In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Warfare in Medieval and Early Modern Hungary

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Historical Atlases
  • Weapons and Technology
  • Artillery, Tractates of War Techniques
  • Castles and Fortifications of the Medieval Period
  • Castles of the Early Modern Period
  • Military and Chivalric Culture
  • Military Orders, Crusades
  • War and Society, Immigrants, Auxiliaries
  • 960s–1000, Hungarian Raids, Conquest of the Carpathian Basin
  • 1301–1387
  • 1387–1437
  • 1437–1458
  • 1458–1490
  • 1526–1568, Hungarian Kingdom
  • 1568–1699, Hungarian Kingdom
  • 1591–1606, the Long Turkish War
  • 1606–1699, Hungarian Kingdom
  • 1568–1699, Transylvanian Principality and Its Military Organization
  • 1591–1699 Transylvanian Army in War

Military History Warfare in Medieval and Early Modern Hungary
László Veszprémy, János B. Szabó
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0127


Hungary enters the world of Western written sources by the 860s, which is why all the military history handbooks start with the Hungarian raids, and suppose a certain continuity between the tribal period and the foundation of the kingdom, traditionally dated to the year 1000. The country had an unchallenged position in the Carpathian Basin, gradually developing to the position of a middle power by the mid-12th century. From the 12th century expansion proved constant, first to the northeast, later to the territory of Cumans in today’s Romanian Wallachia and South Moldavia, temporarily to the neighboring Austrian duchies, and to the south—characterized by the formation of a chain of buffer territories, so called banates. The country had very close political ties with the West, namely with the dynasties of the Angevins and the Luxembourgs, and it witnessed a rapid cultural and military acculturation. In spite of the repeated domestic wars of the 15th century, the rule of King Matthias is considered the peak of Hungarian power, and even today he retains his fame. The Hungarian military, with a significant standing army and border defense system under King Matthias, could stop, or at least slow down, the Ottoman expansion toward the west. The period of the Jagiellonian kings, though not as weak as once described, ended in the final military defeat of the royal army at Mohács (1526), traditionally seen as a chronological turning point in Hungarian political and military history.

General Overviews

In spite of the growing number of source publications, the online open access to the medieval (pre-1526) charter collection of the Hungarian National Archive (cited as Medieval Hungary Online: The Hungarian National Archives’s Online Portal on Medieval Charters in Reference Resources), and also to the printed source editions, and a new wave of war history studies, a new updated military history handbook and chronology are still missing, although the short popular version Hermann 2012 is promising. The latest handbook on Hungarian military history, Liptai 1984–1985, is still reliable, though its medieval chapters are amazingly short. The medieval Hungarian encyclopedia until the 1380s, Kristó 1984, is useful, but it needs updating as well. Fortunately we have a modern concise history of medieval Hungary (Engel 2001) written by an expert, as well as Engel’s reference works on the secular archontology of Hungary (1301–1457) and medieval genealogy of Hungary (see Engel 1996 and Engel 2001, cited under Reference Resources). The series East European Monographs and Atlantic Studies on Society in Change edited by an emigrant, former Hungarian general Béla Király, and distributed by Columbia University Press, is a pioneering project in presenting the leading Hungarian researchers and their books to the English-speaking world. The more than one hundred volumes differ greatly in their standards, but the medieval military history volume Bak and Király 1982 offers a good start. The most recent studies offer a wider range of topics, such as the expansionist tendencies in Hungarian foreign relations by Attila (Bárány 2012), Hungary’s place in the development of warfare in Europe, and the significance of military thinking in Hungary in an international context (Couteau-Bégarie and Tóth 2011).

  • Bak, János M., and Béla K. Király, eds. From Hunyadi to Rákóczi: War and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Hungary. Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs, 1982.

    The most widespread collection of studies on this topic, most of them still worth reading.

  • Bárány, Attila. “Attempts for Expansion: Hungary, 1000–1500.” In The Expansion of Central Europe in the Middle Ages. Edited by Nora Berend, 330–380. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

    A clear overview of Hungarian campaigns and military-diplomatic activity.

  • Berend, Nora, Przemysław Urbańczyk, and Wiszewski Przemysław. Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511813795

    A well-integrated, up-to-date comparative history of Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary from 900 to 1300, offering a good introduction to Central European political and military history.

  • Couteau-Bégarie, Hervé, and Ferenc Tóth, eds. La pensée militaire Hongroise à travers les siècles. Paris: Economica, 2011.

    The first book ever published on military thinking and reception of innovations in Hungary from the 14th century until World War I.

  • Engel, Pál. The Realm of Saint Stephen, 895–1526: A History of Medieval Hungary. London: Tauris, 2001.

    Basic and most recent overview by an excellent historian, a compilation of databases of medieval Hungarian topography, archontology, and genealogy (see also the chapter on castles), published in Hungarian and Romanian as well.

  • Hermann, Róbert, ed. Illustrated Military History of Hungary. Budapest: Zrínyi, 2012.

    A short, but useful, summary of Hungarian military history.

  • Kristó, Gyula. Korai magyar történeti lexikon (9–14. század). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984.

    The encyclopedia of early Hungarian history from the 9th to the 14th centuries offers a good orientation to Hungarian history, including all military aspects.

  • Liptai, Ervin, ed. Magyarország hadtörténete. 2 vols. Budapest: Zrínyi, 1984–1985.

    The only concise military history published after World War II; unfortunately the medieval chapters are very short, but the chronology is carefully chosen.

  • Pósán, László, and Veszprémy László, eds. “A hadtáp volt maga a fegyver” Tanulmányok a középkori hadszervezet és katonai logisztika kérdéseiről. Budapest: Zrínyi, 2013.

    The first thematic volume on the different aspects of logistics both within Hungary and outside the country from the 9th century to the 16th century, focusing on the 15th and 16th centuries, the reigns of Kings Sigismund and Matthias. It includes a source publication of inventiories of Slavonian fortifications c. 1489. Translated as: “Papers on medieval military organization and logistics.”

  • Pósán, László, and Veszprémy László, eds. Elfeledett háborúk: Középkori csaták és várostromok, 6–16. század. Forgotten wars. Budapest: Zrínyi, 2016.

    A thematic volume focusing on Hungarian military history of the 14th-16th centuries, with basic contributions on the civil wars of the 1440s, on the fate of the so-called Black Army of King Matthias. Translated as “Medieval battles and sieges, 6th–16th centuries.” See, especially, pp. 198–231.

  • Veszprémy, László, ed. Magyarország hadtörténete. Vol. 1, A kezdetektől 1526. Szerk. Budapest: Zrínyi, 2017.

    The first volume of a four-volume series gives, in addition to a chronological overview of military events, chapters devoted to military geography, castle building, weapons, and tactics. The book covers the history of the Carpathian basin from Roman times. Translated as “Military history of Hungary”; Vol. 1, “From the beginnings until 1526.”

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