[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] Stefan Pascu: A History of Transylvania

Pascu, p. 101:

Chapter 7.

...the diet of this period represented the interests of the privileged classes and the high clergy. It excluded the common people, the Orthodox religion, and the most numerous group, the Romanians. Since the Romanian peasants were not one of the three constituent nations of the country, they were excluded from political life, and after 1437 they were doubly oppressed - socially and as an ethnic group - by the privileged nations. [...] But like the diet, these assemblies [of the Szekler and Saxon seats] included only the Szekler leaders and the Saxon elite. The peasantry was not represented and did not benefit from their acts.

As shown above, the Rumanians were not the most numerous group in that time. Not even in the following century were they more than about 280.000 = 29% out of an estimated total population of 950.000.

The passage quoted above contains a contradiction. On the one hand, it is stated that the diet excluded, among others, "the common people", and also in the Szekler and Saxon territories, the peasantry was shut out from sharing in the power. On the other hand, Pascu affirms that the Rumanians were "doubly oppressed - socially and as an ethnic group." The real situation is - something which logically follows also from Pascu's text - that the peasants were excluded from power, without regard to their nationality, Rumanians as well as Hungarians. In feudal society, this was the situation in Europe. This situation implied of course that - as stated also by Pascu, p. 87, - the Rumanian cnez-es and voivodes who became ennobled, in many cases also embraced Catholicism and married into noble Hungarian families, became part of the Hungarian nobility.

It is a general belief in contemporary Rumanian historiography that the Unio Trium Nationum at Kápolna (Rum. Capâlna) in 1437 was a kind of a pact of the Hungarian, Szekler and Saxon nations against the Rumanians. This is wrong, because it does not take into account the political system of the period in question: feudalism. It was not the nationality but the social-economic situation of a man that decided his status. Feudalism was a kind of democracy of the nobles and based on the concept of subsidiarity. People with the same social status (the nobles) were equal and had equal rights. (In contrast, in the Rumanian voivodates, the boyards [the nobles] were the serfs of the voivod.) Those who did not belong to the nobility, the peasants etc. - without regard to their language or nationality - were not included in this system. It is very important to emphasize these historical facts because the concept of projecting the present circumstances back into the past, asserting anti-Rumanian contracts etc. where they did not exist, gives a totally false picture of history. In south-eastern Europe, this is not only the concern of historians or intellectuals in general but affects social life, also by generating hatred against the non-Rumanian folk groups, particularly the Hungarians, among the Rumanian public.

Michael the Brave

Pascu, p. 104:

Uninterrupted cultural and economic links among the three Romanian countries; [...] ancient political ties, which had been strengthened in the face of the Turkish threat; and a common language, customs, and traditions meant that Romanians on both sides of the Carpathians were actively aware of their ethnic identity. It was this ethnic awareness that paved the way for Michael the Brave's attempt in 1599 - 1600 to unite Moldavia, Transylvania, and his own country under a single ruler.

Feudal society was very different from society in later periods and especially from that of the 20th century democracies. In South-Eastern Europe, the incursions of the Tartars and later the Turkish expansion caused an almost constant state of war. To this comes the fight between the central power (the state) and more or less powerful local leaders. The princes sent to Transylvania by the Hungarian king sought often to seize as much power in their hands as possible, and this was the case with practically all local potentates in the period in question in Europe. The ruling aristocracy, including the high clergy, strove for as much economic gain as possible. To this aim, they needed manpower and settled actively on their estates whoever they found. The nationality, language, and culture of the settlers did not count; it was the function they were expected to fullfill that decided the colonisations. Thus, the Vlach shepherds, who were willing to serve as frontier gards around royal fortresses were welcome, as well as the German and Walloon merchants and craftsmen, who settled in towns, and peasants who were acquainted with superior methods of agriculture. Although the Turkish menace was perceived as a common danger for all, and many successfull battles were fought against the Turkish army, especially in times of strong leaders, as János Hunyadi, the fight for power between the different voivodes went on almost constantly.

To throw some light on these questions, we give a survey of the circumstances about Michael the Brave's role in Transylvania.

To the background of Michael's occupation of Transylvania in 1599 belongs the weakness of government there during the reign of Sigismund and later of András Báthori and the absence of political leadership after the death of this last named prince; as well as the discontent of the Szeklers with the Báthori family. In 1562, they were deprived of their old freedom and rights. In 1595, they were promised to regain them after the successfull battles fought by Prince Sigismund Báthori in Muntenia, in which 20.000 Szekler soldiers played a decisive role. However, Báthori did not keep his promise and sent troops to the Szeklerland, who killed the Szekler leaders and devastated much of the country.

When Michael invaded Transylvania, he sent a message to the Szeklers, declaring that he was the representative of emperor Rudolf, and his aim was to expel voivode Endre Báthori. The major part of the Szeklers then revolted against their elite, expelling or killing some of them, and joined Michael in his camp at Bodza (Rumanian Buzau). Out of those 36.000 soldiers in Michael's army, one third were Szeklers. A smaller part of the Szeklers - those of Aranyosszék and Marosszék - joined the Transylvanian voivode Endre Báthori. The battle was fought near Hermannstadt (Rumanian Sibiu), at Schellenberg (Rumanian Selimbar) and ended with the victory of Michael, who then marched into Alba Iulia.

He summoned a diet, where he declared that he came to Transylvania on the mandate of king Rudolf, as his governor. The nobles proclaimed their loyalty to Rudolf and to his governor, Michael. Michael used in Transylvania the following signature on official documents: "Michael, voivode of Muntenia, the councillor of His Majesty the king and emperor, his Transylvanian governor, the military chief of his troops in Transylvania and the annexed territories". 133 His first decree introduced something entirely unknown before in Transylvania: the Legamântul lui Mihai ("binding [to the earth] by Mihai"), which he earlier enacted in his own country, Muntenia. By this, also the Transylvanian Rumanian peasants became deprived of their right of free moving: every peasant shall be the rumân, i.e., the serf, of his lord for ever. 134 Michael retained the political system of Transylvania (according to Istoria României. Compendiu, 1974, p. 160, "in order to assure the collaboration of the nobles"). Some boyars from Muntenia joined the diet and a lord from Muntenia became the councillor also of Transylvania. In Istoria României. Compendiu, 1974, p. 160, the following conclusion is drawn from this and some other measures of Michael, such as the giving away of estates in Transylvania to boyars from Muntenia, placing Rumanian boyars in the front of a number of fortresses and as judges in certain towns: "These are facts which illustrate the plans of political unification and of successively introducing a Rumanian administration in Transylvania".

Michael, who knew the Hungarian language fairly well, sent his proposals to the diet in Hungarian, and the diet made its resolutions, as before, in Hungarian. Michael wrote his letters to the Saxons, and discussed with the representatives of king Rudolf in Hungarian. Official documents were also under his time issued in Latin. The statement of Pascu: "Romanian was used in official acts in addition to Latin and Hungarian" (p.105) is not entirely wrong, although with the significant addition that documents pertaining to Transylvania were only issued in Latin or in Hugarian and never in Rumanian; this language was only used in documents regarding Muntenia. 135 Michael did not show any sign of having the aim of liberating the Rumanians in Transylvania and this was not even expected of him. Even Rumanian historians have stated this fact:

He could not reckon with any support from our peasants, who were bondsmen, although it is only upon such support that he had been able to build in Transylvania a durable Rumanian rule. 136

In fact, even Pascu gives a hint on this:

The social classes who had an interest in centralized power - the towndwellers and the peasants - had been neglected (p. 107).

The reign of Michael in Transylvania was too short and all conclusions regarding his aims for the future can only be hypothetical. However, the general situation in Europe at that time was very different from that in the 19th century, with emerging national states. Also Pascu states (p. 107) that the boyars of Tara Româneasca were opposed to the union of their voivodate with Transylvania (because they feared the growth of central power); and the Moldavian voivod was also unfriendly towards Michael. To this comes that Michael took no interest whatsoever in the Rumanian peasants of Transylvania, and also lacked their support. Thus, nothing remains of the idea of a kind of Great Rumania in 1600, based on the "unity of the Rumanian language and people," as it is claimed today. On the contrary, Mihai was a man of his own (feudal) age and his activity excludes the thought of a national hero who fights for the interests of the Rumanian people, the Rumanian nation, as it is defined today.

Pascu does not even mention the most thorough and scholarly study on Michael written by Petre Panaitescu (Mihai Viteazul, Bukarest, 1936). Panaitescu showed that Michael was supported by and came to power with the help of the boyars of Oltenia and consequently served them in the first place. He also emphasized Michael's fight against the Turks. In Panaitescu's opinion, Michael occupied Transylvania not because of a desire to create Great Romania but mainly for military reasons and in order to gain more power.

Pascu, p. 107:

The union of the three Romanian countries under a single leadership was an achievement of enormous importance in the history of the Romanian people, since it marked the first time that the territories inhabited by Romanians formed a political and administrative unit.

The occupation of Transylvania by voivode Michael the Brave for one year, four centuries ago, has a significance today only for those politicians who need a historical confirmation, a historical anchorage for the present situation, when Transylvania belongs to Rumania.

Pascu, p. 107

Successors to Michael the Brave

The title of this section suggests a natural continuity from Michael the Brave to the following princes of Transylvania. It is necessary to point out that the princes of this country were Hungarians; Michael the Brave succeeded to seize power there for a very short time - one year - he was not elected as a voivod; the representatives of the three Transylvanian nations considered him only as the governor of Emperor Rudolf; it was only he who called himself voivod of Transylvania. The following princes had different aims and led very different policies.

Pascu, p. 108 (about prince Gabriel Bethlen, 1613 - 1629):

Thus, he developed the idea of creating a Protestant Kingdom of Dacia incorporating Transylvania, Moldavia, and Tara Româneasca. Bethlen sought support for his plan from Cyril Lukaris, the patriarch of Constantinople, whom he asked for help in converting the Romanians to Protestantism.

Neither in the correspondence of Bethlen, nor in the writings of Bethlen's chroniclers are there any traces of a plan about the forcible conversion of the Orthodox population to Protestantism. Pascu's above assertion serves a similar aim as his statements about Michael the Brave: to suggest that there was a tendency also from the Hungarian part to unite Transylvania, Muntenia and Moldavia in one single country. In the historical sources, there is no evidence of this. - The aims of Gabriel Bethlen may be summarized as follows: (1) he wanted to create prosperity in Transylvania by re-building and furthering its economy after the devastations by Michael and by the Austrian army that followed Michael's assasination some years earlier and (2) to strengthen the international status of the principality in the period of the religious wars.

Pascu writes only one and a half page about Gabriel Bethlen - one of the most significant princes of independent Transylvania - and two and a half pages about Michael the Brave. Even of this short text, a large part discusses Bethlen's preoccupation with Muntenia and Moldavia. Gabriel Bethlen took part in the thirty-years war on the side of the Protestant powers, against the Habsburgs. Bethlen strengthened the general European opinion of the age about Transylvania as the country of religious freedom, of the freedom of conscience, where everyone persecuted for his belief could find a refuge. Transylvania was under his reign a country of the same importance as any one of the western powers; Bethlen's court at Gyulafehérvár was similar to that of king Mathias in the second half of the 15th century. He succeeded to get the Saxons and the Szeklers to take part in strengthening of the central power (especially the Szeklers had to pay high taxes). 137 The Szeklers were his best soldiers. He was able to prevent the incorporation of Transylvania into the Turkish empire, as were Muntenia and Moldavia. Industry and commerce prospered and developed in the Saxon towns and also in agriculture, new methods were introduced. Bethlen's reign is characterized by law and general security. Bethlen also supported the Churches and founded a number of schools. It was also during the reign of Bethlen that the constitutional organization of Transylvania was entirely created. Thus, 12 counsellors were elected from the three accepted nations (the Hungarians, Szeklers and the Saxons), these were responsible to the parliament; in important matters, the prince was obliged to require the opinion of this council. The

Map 10. - The Principality of Transylvania between Ottomans and Habsburgs, 1606. (From: Transylvania. The Roots of Ethnic Conflict, ed. Cadzow, Ludanyi, & Elteto, Kent State University Press, 1983, p. 88.)

Parliament was called each year by the prince. Laws were made in the Latin language until the year 1564; from 1565, in Hungarian. This language was also used in the debates. (The Saxons spoke German at their separate national meetings, but Hungarian in the debates.) Beside the prince and the state council, there was the chancellor, the president of the state council and the council of the prince.

The war led by Rákóczy György II against Poland was a disaster for Transylvania. Its army was defeated and almost totally annihilated; Tartar and Turkish troops invaded and devastated the country. As always in such situations, the Hungarian population suffered most, since they were mainly living in villages and towns in the valleys, while the majority of the Rumanians were quite safe in the regions of high mountains.

The consequence of the defeat was that "Ottoman rule was strengthened," as is also mentioned by Pascu (p. 112).

Pascu, p. 111:

The new prince of Tara Româneasca, Mihnea III, was meanwhile putting together a bold plan to bring back the time of Michael the Brave.

About Mihnea III, Giurescu gives the following account:

Mihnea III [...] is one of the most peculiar and interesting figures of our history; [...] he was a stranger - the chronics of the country call him"Greek usurer [money lender]", the son of Iane Surdul, but asserted to be related to the rulers of the country, the son of Radu Mihnea. As also Radu Mihnea, he lived among the Turks, but as soon as he came to power, he turned against them and made war, with the same result. He had qualities: he was a poet, a learned man, calligrapher, knew the Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Latin and Rumanian languages. He chose as a model Michael the Brave, and changed his name, in order to be similar to him; he used to say. "I, Michael Radu voivode". After the uprising against the Turks, he was forced to leave the throne; he died at Satu Mare in 1660. 138

Pascu op 113.

The Renaissance and Reformation in Transylvania

Pascu does not mention that Zsuzsánna Lórántffy, the widow of György Rákóczy I, the ruler of the castle of Fogaras, founded 39 Rumanian elementary schools in Fogaras (Rum. Fagaras) on the territory of her own estate. She also founded the high school in Sárospatak, which then became the third center (after Nagyenyed and Gyulafehérvár) of education in Transylvania. Comenius (Jan Amos Komensky), the Czech Humanist and pedagogue had taught there for some years, as well as in Gyulafehérvár.

The Latin school Pascu mentions on p. 115 at Cotnari was not founded by Johannes Sommer but by the Moldavian voivode Despot voda (in 1562). 139

Pascu, p. 114:

[The ideas of European renaissance] ...are to be found in the humanistic culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Romanian territory in general and in Transylvania in particular. [...] The great humanistic scholar of Romanian origin, Nicolaus Olahus...

Transylvania was not, as pointed out above, a Rumanian country; Nicolaus Olahus was, although of Rumanian origin, a Hungarian humanist. The ideas of the renaissance in Transylvania were spread by Hungarian and Saxon educated men. A significant difference between Transylvania and the Rumanian countries Muntenia and Moldavia in this respect was that the Hungarians and the Saxons, who in the 16th and 17th centuries were in the majority, have adopted the ideas of the Reformation, while the Rumanians did not. Oláh Miklós (his name translated to Latin was Nicolaus Olahus), was the son of a family of Muntenian boyars, but born in Hermannstadt (Nagyszeben, Sibiu). He was educated to be a Catholic priest and became the archbishop of Esztergom (Hungary). He considered himself as a Hungarus (Hungarian); and in his writings, he showed himself to be a member of the Hungarian ruling class. His main themes were: the state of Hungary, the Hunnish king Attila, and king Mathias. 140

Pascu, p. 117:

Coresi [...] published some thirty-five books in Romanian and Slavonic to disseminate the Orthodox creed.

Pascu neglects here an important circumstance: a very important principle of the entire Reformation movement in Europe was that all peoples should have the opportunity to hear and to read the Gospel in their mother-tongue. It was in this spirit that Transylvanian Saxon and Hungarian learned men, nobles, and town officials founded printing offices in which religious books in Rumanian for the use of the Orthodox priests could be produced. They invited learned Rumanians (mostly to Brassó [Brasov, Kronstadt]) for the purpose of printing such texts. The first Rumanian book in print was the Lutheran Cathechism printed in Cyrillic letters (Catehismul luteran, 1544), translated on the initiative of Saxon Reformators. These reformators noticed that the language of the lithurgy in the Rumanian Orthodox churches was Ancient Slavonic, which not only the people but even many priests were unable to understand. This they considered to be an obstacle for the progress of general education among the Rumanian population. They wanted, therefore, to introduce the mother-tongue in the Rumanian Church as they did with German and Hungarian. The great reformator in Brassó was Honterus, who converted the town's Saxon population in a very short time from Catholicism to Lutheranism. It was the Saxon judge 141 Lukács Hirschel, who called deacon Coresi to Brassó and commissioned him to print, in the town's printing establishment, religious books in Rumanian. Also the Saxon mayor of Brasov, Hans Benkner (Johannes Benknerus), who had a paper industry, supported Coresi. 142 Coresi worked in Brassó, Bolgárszeg (Scheii Brasovului, the Rumanian quarter of the town) for 23 years and printed 35 books. In that period, this was an exceptionally high achievement, made possible by the generous help given by the Saxons: they paid the manual workers necessary in the printing process, provided the stock of printing types, etc.

The Lutherans and the Calvinists (Saxons as well as Hungarians) wanted in general the printing of religious books in the Reformed spirit, but Coresi fullfilled these desires only partially.

A printing office was created in the 1640-s also in Gyulafehérvár, under the direct supervision of the prince, with the aim of publishing religious books in Rumanian. It functioned until 1689 and published three Calvinist Catechisms in the Rumanian language in 1640, 1644, and 1656. 143 Also books according to the Orthodox confession were printed there.

Coresi printed in 1559 Întrebare crestineasca [Christian Question], in the spirit of the Reformation. Called Catehismul Bîrseanu, it is identical with the Catehismul Martian, a manuscript translated in Máramaros (Maramures). However, the majority of the books published by Coresi were in the Orthodox tradition. His language was that of northern Muntenia and Rumanian spoken in southern Transylvania.

Palia de la Orastie (1582) was the work of 5 Rumanian scholars, who made the translation not from "the Jewish, Greek, and Serbian languages to Rumanian", as it is asserted in the preface, but from a Hungarian source, to which another, written in Latin, was added. The Hungarian model is Pentateuchon printed by Gáspár Heltai in 1551 in Kolozsvár (Cluj), and the Latin model is a corrected edition of the Vulgate, similar to that published in 1573 by Luca Osiander in Tübingen. In several cases, the use of a Slavonic model cannot be denied. The translation and the printing of this book was paid by the Hungarian baron Miklós Forró of Háporton.

"The translation of the Hungarian text was made ad litteram, the turns of the phrase and the order of words of the original were preserved." 144 There are also a large number of words, morphological and syntactical elements borrowed from Hungarian.

Most important were these texts for Rumanian culture: as stated for example by Giurescu, in them "the beginnings of our literary language" are to be found. 145

The Hungarian and Saxon protestants wanted to spread Reformation among the Rumanians, but not by coercion. This appears from their policy of publishing religious books in Rumanian: as shown above, they did not prevent those in the Orthodox spirit. By the synod in Debrecen, it was determined that a dean was to be chosen among the Reformed Rumanians, who should supervise and see to it that the Rumanian Orthodox priests should convert out of conviction and not in order to attain freedom.

Pascu p. 115:

The Transylvanian population was more strongly affected [than by the ideas of Hussitism] by the teaching propounded by Martin Luther in the early sixteenth and by John Calvin in the mid-sixteenth century.

The Transylvanian population referred to here were Saxons and Hungarians; the Rumanians did not join the Reformation movement. 146

The university founded in Kolozsvár (Cluj) in 1581 by the Jesuits was also a Hungarian institution, the predecessor of the Báthory-Apor Seminar.

Pascu, p. 118:

It is a great step from the Romanesque stone churches of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries in Tara Hategului to the Gothic churches of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the cities of Transylvania.

This statement contains an obvious error and blurrs the real situation as regards the building of churches in Transylvania. No Rumanian church is known from the 12th and most of the 13th century. In the 12th century, Catholic churches (Hungarian and Saxon) were built in Arad (1139), Kolozsvár, and Nagyszeben; but already a century earlier, in the 11th century, Catholic churches were built in Gyulafehérvár and Nagyvárad. 147

The first Orthodox church is that in Demsus (county of Hunyad): it was built in the last years of the 13th century. In the same period were the Orthodox churches in Hátszeg (Hateg) and Hunyad (Hunedoara) built by Rumanian cnez-es: at Sînta Maria Orlea, Strei, Nucsoara, and Gurasada. 148 Thus, Orthodox churches started to be built about two centuries later than the Catholic churches. Also the churches built in the 14th to the 15th centuries, which Pascu mentions (p. 118), at Cluj, Brasov, Sibiu, Sebes, and Sighisoara, were all Catholic. The first Orthodox churches in these cities were built much later: in Cluj - 1796, in Brasov - 1495; in Sibiu, a church was bought at the end of the 19th century . 149

It is sometimes assumed that the Rumanians did erect churches earlier than in the late 13th century, but these were of wood and did not survive. 150 There is, however, no evidence of this neither in written sources nor in archeological finds. Also, one should remember that even in Muntenia and Moldavia, Orthodox churches were not being built before the 14th century. 151 In Muntenia, the monastery at Snagov, the voivode's church at Curtea de Arges (Hungarian Argyas), were among the first ones to be built (in the 14th century); the bishop's cathedral at Buzau was built in 1500 on the territory of the former Catholic Cumanian bishopric of Milcov (Hungarian Milkó), the voivode's church at Pitesti in the 17th century. In Moldavia, the earliest Orthodox cult places are the monastery at Vînatori-Neamt, from 1375, and the church at Siret, from 1384.

Pascu, p. 120;

[The representatives of late Humanism and early Enlightenment]... were desk-bound schoolroom humanists, no longer at the forefront of cultural change. Albert Szenczi Molnár, for example, though a learned linguist and notable poet, was not a fighter, but a scholar detached from the social disarray;...

Albert Szenczi Molnár was not "a scholar detached from the social disarray". He was an ardent preacher of the Reformation movement, an intellectual of great significance. He translated 150 David-psalms into Hungarian which gave the Rumanians the impetus to translate into Rumanian the Book of Psalms. He also translated the psalms of the French Huguenot poets, Theodore Bèze and Clément Marot. Szenczi was also the chief corrector of the Bible translation into Hungarian by Gáspár Károli; this translation became the basis of the Hungarian literary language. - Similarly, it may hardly be said about János Rimay that he was "contemplative and pessimistic."

Mihail Halici was, as Pascu writes, a notable poet - he was the first Rumanian to compose songs of love known today. He adhered to the Reformed religion and corresponded only with Hungarian Humanists. He wrote his songs in Rumanian, with a Hungarian spelling, for example: Kénték dé drágoszté (correctly : Cântec de dragoste).

Pascu, p. 121 (about folk poetry) :

The theme of Hungarian Clement the Mason (Komuves Kelemen) and Rumanian Master Manole (Mesterul Manole) is common, but it is a European wandering theme of folk poetry. That folk poetry played an important role in spreading the tradition of the people's struggle in Transylvania is an old Marxistic theory but has little substance.

Pascu, p. 122:

Social and Economic Developments

...noblemen who had fled from territories occupied by the Turks and the Habsburgs settled in Transylvania. These newcomers, taking advantage of the political struggles that were dividing the principality, soon acquired large estates and filled powerful offices.

There were very few families of nobles in Hungary who did not have part of their estates and relatives in Transylvania or in the Partium. Thus, most of them did not acquire new estates but came to their own. In this context it is important to point out that many Rumanian families have, in Transylvania, received estates and were ennobled by the Hungarian kings. The earliest were the Drágffy-s (in Máramaros [Maramures]) and the Jósika-s (in Karánsebes [Caransebes]); then there are the families Moga, Nopcsa, etc; about Nikolaus Olahus, see above, pp. 95-96. The Rumanian origin of these families is known and acknowledged by Hungarian historiography, as is the Slovakian origin of the Draskovics-, Reviczky-, and Mednyánszky-families or the Croatian or Serbian origin of the Zrínyi-s, the Lazarevics-s and the Jaksics-s.

Pascu, p. 125:

There were many causes for the impoverishment of the peasantry but exploitation by the feudal lords must certainly be counted as the most important.

The feudal exploitation of the peasants may be condemned today, in a democratic society. A historical approach to the problem, however, has to take into consideration the socio-economic situation in Europe in the period in question. Then it will be seen that the exploitation of the peasants was general; peasant uprisings occurred from time to time almost everywhere. In the Rumanian voivodates, the peasants were exploited in a much higher degree than in Hungary. A quotation from Descriptio Moldaviae by Dimitrie Cantemir (1673 - 1723) gives some idea about the degree of exploitation:

[However] ... without regard to ethnicity, the peasants are obliged to work for their lords continually (dominorum suorum operis assidue incumbere tenentur); there is no given measure as regards how much they have to work (nullus illis quo operentur modus dictus est); it depends upon the lord to call him to work as many days as he wants. The lord is not supposed to take the money or the animals of the peasants and if a peasant finds a treasure of great value, the lord has no part of it; and if he should take it, he would be condemned by the court to give it back to him. If the lord, however, would want to do an injustice, he beats him fiercely until he gives him spontaneously anything he wants. 152

It was forbidden by law to kill a peasant. But the lord was permitted to sell a peasant within the village in which the peasant was born; only in case the lord had sold the entire farm, had he the right to sell a peasant outside his birthplace. In a note to this, the editors of the 1973 edition of Cantemir's work remark that this was not always so, there were cases of peasants having been sold also without a farm.

The peasant pays as much tribute as the lord requires and this tribute is not defined or limited. (Tributi tantum solvit, quantum exiderit princeps, nec ullus ei praescribitur modus vel terminus.) - In one word, I would say that of all those wo are in the world who work in agriculture, the most miserable are the Moldavian peasants, if the richness of the soil did not help them out of poverty. 153

As a comparison, in Transylvania, the robota (urbarial work for the landlord) was in the 17th century fixed to two days in one week. 154

One of the main causes of this exceptionally bad situation of the peasantry was that the Rumanian principalities were degraded into Turkish pashalics. Thus, a similar misery prevailed in Muntenia. Turks appointed voivodes mainly from members of families of boyars, who intrigued against each other and paid increasing amounts of money to the Sultan and the high officials of his court in order to be chosen. This, and some other circumstances, such as foreign influence, resulted in very frequent changes of voivodes. Thus, for example, between 1521 and 1633, the number of voivodes in Muntenia was 32, none of whom reigned for more than 10 years, the mean having been 3 years. This caused a severe discontinuity in all spheres of life: the high officials were to be changed at each change of the ruler, legal processes were re-opened, the gifts one voivode made to the boyars were to be re-inforced by his successor, as well as the ranks in society of the boyars. This state of affairs resulted of course in anarchy, especially when all these changes recurred each second or third year. "The Rumanian principalities were Turkish estates, which the Sultan, this careless and ignorant owner, auctioned in almost each year to the most predatory, thoughtless and ignorant lessees." 155

The tribute paid to the Turkish empire was, according to the treaty of submission during the reign of Mircea cel Batrân (1386-1418) fixed to 3.000 ducats (galben-s), but increased enormously during the following centuries: for example, in the early 17th century, Moldova paid 58.000 ducats. But these yearly tributes were not the only way of extracting money from the Rumanian pashalics. Beside the regular tribute, several other payments increased their economic burdens in a much higher degree. The largest of these were the gifts, i.e., payments in money, gold, etc. made by the pretenders of the throne to the Turks. Thus, for example, Mihnea (voivode between 1577 and 1583 and 1585 and 1591) paid 600.000 ducats to the Sultan and 100.000 ducats to the beg (ruler) of Greece. Many of the boyars in the Rumanian principalities were of non-Rumanian origin (especially Bulgarian, and also Greek), but even the Rumanian boyars despised the peasant, the rumîn, which was synonymous with slav. "A real abyss existed always between the boyars and the rumîn-s." 156 The moral decadence of the boyars made it easy for the Turkish empire to exploit the two principalities. After having given some examples, Draghicescu concludes: "The entire sad history of our nation is full of such cases of sellings [treacheries for money], treacheries, intrigues and discords by the boyars" (p. 236). "These plots and treacheries of the boyars continued throughout the 17th, the 18th, and part of the 19th century, leading to extreme degradation and humiliation of the country.." (p. 237). The relation between the Rumanian boyars and the peasants in these centuries is described by Draghicescu as follows: "The deep distinction that always existed between the class of boyars and the peasantry is shown by the merciless persecutions, the methodical plunderings exercised by the boyars among the peasants. Having on their side the voivode and in their possession all the powers of the state, the boyars have in all times succeeded to secure that the necessities of the country, the payments, the tribute with all the inhuman taxes which the Turks squeezed out of the country, always fell only on the peasants. They have always evaded to contribute to these sacrifices" (p. 239).

The ruling class in Muntenia and Moldavia adopted the oriental life style of the Turkish lords: they had innumerable servants, they copied the oriental clothings, the idleness and carelessness, doing nothing else than lying on an ottoman and eating, drinking coffee and smoking a Turkish pipe 7 - 8 feet long. 157

Although the history of Muntenia and Moldavia does not belong to the theme of this book, we considered it necessary to give some idea of the conditions in the Rumanian principalities, because the picture depicted by Pascu is embellished and wrong. Contrary to what Pascu pretends, it is obvious that the peasantry (Hungarian and Rumanian) lived under much better, more human conditions in independent Transylvania than beyond the Carpathians, in the Turkish pashalics.

133 Jancsó, 1931, p. 121.

134 "Michael abolished the free right of moving of the peasants, enacting that they shall be bound to the earth (1595 - 1596)." ... The peasants were transformed to "serfs whom it was possible to give away, to change, to sell, according to the interests of the boyars. This measure, which established that the peasant, 'who shall be rumân for ever, where he is', was, by its consequences, a serious blow for the peasantry. The movements provoked by the 'binding' have weakened Michael's power" ( Istoria României. Compendiu 1974, p. 159).

135 Jancsó, 1931, p.122.

136 Nicolae Iorga, Istoria românilor The History of the Rumanians , p. 177, quoted by Jancsó, 1931, p. 122.

137 Jancsó, 1931, p. 146.

138 C.C. Giurescu, D.C. Giurescu, Istoria românilor din cele mai vechi timpuri pîna astazi The History of the Rumanians from ancient times to the present , Bucharest, 1975, p. 437.

139 Giurescu, 1975, p. 390.

140 Erdély története (The History of Transylvania), red. Béla Köpeczi, Budapest, 1986, II, p. 513.

141 Jancsó, 1931, p. 104.

142 Giurescu, 1975, p. 387.

143 Istoria literaturii române. Folclorul. Literatura româna în epoca feuadala (1400 - 1780) The History of the Rumanian Literature. The Folklore. The Rumanian Literature in the Period of Feudalism , 2nd edition; red. A. Rosetti et al., Bucharest, 1970, p. 316.

144 Ibid., pp. 294 - 295.

145 Giurescu, 1975, p. 387.

146An article in English about the Reformation movement in Transylvania may be read in Transylvania. The Roots of Ethnic Conflict, ed. J.F. Cadzow, A. Ludanyi & L. J. Eltetö, The Kent State University Press, 1983, pp. 61-70: "Reformation Literature and the National Consciousness of Transylvanian Hungarians, Saxons, and Rumanians", by Louis J. Elteto.

147 Árpád Kosztin, A Dákoromán legenda. Keresztény kultuszhelyek Erdélyben The legend of the Daco-Romans. Christian cult-places in Transylvania , Budapest, 1989, p. 74.

148 Giurescu, 1975, p. 338-339.

149 Kosztin, 1989, p. 74.

150 Giurescu, 1975, p. 338.

151 Kosztin, 1989, p.76.

152 Dimitrie Cantemir, Descriptio Moldaviae ed. Acad. RSR, Bucharest, 1973, p.298.

153 Ibid., p. 300.

154 Istoria României. Compendiu 1969, p. 209.

155D. Draghicescu, Din psihologia poporului român On the Psychology of the Rumanian People , Bucharest 1907 , Editura Albatros, 1996, p. 222.- Writing about history, Draghicescu refers to 19th century Rumanian historians, particularly to A.D. Xenopol (1847-1920).

156Draghicescu, 1907 (1996), p. 231.

157Ibid., chapter VIII, pp. 258-275.

 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [HMK Home] Stefan Pascu: A History of Transylvania