Who were the Germans?
The western neighbors of the Hungarians, the Germans:
It is necessary to tell some words about the relationship between these two nations because it has been very important throughout the last one-thousand-five-hundred years, particularly in the period of Ottoman-Hungarian wars.
The relationship between Germans and Hungarians was far from being simple and was not without tensions, either. Even presently, the Hungarians seem to be as divided as 500 years before: there are some who blame every disaster of our history on the Germans and Austrians and there are some who blame everything on the Turks. It is almost as dividing as the question of whether the Hungarians are related to the Huns of King Attila or not.
Naturally, truth is more complex than that. I am not trying to solve the puzzle, just try to share some basic information about it.
When the nomad Hungarians aka Magyars of Chieftain Árpád have settled in the Carpathian Basin by 896 A.D. the latest, the Germans regarded them as the descendants of King Attila of the Huns, just like Árpád’s Magyars thought it about themselves.
The German people may have not been very happy for the newcomers, for several reasons. The difference in language, lifestyle and religion was just one thing. It was the memory of Attila that was haunting them. They must have recalled their conflict with the Huns, remembering Etzel aka Attila from the Nibelung tradition. Additionally, the memory of the Avar tribes has not faded away just yet. The Avar tribes of the Carpathian Basin were regarded as the remains of the Huns: the raids of the Avars were just as bad as the Huns, at least. Was it not the Great Charlemagne who broke them between 791-795 A.D.?
Allegedly, after conquering their country, he had even Christianized them but personally, I would doubt the effectiveness of his action. Those Avars who wanted to keep their ancient religion were said to have withdrawn to the Trans-Tisza river Territory, out of the reach of the Franks.
According to the Hungarian Professor Gyula László, Chief Árpád found Hungarian-speaking population in the Carpathian Basin upon entering in the 890s. Not just the Székelys in Transylvania who claimed themselves the sons of the Huns but everywhere in the country.
The professor proved his so-called „double home taking” both archeologically and linguistically, saying that the Late-Avars took the land around 670 A.D. By now, however grudgingly, even the Hungarian Academy of Science seems to have accepted it.
A page from the Frank Annales
As it is written in the western sources (Annales regni Francorum, anno 796), Charlemagne’s son, Pippin had taken such rich plunder during his campaign against the Avars that he was able to shower countless of gifts all over in his Empire, having gained the secret treasure of Attila from the Avars.
Let us not dig deeper here because there are researchers who claim that it was not the Franks who have caused the end of the Avar Khaganate while there are others who swear that the raids of the nomad Magyars in the 9th century targeted those cities of the Frank Empire where Charlemagne had sent Attila’s treasures.
Yet, it is out of the question that the Germans were not overjoyed by Chief Árpád nor the raids of his descendants. Perhaps Hungarians have nothing to do with Avars or Huns but the contemporary people didn’t think it so: they may have seen just another dangerous horse-archer nomad tribe and called them Huns. As far as we know the ancient Hungarian legends, Huns are regarded as ancestors so the home-taking Magyars didn’t contradict when they were called after Attila’s folks. They must have been rather pleased.
One may say that the (mutual) bad feelings have been wiped out after the Hungarians got converted to Christianity in the spring of 1001 A.D. But it was not so.
In fact, Hungarian and German culture is quite different in all respect.
As for me, the nature of the conflict looks similar to the one between the Scottish and the English as far as habits and language differences are concerned. The Hungarian language differs from all Indo-European languages as much as the Scottish from the English, at least.
Although the Hungarian rulers intermarried with the Germans, the peace was never undisturbed and these nations either distrusted each other or had ambiguous feelings.
On the other hand, there were positive effects to talk about, too. There was a developing cultural and economic exchange and the rulers gave military help to each other many times. They should be also listed someday.
Were not German knights who helped King István I to strengthen his rule?
Was it not King László IV of Hungary (and his Cuman and Hungarian cavalry) who helped Rudolph I of Habsburg in 1278 to gain the victory in the Battle of Marchfeld thus causing the rise of the House of Habsburg?
As for the German-speaking subjects of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Saxons have almost always been loyal to the Hungarian king or to the Prince of Transylvania in the later periods. The Germans mostly lived in Hungarian towns like Buda or Kassa (now Kosice, Kaschau) and naturally, they tended to support those members of the Hungarian royal family who were more connected to the Germans or Austrians.
In the beginning period of the Ottoman peril, most sadly, there were two conceptions opposing each other.
On one hand, the Hungarian monarchs like Sigismund or Matthias thought that they were the right people to organize and lead the defense against the enemy from Buda, relying on the combined sources of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia, Poland, Croatia, and Hungary.
On the other hand, the Habsburgs thought they could do the same, controlling the situation from Vienna or from Prague.
Also, let us not forget how the Hungarian monarchs had used the Balkan nations as buffer-states against the Ottomans, alienating the Orthodox Christians during the devastating wars on their lands. Later, the Holy Roman Empire, led by the Habsburgs, similarly used Hungary and Croatia as a battlefield against the Ottomans.
Dynastic reasons were behind the scenes and it was an age before the development of classical national states.
The whole period is so exciting that there is no wonder that generations of historians have been discussing it so busily.
Below, you can see some maps which might be not fully precise but please find me better ones if you can.