The Magyars who overran the Carpathian Basin and settled in Budapest around the first millennium were fast, brutal, clever, smallish raiders on light horses with minimal armor whose use of the latest technology–spurs–allowed them to plunder and outmaneuver enemies as far away as the Iberian peninsula. So when we find a heavily armored Árpád fixed to an enormous medieval charger, as in a statue from Hősök Tere (Hero’s Square) in downtown Budapest, we have to wonder, why the rewrite of history?
Construction of Hero’s Square, it turns out, was started in 1896 at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The original monument even included a Hapsburg or two, although after the World War II bombing, the Magyars replaced the interloping foreigners with proper Hungarian patriots. Like so many Balkan tribes, the Magyars have found themselves at the whip end of one clash after another of the great European powers. Their one attempt to climb aboard a winner, the imperial union with Austria of 1867, ended in the disaster of the 1918 Treaty of Trianon, when their country was dismembered and a third of their people were flung off into the diaspora. The authentic Árpád, leader of the seven scrappy, mobile tribes who wrenched this basin from its previous occupants would have made a far more potent symbol for the Hungary of the quixotic 1956 Revolution.
The Magyars, incidentally, are an ethnic anomaly in the heart of Europe. Biologically, their closest relatives are the Baltic Finns a thousand miles to the north. As with so many other nationalities, the largest Hungarian nation outside the motherland itself is the United States. Trivial as it sounds, our favorite Hungarian is Goldie Hawn, who brilliantly played a (fake!) Magyar waitress in the 1992 Steve Martin movie, Housesitter. And our friend Louis of Los Angeles, who can cook an entire Hungarian feast without a drop of the thick, inaccurately named Hungarian Goulash that we Americans actually inherited from the Austrians.