"Hungarian prehistory" (Hungarian: magyar őstörténet) is a specific period in the history of the Hungarian people that refers to the time starting from when the Magyars were considered a people separate and identifiable from other Ugric speakers (1000-500 BC) up until their occupation and settlement of the Carpathian Basin around 896 AD (Hungarian: Honfoglalás).
The events that occurred between the Honfoglalás ("the occupation of our country") and the coronation of St. Stephen (1000/1001 AD) are also included by some historians as part of Hungarian prehistory. The terms "ancient history", and "early history"are also used by different sources to describe this same period of Hungarian history.
Very specific areas are named and connected with the migration of the Magyars from an original homeland area to modern day Hungary. Each area is detailed below.
Based on documents written in the 12th-13th centuries and mentioning Ungaria maior or Ungaria magna, modern authors use the name Magna Hungaria (literally "Old" or "Great Hungary") when referring to the territory where the ancestors of the Magyars used to live.In 1235, Friar Julian located this land directly east of the capital of Volga Bulgaria.
One theory states that the Magyars moved to this area from a northerly urheimat before migrating further to the southwest. In Bashkiria, gravesites confirm the Hungarians' ancestors' dwelling there and a significant burial place with 150 graves in the Volga-Kama territory was used by them in the 8th-9th centuries.
Linguistic researches and toponyms also suggest that in the Volga-Kama region, the Magyars came into contact with the Volga Bulgarians, who were migrating northward following the 670s AD. Other authors suggest that the Magyars may have come into contact with Turkic peoples already in the 5th century AD and thus their southward migration from Magna Hungaria occurred around that period.
The Magyars organized themselves into tribes probably in the region, because the name of one of their tribes (Gyarmat) may have been reserved as a clan's name among the Bashkirs. The name of several Magyar tribes is of Oghur origin which may prove that Oghur tribes also joined to the Magyars.
The ancient Magyars were separated into two groups between 750 and 830; and afterwards, the two groups existed separately: one of them stayed in Magna Hungaria until the 1240s, while the other group (the ancestors of the future Hungarians) moved southwards. However, the southward migration of the ancestors of the Hungarians may have occurred already in the 7th century (or even earlier), or the two groups of the Magyars may have separated only in the 9th century.
The Don-Kuban area
Some scholarssuggest that from Magna Hungaria, the ancient Magyars moved to the region north of the Caucasus Mountains, around the rivers Don and Kuban.They emphasize that several Hungarian words connected to viticulture must have been borrowed from a Turkic language on that territories, and several loanwords may have been borrowed from the Alans living north of the Caucasus Mountains.The characteristic features of the Magyars' clothing may also have developed around that time.
On the other hand, other scholars point out that the evidence for the Magyars' habitation on the territory around the rivers Don and Kuban is tenuous.
The Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus names a place where the early Magyars used to live and calls it Levedia after Magyar Voivode Levedi. He also reports that a river, called Chidmas or Chingilous, flows through the land; the most widely accepted theory identifies the Chidmas with the river Kodyma and the Chingilous with the river Inhul (both are tributaries of the river Southern Bug). Doubt has also been cast upon the existence of Levedia, because the name itself suggest that it was a territory where only one of the Magyar tribes (i.e., the one lead by the Voivode Levedi) lived and thus it could not be the name of the whole territory where the federation of the Magyar tribes settled down.
According to the Emperor's work, the Magyars struggled together with the Khazars, which suggest that the Magyar tribes were under Khazar suzerainty.The length of the period when the Magyar tribes were subdued to the Khazar empire is under debate: Constantine Porphyrogenitus records that they lived there only three years altogether, while some modern authors assume a 300-year-long period.Other scholars suggest that the Khazar suzerainty over the Magyars may have started around 840 when references to a people distinct from the Khazars disappeared from the written sources.
Around 850, the Pechenegs, who had suffered a defeat from the Khazars, invaded Levedia and defeated the Magyars who, lead by the Voivode Levedi, were obliged to flee westwards. A group of the Magyars, however, fled over the Caucasus Mountains and settled down there and their descendants lived in the region until the 13th century.On the other hand, some modern scholars suggest that the Magyars moved westwards already in the 7th century when Great Bulgaria disintegrated under Khazar pressure and the Bulgars left the territory north of the Black Sea.
Following their defeat from the Pechenegs (or following the disintegration of Great Bulgaria), the seven Magyar tribes (Hungarian: Hétmagyar) that moved westwards settled down on the territory that Constantine Porphyrogenitus calls Etelküzü (or Etel and Küzü).The territory was located around the rivers Dnieper, Southern Bug, Dniester, Prut and Siret.
Shortly afterwards, as the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus recorded, the Khagan of the Khazars sent envoys to Voivode Levedi and suggested him that he should be elevated to grand prince. Levedi, however, rejected the Khagan's offer and proposed Álmos or his son, Árpád instead of himself; and the Khagan accepted his proposal. Although, according to the Byzantine Emperor, the heads of the seven Magyar tribes preferred Árpád, but modern authors usually follow the theory that his father, Álmos was proclaimed the first Grand Prince of the Magyars (his title is recorded as megas Turkias arkhon in the "On Administering the Empire"). Some scholars, however, debate the credibility of the Emperor's accounts and see the story as a legitimizing explanation invented by the Árpáds for a regime change.
According to Ahmad ibn Rustah's work, the leadership of the Magyar tribal federation was divided between a spiritual ruler and an administrative and military leader - similar to the practise the Khazars had been following.Ahmad ibn Rustah also recorded that the nominal leader of the tribal federation Hétmagyar was styled kende, but its military leader was the gyula. In the Khazar empire, the holder of the third dignity (following its military leader) was styled kündür which suggests that the Khazar Khagan granted this title to the newly elected head of the Magyar tribal federation.
The Magyars are a reace of Turks and their leader rides out with 20,000 horsemen and this king is called k.nd.h and this name denotes their king, for the name of the man who is actually king over them is g.l.h and all the Magyars accept the orders of their g.l.h in the matter of war and defence and the like.
In 860-861, Magyar soldiers attacked Saint Cyril, who was traveling to the Khagan, around Chersonesos that had been captured by the Khazars.
The Hétmagyar federation may have seceded from the Khazar empire around 862, when the Magyars (Ungri) pillaged East Francia:
enemies, proviously unknown for the nations, called Ungri, devastate his /Louis the German's/ country.
Muslim geographers recorded that the Magyars regularly attacked the neighboring East Slavic tribes and they sold their captives to the Byzantine Empire.They also mentioned that
These Magyars are a handsome people and of good appearance and their clothes are of silk brocade and their weapons are of silver and are encrusted with pearls.
Before 881, the Hétmagyar federation was even strengthened when the three tribes of the Kabars, who had rebelled against the Khazars, joined the Magyars.
Thenceforward, the Kabars were regarded as military auxiliaries of the Magyars and they provided the advance and rear guards to their hosts. In 881, the Magyars and the Kabars invaded East Francia, and they fought two battles, the former (Ungari) at Wenia (probably Vienna) and the latter (Cowari) at Culmite (possibly Kulmberg or Kollmitz in Austria).
The Magyars were occasionally hired by the rulers of the neighboring territories to intervene in their struggles. According to the Annales Fuldenses, in 892, King Arnulf of East Francia invaded Great Moravia and the Magyars joined to his troops.In 894, the Magyars invaded Pannonia already in alliance with King Svatopluk I of Moravia.