The Magyar Raids: Fact and Fable
By Christopher Szabo
Journal of Eurasian Studies, Vol.4:4 (2012)
Introduction: There is no consensus on the exact starting date of the military campaigns undertaken by the Hetumoger (“Seven Magyar”) tribal confederation in the ninth and tenth centuries. Some historians begin in 862, when the first Hungarian or Magyar troops appear in the East Frank Kingdom (later Germany) as allies of the Moravians.
However, as this campaign was part of the movement of the Magyar people from their former homeland of “Atelkuzu” (“Between the Rivers”) in today’s Ukraine, Moldova and Romania, into the Carpathian Basin, which would form their land for the next 1,100 years, the campaigns leading up to the so-called “Conquest” will not be dealt with here.
What is important is that the movement of some 200,000 men, women and children, and maybe more, with their herds of horses; cows; camels, sheep and goats and even pigs was done in an orderly, organized fashion that needs further research. It is quite possibly the major event in Continental Europe at the end of the ninth century.
To cover this vast movement (and how big it was can be seen by comparing it with the relatively puny American “Wagon Trains” into the West or the Boer Great Treks of South Africa) it was necessary to obtain alliances with the “Great Powers” of the day as well as smaller polities. Thus the Seven Magyars moved into Transylvania, Upper Hungary (northern Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia) and the Great Hungarian Plain in alliance with the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, which at this time included the East Frankish Kingdom (East Francia) and what are now Austria, Switzerland and northern Italy.
It is interesting to note that the Magyars, often described as “barbarians”, kept their side of the alliances, but the Byzantines betrayed them in 895, likely causing serious losses among the Magyar army on the Balkans. But up until 900, the alliance with the East Franks stayed firm.