Pannonia-Carpathian Basin-Hungarian Plain

3 Names Remain for the Same Plain

1. Pannonia

Pannonia is the name the Romans gave to their province that covers much the same territory as what is also called the Carpathian Basin and the Great Hungarian Plain. The word Pannonia is based on pen or pan, both Proto-Indo European [see ] words, pen meaning ‘wet(land)’, pan meaning lord/master, alluding to land ruled by the god Pan. Most English-, Slavic-, and Germanic-speaking people, especially those with an interest in history, still refer to this area as Pannonia. Hungarians, who until 1920 ruled all of the area, do not use Pannonia to refer to their land.

Pannonia (in red), a province of the Roman Empire, 20 AD – 107 AD

2. Carpathian Basin

The Carpathian Basin is a name used by Hungarians and those with an interest in geography. A look at the relief map below clearly shows a basin, bounded on the north and east by the Carpathian Mountains, and on the west and south by the Alps and Dinaric Alps. This basin was, until 2.5 million years ago, a sea. As it drained (by the Danube River and its tributaries), it left a rich, deep soil.

Humans have lived here for 500,000 years. The first ethnically identifiable settlers were the Illyrians [see], around 2500 years ago, followed by Celts, Romans, & Goths – all coming from parts of northern, western and southern Europe. In 370 the first of the invaders from the Russian Steppes, the Huns arrived. They didn’t stay long, and were followed in quick succession by European Ostrogoths, Gepids, Lombards, and Slavs. The next invaders from the East, the Avars, were able to hold control from 560 to 806, and were followed (after a Frankish-Bulgarian interval) by the final masters, the Magyars (895). What these Eastern invaders (Huns, Avars, Magyars) loved about the basin was that it was large enough and flat enough to resemble their steppe homeland, suitable for a grassland horse-based culture, yet had the added advantage of being surrounded by a relatively-easily defended wall of mountains

3. Great Hungarian Plain

Hortobagy, Hungary

Although they were not always complete political masters of their domain, Hungarians have, since Magyar times, considered the Pannonian/Carpathian Basin as theirs, and outsiders have generally agreed. Hence the other term in general use, the Great Hungarian Plain. The Hungarian word for it is the Alföld. The Pannonian/Carpathian Basin also contains a Little Hungarian Plain, or Kisalföld. See map above.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Austria and Hungary were the two ruling states (the Dual Monarchy) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, containing the Pannonian/Carpathian Basin. The Empire was a sprawling, multi-ethnic conglomeration that was slowly pushing south into territory poorly defended by the weak Ottoman Empire (Turkey), while trying to prevent arch-rival Russia from doing the same.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1914

Within the Empire, Austria controlled the west and north, and also Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia. Hungary controlled the rest – essentially the Pannonian/Carpathian Basin, and a chunk of the Dinaric Alps to give them access to the sea.

Ah, but what about all the other ethnicities who lived within the Pannonian/Carpathian Basin? The Serbs, Croats, Slovaks, Romanians, Slovenes, Ukrainians, and Germans? Some were there before the Magyars arrived, some were later invited to settle by the current rulers. They lived in a crazy-quilt of different enclaves, many in villages of mixed ethnicities. All were ruled by the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy and, unlike the Austrians, the Hungarians were determined to supress all expressions of ethnic identity [except Hungarian]. The biggest obstacle to their goals was Serbia, who lobbied Western and Russian governments to protect the rights of Slavs, and to pressure Austria-Hungary into giving Slavs their own land. When a Bosnian Serb assasinated Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, the Empire seized its chance to punish and possibly annex Serbia, thus starting WW1.

However, Austria-Hungary not only lost the war, the winning side (Britain, France, Italy, the USA) decided it was time to give all the minorities within the Austro-Hungarian Empire their own territories – carving them out of Austria-Hungary. Hungary was the big loser – what remained of Hungary was only 1/3 of pre-war land.

Temerin, Voivodina, Serbia.

So today, Pannonia remains a traditional and historical memory, the Carpathian Basin is still a geographical fact, but the Great Hungarian Plain is no longer so Hungarian.

NOTE: The source for all images and most of the information is Wikipedia. An additional source for the political history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is: DB

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