When the Magyar people entered the land of Europe, they seemed a part of the Turkic hordes roaming between South-Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Greater evidence points to Asia as the Magyar's original homeland. Exactly what part of Asia has been a matter of dispute for generations, but it is clear that the Magyars came from the East. The horse was the most important animal to the Magyars. They both traveled and fought on horseback during their long migrations from the east and eventually into what is present day Hungary. Their weapons and style of fighting were identical with those of the Huns, Avars and other mounted nomadic peoples. But the Magyars were a distinct group separate from the Huns, Avars and Turks.
The most widely accepted theory of the Magyar's origin is the Finno-Ugrian concept. Advocates of this theory believe the linguistic and ethnic kinship between the Hungarians and the Finns, Esthonians, Ostyaks and Voguls provide evidence for the origin of the Magyars. This relation of the Magyars with the Finns places the ancient homeland of the Finno-Ugrians on both sides of the southern Ural Mountains. The advocates of this theory insist that Magyars came from this group in the Urals, and as the theory explains, it was about 2000 B.C. that the Finnish branch broke away to settle in the Baltic area. The Magyars remained on the West Siberian steppes with the other Ugrian peoples until 500 B.C. It was then that the Magyars crossed the Urals westward to settle in what is present day Soviet Bashkiria, north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus. The Magyars remained here for centuries with the various Ural-Altaic peoples such as the Huns, Turkic Bulgars, Alans and Onogurs. The Magyars soon adopted many cultural traits and customs of these people and it was from the region of Soviet Bashkiria that the Magyars started their migration westward toward the Carpathians.
After World War II, the Finno-Ugrian theory was challenged by scholars who argued that the Finno-Ugrian theory was based on linguistics alone, without support in anthropology, archeology or written records.
Scholars known as orientalists believe that the origin of Magyars and their language is not found in the Urals, but in Central Asia known as the Turanian Plain or Soviet Turkestan which stretches from the Caspian Sea eastward to Lake Balchas. Ancient history has traditionally called this region Scythia. Folklore holds that the Magyars are related to the Scythians who built the great empire of the 5th century B.C. After the Scythian empire dissolved, the Turanian Plain witnessed the rise and fall of empires built between the first and ninth centuries A.D. by the Huns, Avars, Khazars and various Turkic peoples, including the Uygurs. The Magyars subsequently absorbed much of the culture and tradition of these peoples and many Onogur, Sabir, Turkic, and Ugrian people were assimilated with the Magyars, resulting in the Magyar amalgam, which entered the Carpathian Basin in the later half of the ninth century A.D.
Scholars of Far Eastern history believe that the Magyars were also exposed to the Sumerian culture in the Turanian Plain. Linguists of the 19th century, including Henry C. Rawlinson, Jules Oppert, Eduard Sayous and Francois Lenormant found that knowledge of the Ural-Altaic languages such as Magyar, helps to decipher Sumerian writings. Cunei form writing was found to be used by the Magyars long before they entered the Carpathian Basin. The similarity of the two languages has led orientalists to form a Sumerian-Hungarian connection. The orientalists speculate that a reverse of the Finno-Ugrian theory may be possible. The theory holds that if the proto-Magyars were neighbors of the proto-Sumerians in the Turanian Plain, then the evolution of the Hungarian language must have been a result of Sumerian rather than Finno-Ugrian influences. The theory in turn holds that rather than being the recipients of a Finno-Ugrian language, it was the Magyars who imparted their language to the Finns and Estonians without being ethnically related to them. What scholars site for added evidence for this theory is the fact that the Magyars have always been numerically stronger than their Finno-Ugrian neighbors combined. The theory believes that the Finns and Ugors received linguistic strains from a Magyar branch who had broken away from the main body on the Turanian Plan, and migrated to West Siberia.
The Magyar-Uygur Theory
The connection between the Magyars and the Uygurs tie Hungarians even closer to Asia. The Uygurs are people who live in the Xinjiang province of China. The Uygurs are Caucasian in appearance and maintain a Turkic language. To the north of the Uygar's border stretches the Dzungarian Basin which has a striking similarity to the word Hungarian. Northeast of the Dzungaria lies the Altai Mountain Range, a name used by linguists to define the Ural-Altaic language group to which the Magyar language belongs. Further up to the north stretches the Lake Baykal region where first the Scythians, then the Huns emerged to conquer the Turanian Plain. The Magyars, Uygurs and the Turks may also have started their migrations from the northeastern part of the Baykal area.
Further anthropological, archeological and linguistic research must be conducted on this theory, but is limited by the little access the Chinese government grants foreigners to the region. There are, however, many Asiatic influences seen among Hungarians today. Hungarian legends and folk tales are strikingly similar to those of Asian peoples. The structure of Magyar folk music, which uses the pentatonic scale, also points to Asian origins. The beautiful gates of the Székely people in Transylvania bear a strong resemblance to those in the pagodas of China. The ornate tombstones carved from wood are also similar to those seen in Chinese cemeteries. The Hungarian cuisine shows traces of Asia in its use of strong spices such as paprika, pepper, saffron, and ginger.
The Hun-Avar Theory
Much of this theory has been perpetuated by folk tale. Most Hungarians today can tell the story of the Legend of the White Stag. The story describes how two sons of Nimrod, Hunor and Magor, were lured for days into a new land by a fleeing white stag. The stag suddenly vanishes without trace. But the disappointed young hunters hear laughing and singing. The two dismount and follow the laughing until they come across a lake in which two beautiful maidens are splashing. The two hunters take the maidens as wives. The Huns are Hunor's descendent, and the Magyars are Magor's descendents. There are variations on the folk tale including Simon Kézai's version in his 1283 chronicle, Gesta Hungarorum. The same mythical tale takes on a slightly somber and more realistic approach. Hunor and Magor are Chief Ménrót's grown up sons who had reached maturity and had moved into a separate tent. "One day it happened that, as they were going out to hunt, a hind suddenly appeared in front of them on the plains, and as they undertook to pursue her, she fled from them into the Maeotian marshes. Since she completely disappeared there from their eyes, they searched for her a long time but could not chance upon her traces. After having traversed the said marshes, they decided the marshes were suitable for raising livestock. They returned to their father, and securing his consent, they moved into the Maeotian marshes with all their animals to settle down there. The region of Maeotis is a neighbor of Persia. Apart from a very narrow wading place, it is enclosed by the sea everywhere. It has absolutely no streams, but it teems with grass, trees, fish, fowl, and game. Access to and exit from it is difficult. Thus settling in the Maeotian marshes, Hunor and Magor did not move from there for five years. In the sixth year they wandered out, and by chance they came upon the wives and children of Belárs sons, who stayed at home without their men folk. Quickly galloping off with them and their belongings, they carried them off into the Maeotian marshes. It so happened that among the children they also seized the two daughters of Dula, the Prince of the Alans. Hunor married one and Magor the other. All the Huns descend from these women."
From Hunor came the great and dreaded leader Attila. After the kingdom of Attila fell apart shortly after his death, further waves of people moved in to the Carpathian Basin but all were crushed by the Avars, a quickly emerging branch of the Ural-Altaic group. The Avars founded and empire on top of what used to be Attila's-the region between the Danube and the Tisza rivers. The Avars even used a weapon perfected by the Huns, the curved sabre gladicus hunnicus. The Avars downfall, however, was hastened by the development of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire. The Avars and Charlemagne's army went to battle from 796 to 803 A.D. The Avars were finally defeated by the Frankish troops and most Avar tribes returned to the slopes of the Caucasian Mountains. Others stayed and mingled with the Slavs of the area and later with the Magyars. When the Magyar tribes arrived under Árpád, they found a sparse population including many Avars. According to the Teri-i-Üngürüsz chronicle, "When they arrived in the land, they saw its many rivers teeming with fish, the land rich in fruits and vegetables, and members of other tribes, some of whom understood their language."
This theory of Hun-Avar-Magyar progression into the Carpathian Basin, however, is only part of the story.
Black and White Magyars
The Chinese believed that there were five cardinal directions, the fifth being "the center of the universe", China itself. Each of the five directions was symbolized by a color. The central point, China, was indicated by yellow, for the gold that befit His Imperial Highness. The North, shrouded in dark Arctic nights, was black. The West was designated as white, a color that reflected the blinding white sands of the vast deserts on the western horizon. Red represented the sun of the South, and the East was symbolized by blue, the color of the ocean eternally washing China's eastern shores.
Based on these color symbols, the White Magyars (or White Ugurs) represented the Western branch of their race. According to ancient Russian chronicles, the White Magyars appeared in the Carpathian Basin as early as 670-680 A.D., first with the Bulgars, and later with the Avars. The second branch of Magyar tribes-called Black Magyars in ancient Russian chronicles-took a different route. The directions of that route are still debated by Finno-Ugrian and orientalist theorists, but the end result was that the Black Magyars became connected with peoples belonging to the Ural-Altaic groups. These included a range of peoples from Manchuria to Turkey.
Among these groups the Finno-Ugrian/Magyars drew closest to the Turks, who were warriors with a talent for statecraft. This association with the Turks created a new blend of Magyar: Finno-Ugrian in language but Ural-Altaic in culture. This was the strain of Magyars that in 895 A.D. would ride into the Carpathian Basin under Árpád-following the footsteps of the White Magyars who appeared in the Carpathian Basin in the 670s A.D. Árpád's Magyars has been termed by some modern historians as the second wave in a two-phased conquest of the Hungarian homeland. Whether this theory is correct or not, it seems fairly certain that the Szeklers (székelyek) had been long-time inhabitants of Transylvania before the Magyars arrived.
Sources: István Lázár, "Hungary: A Brief History" Corvina Books, Budapest: 1990, pp. 11-35.
Stephen Sisa, "The Spirit of Hungary" Vista Books, New Jersey: 1995, pp 1-6.