History of Our City
A large number of archaeological finds, unearthed where present-day Békéscsaba lies, all attest to the fact that the place was already inhabited in the late Bronze Age. The proximity of rivers must have been a key consideration for early settlers, as they were a source of food, offered protection and served as a means of transport for prehistoric man. So what is today's Békéscsaba has been inhabited from time immemorial and was the scene of successive waves of migrations.
In the 4th century the Great Plain was conquered by the Huns. After the death of Attila, king of the Huns, the Gepids, an East Germanic Gothic tribe took over as occupiers of the land. In 565 they were in turn defeated by the Avars, who conquered, among others, the entire Great Plain.
The Avars were themselves defeated and subsequently driven out from Transdanubia by the Franks. For a while Avar khagans continued to rule the Great Plain, then in 804 Bulgarian tribes subdued the areas east of the River Danube. Historians seem to be divided over the issue of the peoples inhabiting the area at that time. Some assert that the Great Plain was inhabited by the Slavs; others do not rule out a large Avar population either, claiming that they were still inhabiting the area around the time of the Magyar conquest.
Age of the Magyar conquest
The Magyars arriving at what is today's Békés County must have found rich pastureland suitable for animal husbandry and farming people instead of an entirely barren plain.
By the 10th century society had become hierarchically structured, with wealth and power serving as the basis for social differentiation. The chieftain of the largest tribe – the prince – was at the top of the social hierarchy. The nobility of the time also included the other chieftains and members of the tribal aristocracy. The latter also had armies of their own and would sometimes defy the prince's authority.
Age of King Stephen
Prince Géza, later Géza I of Hungary and his son Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary, laid the basis for the Hungarian state. The first step towards the creation of a feudalist state was organising a regionally based administration by creating several counties (comitatus, megye) and founding an ecclesiastical order in this kingdom. Stephen also invited foreign priests to Hungary to convert the pagan country. Around the turn of the first millennium, such evangelisers must have reached Békés County, but it was not until the 11th century that the first results of mass conversion to Christianity and the establishment of an ecclesiastical order emerged. At that time a nobleman called Vata was ruling Békés County. He made his name in Hungarian history by leading a pagan revolt in 1046.
Written records mention 8 villages. Research reveals that practically all villages in the Middle Ages had Árpád-Age origins. This must be the same for Csaba, which was first mentioned in a list of papal tithes drawn up in 1332-37. The name, most probably of Turkic origin, means 'gift'. In the environs of today's Békéscsaba the remains of nine settlements have been excavated: those of Csaba, Gerendás, Gerla, Kétsoprony, Mezőmegyer, Ölyved, Szent-Miklós, Püski and Vesze.
The battle of Mohács did not have any direct impact on the region. Neither did the fall of Buda exert any significant effect. However, a truly dramatic change occurred when Transylvania fell into the hands of the Hapsburgs. Around 1566 the villages in the vicinity of Csaba paid taxes to the Turkish Ottoman treasury.
Resettlement of Csaba
Some historians think that the whole of Békés County and hence the environs of Csaba, became depopulated during the Ottoman rule. More recent research, however, seems to have found evidence that the village had always been inhabited. Members of the landed nobility did flee to the Highlands (today's Slovakia), but the serfs stayed put.
It is likely that the new Csaba was founded by Baron János György Harruckern, who fought in the freedom fight against the Turks. In recognition of his valour, he was allowed to purchase Békés County from the Treasury. Intense re-population of the county began in 1718, with Slovak settlers arriving from Nógrád, Gömör and Hont counties. The newcomers were allowed to keep their Lutheran faith and were also assisted in numerous ways. The majority of the settlers made a living from animal husbandry and farming.
The 18th century
The township now had a fully-fledged administration in place. The name of the first notary, who came immediately after the judge in the social hierarchy of the day, was mentioned in written documents in 1721.
Craftsmen, among them carpenters, brewers, smiths and tailors, were first mentioned in a census in 1723. Craftsmen in Békéscsaba formed guilds only in the late 18th century. Industrial development was slow and so was the emergence of a merchant class. No markets were held in Csaba. Csaba dwellers went to Gyula, which was the local market of the time.
Between 1773 and 1847 the population of the village trebled, exceeding 22,000. It was no coincidence that Csaba was referred to as 'large Csaba', the largest village in Europe. A rising population also brought about increased overcrowding. Outbuildings and crowded dwellings were a constant source of fires. Building sites on estates were frugally allotted, so many had to find a place to live in the nearby vineyards.
The 19th century
1787 was a milestone in the history of the village, as it became one of the county's post towns. Due to a law enacted by Parliament in 1844, Csaba became the hub of major roads that crossed the country. Dignitaries in Csaba welcomed the idea of the construction of the Arad railway line which would serve the place as well. They made an immediate commitment regarding the sharing of the related costs; members of the rather conservative peasant community were quick to realise that it was an issue that directly affected their future prospects.
Due to objections from the Békés and Gyula estates, it was not until 1841 that the landlords in Csaba were finally allowed to hold national markets. Csaba was now a market town in its own right, as the size of its population and the economic importance of the place fully justified its new legal status.
In 1848 the Slovaks in Csaba set a remarkable example of patriotism, as they recruited 2,000 national guards who were stationed outside Nagybecskerek. Though they did not go into battle and no life was sacrificed for the country, they did make significant financial contributions to the cause of independence. They offered wheat, fodder, gold and silver jewellery to the government of the day. They also shared the burdens of hardship after the loss of the Hungarian War of Independence, when they had to provide food and fodder for the Czarist army.
In line with trends in the country's economy, Csaba's economy also took off in the second half of the century. The construction of the railway line was the engine of development. Along with mills, the first factories – among them textile, printing, furniture, coach and, from the early 20th century, concrete-making factories – were built. The economic boom also benefited the cityscape: new buildings befitting a city were erected. At the request of the local councillors, the Home Secretary of the day granted Békéscsaba city status with a permanent council.
World War I and Trianon
World War I and its aftermath proved rather taxing on the city. Young men from the city fought as soldiers in the legendary 101 Regiment against the Russians. At the same time as the establishment of the Hungarian Republic of Councils (a short-lived communist revolutionary government), a local directorate was also set up in Békéscsaba on 21 March 1919. The 'rule of the proletariat' lasted 36 days in the city. At the end of April the Romanian army occupied Békéscsaba and took control of the city for nearly a year. Owing to the peace treaties that concluded World War I, Békés County no longer belonged to the catchment areas of Arad and Nagyvárad (today Oradea), and Békéscsaba took over as a regional centre.
The global depression in the 1920s also hit Békéscsaba hard. Agriculture was the worst hit sector, as the prices of agricultural produce fell more sharply than those of manufactured goods. Both agrarian and industrial workers faced a dire situation, which led to frequent strikes.
World War II and the socialist era
The darkest 'days' of the war for the Csaba dwellers were 24-26 June and 21 September in 1944.
Held captive in a concentration camp in the building of the local tobacco exchange, over 3,000 Jews, of whom 2,000 were from Békéscsaba, were deported in cattle wagons to Auschwitz on 25 and 26 June in 1944. The majority died in the gas chambers.
Only a mere 20% of the Jew populace, which had played a decisive role in the city's economy, social and cultural life, returned after the war.
On 21 September in 1944, the British RAF and the American Air Force bombed the railway station and the surrounding areas, leaving 96 dead and 150 seriously injured. Many of the injured also died later.
Early years of socialism
The invading Russian army occupied the city on 6 October in 1944.
After World War II, Békés County was also the scene of significant changes. Restructuring agriculture on the basis of the socialist model led to major changes in the county. In 1950, Békéscsaba became the county seat and enjoyed unprecedented development. Industrialisation swelled the population, which rose from 42,000 to 65,000 over 25 years. From the 1960s, industrial premises, among them, an edge-tool factory, a canning factory, an elevator and engine factory and a cooling plant, were built. It was in this period too that the Kner printing press was founded. MEZŐGÉP also played a key role the county's machinery industry. Owned by Gabonaforgalmi és Malomipari Vállalat (a milling industry company), large granaries were built in the 1970s. In the 1980s, over half of the city's population were industrial workers.
The present day
The political changeover of the early 1990s also brought new challenges to the city. As in previous bad times, agriculture fared worst in the social transformation. However, the city took just a few years to recover from it all. Today, making the most of its potential, Békéscsaba is one of the most dynamically developing cities in Békés County. Due to its status, compared to other places in the county, Békéscsaba offers the best of everything in terms of industry, education, culture and services.