Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The Magyars and the Habsburg Monarchy

The Hungarians – or in a narrower ethnic sense Magyars – saw themselves as a nation state within the Kingdom of Hungary. In the realm of the Crown of St Stephen, the Magyars were not only the dominant language group but also the largest ethnic group.

The 10.3 million people who gave Hungarian as their native language in the 1910 census represented just over half – 54.5 per cent – of the total population of Hungary. Within the Habsburg Monarchy as a whole they accounted for 20.2 per cent, making them the second-largest language group after the German speakers.

Central Hungary was the heartland of the Magyars. They were much more sparsely represented towards the country’s borders, but even in those areas where other languages predominated there was still a Magyar minority. In the cities in particular, the Hungarian-speaking elite functioned as an ‘outpost’ of the nation state. The Skékelys in the extreme east of Transylvania, far remote from the main Magyar settlement areas, had a special ethnographic significance.

Outside of the heartland, there was a Magyar minority within the Hungarian part of the empire in Croatia and Slavonia, where they enjoyed extensive privileges although accounting for only 4.1 per cent of the population. In the Austrian half of the empire, the Magyars were present as an autochthonous ethnic group only in Bukovina, where they made up 1.3 per cent of the population.

As a consequence of modern migratory movements, Hungarians also lived in other crown lands in Cisleithania. After the 1867 Austria-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, however, they were regarded irrespective of their ethnic origins as citizens of Hungary and hence as foreigners. In 1910 there were still around 300,000 of them.

The figures in the 191o census represent the culmination of a development during the nineteenth century that had a fundamental influence on the ethnic composition of Hungary. When the nation began to form, the ethnic Magyars were no longer in a majority because large parts of the country laid waste during the Turkish wars had been repopulated with settlers from all over central and south-eastern Europe, producing a complicated mixture in which no ethnic group had an absolute majority.

Hungary’s politicians reacted with the offensive and aggressive absorption of non-Magyar members of the population in the Hungarian-Magyar nation – a process known as ‘Magyarization’.

Acknowledgement of Magyardom was a ticket to social advancement and a prerequisite for participation in political life. As a result, many Germans, Jews, Romanians, Slovaks and southern Slavs willingly accepted the identity of the leading Magyar group. Between 1880 and 1914, around 2 million people ‘converted’ to Magyardom, and the percentage of people in the Kingdom of Hungary claiming to be Magyars increased from 45 to 54 per cent.

Translation: Nick Somers


Hanák, Péter: Die Geschichte Ungarns. Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, Essen 1988

Hoensch, Jörg K.: Geschichte Ungarns 1867–1983, Stuttgart 1984

Katus, László: Die Magyaren, in: Wandruszka, Adam/Urbanitsch, Peter (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band III: Die Völker des Reiches, Wien 1980, Teilband 1, 410–488

Rumpler, Helmut: Eine Chance für Mitteleuropa. Bürgerliche Emanzipation und Staatsverfall in der Habsburgermonarchie [Österreichische Geschichte 1804–1914, hrsg. von Herwig Wolfram], Wien 2005

Tóth, István György (Hrsg.): Geschichte Ungarns, Budapest 2005

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    The Habsburg empire

    Austria-Hungary had an extremely diverse state structure. At the start of the First World War it was a major power in decline. Social and political problems and the dominant nationality conflicts shook the empire to its foundations. At the same time, the Monarchy represented an enormous cultural region in which the Habsburg empire flourished in spite of the political stagnation.