A large number of archaeological finds were unearthed in present-day’s Békéscsaba, all of them are attested 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 good source of food, offered protection and served as a means of transport for prehistoric man.
In the 4th century the Huns conquered the Great Plain. After the death of Attila (king of the Huns) the Gepids -an East Germanic Gothic tribe- took over the land. In 565, Avars defeated them and conquered almost the entire Great Plain.
The Avars were 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 inhabitants of the area at that time. Some assert that Slavs inhabited the Great Plain; 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 have found rich pastureland suitable for animal husbandry and farming people when they arrived.
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 and defied the prince’s authority few times.
Age of King Stephen
Prince Géza, later Géza the first 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 change the pagan country. Around the turn of the first millennium, the Lutheran priests must have reached Békés County, but only in the 11th century that 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 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. However, a truly dramatic change occurred when Transylvania fell into the hands of the Habsburgs. 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 researches found evidence that the village had always been inhabited.
The new Csaba was founded by Baron János György Harruckern. He fought the freedom fight against the Turks. In recognition of his merits, 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 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 (carpenters, brewers, smiths and tailors) were first mentioned in a census in 1723. Craftsmen in Békéscsaba formed guilds in the late 18th century. Industrial development was slow and so was the emergence of the 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 an 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 city as well. They made an immediate commitment regarding the related costs’ share. The members of the rather conservative peasant community realized that it was an issue that directly affected their future prospects.
Due to objections from the Békés and Gyula estates, the landlords in Csaba were finally allowed to hold national markets in 1848. Csaba was a market town in its own right, as the size of its population and the economic importance fully justified its new legal status.
In 1848, the Slovaks of 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 for independence. They offered wheat, fodder, gold and silver to the government. 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.
Csaba’s economy showed the signs of growth 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. The Secretary granted Békéscsaba city status with a permanent council.
World War I and Trianon
World War I. and its aftermath: 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 became 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 24-26th of June and 21st of September in 1944.
Held captive in a concentration camp in the building of the local tobacco exchange, over 3,000 Jews, 2,000 were from Békéscsaba and deported in cattle wagons to Auschwitz on 25th and 26th 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 the 21st of 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 the 6th of 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 a county and enjoyed unprecedented development. Industrialism swelled the population, which rose from 42,000 to 65,000 within 25 years. From the 1960s, industrial premises (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 was industrial worker.
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 in a few years the city recovered. 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.