Before the Magyars

What language was spoken in Hungary before the Magyar conquest?

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41 Responses to Before the Magyars

  1. Optimate Sila says:


    • krakonos says:

      At least in some parts. But How do we define “Hungary”? By current borders, greatest extent during Austria(-Hungarian) Empire, medieval times?

      Some words in Hungarian are Slavic by origin. I remember only days of week. But there should be many more…

      • R. says:

        Some words?


        IIRC, practically all of farming-related vocabulary is slavic.

        Their word for smith, kovács, is also of slavic origin. It sounds the same as in Slovak, very similar to Czech kovář. Polish kowal is a bit different.

        It seems that before they settled in Panonia they weren’t seriously into using iron nor into farming. The latter is understandable but the former is seriously weird, I believe they must have been using iron and steel before coming west. Everybody was, so why then would they borrow the word for smith from slavic?

        • R. says:

          Well I looked it up and only ~50% of their farming vocabulary has slavic roots. Animal husbandry is mostly turkic or uralic or so, suggesting they weren’t that into farming before meeting Slavs.

  2. Part of Hungary falls within the range of core Hallstatt Celtic culture; all of it falls within the maximum Celtic range, pre-Romans. Then the Roman conquered it, then the Huns, then the wandering Germanics. Then something something Francia, Bulgaria, Moravia, Slavs… My best guess based on the history is a patchwork of Romance (eg, the Vlachs,) Germanic, Slavic, and whatever the Huns and Bulgars spoke–Turkic?. (Celtic seems to have been wiped out within its original range.) Apparently some folks who spoke a language similar to modern Hungarian (the Székely) were already there when the Magyars arrived, as well.

  3. Andrei says:

    Slavic mainly, on account of it being the lingua franca of the Avar khanate (see Curta – Making of the Slavs). Also (as in bilingualism along Slavic) Early Romanian accros the entire lands east of the Danube, some small pockets of other, more urbanite, Romance speakers west of the Danube (Kesthely culture – language more akin to Italo-Dalmatian than Romanian), Bulgar (if not fully Slavicised), Germanic and Avar spots

    • szopeno says:

      “Slavic mainly, on account of it being the lingua franca of the Avar khanate ”

      Soooo because one guy created a crazy theory that Slavic was lingua france of Avar Khanate, this means you can use that theory to support another theory?

      I’d say Slavic, but based on DNA data (quite similar to neighbouring Slavic nations) and archeology.

      • Andrei says:

        It was the lingua franca of the entire Lower Danube region after the fall of the limes in the 6th century. You bring up genetic evidence, but don’t forget that just S of the Pannonian plain the Slavic-speaking Croats, Serbs and Bulgarians are genetically-spealng Balkan, not “Slavic”…

      • protokol2020 says:

        Here I have calculated “haplo-euclidean distances” between Europeans. Quote:

        “Hungary: 9.22 Moldova; 10.44 Czech-Republic; 11.45 Slovenia; 14. Slovakia; 17.41 Gagauzes; 19.9 Ukraine; 20.1 Romania; 20.3 Austria;”

        Mostly Slavic proximities.

  4. Ecgwine says:

    No single language. Pannonia was the main artery of the steppe invasions throughout the 5th to 9th centuries, the Magyars just happened to be the last to arrive.
    There was a surviving Latin (Romance) speaking community around Lake Balaton (Keszthely culture), but Pannonia as a whole would have been a patchwork or amalgam of Huns, Goths, Avars, Slavs and what have you. Doubtful if anything of the pre-Roman Pannonian language (of unknown “Thraco-Illyrian” affiliation) was left.

  5. dearieme says:

    “What language was spoken in Hungary before the Magyar conquest?” Why “language” in the singular?

  6. catte says:

    According to Hungarian primary sources Gesta Hungarorum, by Anonymous, and Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum, by Simon de Keza, upon their arrival in the Eastern Carpathian Basin and in Pannonia around 895, the Hungarians are said to have encountered a mixed population of Slavs, Romanians/Vlachs, as well as certain Turkic tribes such as the Bulgars and possibly the Avars.[56][57] The Russian Primary Chronicle, by Nestor, also suggests a Romanian and Slavic presence[58]. The Magyars advancing through the Carpathian Basin also are said to have encountered the Hungarian-speaking / ethnically related Székely people who inhabited the land at that time.[59]

    • j says:

      Yes, also Hungarian historians adopt the same scenario. The Szekely people occupied what now is Transylvania, and the Alfold lowlands were peopled by remnants of the Huns, also speaking Hungarian. They were eventually decimated by the Mongol and Turkish invasions, and the area was re-populated by Slavs, Germans, Rus, etc. from borderland newcomers.

      • Andrei says:

        The Szekely reached their current position in Eastern Transylvania in the 12th century. Between the 11th and the 12th century they were located along a N-S line in Central-Western Transylvania that corresponded to the then-borders of the Kingdom of Hungary. This is because they were used as a vanguard during the KoH expansion, and this is why there were also Szekelys in what is now Slovakia (the N borders of KoH) and Serbia (the S border of KoH). Before that they were found in Hungary proper (Pannonia), whether as remnants of Avars or Huns (unlikely) or the first incomers of a migratory wave that contained the (probably Turkic-speaking) tribe called “Magyars”, the ethnonym of which established itself (only as endonym, though; the exonym is derived from the Onogurs) for the entire population. This is in the logic of nomadic confederations: late joiners or subjected tribes were used as vanguard/expendable forces by the core. The Szekelys likely were one such tribe, more specifically the three Kabar (Khazar) tribes that joined the confederation of seven Turkic and Ugric tribes of the “Magyars”. Historically (until the age of nationalism), the Szekelys were always and unanimously considered a separate nation from the Magyars.

        • j says:

          The fact that the Szekely established military settlements to guard the borders, such as the seven villages in what is Moldova, is no indication of their expendability. They were the vanguard of the Hungarian nation, and the nucleus of the “true”, unmixed Hungarian people. Homologous to the Russian kozaks .

  7. inertial says:

    Another interesting question: what language did the Magyars speak? Is there evidence that they spoke Hungarian, as opposed to Turkic?

    • sansdomino says:

      Weakly so, but yes: per the ethnonym Magyar itself (first recorded already in pre-invasion Arab sources), which has no Turkic etymology and is generally agreed to be cognate to the name of the Mansi in western Siberia.

      Of course clearly identifiable Hungarian as recorded from 1055 on also has to have come from somewhere. So who and when, if not with the Magyar invasion of 896?

  8. I am not an expert, but I wanna play too:
    Old Iranian Dialect:
    Dacian, Greek, Latin:
    Romance Pannonian language:

  9. Halvorson says:

    There are a large number of Slavic derived hydronyms in Hungary, many more than there are Germanic or Turkic ones.

    Click to access icos23_454.pdf

  10. mapman says:

    The conquest was of the lands populated mainly by Slavs. Is there a reason to believe otherwise?

  11. j says:

    Hungarian historian László Gyula writes that the Magyar tribes moving into the area were met by the Szekely and other Hungarian speaking peoples already settled there.

  12. mtkennedy21 says:

    Not an answer but I’m reading “The Sleepwalkers” about the origins of WWI and the Hungarian part of Austria Hungary created a lot of dissension by demanding that Magyar be a requirement in schools in Crooatia-Slovenian, ruled by Hungary at the time about 1911.

    • Bla says:

      You meant Croatia-Slavonia… Obligatory learning of Hungarian in (some) schools was, iirc, removed in 1903 (might be wrong).. However, knowledge of Hungarian was a precondition for railroad workers 1907-1913, and that caused a lot of dissension.

  13. Smithie says:

    I only recall two phrases of Hungarian: “coffee-maker” and “I am here.” Luckily for me, nobody has ever played the practical joke of blindfolding me and dropping me in the Hungarian countryside. Although, it probably wouldn’t be as funny today.

  14. The Vlachs practiced pastoral transhumance from the Balkans and the Carpathians, but they would have come more to the southern and eastern portions of what is now Hungary. They spoke a continuum of Romance dialects, influenced by Dacian, Latin, and Pannonian. Hunnic was most likely Turkic, but used to be thought to have been influenced by Ket, in Siberia.

    @ Smithie – I recall “breakfast,” “small,” “large” and “thank you.” I’d likely last longer than you.

  15. bolek says:

    Magyars conquered Slavic Great Moravia state. So the language was Slavic.

  16. MagyarFasz says:

    Hungarian researchers recently published a paper that claims to prove genetic continuity between the very same Huns that swept into Europe (and scared the piss out of the Romans in the 400s) and modern Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin.

    Basically, the paper suggests European Huns in situ were genetically and linguistically related to a small group of conquering Hungarians who upon arrival (circa late 800s) quickly assembled their tribal kinfolk and started raiding Western Europe (again). This Hunnish-Hungarian Continuity theory suggests that they were easily able to unite the tribes because of the linguistic and cultural similarities.

    This is in stark contrast to the more commonly accepted Hungarian Conquest Theory of Hungarian origins which has (also) a small group of Hungarians sweep into the Carpathian Basin, and conquer the existing Slavic, Germanic, Avar tribes and assimilate them linguistically and culturally by the usual means (kill the men, take the women).

    Politically speaking in Hungary the continuity theory is extremely controversial because the Hungarian right-wing have long propounded a variant of this theory with even some 19th century Hungarian linguists such as polymath Armin Vambery hypothesized as much from his study of Hungarian language.

    Left-wing Hungarians claim that continuity is the equivalent of a right-wing fairy tale, and the Hungarians have no cultural, linguistic and certainly no genetic relation to Attila’s Huns — other than they were another Asiatic nomadic horse-people.

    Paper is here:

    Click to access 250688.full.pdf

    Also includes facial recreations that appear to be accurate in that they show a people with mixed Asiatic and Caucasian features.

    • Jim says:

      The actual ethnic Huns seem to have been a small proportion of the population of the Hunnish Empire. According to accounts of Roman ambassadors the language spoken at Attila’s court was Gothic and most of the courtiers were Gothic. “Attila” itself is a Gothic word formed from the root “atta-” meaning “father” and a diminutive “-la”, so meaning “daddy” or “papa”. There are many more remains of burials of Germans as opposed to ethnic Huns in the area.

      So after the successful rebellions of various Gothic tribes following the death of Attila (about 450 AD) it seems unlikely that a significant population of ethnic Huns survived to the arrival of the Magyars about 900 AD.

      • MagyarFasz says:

        Certainly interesting.

        I am not sold on the etymology of the name Attila being Gothic — “ata” is Turkish for “forefather” or “ancestor”, and “atya” is father in Hungarian, as in founding father (alapító atya) or as a priest, eg Father Francis would be “Ferenc atya”. Biological father in Hungarian is “apa”.

  17. Philip Neal says:

    How much information is there? I do not know Hungarian, but I know that the corpus of the Hungarian language before printing consists of the ‘codex’ literature, a small number of large manuscripts containing charters, sermons, translations and the like. A national treasure, but there is no Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede or Alfredian Orosius to tell you where the Magyars thought their language came from.

    You can only go by identifying and excluding the loanwords, and a large number (e.g. kovacs, ‘smith’) seem to be Slavic. The real puzzle is the non-loanwords, particularly words for species of tree, which historical phonology shows beyond reasonable doubt to be the oldest layer and to be related to Finnish, Estonian and minor languages of the forested zone of Russia north of the steppes.

    It is at least conceivable that successive invaders adopted the language of the conquered, and that a language of the northern forests is spoken in Hungary because the Magyars found it there.

    • MagyarFasz says:


      What is interesting is that someone did the linguistic scut-work you suggest — and came to a radically different conclusion. Armin Vambery thought that Hungarian was Turkic in origin, and belonged to the Altaic language family and was not, as a point of fact, Ugric.


      “Abstract: In the English-speaking world Ármin Vámbéry is known as a traveler in Central Asia and a student of Turkic cultures and languages. In his native Hungary he is also known for his disagreement with linguists who believed that Hungarian belonged to the Ugric branch of the Finno-Ugric languages—a part of the Uralic linguistic family. Rather than accepting this theory, Vámbéry contended that Hungarian was largely a Turkic
      language that belonged more to the Altaic family. Few people know that Vámbéry also expressed strong opinions about the genesis of the Hungarian nation. The most important
      aspect of Vámbéry’s theory about Hungarian origins is the thesis that Hungarian ethnogenesis took place—beginning with late Roman times or even earlier—in the Carpathian Basin. A corollary of this proposition is that the nomadic tribes that conquered
      the Carpathian Basin at the end of the ninth century were Turkic peoples who were few in numbers and were assimilated by the region’s autochthonous—and by then Hungarian-
      speaking—population. This paper outlines Vámbéry’s arguments and describes to what extent research on this subject in the century since Vámbéry’s death has confirmed or contradicted his unconventional ideas.”

      • Jim says:

        No doubt the biological origins of humanity are in Hungary and I expect that Hungarian nationalists will soon discover the remains of the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark in downtown Budapest.

        • j says:

          Wrong, Jim, Hungarian nationalists posit that the cradle of the nation is in Etelkoz, literally Mesopotamia, may be somewhere between the Don and the Dnieper. The elite tribe of the invading hordes were Jewish (Khazar/Kabar), not yiddish speaking but Turkish speaking Krymchak Jews.

  18. magusjanus says:

    South of Karpashian mountains I’d imagine it was Nemedian, maybe some Hyperborean influence. Possibly a dialect of one of the Border Kingdoms?

  19. MagyarFasz says:

    Anyone interested in the ‘Dual Conquest’ Theory of Hungarian Origins should read this eminently readable piece by Hungarian-Canadian Nándor Dreisziger.

    “For almost a half-century now there has been a heated debate in Hungary as to when the ancestors of Hungarians arrived in their present homeland. In one camp in this war of words are the upholders of orthodoxy who claim that the Magyars came to the Carpathian Basin at the end of the 9th century A.D., while their opponents suggest that these ancestors, or at least most of them, had settled in that part of Europe much earlier. This latter hypothesis even has a name: the “dual conquest” theory of Hungarian ethnogenesis. The historiographical school holding these views is named after Gyula László (1910-1998) and his foremost disciple János Makkay (1933-). “Dual conquest” refers to László’s first formulation of his ideas, which suggested that some of the Hungarians’ ancestors entered the Carpathian Basin at the end of the 9th century, while others had come over two centuries earlier (in late Avar times). In his old age László revised his ideas and the phrase “dual conquest” acquired a different meaning.

    Since the death of László and the retirement of Makkay from active scholarly life, the dual conquest theory has fallen on hard times, and some of its detractors have been ready to declare it obsolete. In this paper I will argue that any such action would be premature. In fact, the contrary is the case, since in recent years much evidence has surfaced — mainly as the result of genetic and anthropological researches — suggesting that the ancestors of the Hungarians, or at least most of them, had indeed arrived in the Middle Danube Basin centuries, perhaps even many centuries, before 895.”

  20. Anonymous says:


  21. G.M. says:


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