Magyars - The Conquest: Honfoglalás
The Conquest - Honfoglalás

The Covenant of Blood
By 895 A.D. the Magyars had become a very well organized tribal alliance. Their society was divided into social structures that were administered by councils on the clan and tribal levels. Their leaders were empowered to take arbitrary measures in cases of emergency. They formed a democratic society that was constantly on military alert.

Knowing that difficult and dangerous times would likely be encountered in the future, the tribal chieftains decided to unite under a single Supreme Chief. There were 108 clans represented by the seven Magyar tribes and the three Kabar tribes that had recently joined with the Magyars. The chiefs assembled under a large tent, with their people as witnesses around its square perimeter. Each chief in turn slit his forearm, and let his blood flow into a cup. Last to contribute his blood was Árpád, their newly chosen leader. The táltos (shaman) who presided at this rite mixed wine with the blood that had thus been collected. He then poured a small amount of the mixture onto the ground, sprinkled a few drops north, south, east, and west, and then passed the cup to the chiefs, who drank from it one by one.

Árpád was the last to drink from the cup. According to custom, he was then raised on a shield and duly installed in his new role as Supreme Chief. This covenant of blood symbolically forged one nation to be known in due time as the Hungarian nation. This covenant meant that any land obtained by common effort would be shared fairly by all members of the nation. The land was to be held by individuals as their rightful property. The elected sovereign, Árpád, was to rule by the will of the nation rather than by absolute Diving Right, and Árpád's descendants would be hereditary rulers.

The covenant did not detail exact rules for succession since it was assumed that, according to tradition, the oldest able-bodied male of the family would inherit the leadership. This principle of succession, known as senioratus, was regarded as outdated in contemporary Europe, where the Christian rulers preferred the system of primogeniture, according to which the first-born son would inherit the throne. Conflict of succession of leadership of the Magyars would later result in bloody rivalries among Árpád's successors after the introduction of Christianity into Hungary.

With this election of their new leader Árpád, it was only a matter of time before the Hungarians would set forth to conquer new land. When the Pechenegs renewed their attacks in 895 A.D., Árpád alerted his people to prepare for the crossing of the Carpathians.

Crossing the Carpathians
The migration to the land beyond the Carpathians followed a thoughtfully prepared plan. The Carpathian Basin was first mapped out in detail. Logistic support had to be organized to provide enough food for a period of six months. Iron ore for arrowheads and other weapons were also among the essentials required to secure success for the great venture. When everything was ready, the Magyars did not journey all together in one direction, but advanced at timed intervals along several routes in a giant pincer movement. Their purpose was to keep the Pechenegs in the dark about their final destination, and simultaneously tie down the Bulgarians in the Balkans lest they interfere with the progress of the Magyars in the North. The latter was the more difficult task because the famous Tsar Simeon ruled over the Bulgars, who regarded the Carpathian Basin as a region within the Bulgarian sphere of influence.

The crossing of the Carpathians was a tremendous undertaking. Árpád's entire army consisted of about 20 thousand horsemen. It can be assumed that there were four or five peasants, as well as artisans, serving as support personnel behind each warrior horseman, the total number of Hungarians can be estimated at 100 thousand families, or about half a million persons. Other researchers number the Magyars at 350,000 to 450,000. Whatever the number, the people, who were accustomed only to the unending steppes, now had to struggle through dense forests and over the ridges of the mountains. Even now, with the established thoroughfares of modern times, crossing the Carpathians through the Verecke Pass crosses over the Latorca River and its tributaries forty times. Once over the mountains, the Magyars probably approached the area near the banks of the Danube and Tisza rivers by different routes.

Before the coming of the Magyars, the Carpathian Basin had never seen a lasting nation of people. When the Magyars entered the Basin, there was no central power in the area, only scattered ethnic groups governed by various rulers. Between the Danube and the Tisza, Prince Zalán reigned over Slavs and Bulgarians. In the East, King Marót ruled over the Moravians, while in Transylvania, Prince Gyelo governed scattered tribes. Pannonia, on the right bank of the Danube, was under Frankish influence, and on the left bank Szvatopluk II exercised power of the Slovaks in a sparsely settled area. One group after another the Magyars subdued. Prince Zalán posed the greatest challenge to the Magyars, who allied himself with the Greeks. Yet even this alliance was not enough to keep the Magyars away, and Zalán was routed after fierce fighting at Alpár.

In the Carpathian Basin, the Magyar numbers increased with the inclusion of the remnants of the once powerful Avars and Huns who had been scattered in the area. Some research has concluded that some of the people the Magyars found in the Carpathian Basin at this time were the descendents of the ancient White Magyars who arrived in the late seventh century with the Avars. Some modern historians assert that Árpád's people represented the second wave of a Magyar conquest (Kettos Honfoglalás).

Pannonia (Trans-Danubia), where Árpád had established his own tribe, became the pivotal center of the original Magyar settlements, with the remaining tribes distributing themselves throughout the country according to a preconceived plan. The homeland the Magyars had conquered provided everything they needed. It had a plentiful supply of water and land was suited very well for agriculture, cattle grazing and cattle breeding. The arc of the Carpathian Mountains even provided very good protection.

After the Magyar conquest had been complete and the people began to settle in the land, it was time to organize the government of the newly settled nation. Realizing the importance of planning for the future, Árpád convened the first Hungarian National Assembly in the year 902 A.D. in Pusztaszer, where some of the sessions over the next thirty-four days were held on horseback. Árpád established a very successful governing system and was described by Greek merchants to their emperor as "a man wise in mind and in council, eminently valiant and qualified for government." The Magyars, however, also gained quite the reputation during these years as a terror in Europe. Magyar raiders burnt and pillaged cities and villages in lands as far away as Castile and the Omayyad Caliphate in Spain, Burgundy in France and Apulia in South-Italy, though their most common targets were Germany, northern Italy and Byzantium. According to well-established practice among the Turkish nomads, the Magyars regularly pillaged a territory until its rulers felt compelled to purchase temporary tranquility by paying an annual levy.

When Árpád died in 907 A.D., he was buried with honor above the source of a small stream whose rocky bed runs through the ancient city of Buda. The exact spot is not known today, but a statue of Árpád depicting him atop of his horse stands in Budapest's Heroes Square built in 1896 to celebrate its millennium.

Stephen Sisa, "The Spirit of Hungary" Vista Books, New Jersey: 1995, pp 1-6.
László Kontler, "Millennium in Central Europe: A History of Hungary" Atlantisz Publishing House, Budapest: 1999, pp.38-39.
István Lázár, "Hungary: A Brief History" Corvina Books, Budapest: 1990, pp. 11-35.
György Balázs, "The Magyars" Corvina Books Ltd. Budapest: 1989, pp.7-9.