Hungarian invasions of Europe

Hungarian raids in the 9–10th century
Hungarian tribes
Principality of Hungary
Kingdom of Italy
East Francia
Middle Francia
Great Moravia
Byzantine Empire
Catalan Counties
Upper March of Al-Andalus
First Bulgarian Empire
West Francia
Lower Pannonia
Principality of Littoral Croatia
Kingdom of Croatia
Principality of Serbia
Duchy of Carinthia
Commanders and leaders
Berengar I of Italy
Louis the Child
Luitpold, Margrave of Bavaria
Arnulf, Duke of Bavaria
Henry the Fowler
Otto the Great
Conrad, Duke of Lorraine
Muncimir of Croatia
Tomislav of Croatia
Časlav of Serbia
Abd al-Rahman III
Boris I of Bulgaria
Simeon I of Bulgaria
Bardas Skleros
~25,000 warriors maximum (but variable) ~40,000 (variable)
Casualties and losses
Mostly not significant Mostly heavy.
Some villages and cities burned.

The Hungarian invasions of Europe (Hungarian: kalandozások, German: Ungarneinfälle) took place in the 9th and 10th centuries, the period of transition in the history of Europe in the Early Middle Ages, when the territory of the former Carolingian Empire was threatened by invasion from multiple hostile forces, the Magyars (Hungarians) from the east, the Viking expansion from the north, and the Arabs from the south.[1][2]

The Hungarians took possession of the Carpathian Basin (corresponding to the later Kingdom of Hungary) in a pre-planned manner, with a long move-in between 862–895, and launched a number of campaigns both westward into former Francia and southward into the Byzantine Empire. The westward raids were stopped only with the Magyar defeat of the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, which led to the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in 962, a new political order in Western Europe. The raids into Byzantine territories continued throughout the 10th century, until the eventual Christianisation of the Magyars and the establishment of the Christian Kingdom of Hungary in 1000 or 1001.


Before the conquest of Hungary (9th century)

See also: Hungarian prehistory

The Hungarians at Kiev (Pál Vágó, 1896-99)

The first supposed reference to the Hungarians in war is in the 9th century: in 811, the Hungarians (Magyars) were in alliance with Krum of Bulgaria against Emperor Nikephoros I possibly at the Battle of Pliska in the Haemus Mountains (Balkan Mountains).[3] Georgius Monachus' work mentions that around 837 the Bulgarian Empire sought an alliance with the Hungarians.[3][4] Constantine Porphyrogenitus wrote in his work On Administering the Empire that the Khagan and the Bek of the Khazars asked the Emperor Teophilos to have the fortress of Sarkel built for them.[4] This record is thought to refer to the Hungarians on the basis that the new fortress must have become necessary because of the appearance of a new enemy of the Khazars, and no other people could have been the Khazars’ enemy at that time.[4] In the 10th century, Ahmad ibn Rustah wrote that "earlier, the Khazars entrenched themselves against the attacks of the Magyars and other peoples".[4]

In 860–861, Hungarian soldiers attacked Saint Cyril's convoy but the meeting is said to have ended peacefully.[3] Saint Cyril was traveling to the Khagan at (or near) Chersonesos Taurica, which had been captured by the Khazars. Muslim geographers recorded that the Magyars regularly attacked the neighboring East Slavic tribes, and took captives to sell to the Byzantine Empire at Kerch.[5][6] There is some information about Hungarian raids into the eastern Carolingian Empire in 862.[7]

In 881, the Hungarians and the Kabars invaded East Francia and fought two battles, the former (Ungari) at Wenia (probably Vienna)[7] and the latter (Cowari) at Culmite (possibly Kulmberg or Kollmitz in Austria).[8] In 892, according to the Annales Fuldenses, King Arnulf of East Francia invaded Great Moravia and the Magyars joined his troops.[4][7] After 893, Magyar troops were conveyed across the Danube by the Byzantine fleet and defeated the Bulgarians in three battles (at the Danube, Silistra and Preslav).[6] In 894, the Magyars invaded Pannonia in alliance with King Svatopluk I of Moravia.[4][7]

After the conquest of Hungary (10th century)

See also: Principality of Hungary and Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin

Fresco about a Hungarian warrior (Italy)
Europe around 900
Grand Prince Árpád's sculpture in Budapest

Around 896,[9] probably under the leadership of Árpád, the Hungarians (Magyars) crossed the Carpathians and entered the Carpathian Basin (the plains of Hungary, approximately).

In 899, these Magyars defeated Berengar's army in the Battle of Brenta River and invaded the northern regions of Italy. They pillaged the countryside around Treviso, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo and Milan.[6] They also defeated Braslav, Duke of Lower Pannonia. In 901, they attacked Italy again.[10] In 902, they led a campaign against northern Moravia and defeated the Moravians whose country was annihilated.[6] Almost every year after 900 they conducted raids against the Catholic west and Byzantine east. In 905, the Magyars and King Berengar formed an amicitia, and fifteen years passed without Hungarian troops entering Italy.[11]

The Magyars defeated no fewer than three large Frankish imperial armies between 907 and 910, as follows.[12] In 907 they defeated the invading Bavarians near Brezalauspurc, destroying their army, successfully defending Hungary and laying Great Moravia, Germany, France and Italy open to Magyar raids. On 3 August 908 the Hungarians won the Battle of Eisenach, Thuringia.[8] Egino, Duke of Thuringia was killed, along with Burchard, Duke of Thuringia and Rudolf I, Bishop of Würzburg.[13] The Magyars defeated Louis the Child's united Frankish Imperial Army at the first Battle of Lechfeld in 910.

Smaller units penetrated as far as Bremen in 915.[14] In 919, after the death of Conrad I of Germany, the Magyars raided Saxony, Lotharingia and West Francia. In 921, they defeated King Berengar's enemies at Verona and reached Apulia in 922.[11] Between 917 and 925, the Magyars raided through Basel, Alsace, Burgundy, Provence and the Pyrenees.[14]

Around 925, according to the Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea from the late 12th century, Tomislav of Croatia defeated the Magyars in battle,[15] however others question the reliability of this account, because there is no proof for this interpretation in other records.[15]

In 926, they ravaged Swabia and Alsace, campaigned through present-day Luxembourg and reached as far as the Atlantic Ocean.[11] In 927, Peter, brother of Pope John X, called on the Magyars to rule Italy.[11] They marched into Rome and imposed large tribute payments on Tuscany and Tarento.[11][14] In 933, a substantial Magyar army appeared in Saxony (the pact with the Saxons having expired) but was defeated by Henry I at Merseburg.[11] Magyar attacks continued against Upper Burgundy (in 935) and against Saxony (in 936).[11] In 937, they raided France as far west as Reims, Lotharingia, Swabia, Franconia, the Duchy of Burgundy[16] and Italy as far as Otranto in the south.[11] They attacked Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire, reaching the walls of Constantinople. The Byzantines paid them a “tax” for 15 years.[17] In 938, the Magyars repeatedly attacked Saxony.[11] In 940, they ravaged the region of Rome.[11] In 942, Hungarian raids on Spain, particularly in Catalonia,[18] took place, according to Ibn Hayyan's work.[19] In 947, Bulcsú, a chieftain of Taksony, led a raid into Italy[20] as far as Apulia, and King Berengar II of Italy had to buy peace by paying a large amount of money to him and his followers.

The Battle of Lechfeld in 955, in which the Magyars lost approximately 5,000 warriors, finally checked their expansion, although raids on the Byzantine Empire continued until 970. Lechfeld is south of Augsburg in present-day southern Germany.

Between 899 and 970, according to the contemporary sources, the researchers count 45 (according to Nagy Kálmán) or 47 (according to Szabados György 38 to West and 9 to East)[21] raids in different parts of Europe. From these campaigns only 8 (17.5%) were unsuccessful (901, 913, 933, 943, 948, 951, 955, 970) and 37 ended with success (82.5%).[22]

Timeline of the Hungarian invasions

Before the Hungarian Conquest

The Hungarian campaign of 894
The military events of the Hungarian Conquest in 894-895

After the Hungarian Conquest

The Hungarian campaign in Italy, with the Battle of Brenta, then the campaign which resulted the capture of Dunántúl.
The Hungarian campaign in Saxony of 906
The Hungarian campaign of 910, which resulted the Hungarian victories from Augsburg and Rednitz.
The Hungarian campaigns from 915 in the Eastern Frankish kingdom and Italy.
The Hungarian campaigns in Europe in 917
The Hungarian campaign in Europe of 919–920, which resulted in the Hungarian victories of Püchen against the king of East Francia and of 920 against the Burgundian king from 920 in Italy.
The Hungarians campaigns of 924 in Italy, Burgundy, Southern France and Saxony
The Hungarian campaign in Europe in 926
The Hungarian campaigns of 927 in Italy and the Balkans
The Hungarian campaign of 934 against Bulgaria and the Byzantine empire, which resulted the start of the Byzantine tribute towards the Hungarians.
The Hungarian campaign in Europe from 936–937
The Hungarian campaign in Italy, Burgundy, Southern France and Spain in 942.
The Hungarian campaign in Europe of 954
The Hungarian campaign in the German kingdom from 955
The Hungarian campaign in the Balcans from 968


Hungarian warriors (oil on canvas)

Their army had mostly light cavalry and were highly mobile.[74] Attacking without warning, they quickly plundered the countryside and departed before any defensive force could be organized.[74] If forced to fight, they would harass their enemies with arrows, then suddenly retreat, tempting their opponents to break ranks and pursue, after which the Hungarians would turn to fight them singly.[74] This tactic is formally known as a feigned retreat.

„protect us from the arrows of the Hungarians”

— Hymn from Modena, around 900[75]


The Hungarians were the last invading people to establish a permanent presence in Central Europe.[74] Paul K. Davis writes, the "Magyar defeat (at the Battle of Lechfeld) ended more than 90 years of their pillaging western Europe and convinced survivors to settle down, creating the basis for the state of Hungary."[76] In the following centuries, the Hungarians adopted western European forms of feudal military organization, including the predominant use of heavily armored cavalry.[74]


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