islands. Between the Tisza River and the Danube lie the sandy plains of the Great Alfold in the southern part of the county.

A variety of agriculture is practiced in Pest, including the production of fruit (particularly apples), sugar beets, and tomatoes. A variety of industries can be found in Pest’s towns and cities. Machines, electronics, automotive, and construction industries make up the county’s main industries.

Tourists flock to the Danube Bend, which stretches from Esztergom to Szentendre. Szentendre still reflects the influence of its Dalmatian Serb founders in its Mediterranean-style cityscape, Baroque buildings, and numerous museums—including the Hungarian Open Air Museum (an ethnographical village that re-creates aspects of historic Hungarian folklife); the museums featuring the artworks of the Ferenczy family, of Jenő Barcsay, and of Béla Czóbel; and the collection of Serbian religious art at the Belgrade Cathedral. Visegrád boasts a partly renovated medieval fortress and the ruins of a Renaissance castle, a memorial museum of Kálmán Kittenberger is in Nagymaros, and Zebegény is home to a memorial museum of painter István Szonyi. Hot-water spas are in Szentendre, Leányfalu, and Lepence, in the vicinity of Visegrád. The Ráckeve arm of the Danube is noted for freshwater fishing. The county’s territory neighboring Duna-Ipoly and Kiskunsá

As the foremost zoological garden in Hungary, Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden, Hungarian in full Budapest Fóváros Allat-es Növénykertje, was established in 1866 by the city of Budapest. A public foundation was established in 1992 for its support.

There are nearly 9,000 animals represented by 850 species at the zoo. It specializes in domestic animals as well as rare and endangered wildlife species like apes and ungulates.

The Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, in Hungarian Budapesti Filharmóniai Társaság Zenekara, Hungarian symphony orchestra based in Budapest. Ferenc Erkel was the concerts’ initial conductor. He continued as music director until 1871, four years after the Philharmonic Society was established. Franz Liszt was traveling regularly to Budapest and, among other activities, appearing as guest conductor with the orchestra, and his influence was important in establishing Budapest as an important musical center.

Later conductors of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra included Hans Richter (1871–75), Sándor Erkel (1875–1900), and István Kerner (1900–18). Composer-teacher Ernst von Dohnányi became its conductor in 1918 and continued, while fighting Nazi power, until 1943, when he disbanded the orchestra amid the chaos of World War II. The orchestra was rebuilt and grew under János Ferencsik (1960–67), who was succeeded by András Kórodi (1967–86). Subsequent conductors have been Erich Bergel (1989–94), Rico Saccani (1997–2005), György Győriványi-Ráth (2011–14), and Pinchas Steinberg (2014- ). The orchestra recorded for the Supraphon, Qualiton, and Hungaroton labels, on occasion under Zoltán Kodály’s direction.


Jeff Wallenfeldt revised and updated this article most recently.

In his invasion of Europe, Subedei planned a three-pronged assault on Hungary and a Polish campaign to support it. Invaders destroyed Hungarian defenses in the Carpathians and swept across Hungary, stopping on the banks of the Sajo. On the opposite bank, King Béla IV encamped with a 100,000-man army that outnumbered the Mongols by at least 20,000.

Terracotta Soldiers in trenches, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China

What is the truth about history?

On 10 April, Batu Khan and his brother, Prince Shiban, led a frontal assault across the river while Subedei rode northward in search of a ford by which his troops could cross and attack the Hungarians from behind. Batu and Shiban struggled to make headway, but then unleashed catapult-fired explosives that drove the Hungarians back. Once across, they wheeled around and turned the Hungarian position so it would be vulnerable to Subedei when he arrived; then Batu ordered his men to retreat and line up in single file.

The Mongols’ troops arrived and deployed in the same way behind the Hungarians, who-realizing they were about to be encircled by archers-charged out to regain their camp. Subedei pursued them and bombarded the camp with explosives, finally sending in his heavy cavalry. A column of Hungarians fled back toward Pest but was pursued and shot down by the mounted Mongol archers. Europe was saved from further Mongol depredations by the death of Ogodei and consequent withdrawal of Mongol forces to select a new leader.

Topics related to archaeology: amphitheatres

Places related to Hungary: Budapest ancient Rome Pannonia

Before the Roman town was founded, the site was settled by the Celtic Eravisci people and given the name Ak-ink (“Abundant Water”) because of the nearby thermal springs. A military camp established there by Emperor Vespasian attracted a civilian population by the mid-1st century BCE. Other factors contributing to the city’s growth included:
the fertile flatlands next to the river, the ease of crossing the Danube at that location, and substantial traffic on the important road connecting fortresses along the Danube limes (imperial boundary). The remains of the Contra Aquincum fortress, built on the east side of the Danube to defend the crossing, are on Pest side of Elizabeth Bridge in Budapest. In 106 Emperor Trajan made Aquincum capital of Lower Pannonia (Pannonia Inferior), with its proconsuls including Hadrian, later emperor.

Columns and statuary at Karnak, Egypt (Egyptian architecture; Egyptian archaeology; Egyptian history)

Quiz for History Buffs

The city was classed as a municipium by Hadrian in 124, and a colonia by Septimus Severus in 194. After suffering heavily during the Marcomannian wars in the middle of the 2nd century, the city resumed its growth with the construction of a number of public buildings as well as an amphitheatre in the northwest and a 3-mile (5-km) aqueduct from the springs to the military camp. Emperor Diocletian made Aquincum the capital of the Pannonia Valeria province. As Roman forces withdrew in the age of the great migrations, not even the Danube was able to shield Aquincum from invaders. The inhabitants gradually left Aquincum, and when the Huns arrived at the beginning of the 5th century they found it deserted. Methodical efforts to unearth the remains of Aquincum began in the late 19th century, and many of Aquincum’s finds from various excavations are on display in Budapest’s Aquincum Museum.

Budapest’s central district

There are a number of names for the Danube River, including German Donau, Slovak Dunaj, Hungarian Duna, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian Dunav, Romanian Dunărea, Ukrainian Dunay. In western Germany, the Black Forest rises and flows 1,770 miles (2,850 km) to its mouth at the Black Sea. It passes through ten countries along the way: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Discover how the Danube River connects the Balkan region to the rest of Europe

Discover how the Danube River connects the Balkan region with the rest of EuropeSee all videos

The Danube played a vital role in the settlement and political evolution of central and southeastern Europe. Its banks, lined with castles and fortresses, formed the boundary between great empires, and its waters served as a vital commercial highway between nations. In recent centuries, it has also been harnessed for hydroelectric power, particularly along the upper courses. The cities along its banks—including the national capitals of Vienna (Austria), Budapest (Hungary), and Belgrade (Serbia)—have depended upon it for their economic growth.



Confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers

The vast drainage of some 315,000 square miles (817,000 square km) includes a variety of natural conditions that affect the origins and the regimes of its watercourses. They favour the formation of a branching, dense, deepwater river network that includes some 300 tributaries, more than 30 of which are navigable. The river basin expands unevenly along its length. It covers about 18,000 square miles (47,000 square km) at the Inn confluence, 81,000 square miles (210,000 square km) after joining with the Drava, and 228,000 square miles (590,000 square km) below the confluences of its most affluent tributaries, the Sava and the Tisza. There is a steady growth in downstream area until about halfway down the basin where it slows down. More than half of the entire Danube basin is drained by its right-bank tributaries.

A river’s basin can be divided into three sections. The upper course runs from its source to the Hungarian Gates gorge in the Austrian Alps and Western Carpathians. From the Hungarian Gates Gorge to the Iron Gate in the Romanian Carpathians, the middle course runs. From the Iron Gate, the lower course flows to the Black Sea estuary, which is a delta-like estuary.

River Amazon from an aerial view (Amazon River; rain forest; rainforest; South America)

Is it true that a river runs through it?

The upper Danube springs from the eastern slopes of the Black Forest mountains in Germany, which partially consist of limestone. From Donaueschingen, where the headstreams unite, the Danube flows northeastward in a narrow, rocky bed. The bank is low and uniform, composed mainly of fields, peat, and marshland.

River Isar

At Regensburg the Danube reaches its northernmost point, from which it veers south and crosses wide, fertile, and level country. Shortly before it reaches Passau on the Austrian border, the river narrows and its bottom abounds with reefs and shoals. The Danube then flows through Austrian territory where it cuts into the slopes of the Bohemian Forest and forms a narrow valley. In order to improve navigation, dams and protecting dikes have been built near Passau, Linz, and Ardagger. The upper Danube has an average inclination of the riverbed (0.93 percent) and a rapid current of two to five miles per hour. Depths vary from 3 to 26 feet (1 to 8 metres). The Danube swells substantially at Passau where the Inn River, its largest upstream tributary, carries more water than the main river. Other major tributaries in the upper Danube course include the Iller, Lech, Isar, Traun, Enns, and Morava rivers

Gorge of Kazan

With low banks and a bed that reaches more than one mile wide, the Danube appears more like a flatland river during its middle course. The river flows through narrow canyon-like gorges only in two sectors—Visegrád (Hungary) and Iron Gate (USA). Two main features characterize the middle Danube basin: the flatland of the Little Alfold and Great Alfold plains and the low peaks of the Western Carpathians and Transdanubian Mountains.

The Danube enters the Little Alfold plain immediately after emerging from the Hungarian Gates Gorge near Bratislava, Slovakia. There the river stream slows down abruptly and loses its transporting capacity, so that enormous quantities of gravel and sand settle on the bottom. A principal result of this deposition has been the formation of two islands, one on each side of the river, which support some 190,000 inhabitants in more than 100 settlements. The silting hampers navigation and occasionally divides the river into two or more channels. East of Komárno, the Danube enters the Visegrád Gorge, squeezed between the foothills of the Western Carpathian and Hungarian Transdanubian Mountains. The steep right bank is crowned with fortresses, castles, and cathedrals of the Hungarian Árpád dynasty of the 10th to 15th centuries.

The Danube then flows past Budapest, and across the vast Great Alfold plain, traversing Croatia, Serbia, and Romania until it reaches the Iron Gate gorge. The riverbed is shallow and marshy, and low terraces stretch along both banks. River accumulation has built a number of islands, including Csepel Island near Budapest. In this long stretch the river takes on the waters of its major tributaries—the Drava, the Tisza, and the Sava—which create substantial changes in the river’s regime. The average runoff increases from about 83,000 cubic feet (2,400 cubic metres) per second north of Budapest to 200,000 cubic feet (5,600 cubic metres) at the Iron Gate. The river valley looks most imposing there, and the river’s depth and current velocity fluctuate widely. The rapids and reefs of the Iron Gate once made the river unnavigable until a lateral navigation channel and a parallel railway allowed rivercraft to be towed upstream against the strong current.

River Olt

Beyond the Iron Gate the lower Danube flows across a wide plain; its current slows down and its flow becomes shallower as it approaches the Romanian Plain. To the right, above steep banks, stretches the tableland of the Danubian Plain of Bulgaria. To the left lies the low Romanian Plain, which is separated from the main stream by a strip of lakes and swamps. The tributaries in this section account for only a modest increase in runoff but are important for transporting water to agricultural land. The river is again obstructed by a number of islands just south of Cernavodă. Just south of Galați, Romania, the Danube heads northward until it reaches Tulcea where it veers abruptly eastward and begins to spread out into its delta.

The river splits into three channels: the Chilia, which carries 63 percent of the total runoff; the Sfântu Gheorghe (St. George), which carries the remainder; and the Sulina, which accounts for 16 percent. Navigation is possible only by way of the Sulina Channel, which has been straightened and dredged along its 39-mile (63-km) length. Between the channels, there are smaller creeks and lakes that are separated by oblong strips of land called grinduri. Most grinduri are arable and some are overgrown with tall oak forests. A large quantity of reeds that grow in the shallow-water tracts are used in the manufacture of paper and textile fibers.

Danube River Hydrology

The different physical features of the river basin affect the amount of water runoff in its three sections. The upper Danube’s runoff corresponds to the Alpine tributaries, with its maximum occurring in June, when the melting of the snow and ice in the Alps occurs the most. During the winter months, the runoff falls to its lowest level.

The middle basin has two runoff peaks in June and April, which stem from the upper course. The June peak reaches its maximum 10 to 15 days later, while the April peak is local and caused by rainfall. The period of low water begins in October and reflects the dry spells of summer and autumn that are typical of the low plains. In the lower basin, all Alpine traits disappear completely from the river regime and the runoff maximum occurs in April.

The river carries a considerable quantity of solid particles, nearly all of which consist of quartz grains. The constant shift of deposits in different parts of the riverbed forms shoals. In the stretches between Bratislava and Komárno and in the Sulina Channel, draglines are constantly at work to maintain the depth needed for navigation. The damming of the river has also changed the way in which sediments are transported and deposited. Water impounded by reservoirs generally loses its silt load, and the water flowing out of the dam—which is relatively silt-free—erodes banks farther downstream.

The temperature of the river waters depends on the climate of the various parts of the basin. In the upper course, where the summer waters derive from the Alpine snow and glaciers, the water temperature is low. In the middle and lower reaches, where summer temperatures vary between 71 and 75 °F (22 and 24 °C), while winter temperatures near the banks and on the surface drop below freezing. Upstream from Linz, but not downstream from Linz, the Danube never freezes entirely, because the current is turbulent. The middle and lower courses become icebound during severe winters. Between December and March, periods of ice drift combine with spring thaw, causing floating ice blocks to accumulate at river islands, jamming the river’s course, and often creating major floods.

Due to the introduction of stream-regulating equipment, such as dams and dikes, the natural regime of river runoff is constantly changing. Its mineral content is greater in the winter than in the summer. There is a relatively low amount of organic matter in the river, but pollution increases as it flows past industrial areas. As urban sewerage and agricultural runoff enter the river, its chemistry also changes.

Economic conditions

River Sava; Belgrade

The Danube is of great economic importance to the 10 countries that border it—Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany—all of which variously use the river for freight transport, the generation of hydroelectricity, industrial and residential water supplies, irrigation, and fishing. The movement of freight is the most important economic use of the Danube. Among the major ports are such cities as Izmayil (Ukraine), Galați (Romania), Ruse (Bulgaria), Belgrade (Serbia), Budapest (Hungary), Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria), and Regensburg (Germany). Since World War II, navigation has been improved by dredging and by the construction of a series of canals. The most important canals include the Danube–Black Sea Canal which runs from Cernovadă (Romania) to the Black Sea and provides a more direct and easily navigable link; and the Main–Danube Canal which was completed in 1992 to link the Danube to the Rhine and thus to the North Sea.

During the 7th century BCE, Greek sailors reached the lower Danube and sailed upstream, conducting a brisk trade. They were familiar with the whole of its lower course, naming it the Ister. The Danube later served as the northern boundary of the vast Roman Empire and was called the Danuvius. A Roman fleet patrolled its waters and the strongholds along its shores were centers of settlements, among them Vindobona (later Vienna), Aquincum (later Budapest), Singidunum (later Belgrade), and Sexantaprista (later Ruse).

During the Middle Ages the old fortresses continued to play an important role, and new castles such as Werfenstein, built by Charlemagne in the 9th century, were erected. When the Ottoman Empire spread from southeastern to central Europe in the 15th century, the Turks relied upon the string of fortresses along the Danube for defense. The Habsburg dynasty recognized the navigational potential of the Danube. Maria Theresa, queen of Hungary and Bohemia from 1740 to 1780, founded a department to oversee river navigation, and in 1830 a riverboat made a first trip from Vienna to Budapest. That trip marked the end of the river’s importance as a line of defense and the beginning of its use as a channel of trade.

Regulated navigation on the Danube has been the subject of a number of international agreements. In 1616 an Austro-Turkish treaty was signed in Belgrade under which the Austrians were granted the right to navigate the middle and lower Danube. In 1774, under the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, Russia was allowed to use the lower Danube. The Anglo-Austrian and the Russo-Austrian conventions of 1838 and 1840, respectively, promoted free navigation along the entire river, a principle that was more precisely formulated in the Treaty of Paris of 1856, which also set up the first Danubian Commission with the aim of supervising the river as an international waterway. In 1921 and 1923, final approval of the Danube River Statute was granted by Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Greece. The international Danube Commission was thus established as an authoritative institution with wide powers including its own flag right to levy taxes and diplomatic immunity for its members. It controlled navigation from Ulm to Black Sea and kept navigational equipment in good repair.

In the aftermath of World War II, free international navigation along the Danube was interrupted, and it wasn’t until 1948 that a consensus about resuming navigation could be reached. As a result of the new convention, only West Germany did not join the reconstituted Danube Commission; it provided that the Danubian countries could participate alone.

Pinka, Patricia Garland

The population is estimated at 9,627,000 in 2023

The president of the country is János Áder

A unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly [199])

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Budapest’s Parliament Building

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, a landlocked country in central Europe.

Since World War I, Hungary has grappled with the loss of more than two-thirds of their territory and people, which has led to a widely-recognized syndrome called the “Trianon Syndrome.” The syndrome was widespread prior to 1945; it was suppressed during Soviet domination (1945-90); and it reemerged during independence in 1990, when it took on a different form. The modern country appears to be split into two irreconcilable factions: those who are still concerned about Trianon and those who would like to forget it. This split is evident in most aspects of Hungarian political, social, and cultural life.

The Hungarian Republic

Unlike other nations in Europe, Hungarians speak a language that is not related to any other major European language. This may explain why after Christianity was adopted as their religion, the Hungarians became attached to Latin, which became the language of culture, scholarship, and state administration—and even the language of the Hungarian nobility until 1844.

Buda Castle in Budapest

Hungarians are proud to have been the only people to establish a long-lasting state in the Carpathian Basin. Only after six centuries of independent statehood (896–1526) did Hungary become part of two other political entities: the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. But even then, Hungarians retained much of their separate political identity and near-independence, which in 1867 made them a partner in Austria-Hungary (1867–1918). This was much more than the other nations of the Carpathian Basin were able to achieve before 1918.

Let’s name that world flag!

When the Hungarians accepted Catholicism in 1000 CE, they joined the Christianized nations of the West. However, they remained on the borders of that civilization, which made them eager to prove themselves and also defensive about lagging behind Western developments elsewhere. Their geographical position often forced them to fight various Eastern invaders, and, as a result, they viewed themselves as defenders of Western Christianity. In that role, they felt that the West owed them something. When, in times of crisis, special treatment was not forthcoming (e.g., Trianon in 1920), they judged the West as ungrateful.

Budapest sightseeing tour

Check out all the videos for this article to see places of interest in Budapest

Today, Hungary is wholly centered around Budapest. The capital dominates the country both by the size of its population—which dwarfs those in Hungary’s other cities—and by the concentration within its borders of most of the country’s scientific, scholarly, and artistic institutions. Budapest is situated on both banks of the Danube (Hungarian: Duna) River, a few miles downstream from the Danube Bend. It is a magnificent city, even compared with the great pantheon of European capitals, and it has been an anchor of Hungarian culture since its inception.

Despite many national tragedies during the last four centuries, Hungarians have remained confident and proud of their achievements in the sciences, scholarship, and the arts. During the 20th century, many talented Hungarians emigrated, particularly to the United States. Some of these Hungarians were leading scientists who played a defining role in the emergence of American atomic discovery and the computer age. Laura Fermi, writer and wife of Italian American physicist Enrico Fermi, speculated about “the mystery of the Hungary talent” in a 1956 article.

Hungary’s physical characteristics

Located between 45° and 49° N and 16° and 23° E, Hungary is a landlocked country with borders to the north with Slovakia, to the northeast with Ukraine, to the east with Romania, to the south with Serbia (specifically, the Vojvodina region) and Croatia, to the southwest with Slovenia, and to the west with Austria.


The relief dominates the area, with expansive lowlands in the center and rugged hills to either side. Extensive lowlands make up the core of Hungary, while the mountains which form its backbone are situated to the north and west.

The Great Alfold covers most of central and southeastern Hungary. It is a basin-like structure filled with fluvial and windblown deposits. There are 4 types of surface in the area: floodplains, composed of river alluvium; alluvial fans, wedge-shaped features deposited at the breaks of slopes where rivers emerge from the mountain rim; alluvial fans overlain by sand dunes; and plains buried under loess, deposits of windblown material derived from the continental interior. These lowlands range in elevation from about 260 to 660 feet (80 to 200 metres) above sea level, with the lowest point at 256 feet (78 metres), on the southern edge of Szeged, along the Tisza River. In the northeast, bordering Slovakia, is Aggtelek National Park. The park features karst terrain and contains hundreds of caves which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the late 20th century.

Soils and drainage

Hungary is within the drainage basin of the Danube, which is the longest river in the country. The Danube and two of its tributaries, the Rába and Dráva rivers, are of Alpine origin. The Tisza River and its tributaries, which drain much of eastern Hungary, rise in the Carpathian Mountains to the east. The Danube floods twice a year; first in early spring and again in early summer. During these phases, discharge is up to 10 times greater than river levels recorded during the low-water periods of autumn and winter.

Hungary’s Tihany Abbey on Lake Balaton

In Hungary, most lakes are small, while Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in central Europe, covering 231 square miles (598 square kilometers). The Neusiedler Lake lies near the Austrian border and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2001. Lake Velence is located southeast of Budapest.

The average annual temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which falls within the continental climate. The lowest temperature recorded was 32 degrees Fahrenheit and the highest was 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Precipitation in Hungary ranges from 20 to 24 inches annually with the driest areas in the Great Alfold.

The vineyards of Badacsony, Hungary

After years of human activities, the natural vegetation has been largely destroyed in Hungary. Roughly half of the land is regularly cultivated, with 1/6th allocated for nonagricultural purposes. The remaining land comprises meadows and pasture as well as forests and woodland. However, only a small percentage of the country is high enough to support natural coniferous forest. Beech is the climax community at the highest elevations, with oak woodland alternating with scrubby grassland at lower elevations.

The people

Languages and ethnic groups

Ethnic composition of Hungary

From its inception in the 10th century, Hungary was a multiethnic country. Major territorial changes made it ethnically homogeneous after World War I, however, and more than four-fifths of the population is now ethnically Hungarian and speaks Hungarian as the mother tongue. The Hungarian language is classified as a member of the Ugric branch of the Uralic languages; as such, it is most closely related to the Ob-Ugric languages, Khanty and Mansi, which are spoken east of the Ural Mountains. It is also related, though more distantly, to Finnish and Estonian, each of which is (like Hungarian) a national language; to the Sami language of far northern Scandinavia; and, more distantly still, to the Samoyedic languages of Siberia. Ethnic Hungarians comprise a mix of Finno-Ugric Magyars and assimilated Turkic, Slavic, and Germanic peoples. A small percentage of people are made up other ethnic minority groups including Roma (Gypsies), Germans, Slovaks Croats Romanians Serbs Poles Slovenians Rusyns Greeks Armenians.


Religion in Hungary

A T-templom in Kiskunfélegyháza, Hungary

Hungary does not have an official religion, and guarantees religious freedom. One third of the population is Roman Catholic, most of them living in the western and northern parts of the country. About one tenth of the population are Calvinist (principally members of the Reformed Church in Hungary, concentrated in eastern Hungary). Lutherans constitute the next most significant minority faith, and relatively smaller groups belong to various other Christian denominations (Greek or Byzantine Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Unitarians). The Jewish community, which constituted 5 percent of the population before World War II, was decimated by the Holocaust and is now much smaller.

Budapest’s St. Stephen’s Basilica

Since the fall of communism in 1990, more than 200 religious groups have been officially registered in the country. Unlike membership in a religious denomination, however, which does not necessarily imply active participation or even active spiritual belief, nominal membership in a religious group does exist.

Patterns of settlement

Regions that are traditional

Debrecen, Hungary, Great Reformed Church

The Great Alfold is the largest region of the country. It is divided into two parts: Kiskunság, which lies between the Danube and Tisza rivers, and Transtisza (Tiszántúl), which lies east of the Tisza. Kiskunság consists primarily of a mosaic of small landscape elements—sand dunes, loess plains, and floodplains. Kecskemét is the market center for the region, which is also noted for its isolated farmsteads, known as tanyák. Several interesting groups live there, including the people of Kalocsa and the Matyó, who occupy the northern part of the plain around Mezőkövesd and are noted for folk arts that include handmade embroidery and the making of multicolored apparel.

In the generally homogeneous flat plain of the Transtisza region, only the Nyírség area in the northeast presents any form of topographical contrast. Closely connected with the Nyírség are the Hajdúság and Hortobágy regions, and all three areas look to Debrecen, the largest city in the plain. The steppe life of earlier times survives in the Hortobágy, where the original Hungarian cattle, horse, and sheep breeds have been preserved as part of Hungary’s national heritage. The national park there was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.


The third major region, Transdanubia, embraces all of the country west of the Danube except for the Little Alfold. It is a rolling upland broken by the Bakony and Mecsek Ridges. Lake Balaton is a leading resort area. To the south of the lake are the hills of Somogy, Tolna, and Baranya megyék (counties), where Pécs is the economic and cultural center. Also found in Transdanubia are the Bakony Mountains, whose isolation, densely forested ridges, small closed basins, and medieval fortresses and monasteries have protected the local inhabitants over the course of many stormy centuries. The cultural center of Transdanubia is the historic city of Veszprém. In the southern part of the region, north and west of Lake Balaton, are health resorts and centres of wine production, notably Keszthely, Hévíz, Badacsony, and Balatonfüred.

What is the name of that world flag?

The Northern Mountains, fourth major geographic region of the country, contains two important industrial areas – the Nógrád and Borsod basins. However, agriculture is also important in this region, especially viticulture; notable are the Tokaj (Tokay) and Eger vineyards. Indeed, Miskolc is the main economic center for the region. Tourism in this area is well-developed, and numerous spas and recreation centers are located there.

Settlements in urban area  Urban-rural Hungar Budapest’s central district

Most of Hungary’s towns have populations of less than 40,000, despite seven-tenths of the population being urban. Until the late 20th century, these were functionally vastly overgrown villages instead of towns. About one third of the urban population lives in the Budapest metropolis.

Enjoy scenes from the Hungarian capital on the Danube River while learning about Budapest’s formation

Urban Hungary is dominated by Budapest, which is several times the size of any of the other major cities. It has the largest industrial workforce in the country. The major provincial centres are Debrecen, Miskolc, Szeged, Pécs, and Győr, each of which has an economic hinterland that reaches deep into the surrounding countryside along with an expanding industrial capacity. Below the provincial centres in the hierarchy are the traditional market towns—such as Kecskemét, Székesfehérvár, Nyíregyháza, Szombathely, and Szolnok—often with new suburbs extending from their medieval or Baroque town centres.

Notable among these towns are those located near mineral resources in the Northern Mountains, which, from small beginnings in the late 19th century, have developed into major industrial centres. They include Tatabánya, Salgótarján, and Ózd. Additionally, a number of industrial towns were created in the late 20th century on new sites as part of deliberate planning policy. These include the metallurgical centre of Dunaújváros on the Danube and the chemical centre of Kazincbarcika in northeastern Hungary.

Settlements in rural areas

There is a wide range of rural population distribution in Hungary. This is due to the history of resettlement following the Turkish occupation in the 16th century, as well as different settlement patterns in Transdanubia and in the Northern Mountains. The villages in the Great Alfold are typically large in size, while settlements in Transdanubia and the Northern Mountains are smaller and more dispersed. Hollókő, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is an example of a village that was typical of Hungary before the agricultural changes of the 20th century.

Trends in demographics

Age breakdown in Hungary

As a result of major border changes following World War I, Hungary’s population decreased significantly. Although further losses occurred during World War II, Hungary’s population recovered slowly, peaking in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Since that time, however, Hungary has experienced a negative natural increase rate (meaning the number of deaths has outpaced the number of births). These demographic trends were influenced by the urbanization and modernization process. As modernization spread from urban areas (where people generally have fewer children) into rural areas, so did the declining birth rate. Many Hungarians framed economic decisions as choices between kocsi or kicsi (“a car or a baby”), and it was often the car that was chosen over the baby.

The life expectancy of women has consistently increased since the 1930s, and that of men also increased until the 1970s, when the trend reversed, but both are below those of Hungary’s central European neighbors.

Many ethnic Hungarians live in the neighboring countries of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. After World War I and the collapse of communism, large Hungarian communities also live in North America and western Europe. Roughly 100,000 refugees migrated to Hungary from Romania and the former Yugoslav federation in the aftermath of communism’s collapse. Half of them were ethnic Hungarians.

Hungary’s economy

A brief overview

Beginning in 1948, a forced industrialization policy based on the Soviet pattern changed the economic character of Hungary. A centrally planned economy was introduced, and millions of new jobs were created in industry (notably for women) and, later, in services. This was accomplished largely through a policy of forced accumulation; keeping wages low and the prices of consumer goods (as opposed to staples) high made it possible for more people to be employed, and, because consumer goods were beyond their means, most Hungarians put more of their earnings into savings, which became available for use by the government. In the process, the proportion of the population employed in agriculture declined from more than half to about one-eighth by the 1990s while the industrial workforce grew to nearly one-third of the economically active population by the late 1980s. Since that time, it has been services that have increased significantly.

Although Soviet-type economic modernization generated rapid growth, it was based on an early 20th century structural pattern and on outdated technology. The heavy industries of iron, steel, and engineering were given the highest priority, while modern infrastructure, services, and communication were neglected. New technologies and high-tech industries were underdeveloped and further hampered by Western restrictions (the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls) on the export of modern technology to the Soviet bloc.

In response to stagnating rates of economic growth, the government introduced the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) in 1968. The NEM implemented market-style reforms to rationalize the behaviour of Hungary’s state-owned enterprises and it also allowed for the emergence of privately owned businesses. By the end of the 1980s, one third of the gross domestic product (GDP)—nearly three-fifths of services and more than three-fourths of construction—was being generated by private business. The Hungarian economy, however, failed to meet the challenge of the world economic crisis after 1973. The dramatic price increases for oil and modern technology created a large external trade deficit, which led to increasing foreign indebtedness. Growth slowed down and inflation rose, leading to a period of stagflation.

After 1989 Hungary’s nascent market and parliamentary systems inherited a crisis-ridden economy that had an enormous external debt and noncompetitive export sectors. Hungary turned to the world market and restructured its foreign trade, but market competition, together with a sudden and radical opening of the country and the abolition of state subsidies, led to further economic decline. Agriculture was drastically affected and declined by half. A large portion of the iron, steel, and engineering sectors, especially in northeastern Hungary, collapsed. Industrial output and GDP decreased by 30 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Unemployment, previously nonexistent, rose to 14 percent in the early 1990s but declined after 1994.

By the early 21st century, the economy was again growing moderately, but inflation peaked in 1991 and remained high, at more than 20 percent annually. As a consequence of unavoidable austerity measures that included the elimination of many welfare institutions, most of the population lost its previous security. In the first few years after the fall of communism, the number of people living below the subsistence level doubled, but it stabilized by the early 21st century. Observers also noted the emergence of a sector of long-term poor, a majority of whom were Roma.

Despite these obstacles, by the turn of the 21st century Hungary’s liberal foreign investment regime had attracted more than half of the entire foreign direct investment in central and eastern Europe. Modernization of telecommunications also began, and new industries (e.g., automobile manufacturing) emerged. Significantly, nearly one million small-scale, mostly family-owned enterprises had been established by the early 21st century. State ownership of businesses declined to roughly one-fifth. Another important contributor to economic growth was a flourishing tourist industry.

In the early part of the decade, Hungary’s GDP sputtered into negative growth and the unemployment rate climbed. In 2010, however, a dramatic change to economic policy brought by Viktor Orbán led to a drop in the unemployment rate from nearly 12 percent to less than 4 percent by 2018. The resurgence in GDP and wages during the 2010s was hailed as an economic miracle by some international observers, while others were more skeptical. Significant monetary contributions from the EU were also underplayed.

The agricultural industry

Threshing of grain in Hungary

Agriculture’s role in the Hungarian economy declined steadily in the generations following World War II, dropping from half of the GDP in the immediate postwar period to only 4 percent of the GDP by 2005. Nevertheless, Hungary remains important, and is virtually self-sufficient in food production. The Hungarian climate is favourable for agriculture, and one-half of the country’s land is arable; about one-fifth is covered by woods. About one-tenth of the country’s total area is under permanent cultivation. Agriculture accounted for nearly one-fourth of Hungarian exports before the economic transition of the 1990s, during which animal stocks decreased by one-third and agricultural output and exports declined by half.

During the period of collectivization (1948–61), Hungarian cooperatives incorporated private farming. Private plots accounted for approximately one eighth of a cooperative’s land and provided about one third of the country’s agricultural output. State farms occupied one fifth of Hungarian farmland. Since 1990, land has been privatized. A few elderly agricultural population members have remained in reorganized collective farms; however, private farms are the norm.

Harvesting corn in Hungary

Among the country’s major crops are wheat and corn. Other major crops include sugar beets, potatoes, sunflower seeds, and fruits (notably apples, grapes, and plums). Viticulture is also significant in the Northern Mountains region. In the 1990s, livestock in Hungary was drastically reduced as a result of government efforts to combat overproduction of animal products.

Power and resources

Hungary, Lake Balaton

Hungary has fertile soil and abundant water resources, particularly in its western and central areas, which have become a major tourism attraction. The country’s fossil fuel resources are relatively modest. Lignite (brown coal) is mined in the Northern Mountains and in Transdanubia. In the past, coal satisfied half of Hungary’s energy needs, but it now accounts for less than one-fifth.

Several localities in the Great Alföld, especially near Szeged, discovered oil and natural gas in the late 1930s in Transdanubia. Between 1970 and 2000, their share of energy production increased from one-third to one-half. However, in the 2010s, it decreased to less than one-fifth. Hungary is unable to meet its oil needs with domestic energy supplies.

In the Bakony Mountains, there is manganese, while at Recsk there is copper and zinc. During the postwar period, Hungary began extracting various metal-bearing ores, but iron ore was no longer mined. Mercury, lead, uranium, perlite, molybdenum, diatomite, kaolin, bentonite, zeolite, and dolomite are also found in the area.

The manufacturing industry

As a result of the policy of forced industrialization under the communist government, industry experienced an exceptionally high growth rate until the late 1980s, by which time it constituted about two-fifths of GDP. Mining and metallurgy, as well as the chemical and engineering industries, grew rapidly in leaps and bounds as the preferred sectors of Hungary’s planned economy. Indeed, half of industrial output was produced by these three sectors. However, Hungarian industry was not prepared to compete in the global economy after the collapse of state socialism. During the first half of the 1990s, industrial employment dropped to one-fourth of the economically active population. Output declined by nearly one-third, with output in the mining, metallurgy, and engineering industries decreasing by half. During the 1990s, engineering output dropped from nearly one-third to roughly one-fifth of the total.

Industries that adapted more successfully to new conditions during the early 1990s included the food, tobacco, and wood and paper industries. Among Hungary’s traditionally strong sectors, the chemical industry showed the greatest resilience, demonstrating growth again by the mid-1990s after experiencing a large drop in production early in the decade.

During the mid-1990s, the machine industry (another important component of the economy) also showed signs of improving, partly as a result of foreign investment. More than two-fifths of Hungary’s GDP was derived from industry and manufacturing by the 2010s. The country’s principal industries had been automobiles, telecommunications, computer technology, food processing, textiles, chemicals, electronics, and building materials.

Between 1950 and 1990, electric power consumption in Hungary increased 10-fold, and by the 1990s more than one-third of industrial output was being produced by the energy sector. In the early 21st century, between one-third and two-fifths of Hungary’s energy consumption was derived from thermal plants burning hydrocarbons. The bulk of Hungary’s energy consumption was satisfied by imported sources. There were several thousand miles of oil and natural gas pipelines. Nuclear power accounted for more than half of Hungary’s energy production, and plans were being made for further expansion. A small percentage of power generation consisted of hydroelectricity, wind, biomass, and geothermal alternatives.

The financial sector

Beginning in 1987, Hungary moved toward a market-oriented two-tier system in which the National Bank remained the bank of issue but in which commercial banks were established. Foreign investment was permitted, and “consortium” (partly foreign-owned) banks were formed. In 1990, a stock exchange, the Budapest Stock Exchange, was established. In the 2010s, it had four trading sections: securities, equities, commodities, and derivatives.

In the 1990s, in the postcommunist period, the reform process continued with the founding of private banks, the sale of shares in state-owned banks (though most banks remained state-owned), and enacting a law that guaranteed the independence of the National Bank. The currency (forint) also became entirely convertible for business. By 2000, with a dramatic increase in foreign investment and in the number of commercial banks, Hungarian banking system had been almost completely privatized. In 1986 the state-operated insurance system was split into two separate companies, and by 2000 more than a dozen insurance companies were in operation.

Hungary’s trade

Export destinations for Hungary

Hungary was a charter member of Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance; 1949–91). Under its aegis, trade was conducted between the countries of the Soviet bloc on the basis of specialized production, fixed prices, and barter. The Soviet Union was Hungary’s most important trading partner, but, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as Hungary became increasingly involved in the global market, less than half of the country’s trade remained with Comecon. Unprepared for the competitiveness of global market forces, Hungary accrued a large trade deficit that was covered by foreign loans. In the process the country became heavily indebted and had to use much of its export earnings for repayment.

Imports from Hungary

Nonetheless, by the mid-1990s three-fourths of Hungary’s trade was with market economies. Meanwhile, the proportion of Hungary’s imports from the former component countries of the Soviet Union fell from a peak of more than one-fifth in the early 1990s to less than one-tenth at the turn of the 21st century. In 1996 Hungary joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and in 2004 it became a full member of the European Union (EU). By 2010s Germany had become Hungary’s most important trading partner by far. Other trading partners include Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, China, Slovakia, Italy, Romania, and the Netherlands.

In the early 21st century, machinery and transport equipment were both Hungary’s leading import (comprising three-fifths of the total imports) and its leading export (comprising one-half of all exports). Telecommunications equipment, electrical machinery, power-generating machinery, road vehicles, office machines, and computers made up the country’s principal trade goods.


Hungary’s service sector’s portion of its GDP rose at an annual average rate of about 0.5 percent throughout the last decade of the 20th century. By the early 2010s, services accounted for between one-half and two-thirds of GDP and roughly the same proportion of the workforce. Tourism played a big role in this development as Hungary became an increasingly popular destination for travelers, especially those from Austria, Croatia, Germany, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. There is also significant tourism via low-cost air carriers from western Europe as well as from the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Taxation and labor

The Central Council of Hungarian Trade Unions was reorganized in 1988 as the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions. The largest trade union in Hungary, with some 40 organizations under its umbrella at the start of the 21st century, it became part of an even bigger organization in 2013 when it joined with the Autonomous Trade Union Confederation and the Forum for the Co-operation of Trade Unions to form the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation. That umbrella body began with some 250,000 active members and about another 100,000 pensioner members.

Telecommunications and transportation

Station of the railway in Hungary

Railways have long been a central part of Hungary’s transportation system. By World War I, the country had a modern network that was among the densest in Europe. This network continued to expand regularly until the late 1970s, with electrification beginning in the previous decade. When industrial production declined during the transition to a market economy, rail transport of goods dropped sharply, accompanied by significant cutbacks in government subsidies that contributed to the deterioration of the railway infrastructure. However, by the end of the 20th century, European Union funding had begun aiding in improving Hungary’s railway network as well as roadway projects.

In the postcommunist era, transport has become increasingly reliant on road haulage. Buses were once the main form of passenger transportation, but the number of privately owned automobiles grew rapidly after the early 1980s. This growth skyrocketed following the end of the communist regime. Between 1989 and 1996, an additional 1.5 million cars were added to Hungarian roads, the majority of them Western-made. During this same period, the portion of Eastern-made cars declined rapidly.

With the building of expressways (motorways) radiating out from Budapest toward Vienna, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Ukraine, road construction and upgrading increased significantly in the early 21st century.

Despite the destruction of bridges in the former Yugoslavia during the intervention by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in the Kosovo conflict in 1999, much of the shipping came to a sudden halt on the Danube River. Merchant vessels nearly vanished, reduced from about 200 vessels in 1994 to only 1 in 1999. Nonetheless, Hungary played an active role in 21st-century regional efforts to modernize, improve, and expand inland waterway traffic on the Danube.

The government and society

A brief overview

The modern political system in Hungary contained elements of autocracy throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but it had a functioning parliament with a multiparty system and a relatively independent judiciary between 1867 and 1948. After the communist takeover in 1948, a Soviet-style political system was introduced, with a leading role for the Communist Party, to which the legislative and executive branches of the government and the legal system were subordinated. In that year, all rival political parties were abolished, and the Hungarian Social Democratic Party was forced to merge with the Communist Party and thus form the Hungarian Workers’ Party. After the Revolution of 1956 it was reorganized as the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, which survived until 1989.

Framework for the constitution

Budapest’s Parliament Building

In 1989 dramatic political reforms accompanied the economic transformation taking place. After giving up its institutionalized leading role, the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party abolished itself (with the exception of a small splinter group that continues under its old name) and reshaped itself into the Hungarian Socialist Party. In October 1989, a radical revision of the 1949 constitution, which included some 100 changes, introduced a multiparty parliamentary system of representative democracy, with free elections. The legislative and executive branches of government were separated, and an independent judicial system was created. The revision established a Constitutional Court, elected by Parliament, which reviews the constitutionality of legislation and may annul laws. It also provides for an ombudsman for the protection of constitutional civil rights and ombudsmens’ groups for the protection of national and ethnic minority rights.

The 1989 constitution was amended repeatedly, and a controversial new constitution, pushed through by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s centre-right government in January 2012, was promulgated. Hungarian law was also revised in 2010 to make it easier for nonresidents to become citizens if they proved their Hungarian heritage and knowledge of Hungarian.

The unicameral National Assembly is granted supreme legislative power, which it uses to elect the president of the republic, the Council of Ministers, the president of the Supreme Court, and the chief prosecutor. The main organ of state administration is the Council of Ministers, which is headed by the prime minister. The president, who may serve two five-year terms, has limited authority. The right of the people to propose referendums is guaranteed.

Government at the local level

Hungary is divided administratively into 19 megyék (counties), each headed by its own mayor. There are also 23 cities and towns with county status. Among the extensive changes to the political system introduced by the Fidesz party after its sweeping victory in the 2010 federal elections was a significant reform of Hungary’s local government structure that enhanced the powers of central government agencies and institutions at the expense of local and regional governments, whose purview was limited to providing basic services.

The law

As a result of judicial reform that began in 2012, the Hungarian judiciary was centralized under the president of the National Judiciary Office. Elected by parliament, the NJO president has extensive power over the court system, including the recruitment and promotion of judges. Because the counterbalancing powers of the National Judiciary Council are considerably less than those of the NJO, a number of European organizations have stridently questioned the independence and impartiality of Hungary’s judicial system.

It is Hungary’s Supreme Court that sits at the top of its four-tiered ordinary court system. Under it are the Regional Courts of Appeal, Regional Courts, District Courts, the Administrative and Labour courts. As of 1990, the Constitutional Court oversees the constitutionality of the laws.

Process of political decision-making

Every four years, parliamentary elections are held based on universal suffrage for citizens age 18 and over. Under the revised mixed system of direct and proportional representation that was adopted in 2011, 106 members of the 199-seat National Assembly are elected in single-member electoral districts, and 93 members are elected as part of national party lists. Voters express their preference for both a specific candidate running in their electoral district and a national party list. In the former case, candidates must win a plurality of the vote to be elected. Parties that receive at least 5 percent of the national aggregate of votes are proportionally allocated seats for list candidates.

About 200 political parties were established following the revision of the constitution in 1989, but only six of them became long-term participants in the country’s new political life after the first free elections (1990): the Hungarian Democratic Forum, Alliance of Free Democrats, Independent Smallholders’ Party, Christian Democratic People’s Party, Federation of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége; Fidesz), and Hungarian Socialist Party—the latter being the party of reformed ex-communists. The same six parties were returned to Parliament in 1994, and for the following decade most of them remained represented in the legislature.

The Hungarian armed forces consist of ground forces, air and air-defense forces, a small navy that patrols the Danube, the border guard, and police. Military service was compulsory for males over the age of 18 until 2004, when Hungary established a voluntary force. The term of duty varies according to the branch of service but is typically less than one year.
The armed forces are not permitted to cross the state frontiers without the prior consent of Parliament. In the decade between 1989 and 1999, the armed forces declined from 155,000 members to just under 60,000. However, at the same time they underwent a process of modernization to prepare Hungary to join NATO. Membership was finally achieved in March 1999, eight years after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact

Welfare and health

After World War II, health care improved dramatically under state socialism, with significant increases in the number of physicians and hospital beds in Hungary. Health care was guaranteed to all citizens by the 1970s. Private health care grew in importance from the early 1990s when it became permissible but limited before the transition period.

A broad range of social services was provided by the communist government, including child support, extensive maternity leave, and an old-age pension system for which men became eligible at age 60 and women at age 55. This costly welfare system was one of the largest expenses on the country’s finances. At the end of the communist era, Hungary ranked 20th among European countries in terms of per capita GDP, but it was 12th in social spending. Social insurance expenditure constituted 4 percent of GDP in 1950 and had risen to one-fifth of the GDP by 1990. The Hungarian system had become one of the most expensive in the world, yet there was considerable resistance to efforts to scale it back.

When health insurance was reformed in 1992, it retained its all-encompassing nature and was also made mandatory. At the same time, however, this reform required both employers and employees to contribute to the system’s upkeep as well as to pension plans. The government’s 2003 move to privatize almost half of its health care institutions was rejected by popular referendum. The private financing of health care slowly increased with the introduction of co-payments for some prescription medications, office visits, and hospital stays.

Today the health care system is financed by a national income tax, along with contributions to the Health Insurance Fund and an “health care contribution” (lump-sum tax). Beginning with Victor Orbán’s second term as prime minister in 2010, the Ministry of Health was dissolved, and its place was taken by the Ministry of Human Resources, which also covers education, sports, culture, and social policies. Significant funding cuts to the health care system during Orbán’s regime have contributed to the large-scale emigration of doctors and other health care workers.

The housing market

Despite the million housing units built by the state in urban centres from 1956 to 1985, housing shortages were constant in Hungary for decades. In the immediate postwar period, Hungary maintained an average of three persons per room, a rate that eventually dropped to one per room by the mid-1990s. Moreover, by the late 1980s, electricity was available for nearly the entire population (it had been in fewer than half of Hungarian homes in 1949, when apartment houses were nationalized), and running water was available for more than three-fourths of homes. The construction of private homes constituted more than four-fifths of all construction by the mid-1990s, as housing became part of the market economy.

The housing market in Hungary became increasingly polarized in the 1990s as the cost of home ownership and rents soared. Lower class Hungarians continued to live in shabby, prefabricated apartments while the upper class occupied expensive apartments or villas that approximated Western standards both in their construction and in their internal outfitting. High-quality housing was bought not only by Hungary’s nouveaux riches but also by many Westerners, among them a significant number of permanent or seasonal repatriates.

The education system

Considerations in general

Ever since the start of obligatory universal education initiated by the Law of 1868, Hungary followed the German system of education on all levels, which included four, then six, and finally eight years of elementary schooling and—for a select few, after the first four years of this basic education—eight years of rigorous gymnasium (gimnázium) studies that prepared the students for entrance to universities. These universities were also organized along the German model, with basic degrees after four or five years, followed for those in the humanities and sciences by the doctorate based on a modest dissertation. Those wishing to become a member of the professorate also had to go through the process of “habilitation” (habilitáció), which required the defense of a more significant dissertation based on primary research.

All this changed after the communist takeover of Hungary following World War II. In 1948 schools were nationalized, and the elitist German style of education was replaced by a Soviet-style mass education consisting of eight years of general school and four years of secondary education. The latter consisted of college-preparatory high schools that approximated the upper four years of the gimnázium as well as of the more numerous and diverse vocational schools. This system of education survived until the 1990s, when the fall of communism resulted in a partial return to the traditional educational system. While much of the Soviet-inspired 8 + 4 system is still intact, it now competes with the 6 + 6 and 4 + 8 systems, wherein the six- or eight-year gimnázium tries to replicate the intellectually more exclusive pre-Marxist Hungarian educational system.

After the introduction of private secondary education during the 1990s, the uniformity of communist education was further shattered. In addition to returning nationalized religious schools to churches and religious institutions, several new private secular schools were established. Though the student population had declined from 1.3 million to just under 1 million between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, the number of secondary schools increased from 561 to 887.

Mass industrialization led to the need for women to take outside jobs, which in turn created a vast system of preschools and kindergartens. Parents often chose to send their children to these institutions, as education was not mandatory but given that many parents worked, most children attended. Up until the mid-1990s, education was free from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary school, as well as compulsory from age 6 to 16. In 1996, tuition began to be charged at state universities, and this trend has since continued; however, private schools and institutions of higher learning have seen a much steeper increase in tuition rates.

Education at the university level

By the early 1980s, nearly one-fifth of those between the age of 18 and 24 were enrolled in one of Hungary’s numerous institutions of higher learning, many of which were founded or reorganized after World War II. This trend continued even after the communist regime had ended; by 1990 there were only 70,000 full-time and 100,000 part-time college and university students but by the first decade of the 21st century the number of students had risen to almost 400,000.

There was a major reorganization of Hungarian higher education in 2000. Prior to then, traditional major institutions of higher learning were Loránd Eötvös University of Budapest, Lajos Kossuth University of Debrecen, Janus Pannonius University of Pécs, Attila József University of Szeged, the Technical University of Budapest, and the Budapest University of Economic Sciences. Many specialized colleges were combined with older universities or with one another to form new “integrated universities.” In 2000 most of these integrated universities were combined with other universities to create Universities of Debrecen, Pécs, Szeged, Miskolc and Veszprém; the reorganized Universities of Budapest and West Hungary; and newly created St. Stephen’s University, University of West Hungary (Sopron), and University of Győr. The reorganization process in the city of Budapest left Loránd Eötvös University (formerly Institute for Higher Education), Semmelweis Medical University (formerly Royal County hospital), Budapest University of Technology and Economics (formerly Technical University), and Budapest University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration as stand-

Following the fall of communism, several private and religious universities were established, including Central European University (CEU) of Budapest, founded by the Hungarian American philanthropist George Soros as an English-language postgraduate institution. CEU was unable to reach an agreement with the government on its status as a foreign-registered university, so it relocated its main campus to Vienna.

Many specialized colleges of music, fine arts, theatre, and military arts have been elevated to university status, including Péter Pázmány Catholic University and Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary.

The postcommunist period also saw the restructuring of the university diplomas. Regular degrees remained, but the university doctorate and the Soviet-inspired “candidate” (kandidátus)—a research degree offered by the Academy of Sciences—were abolished and replaced by an American-style doctorate. At the same time, the “habilitation” was reintroduced as a prerequisite for university professorships. The science doctorate (tudományok doktora), offered by the Academy of Sciences since 1950 and known as the “great doctorate” (nagydoktorátus), remained in force. But whereas previously it was awarded on the basis of a comprehensive dissertation, it is now given in recognition of major life accomplishments by a very select group of scholars and scientists.

Life in the cultural sphere

Milieu cultural

Budapest’s National Theatre

The cultural milieu of Hungary is a result of the diverse mix of genuine Hungarian peasant culture and the cosmopolitan culture of an influential German and Jewish urban population, both of which have had an impact. In addition, theater, opera, and literature in particular have played crucial roles in developing national consciousness. Poets and writers, especially in crisis situations, often become national heroes and prophets. Governments also attempt to influence cultural life through subsidy and regulation during the state socialist era, but this has been largely influenced by ideological principles rather than mass culture.

Although both of the latter were represented by urban-based intellectuals, these intellectuals were divided by their social origins (village versus city) and also by their disagreements about the type of culture that can best serve as the fountainhead of modern Hungarian culture. The populists were suspicious of the urbanists, many of whom were of non-Hungarian origins (mostly German and Jewish), while the urbanists viewed the populists as “country bumpkins” with little appreciation of real culture.

Social customs and daily life

An event celebrating St. Stephen’s Day

An event celebrating St. Stephen’s Day

A truly traditional Hungarian culture remained rooted in an untouched countryside for many years. Until the mid-20th century, peasant dress, food, and entertainment, including folk songs and folk dances, were part of wedding rituals and Easter and Christmas holidays. Modernization (and brutality in the countryside) in the second half of the 20th century nearly destroyed these customs, but they were preserved as folk art and tourist attractions.

Everyday life changed massively, as did the family structure. Families became smaller, and ties with extended families diminished. The culture also became less traditional. Clothing styles began to follow the international pattern, and traditional peasant dress was replaced by blue jeans. Folk songs are still occasionally heard, but in daily life they have been replaced by rock and pop music. Urban culture, especially in the capital city, is highly cosmopolitan and encompasses the tradition of coffeehouse culture. Watching television is a popular pastime.

Chili peppers

Chili peppers

Discover how Hungarian farmers harvest and grind Capsicum annuum peppers to make paprika

See all videos for this article on how Hungarian farmers harvest and grind Capsicum annuum peppers to produce paprika

Slow-cooked goulash prepared the traditional Hungarian way

Slow-cooked goulash prepared the traditional Hungarian waySee all videos

Hungary’s most traditional cultural element is its cuisine. Hungarian food is very rich, and red meat is frequently used as an ingredient. Goulash (gulyás), bean soup with smoked meat, and beef stew are national dishes. One of Hungary’s most distinctive elements of its cuisine is paprika, a spice made from the pods of chili peppers (Capsicum annuum). Paprika is not native to Hungary—having been imported either from Spain, India by way of the Turks, or the Americas—but it is a fixture on most dining tables in Hungary and an important export. Among Hungary’s spicy dishes are halászlé, a fish soup, and lecsó, made with hot paprika, tomato, and sausage. Homemade spirits, including various fruit brandies (pálinka), are popular. Beer has become increasingly prevalent in Hungary since World War II. Although Hungarians were not quick to accept foreign cuisines when they first began appearing in Budapest in the 1990s, this indicates both the increasing influence of the outside world on Hungary and the presence of increasing numbers of foreigners who have settled in Hungary.

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Arts and culture

In the 1930s, ’50s, and ’70s, political efforts to preserve traditional folk arts failed. National high culture emerged around the turn of the 19th century, with literature taking center stage.

The first Hungarian-language newspaper, Magyar Hírmondó (“Hungarian Courier”), appeared in 1780, followed by Magyar Merkurius (“Hungarian Mercury”) in 1788, Bétsi Magyar Merkurius (“Viennese Hungarian Mercury”) in 1793, Hazai Tudósítások (“National Informer”) in 1806. The first non-Hungarian-language newspaper published in the country may have been the Mercurius Hungaricus (1705–10).

This newly born literary language was cultivated by most of the contemporary authors, including Mihály Csokonai Vitéz in his rococo poetry and the brothers Károly Kisfaludy and Sándor Kisfaludy in their early Romantic poetry and plays. Modern Hungarian drama was born in the middle of the 19th century, with József Katona’s tragedy Bánk bán (1820) and Imre Madách’s Az ember tragédiája (1861; The Tragedy of Man). Among other important 19th- and early-20th-century literary and cultural figures were the poets Mihály Vörösmarty, Sándor Petőfi, János Arany, and Endre Ady; the novelists József Eötvös, Mór Jókai, Kálmán Mikszáth, and Gyula Krúdy; the historians Mihály Horváth, Sándor Szilágyi, and Henrik Marczali; and the sociologist

During the interwar years, the traditions of these literary pioneers were continued by such poets and novelists as Zsigmond Móricz, Mihály Babits, Dezső Kosztolányi, Lajos Kassák, Frigyes Karinthy, János Kodolányi, Gyula Juhász, Dezső Szabó, Attila József, and Miklós Radnóti and such historians and literary historians as Sándor Domanovszky, Gyula Szekfű, Bálint Hóman, János Horváth, Antal Szerb. The 1930s were witness to the emergence of the populist-urbanist controversy and the publication of a series of major sociographies about the realities of Hungarian peasant life. They were written by authors such as Gyula Illyés, Géza Féja, Ferenc Erdei, Péter Veres, József Erdélyi, Imre Kovács, and a number of others.

Following World War II, the nationalist and populist tendencies of Hungarian literature and culture were expurgated and replaced by politically inspired manifestations of Socialist Realism. This applied equally to literature as to writings in the social sciences such as history. The best of the poets, writers, historians, and social philosophers were silenced, and the rest were forced to toe the party line. In the postwar decade’s, the literary contributions of such urbanists such as Tibor Déry, Sándor Petőfi, István Vas, and István Örkény and such populists or near-populists as Gyula Illyés, László Németh, and László Nagy—some of whom had begun their careers already during the interwar years—were particularly significant. The most notable among the writers who emerged after 1956 were András Sütő, Sándor Kányádi, György Konrád, Péter Nádas, Péter Esterházy, and Imre Kertész (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002).

Many of the important achievements in Hungarian visual arts and music emerged about the turn of the 20th century. The avant-garde painters Tivadar Csontváry-Kosztka and László Moholy-Nagy elevated Hungarian painting from traditional Romanticism and French-inspired Impressionism to greater international significance through pathbreaking stylistic innovations. Hungarian music achieved worldwide renown with the composer Béla Bartók, an exponent of modern Hungarian music that was rooted in archaic folk traditions. Bartók was a central figure of early 20th-century culture who influenced future generations of composers both at home and abroad. Bartók’s activities and compositions were paralleled by those of Zoltán Kodály and Ernst von Dohnányi. Kodály’s contributions went beyond the composition of music to the restructuring of Hungarian music education. His system of music education, the “Kodály method,” is now taught throughout the world. The activities of these serious composers were paralleled by the work of such beloved composers of light music and operettas as Jenő Huszka, Pongrá

Ormandy, Eugene

As well as composing, many Hungarian musicians became internationally renowned performers. The conductors included Fritz Reiner, George Szell (György Széll), Eugene (Jenö) Ormandy, Antal Dorati, Sir Georg Solti, János Fürst, Iván Fischer, and Adam Fischer, as well as Franz (Ferenc) Liszt, Annie Fischer, Zoltán Kocsis, András Schiff, Jenö Jandó, and Péter Tóth.

A significant reputation for Hungarian cinema has been established since the 1960s due to the parabolic films of Miklós Jancsó and István Szabó. The Academy Award-winning film Son of Saul (Saul fia) was directed by Roland Vranik, Nimród Antal, Béla Tarr, and László Nemes. Other notable Hungarian film directors included Roland Vranik, Nimród Antal, Béla Tarr, and Béla Tarr.

Institutions of culture

Following World War II, high culture that previously had been confined to the upper classes was promoted among the masses. A highly subsidized publishing industry fostered reading: the number of books published increased 10-fold between 1938 and 1988. Reading became a regular habit for one-third of the population, and a huge network of more than 15,000 public libraries was established.

Among the most notable of the thousands of museums and cultural centres are the Hungarian National Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts, Christian Museum in Esztergom, Déri Museum of Debrecen, Janus Pannonius Museum of Pécs, Ferenc Móra Museum of Szeged, and Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma. Government subsidizing of culture virtually ended with the introduction of a market system in the 1990s. The capital city is also regarded for its architectural legacy from various periods, which has led to it being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Teaching and scholarship are both emphasized in Hungary’s institutions of higher learning, although, following the Soviet model, scholarly research was de-emphasized in the decades after World War II. During those years, much of the research and the resulting publications moved from the colleges and universities to the several dozen research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (established in 1825), as well as to the institutes of various ministries. The academy was at the apex of Hungarian scientific and scholarly life for over four decades following its reorganization in 1949. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, it fell under persistent attack from the new political leadership, which hoped to cleanse it of its allegedly Marxist scientists and scholars, and funding and staffing dropped precipitously. This decline continued even under the Socialist-Liberal regimes before and after the turn of the century. The government led by Victor Orbán in the 2010s transferred control of the majority of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ funding to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, prompting complaints from researchers that the government was undermining academic freedom.

Many of Hungary’s Nobel laureates have worked in Germany or the United States. Outstanding Hungarian-born scientists include Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Zoltán Bay, John G. Kemény, and Nobelists Eugene Wigner and Albert Szent-Györgyi. Other Nobel laureates were George de Hevesy, Georg von Békésy, John C. Harsanyi, John C. Polanyi, George Olah, and Avram Hershko.

Recreation and sports

Budapest spa

Among the most popular vacation destinations in Hungary are Lake Balaton and Lake Velence in Transdanubia, the Danube Bend, and Szentendre Island above Budapest, as well as the Pilis, Mátra, and Bükk mountains to the north. Tourists flock to Lake Balaton from across central and eastern Europe. On the Danube River, Margit (Margaret) Island is a popular tourist destination with gardens and swimming pools.

Hungary has had success in international sporting competitions. It has won a number of world championships and Olympic medals, even before the politicization of sports in Soviet-bloc countries. Football (soccer) is especially popular, and Hungarian athletes have also enjoyed success in water polo, fencing, swimming, table tennis, track and field (athletics), rowing, weightlifting, and team handball. More recently, tennis and golf have gained in popularity, especially among the upper middle class.

The media and publishing industry

Under communist rule, the Hungarian press was strictly controlled, yet after the 1960s it became the least restricted within the Soviet bloc. Press censorship was relaxed in 1988 and then, within the next two years, completely eliminated. This movement toward news media independence was reversed in the 2010s by the Orbán government, which consolidated its influence over outlets with a pro-government orientation and minimized the reach of independent outlets by denying them state advertising revenue and impeding their owners’ other business ventures. By the end of the decade, hundreds of newspapers, radio and television stations, and Web sites had been sold to Orbán supporters, were self-censoring their content, or had transferred control to the Central European Press and Media Foundation, an umbrella organization guided by Orbán insiders.

At the turn of the 21st century, the number of newspapers increased, but their overall circulation declined. Some examples include the print run of the country’s most popular daily, the Népszabadság (“People’s Freedom”), declining from 700,000 to about 200,000 at the turn of the 21st century, and in 2016 the paper was shuttered. There was a similar decline in liberal papers like Magyar Nemzet (“Hungarian Nation”). The leading weeklies include Szabad Föld (“Free Earth”) and Nők Lapja (“Hungarian Women’s Journal”).

In the immediate postcommunist period, the number of books published increased by about one-sixth, but the number of copies per book declined by more than two-fifths.

After World War II, radio ownership and listening became common. Television appeared only in the late 1950s but soon spread throughout the country. By the early 21st century, almost every household had a television. There was a precipitous decline in visits to movie houses and theatres. This was accompanied by the rapid spread of programming on recordable media (videotapes, DVDs, CDs), personal computers, and Internet connectivity. Thus, by the 21st century, electronic media occupied a central place in the leisure activities of Hungarians.

According to the “double-conquest” theory of archaeologist Gyula László, however, Hungary’s creation can be dated to 670, with the arrival of an earlier wave of conquerors, the Late Avars, whom László classified as the Early Magyars. In either case, in antiquity parts of Hungary’s territory had formed the ancient Roman provinces of Pannonia and Dacia.

Charlemagne’s successors organized the western half of the area in a chain of Slavic vassal “dukedoms.” One of these, Croatia, which extended as far north as the Sava River, made itself fully independent in 869. Another, Moravia, extended as far east as the Gran, or Garam (Hron), River and openly defied its Carolingian overlord. These dukedoms were sometimes influenced by the Byzantine Empire and Bulgaria. Later research has suggested that this 9th-century Moravia may have been located on the southern Morava River in present-day northern Serbia.

Up to 1526, the kingdom was

They are the Árpáds



In the 892 emperor Arnulf attempted to assert his authority over the Moravian duke Svatopluk and called in the help of the Magyars, who were driven southward onto the steppes. There they adopted the life of peripatetic herders and in the 9th century comprised a federation of hordes, or tribes, each under a hereditary chieftain and each composed of a varying number of clans, the members of which shared a real or imagined blood kinship. All clan members were free, but there were slaves taken in battle or in raids. There were seven Magyar tribes, but other elements were part of the federation including three tribes of Turkic Khazars (the Kavars). Either because of this fact or perhaps because of a memory of earlier conditions, this federation was known to its neighbors as the on-Ogur (literally “Ten Arrows” or “Ten Tribes”). From the Slavic pronunciation of this term, Hungarian is derived.

In 889, attacks by a newly arrived Turkic people called the Pechenegs had driven the Magyars and their confederates to the western extremities of the steppes, where they were living when Arnulf’s invitation arrived. The Magyars elected as their chief Árpád, the leader of their most powerful tribe, crossed the Carpathians en masse, probably in the spring of 895, and easily subjugated the peoples of the sparsely inhabited central plain. At the time of the conquest, Árpád occupied the latter position, that following the death of the last kende in 904, he united the two positions into the office of a duke or prince.

Once the Magyars had defeated a German force sent against them, they occupied Pannonia in 906, which was dominated by the Magyars. Their tribes and their associates then occupied all of the basin’s centre, over which their tribes and their associates spread themselves. In order to establish a dynasty, Rpád took over the central area west of the Danube. Outposts defended the periphery, principally to the east and north. The periphery was gradually pushed forward by outposts.

Kingdom of Christ

During the next half century, the Magyars were chiefly known in Europe for their forays across the continent, either as mercenaries in the service of warring princes or in search of booty for themselves—treasure or slaves for domestic use or sale. Terrifying to others, their mode of life was not always profitable. Indeed, their raiding forces suffered a number of severe reverses, culminating in a disastrous defeat at the hands of the German king Otto I at Lechfeld, outside Augsburg (in present-day Germany). By that time, the wild blood of the first invaders was thinning out, and new influences had begun to circulate. Both the Eastern and Western churches struggled to draw the peoples of east-central Europe into their orbits. The Magyars had established peaceful and almost friendly relations with Bavaria. The decisive step was taken by Árpád’s great-grandson Géza who succeeded to the hereditary office of fejedelem sometime before 972 and reestablished its authority over tribal chiefs. In 973 he sent an embassy to the Holy Roman emperor Otto II at Quedlinburg (Germany), and in 974 he and his family were received into the Western church

Hungary, Budapest

With the help of heavily armed Bavarian knights, he crushed his rivals for the ducal office and, according to tradition, was crowned king on Christmas Day, 1000. The event was of immeasurable importance, for not only did Hungary enter the spiritual community of the Western world but it did so without having to recognize the political suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire. This was possible because Sylvester II, who extended papal protection to Hungary, held great sway with the emperor Otto III and because Stephen effected the conversion of his people to Christianity establishing a network of 10 archiepiscopal and episcopal sees which he reinforced with lavishly endowed monastic foundations.

Stephen crushed the surviving disputants of his authority—notably the Kavars—and, furthering his father’s work, organized his state on a system that was to remain for many centuries the basis of Hungary’s political and social structure. The tribes, as units, disappeared; however, the fundamental social stratification was not altered. The descendants in the male line of the old conquerors and elements later equated with them remained a privileged class, answerable in judgment only to the king or his representative and entitled to appear in general assemblage. Their lands—which at this time were held by clans or subclans in semicommunal ownership—were inalienable, except for proved delinquency, and free of any obligation. The only duty required by the state of members of this class was that of military service on call. They were allowed to retain their slaves (although Stephen freed his own), although all land not held by this class—then more than half the whole—belonged to the crown, which could indeed donate it at will. The nonservile inhabitants of these lands—e.g., descendants of pre-Magyar population (among them Late Avars/Early

Each county (megyék) was ruled by an ispán (comes)—later an ispán (supremus come)—and a royal official called an ispán (comes). As the king’s representative, this official administered the unfree population and collected taxes that formed the nation’s revenue. In Stephen’s day, between 40 and 50 such counties maintained armed forces at the fortification headquarters (castrum or vár).

Early kings

Once Stephen (canonized as St. Stephen in 1083) established his rule, his authority was rarely questioned. He fought few foreign wars and made his long reign a period of peaceful consolidation. But his death in 1038 was followed by many years of discord. His only son, Emeric (Imre), had predeceased him, and the nation rebelled against his designated successor, Peter (son of Stephen’s sister and the doge of Venice), who was expelled in 1041. Peter returned in 1044 with the help of Emperor Henry III. Samuel Aba, the “national” king, who had taken Peter’s place, was murdered; however, Peter himself was killed in a pagan rebellion in 1046. He was followed on the throne by Andrew (Endre) I, of a collateral branch of the house of Árpád, who was killed in 1060 while fleeing from a battle lost to his brother, Béla I. After Béla’s death there was a further conflict between his sons, Géza and Ladislas (László), and Andrew’s son, Salamon.

Peace returned only when, after the short rule of Géza I (1074–77), the throne passed to Ladislas I, who occupied it until 1095. Even then the curse of dynastic jealousy proved to have been exorcised only temporarily. Ladislas’s successor, Coloman (Kálmán; 1095–1116), had his own brother, Álmos, and Álmos’s infant son, Béla, blinded to secure the throne for his own son Stephen II (1116–31). Béla II (1131–41), the blinded boy, whom his father’s friends had brought up in secrecy, and Béla’s eldest son, Géza II (1141–62), ruled thereafter unchallenged, but the succession of Géza’s son, Stephen III (1162–72), was disputed by two of his uncles, Ladislas II (1162–63) and Stephen IV (1163–65). Happily, the death of Stephen IV exhausted the supply of uncles, and Stephen III’s brother, Béla III (1173

Expansion and consolidation

The royal disputes caused Hungary much frustration. Claimants to the throne often invoked foreign help, for which they paid in political degradation or loss of territory: both Peter and Salamon did homage to the Holy Roman emperor for their thrones; and Aba’s war against Peter’s protectors cost Hungary its previous territories west of the Leitha River, while the wars of the 12th century cost it areas in the south. The uncertainty delayed political consolidation, and even Christianity did not take root easily; there was a widespread pagan revolt in 1046 and another in 1061.

Yet the political unity of the country and the new faith somehow survived the earlier troubles, and Ladislas I (1077–95; canonized in 1192 as St. Ladislas), one of Hungary’s greatest kings, and Coloman, who, despite his nefarious power grab, was competent and enlightened.

Meanwhile, outside factors benefited Hungary. After Austria had grown big at the expense of the imperial authority, most of Hungary’s neighbors were states of approximately the same size and strength as itself, and the Hungarians lived with them on terms of mutual tolerance and even friendship. The steppes were quiet: the Cuman (Hungarian: Kun) people, after destroying the Pechenegs there, did not try to go farther, and, after two big raids had been successfully repelled by Ladislaus I, they left Hungary in peace. This allowed Hungary to extend its effective frontiers to the Carpathian crest in the north and over Transylvania. Magyar advance guards pushed up the valleys of both areas and were reinforced in the Szepes area and in central Transylvania by imported colonies of Germans (usually called Saxons). In addition, colonies of Szeklers (Székely, Szekelyek), a people similar to the Magyars who had preceded them into the central plains, were settled behind Transylvania’s eastern passes. The county system was extended to both areas, although with modifications in Transylvania, where the Sax

Comnenus Manuel I

In the interior too, natural growth and continued immigration swelled the population, which by 1200 had risen to the then large figure of some two million. The rulers of this big, populous state were now important men. After Ladislas’s day, German claims to suzerainty over Hungary ceased. In the 12th century, the country intervened in its neighbours’ affairs as often as they did in Hungary’s. Before becoming Hungary’s king, Béla III was an heir to the throne of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. He married a French princess, Margaret Capet, and generated revenues roughly equal to the income of the king of France. He owned half the land of the kingdom outright and held monopolies of coinage, customs, and mining. while the income of early kings had been mostly in kind, half of Béla’s income was cash, coming from royal monopolies and taxes paid by foreign settlers.

Developments in social and political life

Meanwhile, the pattern of Hungarian society had been changing. The population of the free class, or “nobles” as they were coming to be called, although frequently reinforced by new admissions to its ranks, probably hardly increased in absolute terms and certainly grew far less than the unfree population; from perhaps half the total population in 896, they had been reduced to about one-eighth by 1200. Further, as the economy became agricultural, the old clan lands dwindled until only pockets remained. Where the rest had been and in large parts of the old crown lands, which improvident donations had greatly reduced, the land was held in the form of individual estates. The owner of each estate was master over the unfree population on it; nobles had, to a large extent, become a landed oligarchy. Some individual estates were quite large, and their owners had come to constitute a “magnate” class, not yet institutionalized or legally differentiated from their poorer co-nobles but far above them in wealth and influence. Although slavery had practically disappeared, non-nobles were still a “subject” class. Many of them, including burghers of the towns (most of which were German foundations

As a result of Béla’s marriage to the sister of the French king, the Hungarian court became a centre of French knightly culture. Western dress and translations of French tales of chivalry appeared. A royal notary, known to future generations as “Anonymous,” wrote the history of the conquest of Hungary, while monasteries served as public notaries from the end of the 12th century.

The Christian Museum in Esztergom, Hungary

The permanent settlements included tents and wooden structures, as well as stone structures (mostly churches, abbeys, and palaces). Early Gothic architecture can be traced to the cathedral of Pécs, the Benedictine abbey of Pannonhalma (built in 996; designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996), and the palace at Esztergom (where St. Stephen was born about 970).

Throughout these developments, the country remained an absolutist patrimonial kingship. The king maintained a council of optimates (aristocrats), but his prerogatives were not restricted and his authority remained absolute. A strong king, such as Béla III, could always curb a recalcitrant magnate by simply confiscating his estate. Only the follies and extravagances of the feckless Andrew II provoked a revolt, culminating in 1222 in the issue of the Golden Bull (Bulla aurea or Aranybulla)—the Hungarian equivalent of England’s Magna Carta—to which every Hungarian king thereafter had to swear. Its purpose was twofold: to reaffirm the rights of the smaller nobles of the old and new classes of royal servants (servientes regis) against both the crown and the magnates, and to defend those of the whole nation against the crown by restricting the powers of the latter in certain fields and legalizing refusal to obey its unlawful commands (the ius resistendi). Andrew had done much harm by dissipating the royal revenues through his extravagances and by issuing huge grants of land to his partisans. Leading aristocratic families—such as the Aba and C

Mongol invasion: the last kings of the Rpáds

Rashīd al-Dīn: A World History

Andrew’s successor, Béla IV (1235-70), began his reign with a series of measures designed to reestablish royal authority, but his work was soon interrupted by the frightful disaster of the Mongol invasion. In the spring of 1241 the Mongols quickly overran the country and, by the time they left it a year later, inflicted ghastly devastation. Only a few fortified places and the impenetrable swamps and forests escaped their ravages. The country lost about half its population, ranging from 60 percent in Alföld (100 percent in parts of it) to 20 percent in Transdanubia; only parts of Transylvania and the northwest came off fairly lightly.

Stephen died two years after his father’s death, which resulted in the country passing to the regency of his widow, “the Cuman woman.” Her son, who grew up wild and undisciplined, was assassinated and left no legitimate heir. Claims to the throne were made through the female line of the Árpáds. A male heir, Andrew III, was found in Italy and proved a wise, capable king. With his death in 1301, however, the national dynasty became extinct.

Hungarian society had developed a feudal socioeconomic system, but it had yet to take hold. Conflicts between various baronial factions threatened Hungarian assimilation into Europe during the last third of the 13th century. The country continued to display the characteristics of one on the borders of Christian feudal Europe, as well as being a destination for migrating pagan tribes and a target for barbarian attacks.

Foreign kings in Hungary

The extension of the privileges of rule by foreigners to Hungary was inevitable given the country’s geographical location and relative underdevelopment. The dilemma for Hungarian kings was whether to exploit their power for the benefit of Hungary or use it to clamp down on national freedoms.

Kings of the Angevins

1360 in Hungary

The problem of foreign kingship did not pose itself at first, as Charles Robert of Anjou (Charles I) had no foreign throne and grew up a true Hungarian. He was still a child when a group of Hungarian nobles crowned him in 1301; however, his claim to the throne was disputed, and the crown went first to Wenceslas of Bohemia, then to Otto of Bavaria, before Charles was recognized as king in 1308, ruling until 1342. Charles Robert was a capable man who achieved peace after crushing the most rebellious of the regional lords or oligarchs (also known as “kinglets”) and winning over the rest. But because this situation favoured its neighbours as well as Hungary itself, Charles Robert’s attempts at expansion were only moderately successful. In the Balkans he made Bosnia his friend and client but lost Dalmatia to Venice and other territories to Serbia and the newly emerged voievody (province) of Walachia.

Charles’s son, Louis (Lajos) I (1342–82), the only Hungarian king on whom his country bestowed the appellation “Great,” founded on his father’s foundations. Keeping peace with the West, he repaired his father’s losses in the south and surrounded Hungary with a ring of dependencies over which Hungary presided as archiregnum (chief kingdom) in the Balkans, on the lower Danube, and in Galicia. These new dependencies included several banats (provinces governed by an appointed ban) inhabited by Slavs and the two Vlach provinces of Moldavia and Walachia. In 1370 Louis also ascended the throne of Poland, by virtue of an earlier family compact.

The Transylvanian and Hungarian mines contributed greatly to both the Angevin kings’ wealth and their power, allowing them to maintain a splendid court. The rest of the country also bloomed materially as never before, with a population of three million and 49 royal free boroughs. The economy was still mainly rural, but the crafts prospered, trade expanded, and the arts flourished.

The life of the court and the daily life of cities borrowed from western European societies. German settlers and burghers in the cities and the clergy became the main agents of Western culture. The Dominicans built 25 monasteries by the early 14th century and established a theological school in Buda (now part of Budapest). The Franciscans also established monasteries, as did the Cistercians, Premonstratensians, and Paulines. Gothic style dominated architecture in Hungary until the ascendancy of Romanesque design in the late 13th century. Cities built impressive churches, such as the Church of Our Blessed Lady (now better known as the Matthias Church) in Buda. Further testimonies to the spread of western European culture were the palace of Visegrád, the royal castles of Zólyom and Diósgyőr, the miniatures of the Illuminated Chronicle (1360), and the St. George statue in Kolozsvár (1373), as well as the earliest codex predominantly in Hungarian (1370) and the finest example of early Hungarian poetry, Ómagyar Máriasiralom (about 1300; “Old Hungarian L

The rule of the two Angevin kings was essentially enlightened, although feudalistic. They introduced elements of monarchy into the political and military system; each lord was responsible for maintaining his own armed contingent (banderium). The magnates were held firmly in check, and Louis reaffirmed the rights and privileges of the common nobles. Counties were developing from “royal” into “noble” institutions, each still under a royal official but administered with a wide measure of autonomy by elected representatives of the local nobility. Louis also standardized the tax obligations of peasants at the figure of one-tenth of their produce (tithe) going to the church, another tenth (nona) going to the lord, and a house or gate tax (porta) going directly to the state.

Luxembourg’s Sigismund

Crowning of Sigismund by Eugenius IV

The benefits of Louis’ rule would have been far greater still had he not wasted much money and many lives on endeavours to secure the throne of Naples for his nephew. His foreign acquisitions served his personal glory more than they did the real interests of his country, the imposing edifice of which largely collapsed when he died. He left as heirs only two daughters. Louis had designated the elder, Maria, to succeed him on both his thrones, but the Poles refused to continue the union. They accepted the younger daughter, Hedvig (Polish: Jadwiga), as queen but married her to Jogaila (Polish: Władysław II Jagiełło) of Lithuania. The Hungarians crowned Maria, whose husband, Sigismund of Luxembourg, became her consort in 1387 and after her death eight years later ruled alone until his own death in 1437.

Under Sigismund, matters took a sharp turn for the worse, although he did much for the arts and commerce and, above all, for the towns. Also, like Andrew II, he promoted Hungarian political institutions by creating the need for them. The consent of representatives of the privileged classes, assembled in the Diet (parliament), was necessary for the grant of any subsidy or additional taxation—and even, later, for any legislation—dates from his reign, being made necessary by his extravagance and arbitrariness. His frequent and prolonged absences from the country increased the importance of the office of the palatine (comes palatinus), which goes back to the reign of Stephen I in the early 11th century. The palatine was appointed by the king with the approval of the nobility (natio Hungarica). During Sigismund’s long absences from Hungary, the palatine represented the king and also acted as intermediary between him and the people. But these were only palliatives against bitterly felt abuses. The nation hated Sigismund for the cruelty he showed at the outset of his reign to supporters of a rival. Moreover, Hungarians resented absenteeism of his later years, when

Matthias Corvinus and János Hunyadi

The Ottoman sultan Murad II was preparing a grand assault on Hungary when Sigismund died in 1437, leaving as his heir a daughter. She was married to Albert V of Austria, whom the country accepted as Sigismund’s successor (as Albert II), but only on condition that he not become Holy Roman emperor or reside abroad without permission of the estates. Albert set about organizing the country’s defenses but died in 1439, leaving his widow with an unborn child. To avoid an interregnum and a minority rule, perhaps with a queen, the country elected Władysław III of Poland as king. Within two years of Władysław’s death in battle against the Ottoman Turks in 1444, the estates nominally acknowledged Albert’s son, Ladislas V (called Ladislas Posthumus), as the king of Hungary. Hunyadi managed to keep Hungary together and repelled invaders even while Frederick III encroached on her western provinces.

Hunyadi, János

Hungarian outpost: Nándorfehérvár
Hungary: Magyarország
King: uralkodó
Governor’s elder son beheaded and younger son, Matthias Corvinus (Mátyás Hunyadi), imprisoned in Prague: Ulrich II of Cilli had the son of the governor beheaded and his younger son, Ladislas V’s uncle, Matthias Corvinus (Mátyás Hunyadi) imprisoned in Prague. Ladislas V himself died suddenly a year later.
The country was tired of foreign rule and its agents, and on Jan. 24, 1458, a great concourse of nobles acclaimed Matthias king, as Matthias I: Extracted from Prague with some difficulty, he was brought to Buda and crowned amid nationwide rejoicing.

I, Matthias

After the Árpáds, Matthias was seen through a kind of golden haze by historians. A true Renaissance prince, he was a fine natural soldier, a first-class administrator, an outstanding linguist, a learned astrologer, and an enlightened patron of the arts and learning. His collections of illuminated manuscripts, pictures, statues, and jewels were famous throughout Europe. Artists and scholars were welcomed at his court, which could rival any other on the continent in magnificence. Sumptuous buildings sprang up in his capital and other centres.

Politically too, he represented the ideas of the Renaissance. He listened to his council, convoked the Diet regularly, and actually enlarged the autonomous powers of the counties. But at heart he was a despot; his real instruments of government were his secretaries, men picked by himself, usually young and often of humble origin. His rule was in the main an efficient and benevolent one. He simplified and improved the administration and enforced justice with an even hand. The debit side of his rule was increased taxation imposed by him for his administrative innovations, large collections (which cost his subjects vast sums), and, above all, the mercenary standing army, 30,000 strong (largely composed of Hussite mercenaries and known after its commander, “Black John” Haugwitz, as the Black Army), which he kept as part of the royal banderium for use against enemies both at home and abroad.

At first he had much need for such a force; although the Ottoman Turks were quiescent for a decade, there were discontented magnates, and the Czechs and the Austrians were unquiet neighbours. But, after Matthias had crushed, expelled, or bought off these enemies, had built a chain of fortresses along the southern frontier, and had even reestablished a nominal but, in practice, worthless suzerainty over Bosnia, Serbia, Wallachia (Walachia), and Moldavia, he let himself be drawn into an ever-widening circle of campaigns against Bohemia and Austria. In 1469 he made himself master of Moravia, Silesia, and Lusatia (although his title was not borne simultaneously by George of Podebrady), with the title of king of Bohemia. And in 1478 he forced Frederick III to cede him Lower Austria and Styria.

The Emperor Maximilian

This enterprise collapsed, and Matthias entered into a complex deal with the new emperor, Maximilian I, in which his illegitimate son John (he had no legitimate issue) married Maximilian’s daughter in exchange for the recession of the Austrian provinces and the recognition of John by Maximilian. On May 6, 1490, Matthias died suddenly on his way to the meeting that should have sealed the deal, which ended the entire deal.

Both Sigismund and Matthias attempted to balance baronial power by strengthening the cities, but they were only partly successful. In contrast with western Europe, urbanization remained moderate, with the development of walled cities lagging behind that of western European counterparts. The number of guilds was limited, and the structure of foreign trade reflected economic backwardness; nearly four-fifths of imports consisted of textiles and about one-eighth of metalware. Exports consisted almost entirely of cattle and wine. The most important aspect of urbanization was the rapid growth of agricultural towns (Hungarian: mezővárosok; Latin: oppidi).

National decay under the Jagiellon kings

The magnates, who did not want another heavy-handed king, procured the accession of Vladislas II, king of Bohemia (Ulászló II in Hungarian history), precisely because of his notorious “weakness”: he was known as King Dobže, or Dobzse (meaning “Good” or, loosely, “OK”), from his habit of accepting with that word every paper laid before him. The emperor Maximilian contented himself with reoccupying his lost provinces and establishing a sort of paternal patronage over Hungary. This was consolidated in 1515 by an agreement under which Vladislas’s son, Louis, married Maximilian’s granddaughter Mary, while Louis’s sister, Anne, married Maximilian’s grandson Ferdinand, who was to succeed to Louis’s thrones if Louis died without an heir. The agreement was made without the consent of the Hungarian nobility and in violation of the resolution passed by the Diet in 1505 that it would never accept a foreigner as the king of Hungary. The candidate of the “national party” was János Zápolya (Szapoly

Theodore Werbőczi

Meanwhile, the magnates permitted the Black Army to disintegrate (without replacing it) and allowed the country’s fortresses to fall into disrepair. Vladislas was the magnates’ helpless prisoner; he could make no decision without their consent, and his revenues were looted so ruthlessly that he was reduced to selling Matthias’s art and book collections. Nearly all of Matthias’s reforms were canceled, and the peasants were oppressed grievously.

The Magnificent Süleyman

When Vladislas died in 1516, his nine-year-old son was proclaimed king as Louis II. The defenses of the kingdom worsened, and in 1521 the new Ottoman sultan, Süleyman I (the Magnificent), demanded tribute from Louis. When the demand was rejected, Süleyman took Belgrade. Suddenly alive to the Turkish danger, the magnates voted to reestablish a standing army, but nothing was done to raise it because each rival faction tried to put the burden of its upkeep on the others. Appeals for help from abroad met with little response. In 1526 the sultan advanced into Hungary. A general call to arms was proclaimed but the most important forces—those from Transylvania and Croatia—were late in obeying it. Louis, with a force of 24,000 to 26,000 men, moved down the Danube in August and attacked the Turks at the Battle of Mohács. The Hungarian army, heavily outnumbered, was almost annihilated. Louis himself drowned during his flight. Unable to believe that the pitiful array that had met him was Hungary’s national army, the sultan advanced with extreme caution. He occupied Buda on September 10 but returned

Partition period

Since the sultan had not meant to remain in Hungary, the disaster of Mohács might have been overcome had there emerged a strong national leader who could have marshaled the country’s resources. But as it was, there were two claimants to Hungary’s throne: John (János Zápolya), who had served as voievod of Transylvania, and Ferdinand of Habsburg (later Holy Roman emperor as Ferdinand I). Each of them had his supporters, and both of them were elected king by rival factions of the Hungarian nobility. This precipitated a civil war, which led to more chaos and weakened the country further. After each of the kings failed to drive out his rival, John appealed for help from Süleyman, who installed him in Buda but at the expense of making him his vassal. This act limited Ferdinand’s rule to the western third of the country.

Martinuzzi, György

By a secret agreement—the Treaty of Nagyvárad, mediated in 1538 by John’s adviser, György Martinuzzi (“Friar George”)—Ferdinand was to succeed John upon his death. The agreement was upset when, just before John died, his wife bore a son whom the national party recognized as king. The sultan then decided to act for himself. He recognized the infant as king, but only as his own vassal in Hungary’s eastern half, including Transylvania. Thus began Hungary’s trisection, which lasted for more than a century and a half. The country’s western and northern fringes developed into “Royal Hungary” under Habsburg rule; its eastern half grew into the principality of Transylvania under elected Hungarian princes, who were more or less vassals of the Ottoman sultan. In 1541 Süleyman occupied Buda and incorporated a great wedge of central and southern Hungary into his own dominions.

In 1547 Ferdinand concluded a truce with Süleyman and agreed to pay an annual tribute of 30,000 golden coins in return for recognition of his de facto rule over the territory then held by him. After this the sultan formally declared Transylvania an autonomous principality under his own suzerainty. In 1568 Ferdinand’s successor, Maximilian II, was forced to recognize this arrangement. He continued to pay the tribute and accepted the reduction of Royal Hungary to the western fringe of the country, the northwestern mountains, and Croatia. From that time on, ruling princes of Transylvania followed a policy of semi-independence with occasional payment of tribute to the sultan and introduction of mercantilist economic policies that generated prosperity. The most successful were István Báthory (later king of Poland as Stefan Batory) and Gábor Bethlen.

Hungary was partitioned in 1568

However, the “age of trisection” was the bleakest period in all Hungarian history. Fighting and slave raiding reduced the whole south of the country to a wasteland inhabited by only a few seminomadic Vlach herdsmen; villages disappeared and fields reverted to swamp and forest. Behind the new frontier, conditions were relatively tolerable only in those districts managed directly by the Ottoman government. Most of these districts lay along the two banks of the Tisza River and people flocked into the great mezővárosok or oppidi that are still a feature of the area. There they enjoyed a measure of protection, but between these towns, the countryside was abandoned except for scattered huts in which men spent summers scratching a precarious living from the soil.

The Turks left Transylvania relatively unmolested. The constitution that Martinuzzi devised based on earlier institutions consisted of representatives from the three “historic nations”–the Hungarians, the Saxons, and the Hungarian-speaking Szeklers. Transylvania was also spared internecine religious strife when at the Diet of Torda in 1568, the Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, and Unitarian churches agreed to coexist on a basis of equal freedom and mutual toleration. The Greek Orthodox faith of the Vlachs (later called Romanians), who constituted the rest of the population, was not made part of this agreement, and it remained only a “tolerated religion.” Nor were the Vlachs recognized as one of the “historic nations” of Transylvania.

Transylvania and Royal Hungary

Ferdinand still hoped to bring the whole kingdom under his rule. He respected its constitution and its institutions and convoked the Diet regularly. But his hopes faded, and, after his succession to the imperial crown in 1558, Royal Hungary became no more than a small outlying annex of his mighty dominions. As it was also an exposed one, without the resources to defend itself, Ferdinand and his successor, Maximilian II, organized a chain of fortresses that stood opposite a similar chain of fortifications organized by Ottomans on their side of the frontier. Many of the larger Habsburg fortresses were garrisoned mostly by German and other Western mercenaries and the smaller ones by Hungarian troops who, not being paid regularly, usually lived off the land. This chain of Habsburg fortresses was complemented by a defensive deployment, the Military Frontier, inhabited by Serb and Vlach refugees from the Balkans and administered from Vienna. The Hungarians complained that they were being ruled and exploited as a subject people by foreigners while Vienna looked on them as truculent rebels. Matters grew worse when Maximilian was succeeded by mentally unbalanced Rudolf II whose advisers hated Hungary and its traditions; and a religious conflict supervened

When war between the Holy Roman Empire and the Turks broke out again in 1591, religious antagonism played an important part. In the Fifteen Years’ War, imperial troops entered Transylvania, and their commander, George Basta, behaved there (and in northern Hungary) with such insane cruelty toward the Hungarian Protestants that a Transylvanian general, István Bocskay, formerly a Habsburg supporter, revolted. His army of wild freebooters (hajdúk) drove out Basta, and in June 1606 Bocskay settled with Rudolf the Peace of Vienna, which left him prince of an enlarged Transylvania and also guaranteed the rights of the Protestants of Royal Hungary. Bocskay then mediated the Peace of Zsitvatorok (November 1606) between the emperor and the sultan, which kept the territorial status quo but relieved the emperor of his tribute to the sultan.

These two treaties ushered in a new era. The balance of power began to shift from the Ottomans toward the Habsburgs. The princes of Transylvania took advantage of this, and the principality entered a half century of prosperity. A scramble for power followed Bocskay’s death (1606), but in 1613, Gábor Bethlen (1613-29), who proved the most competent of all the Hungarian princes of Transylvania was imposed by the Ottoman government as the most able candidate. At home Bethlen’s rule was thoroughly despotic; through his monopoly of foreign trade and his development of the principality’s internal resources, he almost doubled his revenues, devoting part of it to maintaining a sumptuous court and part to developing its resources for maintaining an army. Keeping peace with the Porte, he intervened against the emperor in Thirty Years War (1618-48) and safeguarded Protestant rights within Royal Hungary. Under Treaty Nikolsburg (Dec 31 1621) Bethlen gave up royal title and crown along with Holy Crown of Hungary but retained title Prince of Transylvania and Hungary as well as gaining extended principality and duch

After the Thirty Years’ War, Europe

When Bethlen died suddenly in 1629, his subjects abolished most of his internal reforms; but his successor, György Rákóczi I, maintained the international position of Transylvania, which figured as a sovereign state in the Peace of Westphalia (1648) that ended the Thirty Years’ War. Transylvanian support for the Protestants in Royal Hungary, as well as the divisions prevailing among their own members, prevented the Habsburgs from enforcing the Counter-Reformation in Hungary as early and as fully as they did in Austria and Bohemia. Nevertheless, the genius of cardinal-primate Péter Pázmány won over for Roman Catholicism the majority of the local magnates, who came to form a party attached to the Habsburg cause, which was more influential because they now formed a separate “table” of the Diet. The nation was thus divided not only between Transylvania and Royal Hungary but also between the Roman Catholic magnates and their subjects on one hand and the largely Protestant landowning lower nobility on the other. In religious matters, Hungarian Catholic magnates and nobles were no more tolerant toward their Protestant fellow countrymen than were emperor’s own

Liberation and war

The volatile issue of the Turkish occupation of central Hungary remained a source of resentment for every Hungarian. This powder keg erupted in 1657 when Prince György Rákóczi II of Transylvania allowed the prospect of obtaining the crown of Poland to seduce him into sending across the Carpathians an expeditionary force, which was annihilated by Tatars. The Ottoman grand vizier Köprülü Mehmed Paşa led a force against Transylvania, detached it from the western adjuncts that had been its strength, and installed a new puppet prince. Emperor Leopold sent a force against the Turks; although the Austrian general Raimondo Montecuccoli defeated the Turks at St. Gotthard (Szentgotthárd) on Aug. 1, 1664, the subsequent Peace of Vasvár still recognized all the sultan’s gains.

Now even the highest magnates of Royal Hungary plotted to expel the Habsburgs with Turkish and French help, but the Wesselényi Conspiracy was betrayed, and Vienna took its revenge. Nobles were executed or lost their estates, and Protestant pastors were sentenced to be galley slaves. A young nobleman, Imre Thököly, earlier had fled to Transylvania, where he was elected leader of the kuruc (a term used by the anti-Habsburg forces, probably meaning Crusader) army. He led a revolt that forced Leopold in 1681 to restore the constitution and revoke many of his harshest measures. Thököly’s success encouraged the Porte to launch a major campaign against the empire. The sultan sent into Hungary a vast army that in 1683 reached the walls of Vienna itself.

But the tide ebbed as swiftly as it had advanced. Vienna was relieved (partially with Polish help), the Turks were routed, and the imperial general Prince Eugene of Savoy led a series of campaigns in which all of western and central Hungary, including Buda, was cleared of Ottoman control by 1686. Transylvania was liberated in the years following. By the Treaty of Carlowitz (January 1699), the sultan relinquished all of Hungary except for the corner between the Maros and Tisza rivers. (This area was ceded in 1718 but kept until 1779 under Austrian administration as Banat of Temesvár.) The Military Frontier, progressively extended, was kept under a similar regime, and Transylvania was organized as a separate principality.

1699-1918: Habsburg rule

To 1867, the Habsburgs ruled

The emperor, not Hungary, was the victor, for the retreating Turks and the advancing armies of so-called liberators ravaged the country. In 1687 Leopold reconfirmed the constitution subject to Hungary’s acceptance of his dynasty in the male line and to the abolition of the ius resistendi (right to resist) conceded under the Golden Bull of 1222, but the government that followed was in fact another cruel Vienna-centred dictatorship. In 1703 this provoked another rebellion, led by Francis (Ferenc) Rákóczi II (Thököly’s stepson). After eight years of indecisive and fruitless fighting between the kuruc and the Habsburg armies, peace was established by the Treaty of Szatmár (April 1711). On paper, this did little more than confirm what had been agreed in 1687, but the new king, Charles III (Emperor Charles VI), genuinely wanted peace with Hungary, and the worst abuses were now ended.

Maria Theresa and Charles III

Charles’s chief concern was to secure the acceptance in Hungary of the Pragmatic Sanction, the imperial decree by which his daughter Maria Theresa was to inherit his dominions. After the Diet accepted the Pragmatic Sanction in 1723, Charles convoked the body only once more and Maria Theresa, after her coronation in 1740, only twice—each time to ask for money. Her rule, like her father’s, was essentially autocratic. She was severe toward Protestants, and she allowed her advisers to exclude Hungary from the subsidized industrialization that was bringing wealth to other parts of her dominion. Internal tariff barriers were introduced between provinces and Hungary. Imports from outside empire were hinderedby high tariffs but customs for “imports” from Austria and Bohemia were very low. Hungary’s exports were all but banned to non-Habsburg lands, and only those agricultural and raw materials that were required in western part of monarchy received preferential treatment. Hungary became more dependent on Austria than before. Agriculture received some incentives but road to industrialization was blocked. Lacking modern credit, entrepreneurial attitude and strong urban markets Hungary, unlike Austria and Bohemia, was prevented from entering preindustrial age

Maria Theresa’s rule was not unduly harsh, even toward the Protestants. Toward the magnates, on whom she lavished many favours, it was positively benign, and she respected the most cherished liberty of the lesser nobles: their exemption from taxation. Exhausted by so many wars and rebellions, the country asked for nothing more, contenting itself with the blessing that her rule brought it an uninterrupted peace that enabled the population to grow once again and the material ravages to be repaired. But a lethargy descended on the country. Political life sank to the parish-pump level, and the towns stagnated. The peasants, into whose conditions the queen introduced some improvements (notably the Urbarial Patent in 1767, which attempted to standardize peasant holdings and obligations), followed their masters in aspiring to nothing more than as much material comfort as could be obtained with a minimum of effort. The national language itself was becoming little more than a peasant dialect, since the language of public administration and the Diet was Latin and of business life was German; like the language, the national spirit seemed near moribund.

Leopold II and Joseph II

The portrait of Joseph II by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni

The nation was shocked out of its lethargy by the accession of Maria Theresa’s son Joseph II on her death in 1780. Evading the obligation of a king on coronation to swear allegiance to the constitution, by not submitting himself to coronation at all (he had the Holy Crown conveyed to Vienna), Joseph drew Hungary into the Habsburg realm. The counties were transformed into local branches of the state service, taking all their orders from above. German was made the language of government and all education above the elementary level.

The reform generation of Francis I

A tragic sudden death of Leopold in 1792 led his son Francis to deliver a coronation oath that appeared to conform, but he quickly reverted to his old ways afterward. The Diet was convoked simply to supply money and, after 1811, did not convene for 14 years. This political absolutism accompanied social reaction, and economic development was strangled.

For many years the Diet, composed either of magnates who identified their interests with those of the court or of landowners who had prospered during the Napoleonic Wars, was as nonprogressive as Francis himself. In wider circles, the spirit of the age had brought forth a great cultural revival that was now bringing forth its first literary fruits. The new national pride that it at once embodied and enhanced was demanding fulfillment of Leopold’s promises and an end to the veiled but oppressive dictatorship of Vienna. A great reform movement was set in motion by István, Count Széchenyi, the primary advocate of Hungary’s social, economic, and political modernization, who boldly proclaimed that the ancient privileges of the nobility were no bastion but a prison. He argued that the servile state of peasants was humanly degrading and a source of weakness for the nation and also that the system of forced field labour, as well as nobles’ exemption from taxation, was economically harmful even to its supposed beneficiaries. Financial stringency had forced Francis to reconvoke the Diet in 1825 and to convoke it regularly thereafter.

Deák, Ferenc

This is a very long and detailed paragraph. To summarise it, after Francis was succeeded on the throne by Ferdinand, Vienna was forced to make concessions in regards to language and education. József, Baron Eötvös, and Lajos Kossuth all played a role in shaping the reform movement.

Hungary’s nationalities

A new and painful issue arose when the substitution of Magyar for Latin and German. The population of Hungary, even excluding Croatia, had never been purely Magyar, but the pre-Magyar inhabitants of the plains and newcomers to them (outside the towns) had quickly become Magyarized; and while this was not true for the peripheral areas, their populations were relatively sparse. By the end of 15th century, Slovaks, Ruthenes, Germans of free boroughs, Szepes Zips), and Transylvania numbering hardly more than 20-25 percent of total. The Magyar majority included almost every politically active noble class and non-Magyar recruit that assimilated most readily. The remaining peasants had neither the wish nor ability to question the character of states; which for its part was uninterested in what languages were spoken by politically disregarded populace.

Between 1500 and 1800, however, the ethnic composition of the country changed. The most purely Magyar areas were heavily depopulated during the Turkish wars. These losses were accompanied by mass migrations of Serbs, Croats, and Romanians from the Balkans and later by the introduction by the Austrian government of large numbers of German and other Western colonists. By 1720 the Magyars numbered only some 35 percent of the total population. By 1780 the figure had risen to nearly 40 percent, but the periphery, although it contained islands of Magyar population, was still largely non-Magyar. Moreover, as a result of this ethnic colonization, Hungary’s population grew to nearly 10 million by the end of the 18th century, almost trebling its population of 3.5 million in 1720.

This environment the ideas of the French Revolution and of nationalism, one of its major consequences, took hold. Hungarians and most of the other ethnic groups discovered their own national identities. Poetry, drama, fiction, and literary criticism combined to elevate the Hungarian vernacular to the standard of a literary language, partly in response to the forced Germanization by the Habsburgs but even more as part of an international trend that was particularly strong in central Europe. Institutions such as the National Library, the National Theatre, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences—all organized during this period—were also part of the linguistic-cultural movement that soon took the form of self-conscious chauvinism and then became an organized political movement.

A revolution, a reaction, and a compromise

Kossuth, Lajos

On March 15, an uprising led by young intellectuals, including the poet Sándor Petőfi, abolished censorship in Pest and formulated a series of demands. Seizing the moment, Kossuth prodded the Diet to rush through a body of laws. The March Laws (also known as the April Laws) enacted important internal reforms, such as the generalizing of taxes, the abolition of villein status and the transfer of villein holdings to their cultivators, and the reorganization of the lower table of Parliament on a representative basis. They also provided for the restoration of the territorial integrity of the lands of the Hungarian crown (subject, in the case of Transylvania, to the agreement of its Diet) and the appointment of a “responsible independent Hungarian Ministry,” which was headed by a progressive magnate, Lajos, Count Batthyány.

Irúr Görgey

Klapka, György

Austrian troops invaded Hungary in September, 1848, and the Hungarians were forced to capitulate in December. In April of the following year, a Diet proclaimed Hungary’s independence from Austria and ousted the Habsburg dynasty. The Hungarian forces, led by a young soldier of genius, Artúr Görgey, held their own until Augustus appealed for help to the Russian tsar. Russia sent an army across the Carpathians and bitter fighting ensued for some weeks more; however, the odds were too heavy and on August 12, Kossuth fled the country transferring his authority to Görgey who surrendered to the Russian commander.

Joseph Franz

The country was again subjected to an absolutist and extortionate rule exercised from Vienna through a foreign bureaucracy. This “Bach regime” (named for Alexander Bach, Austrian minister of the interior) was maintained, unrelaxed in principle although with some alterations in practice, until Austria’s defeat in Italy in 1859 forced Franz Joseph to begin his retreat from absolutism. The followers of the exiled Kossuth were irreconcilable, but many inside Hungary rallied behind Deák. He held that the March Laws were legally valid and that Hungary’s right to complete internal independence was inalienable but that under Pragmatic Sanction, which he accepted, foreign affairs and defense were subjects common to the two halves of the monarchy and that a mechanism could be devised for handling these affairs constitutionally. A Diet convoked in 1861 was dissolved after a few weeks because the gap between the Hungarians’ views and those of Franz Joseph and his centralist ministry in Vienna was still too wide to be bridged. Absolutism was reimposed, but the pressure of international and internal economic difficulties gradually drove Franz Joseph to further concessions. In July 1865 he dismissed his centralist ministry; in

1867-1918: The Dual Monarchy

A new Transylvanian Diet had already approved reunion with Hungary. Austria-Hungary was formed in February 1867 through a constitutional agreement known as the Compromise (German: Ausgleich; Hungarian: Kiegyezés). Franz Joseph admitted the validity of the March Laws on the condition that conduct of common (i.e., overlapping) affairs would be revised. A committee of the Diet then elaborated a law that, while laying down Hungary’s full internal independence, provided for common ministries for foreign affairs and defense, each under a joint minister. A third common minister was in charge of the finance for these portfolios. The respective quotas to be paid for these services by each half of the monarchy were reconsidered every 10 years, as were commercial and customs agreements. At first, the two countries formed a customs union. On June 8, 1867, Franz Joseph was crowned king of Hungary and on July 28 he gave his assent to the law.

After much negotiation, a revised Hungarian-Croatian agreement was reached in 1868 that guaranteed Croatian autonomy within the Hungarian crown, but left certain matters pertaining to Croatia and Hungary as common. When this was under discussion, Croatian deputies attended the central Parliament, where they could speak in Croatian, their sole language of internal official usage in Croatia.

The Nationalities Law (1868) guaranteed that all citizens of Hungary, regardless of their nationality, constituted politically “a single nation, the indivisible, unitary Hungarian nation,” and there could be no differentiation between them except in respect of the official usage of the current languages and then only insofar as necessitated by practical considerations. The language of the central administrative and judicial services and of the country’s only university was Hungarian, but there were to be adequate provisions for the use of non-Hungarian languages on lower levels. The consolidation was completed by the incorporation of the Military Frontier (in stages lasting several years) and Transylvania, the latter process involving the abolition of the old “Three Nations,” except that the Saxon “university” (territorial autonomy) was allowed to survive as a purely cultural institution.

The dualistic system in Hungary

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 restored Hungary’s territorial integrity and gave it more real internal independence than it had enjoyed since 1526; the monarch’s powers in internal affairs were strictly limited. In the conduct of foreign affairs or defense, however, Hungary still formed only part of the monarchy, and its interests in these fields had to be coordinated with those of its other components. But Hungary had a large voice in the monarchy’s policy in these fields and enjoyed the great advantage—which weighed heavily with soberer men, including Deák, when negotiating the Compromise—that the resources of the great power of which it formed a part stood behind the country. Some opponents of the Compromise believed that the price still seemed too high, while supporters believed that it represented an advantage Hungary could ill-afford to lose.

The supporters of the Compromise, then known as the Deák Party, held office first but soon got into such financial and personal difficulties that complete chaos threatened. It was averted when in 1875 Kálmán Tisza, the leader of the moderate nationalist Left Centre, merged his party with the remnants of the Deákists on a program that amounted to putting his party’s main demands into cold storage until the political and financial situation was stabilized. Then, for nearly 30 years, the Liberal Party held office, although there was mounting friction with Vienna over the army, which the Hungarians regarded, with some reason, as imbued with a spirit hostile to themselves; over the economic provisions of the Compromise; and over Hungarian participation in control of the National Bank. An army question in 1889 marked something of a turning point, after which relations between the supporters of the Compromise and its nationalist opponents were permanently strained.

Tisza, Count István

The tension reached a climax in 1903, when the obstruction of the “national opposition” made parliamentary government practically impossible. The prime minister, István, Count Tisza (Kálmán Tisza’s son), dissolved Parliament. Elections in January 1905 gave a coalition of national parties a parliamentary majority, but Franz Joseph refused to entrust the government to them on the basis of their program, which included national concessions over the army. A period of nonparliamentary government followed until April 1906, when the coalition leaders, under threat of an extension of the suffrage if they proved recalcitrant, gave the king a secret undertaking that, if appointed, they would not press the essentials of their program. On this basis he appointed a coalition government, but under a Liberal, Sándor Wekerle. With their hands thus tied, the coalition made a wretched showing. Tisza reorganized the Liberal Party as the Party of National Work, and in 1910 this party secured a large majority. After Károly, Count Khuen-Héderváry (1910–12), and László Lukács (1912–13), Tis

Developments in social and economic fields

Eötvös, József

After 1867 much change occurred in Hungary. The achievements of the Deákist and Liberal governments included the assimilation of the former outlying areas of Transylvania and the Military Frontier, a reform of the relations between the central government and the counties, and a general reorganization of the administration. The judicial system was modernized. Relations between the state and the churches were restated in 1894-95 on terms satisfactory to the liberal philosophy of the day. This completed the full emancipation of Hungary’s large Jewish population who had already gone through the basic emancipation process in 1868, based on a law prepared by Baron Eötvös. In 1868 Eötvös also carried through an admirable elementary education act, and much headway was made in raising the educational and cultural level of Hungary. After long difficulties, national finances were put in order and public debt reduced.

The economy remained the mainstay of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Afterward, the general European agricultural depression plunged even the biggest landowners into difficulties, but these diminished near the end of the century when prices rose again. Many branches of industry failed to survive the customs union with Austria, but agriculture prospered, and later, as domestic capital accumulated, a process of industrialization began and expanded rapidly after 1890.

1900 map of Budapest

Urbanization proceeded apace. The growth of Budapest—formed in 1872–73 through the merger of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda—was meteoric. Its population during the age of dualism rose from 270,000 to nearly 1 million. Not counting Zagreb in Croatia, five other cities in the Hungarian realm (Szeged, Szabadka [Subotica], Debrecen, Pozsony, and Temesvár) had populations between 75,000 and 120,000, and a dozen more cities totaled about 50,000 inhabitants. The urban population for the country as a whole doubled from 2 million to about 4 million. Communications were largely modernized, particularly through a Budapest-centred complex railroad system.

For all this, Hungary was still a relatively poor country. The continued extremely rapid growth of the population—from about 15 million in 1869 to more than 20 million in 1910 (with the population of Croatia gaining along the same lines)—had far outstripped that of the means of production. In spite of a high emigration rate, which in the years before World War I averaged 100,000 annually, acute rural congestion had developed. While 35 percent of the land was held in 4,000 large estates, there were about two million small, or dwarf, holdings, and a further 1.7 million persons (wage earners) were totally landless. A large proportion of these rural workers were forced to live in conditions of extreme misery and near starvation. The living standards and conditions of the industrial workers, especially the unskilled, were also very low.

Many Magyars viewed emigration as a welcome safety valve, but some regretted that it had significantly reduced their presence in the multinational Kingdom of Hungary. As best as can be ascertained from the often conflicting Hungarian and American statistics, between 1880 and 1914, about 1.8 million Hungarian citizens emigrated to the United States. Of the U.S.-bound migrants, more than one-third (650,000–700,000) were Magyars, while the rest included Rusyns, Slovaks, Germans, Romanians, Croats, and other South Slavs

The political structure was not modern, and even the vocational organization that they were able to achieve was primitive. The industrial and financial development had been largely the work of Jews or of Magyarized Germans. Its own quasi-alien character and its small numbers prevented the Hungarian middle class from developing into a positive factor in the political life, which continued to be dominated by a landowning class whose social and political ideas failed to move with the times.

The “nationalities problem” remained intractable. After 1868 Hungarian political philosophy insisted more strongly than ever that the Hungarian state must be Magyar in spirit, in its institutions, and, as far as possible, in its language. Suggestions to the contrary, or appeals to the Nationalities Law, met with derision or abuse.

Much of the Magyarization, however, had been in the center of Hungary and among the middle classes, and much of it was the direct result of urbanization and industrialization. It had hardly touched the rural populations of the periphery, and the linguistic frontiers had hardly shifted from the line on which they had been stabilized in the 18th century. In these areas, moreover, a hard core of national feeling had survived. This weakened during the first decades after the Compromise but was reviving again at the beginning of the 20th century. This was especially so among Romanians and was being encouraged from across the frontiers of Romania and Serbia and (in the case of Slovaks) from Bohemia. Hungaro-Croatian relations too deteriorated, after a period of quiescence, when Serbian government began propagating a theory of South Slav (Yugoslav) unity designed to detach Croats from monarchy.

Many of these developments threatened the very basis of the Compromise, and to this another uncertainty was added. Many Hungarian politicians were hostile to the Compromise and Franz Joseph could be trusted to support and accept the policies of any Hungarian government, but he was an old man, and his heir presumptive, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was notoriously hostile to the Hungarian regime. In touch with many of its opponents, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was credited with designs of overthrowing the Compromise in favor of its enemies- especially the nationalities.

The First World War

Eastern Front, World War I

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, removed this danger and plunged Austria-Hungary into World War I. For the first two years of the war, Tisza upheld the internal system and held the country to its international course, and when Franz Joseph died, persuaded the new king, Charles IV ( Austrian Emperor Charles I), to accept coronation (December 1916), thus binding himself to uphold the integrity and constitution of Hungary. Charles however insisted on electoral reform, and Tisza resigned (May 1917).

While short-lived minority governments struggled with increasing difficulties, a threefold agitation grew: of Hungarian nationalists, against a war into which they maintained Hungary had been drawn in the interest of Germany and Austria; of the political left, growing daily more radical under the stimuli of privation and the Russian Revolution of 1917; and of the nationalities, encouraged by the favour that their kinsfolk were finding with the Triple Entente. The country began to listen to Mihály, Count Károlyi, leader of a faction of the Independence Party, who proclaimed that a program of independence from Austria, repudiation of the alliance with Germany, and peace with the Entente, combined with social and internal political reform and concessions to the nationalities, would safeguard Hungary against all dangers at once. The country’s submergence in the long, devastating war included mobilization of 3,800,000 men, death of 661,000 people, and exhaustion of Hungary’s economy. Agricultural output decline by half during the last years of war and currency lost more than half its value in autumn 1918.

1918–45: Revolution, counterrevolution, and the regency

Kun Béla

On October 31, 1918, when the defeat of the monarchy was imminent, Charles appointed Károlyi prime minister at the head of an improvised administration based on a left-wing National Council. After the monarchy had signed an armistice on November 3 and Charles had “renounced participation” in public affairs on the 13th, the National Council dissolved Parliament on the 16th and proclaimed Hungary an independent republic, with Károlyi as provisional president.

In November 1919, a provisional government was formed in Szeged, then occupied by French troops, and pressed the Allies to entrust it with the new government. The Allies insisted on the formation of a provisional regime including democratic elements that would be required to hold elections on a wide, secret suffrage. The Romanians were, with difficulty, induced to retire across the Tisza River, and elections (for a single house) were held in January 1920.

Horthy, Miklós

The new Parliament declared null and void all measures enacted by the Károlyi and Kun regimes as well as the legislation embodying the Compromise of 1867. The institution of the monarchy was thus restored, but its permanent reinstatement was predicated on the resolution of the differences between nation and dynasty, an issue that divided Hungarians. Admiral Miklós Horthy, who had organized the counterrevolutionary armed forces, was elected regent as provisional head of state (March 1st, 1920). The Huszár government then resigned, and on March 15, a coalition government, composed of the two main parties in the Parliament (the Christian National Union and the Smallholders), took office under Sándor Simonyi-Semadam.

1920-1945: The Regency

Trianon Treaty

The Allies had long had their peace terms for Hungary ready but had been unwilling to present them to an earlier regime. As a result, the Simonyi-Semadam government had to sign the Treaty of Trianon (June 4, 1920). Assuming without question that the country’s non-Hungarian populations wanted to leave Hungary, the Allies also allowed the successor states, particularly Czechoslovakia and Romania, to annex large areas of Hungarian population.

The final result was to leave Hungary with only 35,893 of the 125,641 square miles (92,962 of the 325,408 square km) that had constituted the lands of the Hungarian crown. Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia took large fragments, while others went to Austria and even Poland and Italy. Of the population of 20,866,447 (1910 census), Hungary was left with 7,615,117. Of the 10,050,575 persons for whom Hungarian was the mother tongue: no fewer than 3,219,579 were allotted to the successor states: 1,704,851 to Romania, 1,063,020 to Czechoslovakia, 547,735 to Yugoslavia, and 26,183 to Austria.

Hungary was also required to pay an unspecified sum in reparations, which was “the first charge against all its assets and revenues,” and to limit its armed forces to 35,000, exclusively for the maintenance of internal order and defense of the frontier.

Confusion and reconstruction after World War II

Conditions in Hungary in 1920 were very difficult in every respect. The prolonged war, the Bolshevik regime (before which mobile capital had fled headlong), and the Romanian occupation had exhausted its resources, and the economy had been further disrupted by the new frontiers, which cut factories off from both their accustomed supply sources and their markets. Industrial unemployment had reached unprecedented heights, and the surviving national resources were being strained to support nearly 400,000 refugees from the successor states.

Even more dangerous were the armies of the “new poor,” not only the homeless refugees but also a large part of the middle classes in general, reduced to penury by the galloping inflation. They formed a radical army, one of the right that ascribed their misery precisely to the revolutions, on which they put the blame for all Hungary’s misfortunes. Even more dangerous were the armies of the “new poor,” not only the homeless refugees but also a large part of the middle classes in general, reduced to penury by the galloping inflation. They formed a radical army, one of the right wing who ascribed their misery precisely to 20th century revolutions on which they put the blame for all Hungary’s misfortunes.

Von Kármán, Theodore

“White terrorists” wreaked indiscriminate vengeance on persons whom they associated with the revolutions. Huszár’s government itself had turned so sharply on the Social Democrats and the trade unions that the former withdrew their representatives from the government and boycotted the elections, in protest against the widespread killings, arrests, and internments.

The government of Pál, Count Teleki, who succeeded Simonyi-Semadam in July 1920, blunted the edge of the agrarian unrest with a modest reform—promised, indeed, only as a first installment—that took 1.7 million acres (7.5 percent of the total area of the country) from the biggest estates for distribution in smallholdings. But it had hardly touched any other social problem when king Charles’s sudden return to Hungary was raised in acute form by the Allies in March 1921. The government, several of whose members were legitimists, resigned and the succession was assumed by the conservative István Bethlen, who had been waiting behind the scenes. Bethlen devised a formula that excluded the king’s return (under Entente pressure, Parliament voted a law dethroning the Habsburgs but even Hungary’s own antilegitimists never took it as morally binding), while excluding it in practice. In return for this, the Smallholders’ Party agreed with Christian nationalists among the antilegitimists to form a new Party of Unity under Bethlen’s leadership.

In March 1922, Bethlen persuaded Parliament to accept as still legally in force the franchise enacted in 1918, which reduced the number of voters and reintroduced open voting in rural districts. As a result of this law, 2.4 million of Hungary’s 8 million citizens (about 29 percent of the population) had the right to vote. This proportion compared favorably with those of France, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia but less favorably with those of Austria, England, and the Scandinavian countries. The elections in May 1922 gave the Party of Unity a large majority.

Meanwhile, a second attempt by King Charles (in October 1921) to recover his throne failed and the legitimist question lost its acuteness with Charles’s death in 1922. In December 1921 Bethlen concluded a secret pact with the Social Democrats, under which the latter promised to abstain from political agitation and to support the government’s foreign policy in return for the end of persecution, the release of political prisoners, and the restoration of the sequestrated trade union funds. The peasant leaders were persuaded to accept the indefinite postponement of further land reform. The “White Terror” was liquidated quietly but effectively, chiefly by finding government employment for the right-wing radical leaders.

Almost all Hungarians were passionately convinced of the injustice of the Treaty of Trianon, the redress of which was the all-dominant motive of Hungary’s foreign policy throughout the interwar period and the key to the hostile relations between Hungary and those states that had chiefly profited by it. Bethlen was as revisionist at heart as any of his countrymen, but he was convinced that Hungary could not act effectively in this field until it had acquired friends abroad and had achieved political and economic consolidation at home. This depended on financial reconstruction. To achieve this, he applied for Hungary’s admission to the League of Nations, which was granted (not without difficulty) in September 1922. In March 1924, in return for an agreement to carry out loyally the obligations of the treaty, he obtained a League loan. This had almost magical effects. Inflation stopped immediately. The League loan was followed by a flood of private lending, and the expatriated domestic capital returned. With this help, Hungary enjoyed some years of prosperity, during which agriculture revived and industrialization made progress

A treaty of friendship with Italy was Bethlen’s only other important move abroad in 1927. To exclude extremisms from the left or right, his regime at home rested on what came to be known as Hungary’s conservative-liberal forces, which were conservative but not tyrannical.

As a result of the financial crisis, right-wing radicalism is on the rise

Bethlen’s command of Parliament was complete and unshaken by the disastrous fall in world wheat prices in 1929. In June 1931 he had just held elections that returned his party with its usual large majority when a world financial crisis supervened on the economic one to shatter the foundations of his structure. Foreign creditors called in their money, and Hungary, its trade balance annihilated by the collapse of the wheat market, could not meet their demands and had to apply for help from the League of Nations, which imposed a regime of rigid orthodox deflation. Industrial unemployment soared again, the agricultural population was rendered almost literally penniless, and the government services had to carry through large-scale dismissals and salary reductions in the interests of a balanced budget. Consequently, many persons with university degrees were scurrying around for jobs as bellhops and street cleaners.

A political agitation erupted after Bethlen resigned. His successor, Gyula, Count Károlyi, was unable to cope with the situation. On October 1, 1932, Horthy appointed Gyula Gömbös as prime minister.

At home Gömbös found the financial forces, international and domestic, as invincible as had his predecessors. Previously a violent anti-Semite, he had to recant his views on this point and was unable to carry through any other points of his fascist program, particularly as Horthy at first refused to allow him to hold elections. Neither was he able to realize his foreign political ideal of an “Axis” composed of Hungary, Italy, and Germany, since his two proposed partners were then at loggerheads over Austria. Finally, Adolf Hitler upset another of Gömbös’s calculations by telling him that while Germany would help Hungary against Czechoslovakia, it would not do so against Romania or Yugoslavia.

Nonetheless, by the time of Gömbös’s premature death in October 1936, he had managed to achieve at least some of his goals. Shortly before Gömbös died, Horthy had at last allowed him to hold elections, which had brought into Parliament a strong right-wing radical contingent from which it could never thereafter free itself. Abroad, when Benito Mussolini became subordinate to Hitler, Hungary found itself in a sort of Axis camp after all–membership of which might help it at least to accomplish partial revision of the Treaty of Trianon.

This threat already loomed large, and henceforward it became heavily involved with Hungary’s own internal politics, due to the ideological character of the Nazi regime and in particular its anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism at that stage was running high in Hungary itself, and those infected by it—not just the right-wing radicals of various brands but other members of the middle classes as well—welcomed Germany’s support for their own ideas while making light of its dangers. They even argued, not without reason, that the danger lay in affronting Germany, which could easily crush unarmed little Hungary but would not wish to attack a friend and ideological partner. Many of them (as well as most army officers) further believed that, should Hitler’s policies lead to war, Germany would emerge victorious; Hungary’s salvation thus lay in joining forces with Germany.

On the other side, a curious shadow front emerged, composed of all elements antagonistic to Nazism—not only Hungary’s Jews but also the legitimists, the traditionalist conservatives-liberals, and the Social Democrats. Many of these people were not convinced that Germany was invincible and held that, if war came, only disaster could follow for Hungary if it became too closely involved with Germany. Even they, however, were unwilling to draw the ultimate conclusion that Hungary should abandon its revisionist claims and join hands with the Little Entente. It was of utmost importance that by this time Horthy had shed his earlier right-wing radical leanings and sympathized with this shadow front.

Darányi’s appointment was ill-received in Germany, which grew even more hostile the next year, when Béla Imrédy introduced a largely token “Jewish Law”.

When the crisis of the Munich Agreement broke in September 1938, Imrédy and Kánya, while presenting Hungary’s claims on Czechoslovakia, limited those claims to what they hoped would be acceptable to the Western powers, whose endorsement they made every effort to obtain. Ignored by the West, Hungary’s leaders had to turn to Germany and Italy after all; this was under the “First Vienna Award” of November 2, which gave Hungary the fringe of southern Slovakia inhabited by ethnic Hungarians. Imrédy disillusioned with the West dismissed Kánya for the pro-Axis István Csáky and sought to recover Hitler’s favour by introducing a more far-reaching Jewish Law (May 2 1939). His enemies secured his resignation in February 1939 by unearthing documents purporting to show a Jewish strain in his own ancestry. Pál Teleki who succeeded him was sympathetic to the West but Hungary’s recovery of Carpatho-Ruthenia (March 1939) with Hitler’s sanction and approval made it difficult for him to pursue a pro-Western policy.