Inhabited by varied peoples since ancient times, the Hungary area has a very long history of occupations, rulers, territorial struggles and war.
In 20 BC, the Romans were aggressively expanding their empire to the north, and they conquered the Hungarian land west of the Danube by 9 BC.
As the Western Roman Empire fell into decline, a new era in European history began as less-powerful land grabbers from the east and north now found it easier to invade the continent.
The Hunnic Empire was a confederation of Eurasian tribes from the steppes of Central Asia, and in 435 AD, the Huns were the first to arrive here.
All empires eventually fade into the history books and the Huns were no exception. Some Germanic tribes, Slavs, and the Lombards followed them from Scandinavia.
In the middle of the 6th century the Eurasian Avars, an organized group of nomad warriors, first appeared in central Europe. They dominated these lands for some 250 years, until defeated by Charlemagne, the King of the Franks. A few Avars survived the destruction and remained in the area.
In 895, a semi-nomadic group of people led by Arpad, the leader of the Magyars, formed the Principality of Hungary; later transformed into a Christian realm during the early 10th century.
This now highly organized principality, with a new-found military force, conducted vigorous crusades from Constantinople, Turkey, to as far away as central Spain.
Stephen I, considered the founder of the Kingdom of Hungary, was the first King from 1000–1038. He greatly expanded Hungarian influence over parts of Austria, Croatia, Romania and Slovakia during his lifetime.
Stephen I divided the Hungarian land into counties, each with an appointed official (a landlord of sorts) that represented the king's authority. They would keep order in their individual county, collect the taxes, and so on....
This brilliant stroke of management turned Hungary into a strong, organized kingdom, one that could and did withstand attacks from marauding outsiders and nomadic tribes from the east.
Stephen I also brought Christianity to most of the region, and on August 20, 1083, Pope Gregory VII canonized Stephen I, together with his son, Saint Emeric of Hungary.
Over the next two centuries kings from the Arpad dynasty assumed the throne, including: Coloman the "Book-lover" (1095–1116), Bela III (1172–1192) and Andrew II (1205 to 1235).
In the middle of the 13th century King Bela IV had taken the throne, but then the Mongols invaded. Led by descendants of Genghis Khan, the Mongols decimated the land by destroying most of the settlements; few buildings survived. History records that up to half of Hungary's (then population) of 2,000,000 were victims of the Mongols.
The Cumans, a nomadic pagan tribe, and the Jassic people from Iran gathered together and successfully drove the Mongols out. King Bela quickly ordered the construction of hundreds of stone castles and brick fortifications, to defend against a possible second Mongol invasion.
And return they did in 1286, but this time the Mongols were thwarted by the series of new castles and fortifications, and by the heavily armed knights hired for protection by the king.
Over the next two centuries a series of Kings ruled Hungary, ending with King Matthias Corvinus. When he died without any males heirs Hungary started a period of decline, caused mainly by the growing and now-powerful Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Turks gained decisive victories over the Hungarian armies in the early 16th century, and when Budapest fell in 1526, Hungary was divided into three parts and remained so until the end of the 17th century.
In the north the Hapsburgs ruled, while in the east, the Principality of Transylvania was a semi-independent state subservient to the Ottoman Empire. The central lowlands became a subdivision of the Ottoman Empire, governed from Buda (Budapest).
Near the end of the 17th century, a league of factions organized by Pope Innocent XI, was sent to free Buda from Ottoman rule and reinstate the Catholic Church. By 1718, Ottoman control was greatly reduced in Hungary, and a large part of the population were reconverted to Catholicism.
Even after the-beginning-of-the-end for the Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburgs still controlled parts of Hungary. The Habsburgs were one of the most important aristocratic royal houses of Europe, best known for being the origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, and still controlled parts of Hungary.
The remaining inhabitants of any Ottoman ruled areas were now ethnic Hungarians, but their numbers were greatly reduced as Serbs and Slavs were sent by the Hapsburgs into the south, and scattered groups of Germans moved in across the country.
On March 15, 1848, The Hungarian Revolution began. The revolution grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire, ruled by the Habsburg monarchy. Many of the Revolution leaders are among the most respected national heroes in Hungarian history. In fact, March 15 is one of Hungary's three national holidays.
In the war the Hungarians were supported by the Croatian, Serbian and Russian peasants, as well as by the in-country Slovak and German nationals, and by the Jewish population.
In the beginning, the Hungarian forces had some success, but when the Hapsburg Emperor, Franz Joseph I, gained the support of Czar Nicholas I, and the Russian armies consequently invaded Hungary, well, the end was near.
The Hungarian forces were now defeated, and Julius Jacob von Haynau, a general in the Austrian army, became governor of Hungary for a few months, and quickly ordered the execution of the leaders of the Hungarian army.
In an effort to eliminate any on-going underground resistance from the Hungarians, the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established in 1867. The Compromise re-established the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hungary, separate from and no longer subject to the Austrian Empire.
Regions of the monarchy were now governed by separate Austrian and Hungarian Parliaments and Prime Ministers, and in a brilliant strategy, overall unity was maintained through rule of a single head of state of both territories and governments.
At the time the Austria-Hungary Empire was the second largest in Europe and the third most populous. To Hungary's benefit, the old Hungarian Constitution was restored and Franz Joseph I was crowned King.
Impressive economic growth followed because Hungary soon modernized and promoted industrialization. In 1873, the three cities of Buda, Obuda and Pest were officially united, thus creating the new city of Budapest.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, over 8 million men mobilized into the Austria-Hungary army, but in the end, more than one million died during the course of that useless war.
Following the total military defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy by the end of World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its population and the economy had cratered. Austria's losses were also horrendous, and in October of 1918, Hungary's union with Austria was dissolved.
Hungary experienced a brief but bloody communist dictatorship and counterrevolution in 1919, followed by the 25-year military rule of Admiral Miklos Horthy, a ruler that eventually guided Hungary into an alliance with Nazi Germany.
In 1941, the Hungarian army took part in the invasion of Yugoslavia, regaining some of uta territories. On 22 June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Hungary joined the German effort and declared war on the Soviet Union, thus formally entered World War II.
There were some early successes for Hungary, but in 1943, after its Second Army experienced some horrific losses, the government sought to negotiate a surrender with the Allies. Hitler would have none of it, and German troops soon occupied Hungary.
The war left much of Europe devastated. In Hungary, the economy was all but destroyed, and because Germany was defeated by the allies the Soviet Red Army made a push into Hungary and bad conditions quickly became much worse. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians were executed, or deported for slave labor.
On January 20, 1945, a provisional government agreed to an armistice with the Soviet Union and established the Allied Control Commission, under which Soviet, American, and British representatives held complete sovereignty over the country.
That provisional government was replaced in 1945 and the new Hungarian government instituted radical policies by nationalizing mines, electric plants, heavy industries, and some large banks.
In 1949, the communists held an election, adopted a Soviet-style constitution and reorganized the economy. All private industrial firms with more than 10 employees were nationalized, freedom of the press, religion, and assembly were strictly curtailed.
In 1956, a massive popular uprising began. Fighting did not abate until the Communist government was forced to name Hungarian Imre Nagy as Prime Minister. He eliminated the state security police, abolished the one-party system, promised free elections, and negotiated with the U.S.S.R. to withdraw its troops.
The Soviet Union did not like his approach, and launched a massive military attack. Some 200,000 Hungarians fled to the West. and Nagy and his government colleagues took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy.
In November of 1956 a new government was formed, and reprisals were carried out. Many thousands of people were executed or imprisoned. And in June of 1958, Imre Nagy (the former Prime Minister) after a very brief trial, was executed by the Communist government.
In 1966, the government approved a new economic movement which was designed to increase productivity, make Hungary more competitive in world markets, and create prosperity to ensure political stability.
Twenty years later (finally) there was some measure of success as economic and political reforms had taken hold, and increased trade with the West was now happening, albeit slowly.
And by now the desire for freedom and a democracy was a hot button issue across Hungary, and by 1987, activists within the Communist Party and others were increasingly pressing for change, and citizen activism rose to a level not seen since the 1956 Revolution.
In 1989 the Soviet Union reduced its involvement in Hungary by signing an agreement to withdraw its military forces by June 1991, and in June of the year, the country officially reburied Imre Nagy, and then symbolically, all other victims of the 1956 revolution; national pride and united was now restored.
Over the next decade, or so, new political parties and short-term governments came and went, mainly because of the disenchantment with Socialist leaders that had promised growth and lower taxes, that in the end, never happened.
In 2008, the worldwide economic slowdown was felt across the entire country of Hungary, and the Prime Minister resigned. This laid the ground work for many positive changes, including a new constitution and voting rights for ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country's borders.
As for travelers, the country's crown jewel is the dazzling capital city of Budapest, known for its architectural style, amazingly diverse restaurants, Gypsy music and friendly people.
And if you do venture in, be sure to journey outside of the capital, as you will find dozens of enchanted castles and villages from days gone by in one of the most charming and interesting countries in all of Europe.