The area around Kiskunhalas has been inhabited for thousands of years. The peoples of prehistoric cultures settled here, as evidenced by the many archaeological treasures to be found in the Thorma János museum. From the start of the reign of the royal House of Árpád in 895 several small settlements flourished in this area, although the land was later ravaged by Mongolian invaders in the thirteenth century. Around 1246 seven Cumanian clans settled in the land of the Magyars, and one of them, the Csertán [‘pike’] clan, took possession of the area around Halas. Within a few centuries the Cumanians had become absorbed into the indigenous population.
The first written mention of ‘Halas’ dates from 1347. The settlement rapidly grew to become a market town (Latin ‘oppidum’). The region was gravely imperilled several times during the Turkish invasion and occupation of Hungary (1526-1699). From 1596, Halas was uninhabited for decades. The survival of Halas at all was thanks to its position as a town granted special privileges by the Sultan. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the local inhabitants turned to the Reformed religion of Calvin. After the expulsion of the Turks almost three-quarters of the town’s population were new settlers, originating chiefly from the regions of Southern Transdanubia and Szeged. The present-day coat of arms of Kiskunhalas – a Cumanian warrior standing above three crossed fish – originated as a municipal seal first used in 1755.
Although the privileges of the inhabitants of the Jászkunság region [Jazygian-Cumania, consisting of the areas of Jazygia, Greater Cumania and Lesser Cumania] had been reinforced more than once by the palatine and the emperor, in 1702 the territory was mortgaged by the royal court in Vienna to the Teutonic Knights. The renewed serfdom of the formerly free peasants of the region was a major factor in the town’s enthusiasm for the insurrection led by Ferenc Rákóczi against the Habsburgs (1703-1711). On 5 October 1703 the pro-Hungarian Kuruc and pro-Empire Labanc soldiers met in a significant battle to the east of Kiskunhalas. Although 234 fallen Kuruc men remained on the bloody battlefield, so did the enemy army’s leader. A statue commemorating the Battle of Halas was unveiled in 1904; known as the ‘Sorrowful Kuruc’, it is the only memorial of its kind in the whole of Hungary.
The Jazygians and Lesser and Greater Cumanians refused to accept the illegal sale of the Jászkunság. In 1745 they bought back their former privileges in what became known as the Redemption. From the total of 580,900 gold florins levied as the price of freedom, the town received 50,900 florins. The Redemption was a unique event in eighteenth century Hungary. The Jászkunság, a large region in the centre of the country, won back its privileges, bequeathing an example, albeit one hundred years early, for the freeing of all Hungarian serfs. The Redemption defined the social and economic relations of the local populace for a long period as there were divisions in land and pasturing rights as well as in participation in municipal affairs based on a person’s newly-privileged status or lack of it.
Halas was the centre of Lesser Cumania until 1754 when its status as seat of the regional administration was lost due to the town’s intransigently Protestant attitude. At this time a local council led by the chief justice was responsible for the affairs of the town. Halas succeeded in becoming both economically and administratively independent. The eighteenth century was a period of modest development. The people had to master many difficulties such as poor soil, shifting sands, droughts, marshes and epidemics. Until the second half of the nineteenth century most made their livings by raising cattle and sheep around the town boundaries. In the final third of the eighteenth century an increasing number of Catholics were settled in the once exclusively Protestant town. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1770, the present-day Reformed church in 1823. These new buildings reflect the growth of the population of Halas, which had reached 8,000 by the end of the 1700s.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century and during the reform period the town continued to develop, with an increase in the number of craftsmen and merchants. In 1848 and 1849 Halas sent hundreds of national guardsmen and soldiers to fight in Hungary’s War of Independence. In the subsequent period of absolutism Halas was a district seat. It received an organized council in 1872. As part of the administrative reforms following the 1867 compromise between Hungary and Austria the region known as Jászkunság became defunct and from 1876 Halas, along with the whole of Lesser Cumania, became part of the county of Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun.
The 1863 consolidation of land strips and redistribution of landed property is a good example of the growing importance of the role of farming for profit. From the end of the nineteenth century the produce of vineyards and orchards became increasingly significant. The Kiffer strain of pear and the local sand wine became nationally known. Within the frame of the food industry – alongside mills – poultry-keeping, milk production and the processing and export of fruit are worthy of mention. The development in Kiskunhalas of trade and production for the market was assisted by the laying of the main railway line between Budapest and Belgrade, which touched the edge of the town. Railway traffic started running both north to Budapest and south to Szabadka [present-day Subotica, Serbia] in 1882. In the same year the first local newspaper was published.
The booming economy and social modernization of the early 1900s resulted in a wave of building. Alongside the handful of already-existing Baroque and Classicist structures, an increasing number of modern public buildings and private residences were erected. Naturally, industrial sites such as a brickworks and an electricity plant were also built and hard roads were constructed. By 1910 the population of Kiskunhalas had reached 25,000. Plans for the further development of the town were, however, slowed down or even interrupted for years by the outbreak of the First World War, in which Kiskunhalas lost more than a thousand men. The memory of the dead is preserved by a war memorial named the ‘Statue of the Heroes’, which was erected in 1926.
Between the wars the more important streets were resurfaced. New buildings included the Lace House, a Catholic higher elementary school, two agricultural boarding schools, several schools for those children isolated in the country on farms, some nurseries, two barracks and a state-owned wine cellar. The local hospital was extended and lidos were prepared at both the Sóstó and Fehértó lakes. The housing shortage was at least partly relieved by the building of flats, and publicly and privately owned houses. A burst of more vigorous economic activity was only notable from the second half of the 1930s. The Second World War claimed more than a thousand of the population of Kiskunhalas (including Holocaust victims as well as soldiers). Following the war, political life was all astir and the redistribution of the land was enacted. From the beginning of the 1960s the Kiskunhalas State Farm cultivated thousands of acres. Industry started to thrive in the ’60s and ’70s.
According to the range of its municipal boundaries, Halas once ranked sixth in the whole of Hungary. A large administrative reform took place when the villages of Pirtó (in 1947), and Kunfehértó, Balotaszállás, and Zsana (in 1952) became independent of Kiskunhalas, and when Bodoglár and Tajó puszta were unified with the nearby town of Kiskunmajsa. The need for the agricultural cultivation of the large region of surrounding countryside belonging to Kiskunhalas demanded the development of farms and homesteads in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the twentieth century 50% of the population lived not in, but around the town. During the Socialist regime of the second half of the 1900s, however, the number of farms fell. Nowadays in addition to their traditional roles, some farms also provide opportunities for tourism and recreation. Although the administrative role of Kiskunhalas has decreased since the above-mentioned districts became independent, its developed institutional and service system means that the town still plays the part of a regional centre. With the reappraisal of surrounding micro-regions, the administrative and organizational importance of Kiskunhalas is presently strengthening once again.