Military history of Hungary

History of Hungary

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Prehistoric Pannonia
Prehistoric Magyars
Early history
Roman Pannonia
Magyar invasion
Middle Ages (896–1541)
Principality of Hungary
Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
Turkish wars
Early Modern history
Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary
Eastern Hungarian Kingdom
Ottoman Hungary
Principality of Transylvania
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Rákóczi's War
Revolution of 1848
Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen
Hungary in World War I
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Kingdom of Hungary
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The military history of Hungary includes battles fought in the Carpathian Basin, nations occupying Hungary, and the military history of the Hungarian people regardless of geography.

Hungary, due to its geographical position in the Carpathian Basin, one of the most fertile lands in Europe, was a common target of larger, more powerful nations such as Austria and the Ottoman Empire. The Magyar peoples, once conquered, did not take the loss of their nation lightly. In the period of its existence, Hungary has many historically-documented rebellions, including the Budai Nagy Antal Revolt in 1437 and The 1514 peasant rebellion, which was led by György Dózsa.

The Hungarians settled the Carpathian Basin in 895, after a somewhat unsuccessful war drove the Bulgars partially out of it. Led by Árpád, he would go on to lead a dynasty officially lasting until 1301, though the Drummond and House of Croÿ claim descent.

The Magyars continued to raid adjacent countries for many years, until forces of Eastern Francia led by Otto I defeated them at Lechfeld. Before their decisive defeat, the Hungarians demonstrated a use of siege weapons, including a battering ram at the Siege of Ausburg. After the death of the last king Demetrius Zvonimir of Croatia, he left no heir, so his wife Helen, the sister of Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary called the Hungarian troops to take control of the kingdom. After that, Croatia was attached to the Hungarian kingdom, and a personal union was forced. After Saint Ladislaus' death, his nephew, the King Coloman of Hungary ascended to the Hungarian throne. The feudal lords of Croatia elected a new king, and tried to get rid of the Hungarian occupation, and then the Hungarians took up arms against Croatia, and won a bloody victory at Gvozd Mountain. After this, Coloman was crowned as king of Croatia in 1102, but this was only a nominal title, because the Croatian kingdom itself was absorved into Hungary. The Croatian territories would get the independence finally in 1918.


Early Hungarian warfare

Siege of Augsburg, 955. The draw here would culminate at the Battle of Lechfeld, a disastrous defeat for the Hungarians.

The strength of Magyar tribes arriving into the Carpathian Basin is well demonstrated by the failure of contemporary European countries in stopping them. During their raids they advanced as far as the Iberian Peninsula, fighting the Moors there. They were often mentioned together with the conquering Arabians and the Norman attackers. Their most characteristic weapon was the quick-firing reflex bow, which they fired accurately while mounted on their horses, even while galloping. They also carried sabers and spontoons. A common prayer of the western Christians went: “Save us, o Lord, from the arrows of the Hungarians.” The Magyars valued ranged fighting – their charges were usually preceded by a volley of arrows -, but they were also tough warriors in hand-to-hand struggles. They fought on horseback, without any infantry at all.

The battle of Lechfeld in 955 brought an end to the looting campaigns in Western Europe. After the German military recognized the typical tactics employed by the Magyars, they built stone strongholds, rendering the nomadic Hungarian light cavalry useless. The well-organized German heavy cavalry defeated the Magyars. After the foundation of the Hungarian state, Saint Stephen I began organizing a military force similar to the armies of western countries.[citation needed] He supplemented light cavalry with heavy cavalry and infantry units.

Era of patrician warfare

After the Battle of Mohács, Kingdom of Hungary fell apart. The southern part, as a result of Ottoman conquest, was annexed by the Ottoman Empire. The eastern region broke off from Hungary, and became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. Habsburg Austria claimed a section, known then as Royal Hungary.

The Hungarian chivalric army was at its best during the reign of Lewis I, who also led campaigns against Italy in 1347 and 1350. Nevertheless, there were still light cavalry units in the army, consisting of, among others, Szeklers and the settling Kuns. On the winter of 1458 the 15 years old Mathias Corvinus was elected as king by the Hungarian nobility. During his reign he dealt with the noble factions, and created a centralized royal authority, supported mainly by the first permanent Hungarian mercenary army, the Fekete Sereg (King’s Black Army). Mathias favored the obsolete catapults over the modern cannons already employed by his father. Light cavalry, formed by hussars and Jász mounted archers, regained part of their former role in the Fekete Sereg.
On 2 September 1686 united Hungarian, Austrian and West-European troops liberated Buda from the Turkish occupation. By the end of the XVII. century Christian armies led by Habsburgs conquered all the Turkish-ruled territories. Thereafter the Kingdom of Hungary was part of the Habsburg Monarchy.
A decisive part of the fighting force – about four fifth, most of the time – was formed by the main arm of the time: infantry. The other arm, cavalry, still consisted mainly of heavy cavalry, or units equipped with mail armor, called battle cavalry. Another two types of cavalry were dragoons and light cavalry. Hungarian hussars became internationally recognized, being a prime example of light cavalry. In this era artillery became a third arm.
Two significant attempts were made at achieving independence: the war for independence led by Francis II Rákóczi (1703–1711), and the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Notable battles

Royal Hungary (1526-1867)


  • Bohn, H.G. (1854). Hungary and Its Revolutions from the Earliest Period to the Nineteenth Century. London. ASIN B000H48F74. 

Further reading

  • Miklós, Molnár; Anna Magyar (2001). A Consise History of Hungary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–138. ISBN 0-521-66736-4. 
  • Szemere, Bertalan (1860). File:Hungary_from_1848_to_1860.pdf. Cambridge: R. Bentley. pp. 1–269. ISBN 0-521-66736-4. 
    • File:Hungary from 1848 to 1860.pdf
  • Lendvai, Paul; Jeferson Decker (2003). The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 1–664. ISBN 0-691-11406-4. 

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