WI: Magyars defeat the Germans at the Battle of Lechfeld?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Alligator, Jun 10, 2016.

  1. Alligator Never go full Dandolo

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    If the Magyars had won a decisive victory against the Holy Roman Empire in 955, would they have remained nomadic raiders for a longer period of time?

    Could the Magyars conquer much of Germany north of the Alps? (The Bulgars were able to take the forested Balkans despite being horse archers.)
     
  2. Carp Literally a fish

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    The Magyars were by 955 in serious decline. Over the previous half-century, the Germans had adapted to their tactics and had constructed a formidable system of defense-in-depth throughout the Bavarian march. Just a few years before Lechfeld, the Duke of Bavaria had raided Magyar-held Pannonia and forced the Magyars to pay tribute to him, the opposite of what had been going on for decades previously.

    Lechfeld is best thought of as a last-ditch attempt to disrupt a worrying trend of German supremacy and Magyar defeat. The Magyar leaders probably did not attack Augsburg because they actually wanted Augsburg; more likely, the siege was intended to force Otto into the field (which was successful) and defeat him in open battle (which was not). Even if the Magyar plan had been completely successful, however, they had neither the interest nor the capability to conquer Germany. Even in Italy, a far weaker state than Otto's Germany, the only city they successfully captured was Pavia, which they sacked and then immediately abandoned. They were, after 900, a raider-state, which existed to plunder territory rather than to conquer it. Otto's death in battle and the destruction of his army would have allowed them free reign to raid in Germany and Italy as they had done in the recent past, but I highly doubt the geographical area of Magyar settlement would have changed much, if at all, and the German reverse would have been only temporary. Destroying Otto's force would not also destroy all the Ungarnwälle (the system of anti-Magyar fortresses), nor would it destroy the local levies which manned them, nor the private armies possessed by dukes, counts, and bishops across the kingdom, nor would it have changed the basic fact that by 955 the Germans knew how to fight the Magyars and were by the 950s winning more battles than they were losing. Ultimately Germany would still likely end up being the hegemonic power of central Europe, not Hungary; a botched Lechfeld would delay this, but not avert it.

    The biggest effect of this scenario would be Otto's death, because by 955 he was not yet emperor and Berengar II was still in place (albeit shorn of Verona-Friuli). In a worst-case scenario, Otto's death means the kingdom is plunged into civil war and subject to further Magyar raiding, which may mean that Berengar has a chance to regain his position in Italy. The failure of the empire to form under Otto would be far more consequential than a few more years/decades of Magyar raiding allowed by a Magyar victory at Lechfeld.
     
  3. Alligator Never go full Dandolo

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    Any good sources for the history of the early Holy Roman Empire?

    Also, if it's largely impossible for the Magyars to take the well-defended Germany, could they take Moravia and settle there?
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
  4. Carp Literally a fish

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    I'm an amateur, not an academic, but I'll recommend Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800-1056 by Timothy Reuter as a good introduction to the period.

    I just don't think Magyars had much of an interest in settling anywhere after 900. Firstly, they were still a steppe people at this time, and as a steppe people they presumably favored living on steppe (which the Alföld/Pannonian Plain is, and AFAIK Moravia generally is not). Secondly, while I don't think anyone knows much about 10th century Magyar demographics, they don't seem to have been a people so numerous as to need further lands for settlement. Thirdly, their attacks were (after 900*) always intended to enrich themselves rather than to clear land for settlement; they wanted to turn their neighbors into tributaries, not to conquer them. Bohemia was itself a tributary/vassal/ally early in the 10th century, and the Magyars seem to have been satisfied with that arrangement - as far as I know there was no attempt then to settle Moravia.

    The Magyars were basically a nomadic tribal confederacy transplanted into Europe. Their aim was not to make huge conquests, but to occupy the choicest land (which, for their purposes, they did) and turn their neighbors into satellites who would pay them tribute - or, if they refused, have tribute extracted from them by force. Their actions in the first half of the 10th century suggest that their objective was profitable hegemony, not outright conquest. Lechfeld probably happened not because the Magyars were attempting to conquer Germany, but because they saw that Germany was getting worryingly powerful and felt it was necessary to administer a beatdown to Otto in order to confirm Magyar hegemony and return Germany and its dukes to tributary status. Unfortunately for them, it ended up being Otto who administered the beatdown.

    *Edit: Perhaps "after 907" would be more correct here, as Magyar control of western Pannonia was not truly confirmed until after the Battle of Pressburg in that year.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
  5. Practical Lobster scuttling across the floors of silent seas Donor

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    Agree with the above. Magyar victory is a stopgap measure, not much more. It can't arrest the broader trends, no matter how smashing it is.

    What it could maybe do is set up the eventual Kingdom of Hungary as a stronger state than OTL by some degree?
     
  6. Carp Literally a fish

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    I'm not sure anything that prolongs the raider-state necessarily makes Hungary stronger in the long run. The raider-state doesn't really need a strong ruler or a state apparatus, and may even retard the growth of those things. Individual princes/"dukes" are capable of launching raids (note that few of the Magyar expeditions are explicitly launched by the Magyar high prince; the nagyfejedelem was not even at Lechfeld), and as long as those raids are successful those raid-leaders can build up money, fame, and a military following that's independent of the high prince. Because the raider-state by definition gains its income from outside the state's borders, it's not really important for there to be state revenue or an administration to gather it. After all, why make things when you can take things? I think there's a comparison to be made with Scandinavia around the same time period - as Norse kingship strengthened and states consolidated, "traditional" raiding (that is, raiding carried out by sub-royal actors) declined and then vanished. A society of warlords and freebooters is inimical to state-building.

    Nevertheless, reverse-Lechfeld might still be good for the Magyars if Otto dies, because in a broad sense anything that weakens the Germans or causes them to not take control of Italy is good for Hungarian regional power. It seems like it would depend a great deal on whether Germany transitions fairly seamlessly to a Liudolf kingship (as he wasn't dead yet in 955, unless reverse-Lechfeld kills him too) or whether Otto's death precipitates a civil war or otherwise causes a prolonged period of weakness/instability.
     
  7. Practical Lobster scuttling across the floors of silent seas Donor

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    The latter is more what I was thinking of.

    I'm not sure a major victory even would help the exploitative raiding economy all that much. I mean Germany by this stage was pretty well safe from the Magyars, no?

    Best you're going to get is tribute maybe, and a few sacks. Nothing large scale and nothing that really fits the bill as sub-royal raiding. The warlords and raiders will make do with the Balkans for a while longer but their way of life is untenable. But weakening Germany does have benefits as you've noted.
     
  8. Carp Literally a fish

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    Augsburg might get sacked, though I agree that in general the situation will be resolved with tribute until the Germans have sufficiently recovered. The Magyars smashed the Italian royal army at Brenta and yet only one major city was ever sacked there. The Magyars never demonstrated any ability to take fortifications, their infantry and siege equipment at Augsburg notwithstanding. As you say, the raiding economy is pretty much over at this point and a change of fortunes at Lechfeld is not going to make it tenable again.

    The border may shift a bit - as I recall, Geza (who ruled post-Lechfeld) advanced up the Danube and held Melk (upriver from Vienna) briefly before being ejected. In the aftermath of reverse-Lechfeld I can see the Magyars potentially taking and holding "Austria," but for all we know a stronger German king in the future might push the border back again - the German-Hungarian border was still very much in flux at this time. Bavaria itself, however, is very unlikely to lose territory. Even if Otto's army is annihilated, Bavaria still has a large "tribal" levy, an established nobility to lead it, and a system of fortresses across the duchy designed specifically to deal with Magyar incursions. They aren't going to be swept aside like the pre-Magyar polities of Pannonia no matter what happens to Otto.

    So in this timeline you may well have the Viennese speaking Hungarian, but I think any territorial expansion of the Magyars beyond the Austrian march is unlikely.
     
  9. ramones1986 Grumpy and Lazy

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    You mean the whole Vienna region (practically the whole historic Austria, both Lower and Upper) would speak Hungarian, which would be the probable result of this scenario. I know this is relatively far-fetched, but how it would impact the latter-day history of this part of Central Europe?
     
  10. Carp Literally a fish

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    I'm sure it would have some effect, but concentrating on that is burying the lede a bit - the death of Otto in 955, before he's even emperor and before the birth of the future Otto II (who was born later in 955), is undoubtedly a far greater butterfly-generator than the expansion of the Magyars into Austria.

    Of course, you can theoretically still get a "major Hungarian victory" without Otto dying, but in that case the Magyars might not have so good a chance at overrunning or hanging on to the Austrian march. As stated, by the 950s the Germans were the superior party in this conflict, and I feel you'd really need to knock the stuffing out of them (like by killing Otto in 955) if you want to allow the Magyars to make any permanent gains at all, even if it's just pushing the Hungarian-German frontier into Austria.
     
  11. Monter Well-Known Member

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    Otto's death may be a blow, but Germany wouldn't necessarily descend in civil war, under the Hungarian threat his son Liudolf can easily be elected King, or his brother Henry of Bavaria (Liudolf has a much larger powerbase though). Assuming whatever succeeds Otto manages to rebuild an army he can defeat the Magyars.

    For sources on stuff, aside from Germany in the Early Middle Ages, there is Heart of Europe by Peter H. Wilson and for Hungary The Realm of St. Stephen, by Pál Engel.
     
  12. Carp Literally a fish

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    I don't know how large his powerbase actually in in 955 given that he'd just been defeated in his rebellion a year earlier and lost his duchy in the process.

    If Henry of Bavaria still dies in late 955 as IOTL, I suspect Liudolf's transition is going to be pretty seamless. If Henry lives, however - well, he's the most powerful duke, he rebelled against Otto for the crown once before, and he fought against Liudolf in the 953-4 civil war. He's also arguably the German leader with the most personal success against the Magyars, which in the aftermath of the Lechfeld Disaster is probably going to be a point in his favor. I think there's a serious possibility he might contest the crown with Liudolf, and Henry might well have the upper hand in that contest.
     
  13. Monter Well-Known Member

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    By heredity he's Duke of Saxony, Otto only gave Saxony to the Billungs after being crowned Emperor and even so as more of a viceroyalty, and Franconia, despite Otto never using the title he still held the Duchy as an allodial possession.
     
  14. Carp Literally a fish

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    Hermann Billung may not have actually had the title of Duke, but he was certainly the leading man in Saxony at that time and had opposed Liudolf during the 953-4 rebellion. I mean, the Saxons may well have supported Liudolf against Henry in a theoretical civil war, but I'm not sure it's a done deal just because Liudolf holds the ducal title by heredity. It's entirely possible that individual Saxon lords take opposing sides just as they did in Liudolf's rebellion.

    I'm not saying that Liudolf can't win, just that I don't think his succession is locked up if in 955 Otto dies and Henry of Bavaria doesn't. Henry has the potential to be a serious opponent if he lives long enough to try.
     
  15. Malta Kirked

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    What about Conrad the Red? If he had betrayed Otto (they had quite a bit of history) and made an agreement with the Magyars.