The Hungarians permanently settled in the Danube region after the defeat in the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, accepted Christianity and established a kingdom under the Arpad Dynasty. Coronation of Saint Stephen I (977-1038) in 1000 is traditionally regarded as the establishment of the Kingdom of Hungary. Saint Stephen continued the Christianization of Hungary started by his father Duke Geza (c.972 – 997) and expanded Hungarian borders northwards to today’s Slovakia and southwards to today’s Transylvania. He followed a pro-German policy and wanted to organize his kingdom on the German model by dividing Hungary into counties governed by royal officials.
Saint Stephen was succeeded by his nephew Peter I the Venetian (1038-1041 and 1044-1046) who continued his predecessor’s policy and bitterly suppressed the pagan customs. However, his confiscation of the estates of Saint Stephen’s widow, Queen Giselle and arrest of two bishops resulted in a plot. Peter was forced to escape and Saint Stephen’s brother-in-law Samuel Aba (1041-1044) was proclaimed King of Hungary. Peter I appealed to Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor for military assistance against Samuel Aba in return for accepting the imperial supremacy. Henry’s troops invaded Hungary, decisively defeated Samuel Aba and restored Peter to the Hungarian throne in 1044. Hungary became Henry’s vassal state but Peter I the Venetian failed to assert his authority. He was forced to flee for the second time in 1046 when broke out a major revolt of the pagan Hungarians.
The Hungarian prelates offered the Hungarian crown to Andrew I the White or the Catholic (1047/48-1060). He was son of Saint Stephen’s cousin Vazul and was living in exile after his father’s failed conspiracy against Saint Stephen I in 1031. Andrew I made an agreement with the pagan rebells who recognized him as King of Hungary but he pursued Christianization after his coronation in 1048. Andrew I offered to accept the emperor’s supremacy with an aim to defend his kingdom from the attacks of the Holy Roman Emperor who was an ally of his deposed predecessor. Henry III rejected the offer and launched a campaign against Hungary but the imperial attack was repulsed.
Andrew’s attempt to assure the succession to his son brought him into conflict with his brother Bela I who had been designated as his successor. The struggle over the succession ended with Bela’s victory and his coronation in 1060. Bela was after his death in 1063 succeeded by his nephew Solomon (1057-1087) who lived in exile at that time. He managed to gain his recognition by his cousins Geza, Ladislaus and Lampert but a struggle over the Hungarian throne between the king and his cousins broke out anyway. Solomon’s forces were defeated and Geza was declared King of Hungary in 1073. Solomon refused to give up the Hungarian throne and turned to the Holy Roman Emperor for military assistance in exchange for accepting imperial supremacy. Imperial forces invaded Hungary in 1074 but the Germans were forced to withdraw to deal with the Saxons’ uprising. Geza died in 1077 and his followers have chosen his brother Ladislaus I (1077-1095) as his successor. Realizing he has no chances to restore his power, Solomon abdicated and recognized Ladislaus as Hungarian king in 1081.
Hungary grew stronger and expanded its territory despite dynastic turmoils. Ladislaus I took advantage of the Investiture Controversy between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor, rejected the imperial supremacy, conquered Croatia and extended Hungarian borders to Transylvania. However, the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I persuaded the Cumans to invade eastern Hungary forcing Ladislaus to withdraw and leaving over the final conquest of Croatia to his successor Coloman (1095-1116). The latter was crowned King of Croatia in 1102 and expanded the Hungarian territories to Dalmatia. Hungarian expansion in the Balkans resulted in the conquest of Dalmatian cities and isles by Venice in 1115. Hungarian conquests also disturbed the Byzantines who organized a conspiracy against Cooman’s successor Stephen II (1116-1131). However, the Byzantine conspiracy was revealed and Stephen II managed to retain the throne.
Stephen II was succeeded by Bela II the Blind (1131-1141) who recaptured part of Dalmatia from the Republic of Venice and sent an expedition to Bosnia. His successor Geza II (1141-1162) ruled unchallenged but Stephen III (1162-1172) was disputed by two of his uncles, Stephen and Ladislaus who were supported by the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus (Komnenos). Byzantine interference in the Hungarian struggles over the throne resulted in Byzantine seizure of Dalmatia, Croatia and Bosnia from Hungary in 1167. Manuel I Comnenus arranged coronation of the second son of King Geza II and his son-in-law, Bela III (1172-1196) in 1172 and made him promise never to attack the Byzantine Empire.
Bela III broke his promise after the death of Manuel I Comenus in 1180 and recaptured Croatia, Bosnia and Dalmatia from the Byzantine Empire. In 1185, he reconciled with the new Emperor, Isaac II Angelos who married Bela’s daughter Margaret and received the land at the River Morava as her dowry. Bela’s successor Emeric (1196-1204) was forced to cede the government of Croatia and Dalmatia to his brother Andrew II. The latter continued to plot against Emeric which resulted in weakening of the central power. Emeric designated his son Ladislaus II (1204-1205) as his successor and forced his brother Andrew to promise that he will protect and help Ladislaus II to rule. However, Andrew assumed the Hungarian throne himself as Andrew II (1205-1235) shortly after Emeric’s death.