Last updateCs, 08 febr. 2024 7pm

rovas logo

Our history

Origin of the Hungarian Nation, part 1


Problems Behind the Iron Curtain Series, No. 3.

Ida Bobula


Origin of the
Hungarian Nation


Published by the Danubian Research and Information Center
3837 S.W. 1st Avenue, Gainesville, Florida

(c) 1966



The ninth century in Europe was an age of tumult and turmoil. Future France and future Germany were slowly emerg­ing from the ruins of the Carolingian Empire. The daring Vikings, who at this time, in their dragon boats, ravaged England and other coastal lands of Western Europe, were to be the founding fathers of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Their foe, Alfred the Great, in his small kingdom of Wessex, fore­shadowed a future British empire. One group of the rapacious Northern adventurers had just bestowed their name on a future Russia. Moorish emirs reigned on the sunny Iberian peninsula, where the future Spain was to rise. Moorish culture at this time was far superior to any other in the West. But Europe was stirring. Vernacular Latin, impoverished daughter of the glory that was once Rome, was now evolving in new ways, into French and Italian. It was the time of birth for modern nations.

At the end of this turbulent ninth century, the Hungarians arrived in Central Europe. They came from the Northeast, with the irresistible sweep of a well armed, well organized and populous nation. They took possession of the wide valley of the river Danube in the year 895.

The central part of the valley had been empty since the army of Charlemagne had slaughtered the rulers of the Avars ― that part was known as the "Deserta Avarorum," the desert lands of the Avars.

The valley of the Middle Danube is surrounded by the powerful semicircle of the Carpathian Mountains; a natural bounda­ry, which creates an economic unit and almost a fortress. Within these mountains, the Hungarians, who in their own tongue called themselves Magyars, would establish their homeland, Hungary. Their traditions told them that this rich land had belonged once, long ago, the their Scythian ancestors, and they claimed it expressly as their rightful heritage.

Scattered on the periphery lived remnants of peoples once powerful in this land: Avars, Huns, Dacians, all of them



branches of the Scythian stem. There is reason to believe that they welcomed the arrival of the Hungarians and joined them. According to the chronicles, the conquering Hungarians found in many places a humble, autochtonous people, who had lived there since time immemorial. They had given names to rivers and mountains, which were accepted by the conquerors and, as geographic names usually do, survived easily the last millennium. These names are all in good Hungarian. The natives and the newcomers probably spoke related languages.

In some places the population was Slavic, especially in the North and the West. There were difficulties with the Slavic princes, but after some skirmishes, these Slavs submitted. Far more dangerous were the Bulgars in the South. They fiercely resisted the Hungarian advance, from their strong encamp­ments. A long and bloody war had to be fought before the valiant Bulgaro-Turks retired to the Balkans.

After the victory over the Bulgars, the Hungarians assembled at Pusztaszer and held their first parliamentary meeting on the recently conquered land. According to their first historian, they debated and discussed for thirty-four days the ways in which Hungary should be organized and governed.

The new land ― that very old land ― grew rich food for the special, characteristic breeds of dogs, sheep, cattle, horses and pigs the Hungarians brought along from the East. They also had special breeds of fowl. The fowl and the pigs are proof that their owners were settlers, not nomads. Such animals don't stand the nomadic way of life. The tools of agriculture, found in the early graves in abundance, speak about the land having been put to seed very soon. Spades were found also, in graves of women. Other grave-goods speak about astonish­ingly high art and craftsmanship in working metals, leather, bone, textiles and wood.

The 108 clans of the Hungarians had been organized far earlier into seven groups, each led by a duke. Before entering Hungary, the dukes had assembled and established a hereditary and constitutional monarchy, by electing Árpád, one of their number, as prince of the whole nation.

This arrangement, however, granted considerable independ­ence to the dukes and their families, who established family ties with foreign rulers and consequently got involved in the wars of Western princes. Incursions Westward, especially in



territories inhabited by Germans followed, in which much blood was lost.

The need of a stronger, more centralized leadership was felt and after a century of rule by princes, Hungary became Chris­tian and one of the great mediaeval kingdoms of Europe. Favourable climate, know-how, and diligent attention to agri­culture and animal husbandry soon made Hungarians the great exporters of meat and wine to Northern and Central Europe. Before the discovery of America, three fifths of the Old World's gold production came from the mines of Hungary.

The strong Hungarian kingdom created a state of equilibrium in Central Europe. (The geometrical center of Europe falls slightly north of Hungary, into Poland.) Established between the Slavs of the North and the Slavs of the South, Hungary became, for a thousand years, a barrier to panslavism. She also halted German expansion Eastward. However the most important service of Hungary to Europe was that by her very existence she blocked the way of future invasions from the East. Mediaeval Christian Hungary was the battered shield behind which the West was able to develop, in relative peace, a distinctly European culture.

Guarding the Eastern gate of "fortress Europe" was a costly task. Hungary had to bear the full burden of resisting the Ottoman Turks, after they had destroyed the Byzantine Empire and were set to conquer Europe. The words of Macaulay sum up the achievement of Hungary: "Without Hungary, we might now be pursuing our studies in Turkish at Oxford and Cambridge." Hungarian resistance broke the strength of the Turkish empire, but the centuries of terrible struggle with a brave and fanatical adversary took their toll and left Hungary devastat­ed, depopulated, impoverished and politically in an impossible situation.

The young king, Louis, died on the battlefield at Mohács in 1526. The elder brother of the widowed queen, Archduke Ferdinand Habsburg claimed the throne. His claim was sup­ported by Hungarians, who hoped that Ferdinand, brother of Charles V, the emperor of Spain and Germany, would be able to secure Western assistance against the Turks. The "court party" of those Hungarians elected Ferdinand king ― while the "national party" elected and crowned a Hungarian. After 12 years of struggle, Ferdinand was accepted to lead Christi-



anity against Moslem aggression. But there were tragic consequences. When Turkish power began to diminish, it became clear, that other dangers menaced the Hungarian nation. There was no bridge between the constitutional ideology of the Hungarians and the absolutism of the rising Habsburg power. Resistance was hopeless and desperate revolts and reigns of terror followed. They lasted for over three centuries. The issue of religion complicated the situation. Hungary had always moved in accordance with the great spiritual and cultural movements of Western Europe, from the time of the Crusades to the Renaissance and Reformation. It is significant that all these stopped at the eastern frontier of Hungary and were unable to penetrate the countries further east. The Reformation had won over many Hungarians, and whole cities had gone over to the teachings of Luther and Calvin. All this now ceased. The Habsburgs and their Austrian courtiers felt that it was their sacred duty to break the Hungarian heretics by all possible means, just as they had done in Spain. The program of Vienna was condensed by one of these, Lobkovitz, for op­pressed Hungary into the words: "I will make Hungary first a beggar, then Catholic, and after this, German."

At the time of the Crusades, Hungary was economically and culturally the equal of any of the powers of the West. She maintained this position until the Renaissance. Under the hostile pressure of the Habsburgs, Hungary was slowly re­duced to an agricultural colony of Austria. At a time when the "Enlightenment" was holding sway in the countries of the West, Hungary became more and more backward. In the first years of the eighteenth century, Count Ferenc Rákóczi led a general revolution against the Habsburgs. His aim was to re­store the old constitution, regain religious liberty for the Protestants (though he himself was a Catholic) and freedom for the oppressed people. In his appeal to arms he stressed the point that Hungarians were a noble people of Scythian origin; a people of freedom that could not accept subjection and slavery. Rákóczi, after a long, heroic struggle was betrayed, and died in exile, while Hungary remained for centuries a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,

The treasures of despoiled Hungary went to enrich Vienna. Hungarian wheat became "Vienna bread." Hungarians in their own land became second-class citizens. The royal house im-



ported and settled new Slavic and German communities on former Hungarian lands. Large donations went to traitors and foreigners. A new, German-speaking aristocracy arose. Begining with the eighteenth century, the royal house radiated the idea Westwards, that by now there was only a powerful Austria; Hungary could be discounted.

Absolutism was rampant in Europe. Absolute rulers sat on the great thrones. To most of the statesmen, the hankering of the Hungarians for constitutional government seemed a ridi­culous anachronism, paganism, impious tampering with royal­ty's divine rights.

The most gifted and sincere of all Habsburgs, Joseph II. felt that he could rule Hungary without being crowned and refused to undergo the ceremony. His enlightened, but absolute rule, with an attempt at wholesale Germanization, provoked the passive resistance of the Hungarian nation to everything German. Between Hungarians and their neighbors, the Germans of the East, reciprocal hostility rose and bedeviled relations for centuries to come. This was unfortunate for both parties and damaged them heavily.

Much later in time Austrian-born Hitler was a direct heir to the sneering hatred for Hungarians, which lingered long in many quarters of Vienna. In the first edition of his book, "Mein Kampf," Hitler expressed his opinion, that the great historical sin of the Habsburgs was their failure to exterminate the Hungarians. Hitler was unfair to the Habsburgs. They had done their worst. They had efficiently thinned out the resisting Hun­garian elite, but they could not afford the wholesale genocide advocated by Hitler. The Hungarian farmer was needed to produce food for Vienna. Recognising this, the wise counselors of the Habsburg rulers had also discovered the truth later codified by Orwell: "He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past." Consequently, the scientific apparatus patronised by Vienna started to give the Hungarians a new concept of their own history: a history aimed at producing humility and obedient servants.

The Vienna-inspired historians began to erase all belief in a proud Scythian past. It was pointed out that "Scythia" had never had an exact meaning. The old Hungarian chronicles were stamped unreliable. Hyper-criticism tore to shreds prac­tically all their statements.



"Where, then, did we come from?" asked the Hungarians, during the dark decades which followed the Rákóczi-era. They were to get a sarcastic answer.

In the mid-eighteenth century, when ethnography was an emerging interest and intellectuals all over the world realised that there were different peoples inhabiting the earth from the Equator to the Arctic, it became commonplace to regard the happily lounging peoples of tropical islands as noble savages, while the peoples of the Arctic, with their diet of blubber and strange customs of wife-lending, became images of ultimate degeneration, to be viewed with disgust and contempt.

Today we know that this image was grossly unjust. Never­theless, it is in consideration of the general attitude of the era that we must evaluate the impact of the work of J. Sajnovics, published in Latin: "Demonstratio Idioma Ungarorum et Lapponum Idem Esse" Tyrnaviae 1770. (The language of the Hungarians and the Lapps is shown to be identical.)

In fact the two languages are anything but identical. They are as distant from each other as English and Greek. True, they are related. Sajnovics was not the first to note the distant re­lationship between the various Finno-Ugrian peoples. Others had observed it, but they had said it differently.

The publication of Sajnovics was bitterly resented by a politi­cally oppressed and economically exploited people, who were being asked to work without question for the benefit of a pseudo-feudal foreign class of rulers, allegedly possessing a natural superiority to the relatives of the despised Lapps.

The search for scientific truth in the question of Hungarian origins became complicated because of the prevalence of non- scientific motives amongst so many of the participants. German scholarship, especially in the post-Napoleonic era of national­ism and romanticism, eagerly embraced theories on ethnic origins calculated to humiliate the proud Hungarians. It was safe to do this since there was truth in the distant relationship of Hungarian and Lappish. So Finno-Ugrian linguistics develop­ed. Unquestionably, many people working in this direction did this in an honest effort to find out the truth. The trouble was that the existing political power favoured only this one line of approach to the truth. Only part of the truth was revealed.

Young Hungarians could get grants and passports for travel abroad if they would work on that truth agreeable to the



government. Such willingness would ensure jobs and positions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which consistently and steadfastly subsidised research, teaching and publications which supported the Flnno-Ugrian relationships. This tendency became more marked than ever, after 1849, when the Habsburg ruler had to use Russian help to defeat the Hungarians, who fought for the freedom of their nation,

Hungarian scholars independently wondering about the possibility of some additional truths, were systematically ridiculed and silenced by the authorities; the authorities that derived their power from their positions, and their positions from Vienna. Anyone, who tried to seek light from any source but the Finno-Ugrian relationship, was denounced as an amateurish, ignorant chauvinist, ashamed of his poor relatives. Of course, no Hungarian in his right mind could ever be ashamed of being related to the Esthoniains and the Finns; and as our knowledge expands, so too does our respect for the efficient Lapps, whose lives had to be lived in so difficult an environment. Nevertheless, there were in every generation some Hungarians, who tried to establish historical and linguistic ties with other groups too.

The non-conformists were denied jobs, positions and opportunities for publication. Accused of a non-existent, idiotic snobbery, they became favorite objects of open contempt and stereotyped mockery by the accepted members of the scholarly guild, crammed with persons of foreign origin and monitored from Vienna. This monitoring went on until the last years of Habsburg rule through the Archives Office in Vienna, headed for decades by a German from Hungary, who supported an assumed, beautiful Hungarian name. A subtle and apt tool of classic Habsburg aspirations, he helped, influenced and cor­rupted the young Hungarian historians, who were sent to Vienna with research grants and official patronage. Then, when their loyalty was secured, he placed them in Hungarian universities, archives or museums. These very persons were still in their important positions when Hungary regained her freedom from Austria after the First World War. Bled white once again (Hungary lost a larger proportion of her male population of marriageable age than any other combatant in the First World War) fighting for survival, the crippled and truncated country, that had lost two-thirds of its territory, had no replacement



for those well-trained but corrupt scholars, who remained a close clique, clinging with determination to the old lines. Consequently, they were still able to ridicule and frustrate the in­dependent scholars, such as the Rev. Zsigmond Varga, who taught oriental languages at the University of Debrecen and dared to suggest that the Ural-Altaic languages might be re­lated to ancient Sumerian.

In 1946 there came the Russian occupation of Hungary and once again destiny produced a situation in which a foreign power could exploit the treasures of Hungarian soil and the labor of a gifted people, for its own selfish purposes. This power is perfectly content to let the conquered Hungarians believe that they have an ancestry more primitive than that of the Indo-European peoples. In Habsburg times Hungarian children were taught that most of their civilization came from the Germans: today they are taught that their "barbaric" an­cestors were civilized by the educated Slavs, Nothing else has changed. But the question remains: "Where did the Hungarians come from?"




The living tradition of the Hungarians, based on the old na­tional chronicles, fed by centuries of legend and poetry is, that the ancestors of the Hungarians came from the East, the shores of the Black Sea, from Scythia. They were Scythians.

Now, there are in history few problems more complicated than the questions connected with Scythia and the Scythians. The name Scythian was freely given by Greek and Latin authors to a fantastic variety of peoples, the data being contra­dictory and quite confusing.

The official scholarly guild in Hungary, for two centuries, has urged the nation to forget about the "absurd theory" of Scythian origin. This the nation has stubbornly refused to do, in spite of the guild's maudlin complaints and sly accusations of snobbery. While the educated public has generally accept­ed the truths of Finno-Ugrian comparative linguistics, there has been and there is in the majority of this public an un­easy feeling that we do not know the whole truth about Hungarian origins.

There is no doubt that for awhile the ancestors of the Hun­garian people lived in the legendary ancient swamps of the Maeotis ― the Sea of Azov ― Scythia.

This district, North of the Black Sea is certainly part of the Scythian world described by the classic authors. The same territory is also described by the early Hungarian chronicles, geographically rather exactly, as the good land, into which the mythical White Stag led the Hungarians after their original homeland "in Evilath" became overpopulated. We even have the name of that old Hungary on the Black Sea: Dentumoger, which may be explained as "Magyar land on the Don mouth".

Byzantine documents corroborate the fact: this is the place, where the Hungarians lived around the middle of the first millennium. But from where did they come? How did they get there?

According to the generally accepted, handy theory, Hungarians drifted down to the Black Sea from their original home-



land in the Ural slopes. May we suggest, that the happenings were not so simple. Let us view them, beginning with the Old Stone Age.

At the dawntime of humanity, after the great invention of fire, human groups populated the Eurasian continent. These adventurous Northmen of the Old Stone Age became separated from their relatives, the Southmen. The Southmen remained, dwelling comfortably on the shores of the warm seas and rivers. The Northmen faced the challenge of a changing climate and this challenge formed and developed them into adequate inhabitants of the temperate and even the cold zones.

The Northmen split again into several groups. One of them, under conditions of severe cold, developed into the classical Mongolian. Another large group, split into many sub-groups, migrated to the Americas and became the Red man. Those of the largest group, with the basic Caucasoid features, roamed all over temperate Eurasia, as hunters of the Old Stone Age.

The Caucasoids, whose bulk gravitated Westward, were the probable ancestors of the branch later called Indo-European. The other, basically related group, which fluctuated mainly be­tween Central Europe and Central Asia, may have been an­cestral to the many peoples, whom classical authors later designated as Scythian.

It seems possible that this ancestral people of the Scythian nations was the one which left in Asia and Europe the artifacts of the culture called Solutrean, about thirty-five thousand years ago. The Solutreans were specialized hunters of wild horses and an intimate connection with horsebreeding and riding was to characterize the Scythians.

For the use of the name Scythian we have the authority of the best classical authors. Herodotos, Strabo, Pliny, Curtius and others explain to us often, that, when they speak of Scythians, they mean a large group of peoples, having many individual names, but being essentially the same nation.

We must disregard here the centuries of scholarly debate about the reliability of the classical authors and the ethnic affiliations of the different Scythian peoples. Our basic assumption is, that the separation of the Caucasoid group into Indo-Europeans and Scythians happened relatively late in human history and that the earliest Scythian and the earliest Indo-European were mutually intelligible sister languages.



Admittedly, much research work is to be done, before we may see clearly into many of the problems related to the Scythian peoples. Yet, without claiming to give a definite list and merely for the practical purposes of further explorations, we will name here those we consider to be the main groups of the Scythian family.

1.) The AR, AZ, AS, SA or SU peoples, which populated mainly Asia Minor in the early Neolithic Age. These may have been the primitive farmers of the Fertile Crescent and Ana­tolia, perhaps even the Danube Valley. These may have given their name to Asia. Early Cretan any Cypriote cultures show affinity with their cultures. These people are mentioned in cuneiform documents; their name seems to survive in the much later names of the Uz, Osset, Jazig peoples, perhaps even in Estonian and Ostiak.

It has been suggested that the later, linguistically semiticised Assyrian contains also an ethnic element of this kind; that the AZ were in some way ancestral to Kassites and Khazars.

We may suppose that this SA population was the long sought pre-Sumerian inhabitant of Mesopotamia. Branches of this gift­ed people may have been responsible for great advances in Neolithic cultures of the hills in the North. Arpatchiya was and advanced cultural center in the 5th and 4th millennia B.C. There were cobbled streets, buildings for some communal use and an exquisitely artistic pottery appeared. One of the SA groups may have been later even the carrier of the culture called El Ubaid, with its beautiful polychrome ceramics. After the arrival of the Sumerians proper, the SA people seem to have been pushed to the North, to the northern mountains, the part of the Sumerian world designated in cuneiform documents as Subartu. In recent literature these people are often called Subaraeans.

2.) The Sumerians.

These were a gifted and vital northern people related to the SA, but not identical with them. They were the creators of the first high civilization in Mesopotamia. This civilization was built over a melting pot of various ethnic elements in the fourth and third millenia B.C. In a long and thorough essay, Sir Leonard Woolley has demonstrated convincingly and definitive-



ly that the Sumerians alone have legitimate claim to be regarded as the inventors of writing.

The Sumerians were ― this truth emerges slowly from the recent progress of archeology ― the probable biological, and certainly the cultural ancestors of all the later peoples called Scythian.

Such peoples were:

a.) The Medes, one of the great peoples of antiquity, who ap­pear after the Assyrians and before the Persians. The orientalist Jules Oppert asserted (in 1879) that they were a Turanian people. They were present not only in classic Media; Herodotos writes about Medes North of the Danube.

b.) The Daha people (Dacians) settled between the Caspian and the Aral Seas, and from there sent groups towards Central Europe and Central Asia. Dacian rule in Central Europe was defeated by the Romans, but Dacians seem to have survived in Rumania, and in Southern Hungary too, where they are called Taho. Early groups of the Dahae may have influenced many peoples of Asia. It is possible that they were the an­cestors of the Thracians and the Turks.

c. ) The Huns

Hunnic peoples, called by the Egyptians Unni, by the Chinese Hiungnu, appear also first Southwest of the Caspian Sea. From there they spread into far lands. In the West they were called Scythians. They rode East, too, until they reached the Chinese Wall, Recent Soviet excavations have shed light on the surprisingly high culture of those Huns (Scythians) who lived and buried their dead in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. in the Altai Mountains. Chinese hostility seems to have caused the Huns to return to their old homelands on the shores of the Caspian. From there they would ride towards the Danube and under Attila create an empire that would threaten Rome.

d.) The Avars

These peoples appear in history under many different names like Obors, Vars, Pars, in Roman times as Parthians. Settled on the shores of the Caspian Sea, they moved later towards the Aral Sea, where they lived between the Amu Daria (Oxus) and



the Sir Daria (Jaxartes). Their ethnic group, united with similar Scythian elements, seems to be the basis of the Chorasmian empire, built on irrigated lands.

The Avars were great builders of fortresses and cities. Their commerce and influence reached the Uralic peoples. Alexander the Great conquered the Avar land, but soon after his death, Arsacus liberated the Avars, who under the Arsacid dynasty fought the Romans until 250 A.D., when Rome pushed them back to the Aral Sea. From there, menaced by the Kok Turks, part of the Avars moved west and in 568 settled in the Carpathian Basin. Their short-lived Danubian empire was de­stroyed by Charies the Great.

( e.) The Turks

All Turkish peoples, Uighurs, Kok-Turks, Ottoman Turks, belong to that central group of Eurasian humanity which we are calling Scythian.

f.) The Finno-Ugrians

These are peoples, among whose languages basic relationships were established by careful research. The relationship of Hun­garian with all the others is, however so distant that there is no mutual intelligibility. The westernmost of these peoples are the Finns. The eastern relatives live in present day Rus­sia on both sides of the Ural Mountains. Herodotos mentions some of them in his list of Scythian peoples. Probably to this group belonged the extinct tchudes, of whom Russian folklore remembers as giants and great metal-workers.

We could go on enumerating other groups, which for some reason, could be regarded as members of the great Scythian community. One of the exciting problems is that of the Aramaeans, who were also called Scythians in ancient liter­ature. Is the old name of Ireland, Aran, just fortuitously this? Do the resemblances of Celtic and Kaldu (Chaldean) as well as Scot and Scyth mean anything? Where do the Basques be­long? Should the Etruscans be regarded as Scythians? It would be tempting to digress and speculate on these questions, but they must be left to future historians.




The question we must raise and answer at this point seems to be: is it possible, is it permissible at all for an earnest seeker of truth to look for a Scythian origin of the Hungarians?

It is necessary to raise this question because for about a period of a hundred years, those who were the most interested, the students of the Hungarian schools, including this writer, were trained and conditioned systematically to reject the idea.

We can point out easily the difficulties which have for ever stood in the way of a Scythian affiliation.

The first difficulty is that modern science has been, and to a certain extent is still at a loss as to how the exact meaning of the word Scythian should be defined. Different scholars even today have different ideas about what ancient peoples should be or should not be called Scythian.

The root of the trouble is that the classic Greek and Roman authors refer to the Scythians in many instances, but they contradict each other and often tell impossible stories about Scythians. Hippocrates gives us a detailed description of the Scythian physique: if true, the Scythians were flabby, de­generate orientals. But we know that the police force of the city of Athens was Scythian; a fact that flatly disproves Hippocrates. We may believe Herodotos, that some Scythians were cannibals, or we may add this information to the category of those on other Scythian tribes being one-eyed or goat-footed. Humans in whole groups cannot be born one-eyed, or goat- footed. This we cannot believe. But what else can we or should we believe?

The problem arises: how far back in time are we entitled to use the name Scythian? At the time of the early discoveries of cuneiform texts, Rawlinson, Oppert and other orientalists spoke about the inventors of writing as Proto-scythian, Kasdo-scythian people. These names were later abandoned and Sumerian became the accepted term.

It is an unfortunate fact, that we possess extremely meager



material from the language of the classic Scythians. The pauci­ty of this material makes linguistic speculations rather tenuous.

Modern scholarship tends to reject altogether the idea of Scythian unity and believes that it existed only as a mistaken notion in the heads of the classic writers.

Finally ― scholarly opinion, urging the rejection of any theory advocating the Scythian affiliation of the Hungarians, will not fail to point out, that the early Hungarian chroniclers, describing Scythia as the homeland of the nation, did not use genuine popular tradition, but took and copied classic descrip­tions of Scythia. This is supposed to be proof that the tale of Scythian origin is a late invention by chroniclers of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Are we guilty of uncritical credulity, when we return to the stories of the mediaeval clerics, instead of accepting the teach­ings of recent scholarship? We plead not guilty. The fact, that the chronicles copied classic descriptions of Scythia, does prove only that they respected classic literature. They may have added, what the authorities say of the place about which there existed in the nation a genuine tradition.

Everybody is aware of the inexactitude and unreliability of most classic authors, especially that of the father of history-writing, Herodotos, But if we have no reliable informant, we must still use the ones we have.

Let us not forget, that besides classic literature, we have a source of information on the Scythians, which is unbiased and becomes more explicit and more valuable every day. This is archaeology.

A world of new information on Scythians has come to light in the last decades. It is infinitely easier to deal with the problem for today's scholar, than it was for the scholar of fifty years ago.

Research on Scythians should recognize its debt to the archaeologists of Soviet Russia. Most of the territory on which Scythian peoples have roamed, belongs now to the immense Soviet-empire; it is natural that Russian archaeology should be active in this field. Work was done with competence and enthusiasm.

Western scholars have sometimes reproached their Russian colleagues too much enthusiasm and wishful thinking, when trying to adopt the Scythians as ancestors to Russians. To



anyone, who knows something about Scythian character and Russian character, the idea seems absurd. But we should not forget, that Scythian influences on various Slavic peoples were many and powerful; also that much Scythian ethnic material has enriched the population of Great Russia. The claim is not quite absurd.

Some important material came from the South; such are the Luristan bronzes. These came from the Iranian Kingdom.

Of the many recent discoveries related to Scythians, none is more important that that of the treasures of Ziwiyeh, a ruined fortress between ancient Assyria on the Tigris River and the shores of the Caspian Sea. These treasures date from about 700 B.C. and they display fully and clearly the characteristics of the typical and unmistakable Scythian art. Ziwiyeh art has been recognized as the earliest appearance of this style. None of the other famous Scythian treasures in Western and Central Asia, or Eastern and Central Europe have been dated to earlier times. This fact sheds light on Scythian origins; it is obviously a mistake to look for the ancestry of Scythians and their art in Central Asia. The origins of their ethnic body, as well as of heir culture, are to be sought South of the Caucasian mountains, in old Mesopotamia. From there many groups migrated for a long time following the downfall of Sumer, in all directions. East of the Tigris these emigrants developed superior horsemanship and that enabled them to ride across Eurasia, between the two oceans. They carried their exquisite metal art everywhere. This feature clearly distinguishes their settlements and graves from those of neighbors who still lived in the stone age.

Incidentally, the Ziwiyeh artifacts are a ringing justification for the maligned Greek authors, at least in one point. Herodotos and others wrote about a Scythian homeland South of the Caucasian Mountains, from where the Scythians moved North. This statement is now proven by archaeology.

It is to be hoped that time will bring us more knowledge about Scythian writing and the Scythian language. But even without the certitude these would give us, we may proceed in dealing with a far clearer notion about Scythians than ever before.

The crux of the matter is: can we speak about a unity of Scythian peoples? The classic authors saw such a unity.



Modern scholarship has constantly worked at demolishing this image. We are told, that there is a unity of Indo-European peoples. There is another unity of Mongols. But on the terri­tory between the two there is no unity. There is a medley of small peoples, ethnic groups, mixed up, scattered and power­less. Scythia is called often only a geographic concept.

After the image of the Scythian ethnic unity was destroyed, two similar but more recent concepts arose. One of these believed valid until recently, tried to categorize a number of peoples as Ural-Altaic. This would have put Turks and Hun­garians into the same group. Recently it became fashionable to deny a relationship between the Uralic and the Altaic peoples.

Another concept was that of the Turanian unity ― which was also assailed by modern scholars and very much dis­credited.

One may ask, was the clarification of truth about Eurasian ethnogenesis efficiently served by all these destructions? Do we see more clearly or are we more confused than educated people were at the time of Herodotos?

One may also state most respectfully, that all classifications, those of languages and peoples too, are more or less arbitrary human activities, for practical purposes. They are like filing a number of different papers into a given number of drawers. Some drawers may be filled with papers of very similar nature; in other drawers the coherence may be less. However, it is far easier to deal with the papers if they are filed some­where.

Let us leave the question open: was the successive demoli­tion of Scythian, Ural-Altaic, Turanian unities pure scholarly necessity ― or were there some motives of a political and ethnocentric nature behind the scholarly facade? Maybe unconscious surges of instinctive nationalism ― the desire of proving our own group stronger, more powerful, more impor­tant, more destined to dominate, than other groups? Who can be certain?

We like to believe, that it is not hidden vanities, but the interest of clarity and the quest of truth that are our motives, when, for practical purposes we seek to rectify distorted images and to reestablish the idea of Scythian ethnic unity,



as the classic authors, who were contemporaries, saw it. They were no fools.

It is true, we will use the name Scythian for a group that existed long before the name of Scythia was ever uttered, but the Indo-Europeans, also existed, long before Europe or India were named.

There was a Scythia and there were Scythians. There were Scythian customs, cultures, languages, which the Greeks and Romans saw as different from theirs. The tradition of Scythian ancestry is old among Hungarians and it should not be neglect­ed as empty myth.

The way of dealing with our problem is to reconsider patiently all possible sources of early Hungarian history that may contain data pointing to "Scythia."

Such sources are the chronicles written by mediaeval Hun­garian clerics, chronicles by clerics of neighboring countries, German and Russian, writings of the Byzantine emperors and their subjects, and, last but not least, descriptions by early Arabic and Persian travellers.

All statements of the written sources should be checked by the auxiliary sciences of history: archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, bio-geography. All of these are important. How­ever, the key witness of ethnogenesis, the specific kind of historical research, which deals with the origins of the nations, remains the language.

We have stated, that there is very little linguistic material from classic Scythia. But if we accept the testimony of Ziwiyeh and the theory, that Scythian culture came mainly from Sumerian sources, we may suppose, that Scythian languages were derivatives of Sumerian. Luckily, the clay tablets of Sumer left us plenty of linguistic material.

If the Scythians were ancestors of the Hungarians, as the tradition states, and if the Scythians derived from the Sumerians, then the Sumerian language and Hungarian must be related. Is this so?

Unless a change of language can be legitimately supposed, the testimony of the language is decisive about the origins of a group. Let us call our key witness first.




Mezzofanti was a Roman cardinal, famous for having mastered several hundred languages; more than any other mortal. He was once asked to decide which was the best language. He admitted smiling, that he was partial to his native Italian, which he considered the most beautiful. But he added pensively, that among vehicles of human thought and emotion, a little known language, Hungarian, was the most efficient.

Hungarian is a highly evolved, agglutinative language. Morphemes of known general meaning are glued together in speech, to convey special meanings. Pliable, resilient, rich and playful, this old language shows no trace of arteriosclerosis. No pedant would dare to confine a Hungarian writer or poet to the use of the 200,000 odd words listed in dictionaries. Everybody is free to create new words, if needed, provided that they appear in the spirit of the language and are of obvious meaning. Almost every English word can be easily, clearly translated into good Hungarian.

A system of numerous prefixes makes it possible for the competent user of Hungarian to indicate by one word such nuances, which can be expressed in other languages only by lengthy circumlocution.

Hungarian is exceptionally rich in vowels and well provided with consonants. The sounds are clear and articulate. Well-spoken Hungarian is colorful and musical. It is one of the few living languages into which it is possible to translate exactly the quantitative rhythm of classic Greek and Latin poetry.

The accent, which is always on the first syllable of the word, separates distinctly the parts of speech. This is a special boon in the mechanized speech of the mass media.

Speakers of Hungarian, who are able to compare it to several other languages, will appreciate the remark of Mezzofanti. Hungarian is a great tool, not only for the orator and poet, but for the modern scholar too; a language capable of unlimited development.



Hungarian is a conservative idiom. Changes take place slowly. Early Hungarian texts, written around the XIII. and XIV. centuries are still quite understandable to the educated Hungarian ear.

Two centuries of thorough research have placed this language into the Finno-Ugrian family. Other, better known members of this family are Finns and Estonians. Besides Lapp and Samoyed, several languages spoken by small groups around the Ural Mountains belong to this family. The next relatives of Hungarian are Vogul and Ostiak. The degree of relationship between these and Hungarian may correspond to the nearness of English to Albanian. There is no mutual intelligibility but cor­respondences of the basic vocabularies may be established.

These correspondences were used to construct an allegedly more realistic early history of the Hungarian ancestors, in­stead of the "Scythian myth". Based almost exclusively on linguistic speculations, the theory was created that there was an ancestral homeland on the European side of the Middle-Ural. We are told, that there all Finno-Ugrian ancestors lived to­gether, in a very primitive hunting, fishing and gathering eco­nomy. Then, for an unknown reason they spread; the Hungarian branch came to Hungary.

The obvious flaw in the story was, that while no other Finno-Ugrians rode, the Hungarians came to Hungary on horse­back. They had clothes of silk-brocade and furs, weapons in­laid with gold and silver work. History witnesses their superior military and organisational know-how. How did the primitive gatherers acquire all this?

The original story was soon amended thus: somewhere along the way, a nomad troop of Turkish horsemen met the simple Uralians. They intermarried and the Turkish fathers taught the offspring to ride; also the vocabulary of agriculture and animal husbandry, as witnessed by a quantity of "Turkish loanwords" in Hungarian. But the basic language of the off­spring remained the Finno-Ugrian of their mothers.

If it is possible to assume two parent groups for a nation, we may ask: would it be impossible to find the traces of a third, and perhaps far more important parent-group to the Hungarian language? Nations, like individuals, may have many, different ancestors.

Some scholars of the nineteenth century thought that this



would be possible. When the oldest writings of the world, writ­ten on clay tablets, began to emerge from the ruins of the Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia, the first written language of humanity was recognized by some French and English scholars as related to Hungarian.




Modern man rediscovered slowly the records of ancient civilizations. After the dark mediaeval times, the age of the Renaissance excavated the buried treasures of Rome and Greece. The wonders of Egypt came to light in the Napoleonic era. Some decades later the mounds of Mesopotamia began to yield the clay tablets and the inscribed stones of the As­syrians. The genial German schoolteacher, Grotefend, began to decipher the cuneiform script. The science of Assyriology was born. One of the early decipherers, the keen orientalist E. Hincks, perceived soon, that this earliest writing system of humanity was not invented to write Semitic Assyrian. There must be an earlier and different language, that of the inventors of writing. Soon documents of this earlier language came to light. H.C. Rawlinson, a great British cuneiformist, called the language in 1853, "Scythian."

J. Oppert wrote in 1855, that the recently discovered syllabic language of the inventors of writing must belong to the great Uralic (Scythian or Turanian) family. In 1859 he stated that the language in question was related to Hungarian and Turkish. To these he added Finnish in 1869. Oppert suggested that the nameless language should be called Sumerian.

Another French orientalist, François Lenormant proposed the name Accadian instead of Sumerian. Later, he and other French scholars used Chaldean for quite a time to designate what is today called, by general consensus, Sumerian.

Lenormant developed the theory of Oppert and showed, on lexical and many grammatical examples, that the language in question is agglutinative and related to the Ural-Altaic languages, especially to Hungarian. In his book "Chaldean Magic," published in 1874, he showed the correspondences be­tween old Babylonian magic and the magic of the Turanian peoples.

It is with deep respect that today's scholar must pay homage to the memory of Lenormant, who saw the truth at an early



stage and fought for it without hesitation, until the end of his short and valiant life.

The basic thesis of the pioneers, about a Scythian language in Mesopotamia, was vehemently assailed by the orientalist Joseph Halévy. With the authority of his professorship in Paris and with the passion of this Balkan origin, Halévy as­serted, that no one had ever lived in ancient Mesopotamia but the Semites. Sumerians had never lived ― he said. The so-called Sumerian language was only a secret, artificial language of the Semitic priests.

Halévy was an excellent debater; his thesis appealed to many. From the vast fortress of his scholarly erudition, he cast doubt on the competence of his adversaries, mocked and ridi­culed them. So impressive was his performance, that German scholarship capitulated, and F. Delitzsch, who had already taught Sumerian, suspended his lectures. Old Oppert, hurt and offended, appealed his cause to posterity. The orientalist Ignace Goldzieher, commissioned by the Hungarian Academy ol Sciences to report on the Sumerian controversy, reported that Halevy's victory was overwhelming: Sumerians have never lived. Lenormant, exhausted, died at 45. Halevy survived everybody, living until 90.

Time and true scholarship have proved Halevy totally wrong. But for half a century he succeeded in confusing the issue.

The excavations of the French at Telloh and the Anglo-American excavations at Ur have established, beyond doubt, the facts that Sumerian was once a living language, that there was a Sumerian people and a Sumerian culture in ancient Mesopotamia. This vindicated the main thesis of the pioneers. However, their second theory about the Scythian-Hungarian affiliation of Sumerian, went by default.

Halévy had hammered successfully at the idea of a Turanian unity. Between his false triumphs and Sir Leonard Woolley's decisive finding of the Royal Graves of Ur, a series of attempts was made to link Sumerian with almost every language-group of the world, modern and ancient. The monosyllabic nature of Sumerian makes such games possible. Scholars got tired and disgusted. A silent agreement was made: the Sumeri­ans are nobody's ancestors; it is bad form to claim them.

A body which joined wholeheartedly in this agreement, was the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The research of Sumerian



paternity was strictly taboo, since the time of Goldzieher's report. The concepts of "Scythian" and "Turanian" elicited sarcasm. An independent scholar, not a member of the guild, John Galgoczy did important research in the correspondences of Hungarian and Sumerian. The Academy accepted for publi­cation, then never published his works. It seems that the manuscripts are lost.

The last Hungarian to publish similar studies was the Rev. Zsigmond Varga, professor of ancient Oriental languages, at the University of Debrecen. When he presented his thesis on the relationship of Sumerian and the Ural-Altaic languages to the Academy, he was awarded a prize for his scholarly work. Yet, at the same time, the Academy stated officially (in 1920) that Varga did not succeed in proving his thesis. The similarity of grammatical constructions ― said the Academy, is not proof enough, unless supported by a sufficient quantity of lexical material, which should also be related. This Varga failed to produce ― even in bis book published in 1942 he mentions only 108 words.

In the following decades the whole concept of Ural-Altaic unity was to go the way of the Scythian and the Turanian. The scholars, who tried to connect Sumerian with Turkish were rejected.

With the progress of archaeology, more and more clay tablets appear in the museums of the world. Scholars work at copying and reading them; they enrich knowledge about gram­mar, lexical material and cultural history. But the taboo about relationships is still valid, it remains a stumbling block.


Latest comments

Recommended websites

New Articles