The Settlement of the Hungarian Slovenes


Since the foundation of Hungary in the 10th century, its territory was not exclusively populated by Hungarian peoples. Germans lived in the west, the north and the east of the country, and Serbs and Croatians in the south. The western part of Hungary was also inhabited by Slovenes, and southern Transylvania by Romanians respectively. Most of the minorities living in today's Hungary settled in the 17th and 18th century in those regions of Hungary that had been deserted in the years of Ottoman rule (1526-1686). During the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (1867-1918), the kingdom of Hungary was a multiethnic state (1910: 45.5% were of non-Hungarian origin). After the First World War, the number of minorities in Hungary decreased to a great extent, a development that continued after the Second World War. In the former case due to the Peace Treaty of Trianon (1920) and in the latter case as a consequence of relocations and resettlements and of voluntary emigration. Together with the Slovaks the Hungarian Slovenes form the aboriginal minorities who settled in the western Carpathian Basin even before the Hungarians.


The origin of the Slovenes and their language

The language of the Slavs belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. Today's Slavs originate from the three Indo-European tribes of Slavs, Antes and Veneti who spoke a common indigenous Slavic language in the early Middle Ages. Their original homeland, which lied primarily around the area of the river Vistula, extended from the Carpathians northwards and from the Baltic Sea southwards. The vast majority of the South Slavs (Croatians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Bulgarians) settled the Balkans during the 6th and 7th century. Around 550 BC, the forefathers of the Slovenes immigrated to the area, in which the Slovene people lives in Slovenia and in the neighbouring regions even today. After the land seizure by the Hungarians, the Slovenes living in between the two rivers Rába and Mur were isolated from the majority of the rest of the Slovenes. The Hungarians who had settled in the Carpathian Basin learnt from the Slavs living in that area, inter alia also from the Slovenes, how to cultivate their land. Furthermore, the Hungarians absorbed about 500 Slavic/Slovene words into the Hungarian language that were hitherto unknown to them. 


The Slovene literary language created in the 16th century emerged from four out of totally eight dialects. The Italian and Hungarian Slovenes living in the periphery of the Slovene speech area, however, were not affected by this development. Their language remained the same as in the 16th century. After Trianon (1920), the language development of the Slovenes living in the Szentgotthárd region (West Hungary) continued decelerating. The Hungarian language had a significant influence on the vocabulary and grammar of the Slovenes from the Rába Region. The Hungarian Slovenes refer to their language as “slovenski and to their identity, which they define by their language, as “Sloven, Slovenci, Slovenge. Still today, the older generation uses the “Dual”, a grammatical feature which is typical for the indigenous Slavic language. It is characterised by nouns and verbs having specific dual number forms in addition to the common singular and plural forms. Most modern Indo-European languages do not use the Dual anymore (except for Slovenian and Sorbian). The people of the Sorbs living in the region of the former GDR, however, should not be equated with the people of the Slovenes living in Hungary. What they share is their common belonging to the Slavic ethnic group. In Hungarian technical literature the Slovenes are often called “vendek. The term “vend” is of German origin (Wends/Winds) and was used to name the Slavs living in the German language area. Prior to the settlement of the Slavs, the region between Rába and Mur, and within the territories of Vas and Zala County respectively, was in the possession of the German-speaking Franks. The Slovenes who later settled the region once owned by the Franks were thus called “vend” (Wends/Winds), “vendus-totók” (Windish-Slovenes/Slovaks), “vendszlovének” (Wend-/Windish Slovenes). The region these Slovenes inhabited was accordingly named “vendvidék (region of the Wends/Winds), a term that does not have a pejorative meaning.


Settlement and Christianisation


The ancestors of the Slovenes in Vas County (in the region between the rivers Rába and Drava) settled together with the Avars in the second half of the 6th century. In the 8th century this region came under the domination of the Franks who expelled the Avars. Amongst others Slovenes coming from Carantania took their place and settled there in the 9th century. In the second half of the 9th century, the inhabitants of this area were subjects of the Subpannonian Slavic princes Pribina (847-861) and Kocel (861-874). In the 8th century, the Salzburg bishops of Károly Nagy began christianising the Slovenes living in the Rába Region. During the reign of Pribina and Kocel in the 9th century Christianisation was further intensified. In the year 869, for instance, Pope Hadrian II granted the request of Subpannonian ruler Kocel and appointed the apostle of the Slavs, Method, archbishop of the Pannonian Slavs. The Salzburg bishops who had been sent for by Pribina for proselytism, proclaimed Christianity in Slovenian, whereupon many common people converted to the Catholic faith. In winter time the son of Pribina, Kocel, used to go hunting within the settlement area of the Slovenes. Among the hunters there were many pagans who had more than just one wife and were thus not willing to convert to Christianity. Nevertheless, Kocel tried his best to proclaim Christian doctrine to them. However, since there was a lack of believers, carpenters and money, the first Catholic churches were small and made of wood. As a conclusion, the Slovenes from the Rába Region were not converted to Catholicism in a single campaign by just one missionary but in multiple stages actuated by several different clergymen.


Translated from German into English: Joël Gerber

The German text is based on: Mukics Mária, „A Magyarországi Szlovének, Press Publica, 2003.