All about Hungary: The origin of the Magyars

The origin of the Magyars

Posted on Mar 15, 2010| | | No comments:

The word "Hungarian" is thought to be derived from the Bulgar-Turkic Onogur, possibly because the Magyars were neighbours (or confederates) of the Empire of the Onogurs in the sixth century, whose leading tribal union was called the "Onogurs" (meaning "ten tribes" or "ten arrows" in Old Turkic; see below).

The "H-" prefix in many languages (Hungarians, Hongrois, Hungarus etc.) is a later addition. It was taken over from the name of the Huns, a semi-nomadic tribe that briefly lived in the area of present-day Hungary and, according to medieval legends, were the people from which the Magyars arose. The identification of the Hungarians with the Huns has often occurred in historiography and literature. Hun names like Attila and Réka have been popular among Hungarians to this day. The identification began to be disputed in the late nineteenth century and is still a source of major controversy among scholars about the nature of the connection between the two.

"Magyar" is the term Hungarians use, in the Hungarian language, to refer to themselves or to their language. In English they are generally referred to as Hungarians, although the word Magyar is also frequently used when referring to the Hungarian ethnicity, and, in a broader context, when describing the ancient semi-nomadic Hungarian/Magyar tribes. Some sources claim "Magyar" to be the proper name of the ethnic group, although "Hungarian" took root in the English language over the centuries.

Several theories exist on the origin and meaning of the word "Magyar", in comparison, the etymology of the words Hungary and Hungarian is accompanied by less debate.

Ethnic affiliations and genetic origins

The Hungarians are widely believed to be descended from an Asiatic tribe that is thought to be a fusion of the Khazars, Avars, and the Ugrians. However, the origin of the Hungarians is partly disputed. The most widely-accepted Finno-Ugric theory of origin from the late nineteenth century is based primarily on linguistic and ethnographical arguments. Contesting these, the theory is criticized as relying too much on August Schleicher's Stammbaumtheorie of historical linguistics, and some cite that Finno-Ugric-speaking peoples have a wide range of cultural, ethnic and genetic variation. It should also be noted that though old and modern-day Hungarians have a predominantly European genetic makeup, one researcher states that about 13% of the population have retained the other Uralic language speakers' genes, while another sees no genetic continuity. There are also other theories stating that the Hungarians are descendants of Scythians, Huns and/or Avars.

The Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric group of languages. The closest related languages are the Khanty language (or Ostyak) and the Mansi language (or Vogul). According to a genetic study published in 2000 in the American academic journal Science, the ancestors of Hungarians appeared in Europe around 40,000 years ago and genetically, the most closely related ethnic groups are Poles, Croats, Ukrainians, and other surrounding ethnic groups. However, linguist András Róna-Tas notes that no historic conclusions may be drawn yet based on genetic research. Based on the Kosztolnyik's research , not so long ago, historical research concluded the term "magyar" derived from the name of (prince) Muageris (also known as Mugel), by arguing that "Muageris" had to be a personal name taken from the descriptive designation of a people. It presented the hypothesis that the Huns in the Crimea were, really, the Onogurs, and the names of the two princes mentioned by Malalas (Grodas and Muageris – Hunnic rulers ) as living in the region of Maeotian Lake (Sea of Azov) and of the Kuban stream during the earlier half of the sixth century, actually referred to people under the rule of the Magyar (Muageris) tribe.

The Old Hungarian script (in Hungarian known as rovásírás, or székely rovásírás, székely-magyar rovás; for short also simply rovás "notch, score") is an alphabetic writing system used by the Magyars in the Early Middle Ages (7th to 10th centuries). Because it is reminiscent of the runic alphabet, the Old Hungarian script has also popularly been called "Hungarian runes" or "Hungarian runic script".
The script is thought to be derived from the Old Turkic script, and probably first appeared during the 7th century. The Hungarians settled the Pannonian plain in 895. With the establishment of the Kingdom of Hungary in AD 1000 and the adoption of the Latin alphabet with Christianization, the script fell into disuse. In remote regions of Transylvania, however, the script remained in marginal use by the Székely Magyars at least into the 17th century - hence the name székely rovásírás.

Read more about the "LANGUAGE" theme of this blog !

Closest related people : the Khanty & Mansi

At the time of the Hungarian conquest in Europe the life style, the culture, the language and the faces of the Magyars (morphologically) were all similar to their relatives, the Khanties and Mansis. That is why we use to compare and use for example khanti/mansi people. By that we understand more the roots, the heritage, the origin of the Magyars.

Khanty / Hanti (obsolete: Ostyaks) are an indigenous people calling themselves Khanti, Khande, Kantek (Khanty), living in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, a region historically known as "Yugra" in Russia, together with Mansi peoples. In the autonomous okrug, the Khanty and Mansi languages are given co-official status with Russian. In the 2002 Census, 28,678 persons identified themselves as Khanty. Of those, 26,694 were resident in Tyumen Oblast, of which 17,128 were living in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and 8,760 in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. 873 were residents of neighbouring Tomsk Oblast, and 88 lived in the Komi Republic.

Khanty or Xanty language, also known previously as the Ostyak language, is a language of the Khant peoples. It is spoken in Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous okrugs, as well as in Aleksandrovsky and Kargosoksky districts of Tomsk Oblast in Russia. According to the 1994 Salminen and 1994 Janhunen study, there were 12,000 Khanty-speaking people in Russia. The Khanty and Mansi languages are the Ob Ugric (Ob Ugrian) members of the Uralic languages. Their nearest related language is Hungarian.

The Mansi language (also Vogul, although this is obsolete) is a language of the Mansi people. It is spoken in territories of Russia along the Ob River and its tributaries, including the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug and the Sverdlovsk Oblast. According to the 1990 census, there were 3,184 Mansi-speaking people in Russia.
The Mansi language belongs to the Ob-Ugric subfamily of the Finno-Ugric languages. It is subdivided into four main dialects (East, South, West and North Mansi) which are mutually unintelligible, of which Southern and Western are extinct. The base dialect of the Mansi literary language is the Sosva dialect; the discussion below is based on the standard language. Fixed word order is typical for the Mansi language. Adverbials and participles play an important role in sentence construction. The written language was first published in 1868, and in 1937 was revised using a form of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Khanty ficherman :

Khanty fisherman

Fish trap or fish pot (varsa in Hungarian) from wooden wands. Some years ago Hungarians still used the same technic with similar objects :

Khanty fish trap
Khanty fish trap

The indispensable everyday used Khanty ski. With the time the Hungarians became less talented for this sport :

Khanty ski

More images and sources :

Khanty tent on the North Yamal peninsula. With the time the Hungarians have changed their customs, they started to construct yurtas, influence by the relation with altaiic peoples (source ici) :

Khanty tent 1
Khanty tent 2

We still can find the same style of headstones (totem, idol by wood) in Hungarian cemeteries like this one on the picture somewhere in Mansi land :

Mansi wooden headstone

This is in a cemetery in Karcag (East Hungary) :

Hungarian wooden headstone

More images and sources :
Mansi woman plays mansi music :

Mansi song :

For the language similarities, read more about in the related article here : The Hungarian language !

Pre-fourth century AD

Sometime during the fourth millennium BC, the Uralic-speaking peoples who were living in the central and southern regions of the Urals split up. The peoples speaking Finno-Ugric languages dispersed primarily towards the west and northwest and came into contact with Iranian speakers who were spreading northwards. From at least 2000 BC onwards, the Ugrian speakers became distinguished from the rest of the Finno-Ugric community. Judging by evidence from burial mounds and settlement sites, they interacted with the Andronovo Culture.

Fourth century to c.830 AD

In the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the Magyars moved to the west of the Ural Mountains to the area between the southern Ural Mountains and the Volga River known as Bashkiria (Bashkortostan) and Perm Krai.

In the early eighth century, some of the Magyars moved to the Don River to an area between the Volga, Don and the Seversky Donets rivers. Meanwhile, the descendants of those Magyars who stayed in Bashkiria remained there as late as 1241. As a consequence, earlier scholarship considered the Magyars and the Bashkirs as two branches of the same nation. The earlier Bashkirs, however, were decimated during the Mongol invasion of Europe (thirteenth century) and assimilated into Turkic peoples.

The Magyars around the Don River were subordinates of the Khazar khaganate. Their neighbours were the archaeological Saltov Culture, i.e. Bulgars (Proto-Bulgarians, descendants of the Onogurs) and the Alans, from whom they learned gardening, elements of cattle breeding and of agriculture. The Bulgars and Magyars shared a long-lasting relationship in Khazaria, either by alliance or rivalry. The system of two rulers (later known as kende and gyula) is also thought to be a major inheritance from the Khazars. Tradition holds that the Magyars were organized in a confederacy of tribes called hétmagyar (lit. seven Hungarians). The tribes of the hétmagyar were: Jenő, Kér, Keszi, Kürt-Gyarmat, Megyer, Nyék, and Tarján. The confederacy was formed as a border defending allies of Khazaria mainly during the reign of Khagan Bulan and Ovadyah, with the Magyar tribe as ascendant.

c.830 to c.895

Around 830, a civil war broke out in the Khazar khaganate. As a result, three Kabar tribes out of the Khazars joined the Magyars and they moved to what the Magyars call the Etelköz, i.e. the territory between the Carpathians and the Dnieper River (today's Ukraine).
Around 854, the Magyars had to face a first attack by the Pechenegs. According to other sources, this was the reason for the departure of the Magyars to Etelköz.
The new neighbours of the Magyars were the Vikings and the eastern Slavs. Archaeological findings suggest that the Magyars entered into intense interaction with both groups. From 862 onwards, the Magyars (already referred to as the Ungri) along with their allies, the Kabars, started a series of looting raids from the Etelköz to the Carpathian Basin–mostly against the Eastern Frankish Empire (Germany) and Great Moravia, but also against the Balaton principality and Bulgaria.
At this time, both the Kabars and earlier the Bulgars may have taught the Magyars their Turkic languages; according to the Finno-Ugric theory, this is used to account for at least three hundred Turkic words and names still in modern Hungarian.
Magyars could start to pick up Slave words at this time too.

Magyars' migration from origin to Europe & their settlements by period :

Migration of the Magyars

How Magyars looked like at the time of the conquest :

Conquest of the Magyars

Sources :

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