9th and 10th centuries
Medieval chroniclers stated that the Árpáds' forefather was Ügyek, whose name derived from the ancient Hungarian word for "holy" (igy). The Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum ("The Deeds of the Huns and Hungarians") mentioned that the Árpáds descended from the gens (clan) Turul, and the Gesta Hungarorum ("The Deeds of the Hungarians") recorded that the Árpáds' totemic ancestor was a turul (a large bird, probably a falcon). Medieval chroniclers also referred to a tradition that the Árpáds descended from Attila the Hun – the anonymous author of the Gesta Hungarorum, for example, has Árpád say:
The land stretching between the Danube and the Tisza used to belong to my forefather, the mighty Attila.
The first member of the dynasty mentioned by a nearly contemporary written source was Álmos. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII recorded in his De Administrando Imperio that Álmos was the first Grand Prince of the federation of the seven Magyar tribes (megas Turkias arkhon). Álmos probably accepted the supremacy of the Khagan of the Khazars in the beginning of his rule, but, by 862, the Magyar tribal federation broke free from the Khazar Khaganate. Álmos was either the spiritual leader of the tribal federation (kende) or its military commander (gyula).
Árpád's wife, oil on canvas
Around 895, the women and cattle of the Magyar warriors battling in the west were attacked by the Pechenegs, forcing them to leave their territories east of the Carpathian Mountains; the Magyars moved into the Carpathian Basin. Álmos's death was probably ritual sacrifice, practiced by steppe peoples when the spiritual ruler lost his charisma, and he was followed by his son, Árpád.
The Magyar tribes gradually occupied the whole territory of the Carpathian Basin between 895 and 907. Between 899 and 970, the Magyars frequently conducted raids into the territories of present-day Italy, Germany, France and Spain and into the lands of the Byzantine Empire. Such activities continued westwards until the Battle of Lechfeld (955), when Otto, King of the Germans destroyed their troops; their raids against the Byzantine Empire ended in 970.
From 917, the Magyars made raids into several territories at the same time, which may have led to the disintegration their tribal federation. The sources prove the existence of at least three and possibly five groups of tribes within the tribal federation, and only one of them was led directly by the Árpáds.
The list of the Grand Princes of the Magyars in the first half of the 10th century is incomplete, which may also prove a lack of central government within their tribal federation. The medieval chronicles mention that Grand Prince Árpád was followed by his son, Zoltán, but contemporary sources only refer to Grand Prince Fajsz (around 950). After the defeat at the Battle of Lechfeld, Grand Prince Taksony (in or after 955 – before 972) adopted the policy of isolation from the Western countries – in contrast to his son, Grand Prince Géza (before 972–997) who may have sent envoys to Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor in 973.
Géza was baptised in 972, and although he never became a convinced Christian, the new faith started to spread among the Hungarians during his reign. He managed to expand his rule over the territories west of the Danube and the Garam (today Hron in Slovakia), but significant parts of the Carpathian Basin still remained under the rule of local tribal leaders.
Géza was followed by his son Stephen (originally called Vajk), who had been a convinced follower of Christianity. Stephen had to face the rebellion of his relative, Koppány, who claimed Géza's inheritance based on the Magyar tradition of agnatic seniority. He was able to defeat Koppány with the assistance of the German retinue of his wife, Giselle of Bavaria.