The first hussars were raised by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary in 1485 during his war against the Turks. The hussars fought successfully against the Turkish Spahis. The word hussar (pronounced huh-ZAR, huh-SAR, or hoo-ZAR; SAMPA: "husA:r") derives from huszár ("highwayman"), a type of flamboyant 15th century Hungarian cavalryman.
Afterwards various other countries copied the model and formed light cavalry units of their own. Austrians hired Hungarian hussars to fight against Turkey. Polish hussars fought against the army of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Frederick the Great used hussars extensively during the War of the Austrian Succession.
Hussar armament included a cavalry saber, lance and light metal armor. Their common attack was a compact lance charge against infantry units. They were also used for reconnaissance and raiding sources of fodder and provisions in advance of the army. In battle, hussars were used in such light cavalry roles as harassing enemy skirmishers, overrunning cannon positions, and pursuing fleeing troops. They became elite cavalry troops with colorful uniforms.
The hussars of later times were similarly colorful. They were known for their colorful uniforms, usually comprised of a jacket with heavy horizontal gold braid on the breast, a matching pelisse (a short-waisted overjacket often worn slung over one shoulder), a busby (a high fur hat with a cloth bag hanging from one side), and high riding boots.
Hussars also had a reputation for being the dashing, if unruly, adventurers of the army. The traditional image of the hussar is of a reckless, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, womanizing, mustachioed swashbuckler. Less romantically, hussars were also known (and feared) for their poor treatment of local civilians. In addition to commandeering local food-stocks for the army, hussars were known to also use the opportunity for personal looting and pillaging.
Britain hired German hussars as part of Hessian mercenaries and sent them to America to fight in the American War of Independence.
After sword cavalry became obsolete, hussar units generally converted to either ceremonial units, or armored units. Hussar units still exist today, especially in the British Army, among others (such as the Belgian Army), as usually tank forces. The ceremonial units are just that: they ceremonially march in parades in traditional clothings.