The earliest signs (24 thousand years) point to the presence of a tribe of “mammoth hunters”, but the harsh weather of the ice age was not conducive to them staying here.
The area was inhabited from the end of the 6th millennium BC: the cultivating-agrarian people who had settled on the “edges” (islands) rising above the floodplains of the rivers also bred animals.
The 3rd – 2nd millennium BC was the end of the neolithic and the flowering of the copper age. Copper-age finds from Szeged-Szillér point to commercial links with the copper mines in Transylvania.
The 2nd – 1st millennium BC was the highpoint of the bronze age; peoples from the south and south-east appeared, followed by the Kurgan “ochre grave” builders, “big animal breeders” who constructed enormous earth pyramids (“Cumanian mounds”).
The 9th – 6th centuries BC marked the end of the bronze age; from written sources at the beginning of the iron age we can name the peoples who were here, eg. the Scythians. The naming of the Tisza can be ascribed to them (the word “tijah” meaning: river).
The 3rd – 1st centuries BC: the use of iron spreads in the 3rd century, at the time of the Celts. The manufacture of weapons increases, and acts of war between peoples multiply. The Jazig–Sarmatian peoples in the area between the Danube and the Tisza provide border protection for the Roman Empire.
The first use of a name for this location - Partiscus - comes from Ptolemy in the middle of the 2nd century AD. For more than two hundred years the region was ruled over by the Gepids – Huns, and then for a short time the Gepids again, and finally the conquering Avars. The downfall of the latter was caused by the French Charlemagne and by Kroum, the Bulgarian Khan, pressing forward from the east.
Arriving at the end of the 9th century, the Hungarians found a weakened Avar-Bulgarian people here. The conquering Hungarians held their assemblies in the vicinity of Szeged – at what is today Ópusztaszer – where according to Anonymus they divided the territory of the country between themselves. This region came into the possession of Ond, one of the tribal leaders.
The name of the town first appears in a written source in 1183, which records how King Béla III granted passage to three ships carrying salt to the church at Nyitra; these may have been stationed at Arad or Szeged (“Cigeddin”).
The town enjoyed its golden age at the time of the Anjou Kings, when it grew into a thriving commercial centre. As a result of the Turks pressing forward the town’s defensive role increased, and and Szeged was declared by Zsigmond during his stay here as the gathering point for the forces setting out to fight them.
In 1444 the “Peace of Szeged” was concluded here. Just a few days later the treaty was broken by King Ulászló I when he set out to do battle with the Turks. The town was also the point of departure for the Christian army which, led by János Kapisztrán, left to relieve the town of Nándorfehérvár in 1456.
Starting in 1458, King Matthias stayed for long periods in Szeged on a number of occasions. He granted significant privileges, such as exemption from customs duty and grazing rights, and convened Parliament.
In 1514 the town’s poorest serfs were united in the army led by György Dózsa. We know from two sources that the head of the defeated peasant leader was cut off and sent to Szeged, and Balázs Pálfy, a magistrate in Szeged, was said to have been György's foster father. Another source (György Szerémi) has it that János Szapolyai sent Dózsa’s head to Szeged to arouse fear. In the imagination of the poet Gyula Juhász a daughter – Piros(ka) – was born to Balázs Pálfy, and she appears as the fiancée in the poem entitled “Dózsa’s head”.
In February 1543 the beyler-bey in Buda had the town leaders summoned to him and beheaded. The Turkish occupation lasted until 1686, after an uninterrupted period of 143 years.
In 1704, at the beginning of the Rákóczi war of liberation, the castle of Szeged was besieged by the Kuruc armies. The prince arrived on 20th August but, lacking the necessary artillery, lifted the siege soon after.
On 21st May 1719 the privileges afforded to Szeged were increased when it was granted the status of a royal town. The day is still celebrated in the town on or around 20th May as “Szeged day” and, with a spectacular programme of events, has become a tourist attraction.
On 6th October 1723 an assembly was held in Szeged establishing the County of Csongrád. In 1730 Sándor Károlyi, a land-owning lord in the county, offered his manor house in Szegvár as the county hall, and the county administration was moved here several decades later, in 1767. 111 years later it was the turn of Szentes to be county town (1878); this was followed in 1950 by Hódmezõvásárhely before, on 1st January 1962, Szeged took on the mantle.
On 23rd July 1728, 13 people were burnt as witches on “Witches Island”, in the area of the street which is known today as Máglyasor. The wicked deed was provoked because the then leaders of the town decided that the only way to remove the problem of the masses complaining about the drought and its consequences (famine, epidemics) was to instill in them the belief that as long as the stigmas of the guilty parties fraternising with the devil remained alive among them, nothing would change: the Good Lord did not like the people, and thus they were being punished.
The modern era, the age of technology, saw the spread of machines, with man's intervention in the natural order becoming ever more drastic. man wanted more and more protected land to sow and harvest as he wanted, and he took this from the river. Dykes were constructed between the periodically flooded area and the river, since which time the Tisza, tamed and deprived of its freedom, has flowed quietly along in its modest, regulated way for most of the year. But once, sometimes twice a year it becomes like a wild beast, trying to win back the land which was earlier taken from it, and then people launch a desperate defence, piling up more mountains of earth beside and on top of the dykes to prevent the water breaking through. It is a game with an unpredictable outcome: sometimes it is not man who wins.
This is what happened in the early hours of 12th March 1879, when a breach in a distant dyke caused Szeged to be completely destroyed. The country united after the tragedy, as did the peoples of the world, and helped the town in its reconstruction. The fruit of this international collaboration and of the will of the inhabitants (who loved their town) was the establishment of the town as it is now. With its boulevards and avenues and its elegant mansions, Szeged is the most beautiful and most well-ordered town in Hungary. A look at the map shows the regular, organised plan laid out with ruler and compass. And looking closely at the street names you can see that the main boulevard features the names of Rome, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, Moscow and Vienna, recalling the donations made by the peoples of the world when collections were made in the capital cities and sent here. The King visited Szeged at the time of the tragedy; his sympathy is echoed by the consoling words which now adorn a coloured glass window overlooking the main staircase in the town hall: “Szeged will be more beautiful than before”