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

Pascu, p. 153:

Chapter 9.
THE DAWN OF THE MODERN ERA (pp. 150 - 181)

The "Transylvanian School" developed the ideas of the great seventeenth-century chroniclers from Moldavia and Tara Româneasca, in particular those of Dimitrie Cantemir, a humanist and pre-Enlightenment scholar and prince of Moldavia. The representatives of the school focused their ideas and their scholarly and political work on the most important questions: the origin, continuity, and unity of the Romanian people. Their zealous defense of their cause occasionally led them to exaggerations - for example, they asserted that the Romanian people were of purely Roman origin, and the Romanian language purely Latin. Some of their ideas, however, were entirely correct, as they sought to demonstrate the continuity of the Daco-Roman people in Dacia, the ethnic unity of the Romanian people, and the Romanian people's right the their own national life. [...]

The fruit of all scholarly work of the Transylvanian School was the foundation for the Romanian national movement.

This passage and particularly the last sentence shows how intimately ideas about the past were connected with politics. This was not unique for the Rumanian nation; in the 18th and the 19th centuries, when the nations in the modern sense of the word were born in Europe, historical theories laid down the fundaments of political action in many countries. In Rumania, the theses of the Transylvanian School have still in our days a very strong influence upon historical thinking. And still, there were great Rumanian scholars who noticed the risk of distorting the truth when political aims are pursued. Thus, Ovid Densusianu stated in the preface to his Histoire de la langue roumaine, 1901, (p. 26, ed. B. Cazacu et al., 1975 ) that patriotism will for a long time to come keep back the Rumanian researchers to seek and to tell the truth, although "the real patriot is not he who falsifies the facts and deceives himself". Also Iorgu Iordan remarked, in the context of research about the placenames, that those who see the placenames as testimonies in a cause of national interest, are disposed to see such testimonies where they do not exist. 159 One of the chief protagonists of the Transylvanian School was Petru Maior (1756-1812). His History of the Origins of the Romanians in Dacia was published in 1812 in the Hungarian capital Buda. Pascu reproduces the title page of this publication (p. 167), on which one may read (in Cyrillic letters) that it was written by "Petru Maior de Dicio-Sînmartin", i.e., Hungarian Dicso-Szentmárton. (This town in Transylvania was later re-named and its Rumanian name today is Târnaveni.)

Pascu p. 161:

...the uniform distribution throughout Transylvania, except for the Szekler seats, of villages inhabited by Romanians...

Besides the Szekler seats, including Aranyosszék (south of Kolozsvár [Cluj]), the population was predominantly non-Rumanian in many other areas; for example in the Saxon territory, with many purely Saxon villages; in Kalotaszeg, west of Kolozsvár (Cluj). Also in the Partium, and in the lowlands of Eastern Hungary, the overwhelming majority of the population was Hungarian.

Pascu, p. 168:

Many of the peasants who had left thought of returning, accompanied by Moldavian and Muntenian peasants. A few even seem to have put these thoughts into action.

There is no evidence in written texts, or in oral tradition, of connections between peasants in Transylvania and in Muntenia or Moldavia. This appears also from the cautious formulation by Pascu: "many ... have thought of returning"... but only "a few seem to have put these thoughts into action". The situation of the peasantry was also in this period much more difficult in Muntenia and Moldavia than in Transylvania.

As mentioned above, Dimitrie Cantemir described the severe exploitation of the peasants in Moldavia in the 17th century. Their situation became even worse in the 18th century. From Istoria României în date [The Chronological History of Rumania], Bucharest, 1971, we reproduce the following short statements:

1741, September - 1744, July. - The unbearable taxation policy practised by Mihai Racovita in Muntenia provokes the flight in masses of the population.

1746, March 1.- Constantin Mavrocordat, the high clergy and the boyars decide to liberate from serfdom the Rumâns who fled, if they return to the country.

August 5. - Constantin Mavorcodat abolishes rumânia (the binding to the earth); the serfs are liberated only as regards their person, the land remaining the property of the lords and the monasteries. 160

Mavrocordat made a "Constitution" in 1741,

favourable to the boyars and the clergy; who were no longer obliged to pay taxes to the voivode. The numerous taxes paid by the peasants were concentrated in one, to be paid in money, in four parts. Statute labor was retained and extended to peasants who were settled by agricultural agreement at some estates ... 161

The boyars of Tara Româneasca and Moldavia, wishing to increase their incomes by all means, helped also by the Fanariots, have, in the 6th and 7th decades [of the 18th century] abolished the regulations of C. Mavrocordat, when these no longer served their interests, required of the peasants a much larger quantity of labour by the introduction of the nart (norm of daily work impossible to achieve under normal conditions). The result was the strengthening of discontent and intensification of the peasant and urban rebellions: flight within and outside the country, a large number of complaints to the voivode, refusal to work and refusing other obligations, the revolt of the poor population in Bucharest and Iasi, helped by the peasantry living in the surroundings. 162

The Fanariot period (from 1711 in Moldavia and from 1716 in Muntenia, until 1821), was the darkest period in the history of the Rumanians, in which the population was exposed to an extremely harsh exploitation. Greek merchants living in the quarter of Constantinople named Fanar paid large sums of money to the Turkish state in order to be named voivodes in Muntenia and Moldavia. Arriving in the voivodates, they imposed enormous taxes, which masses of peasants were simply unable to pay. Flight outside the country was in three main directions: from Moldavia to Russia, from Muntenia to the neighbouring areas of Bulgaria and Serbia, and to Transylvania and the Banat; this last mentioned area was the most important. 163 During the war in 1738, and after the expulsion of the Turkish troops, large numbers of Rumanian peasants fled to the Banat, who hid in the forests and the reeds. Later, they successively took many abandoned lands into possession. Most of them, however, cleaned new lands on which they initially were allowed by the landlord to live without any obligations. However, these lands were later made the property of the landlords and the Rumanians became their serfs. In the 1730-s, a count showed in the Banat only 25.000 people, mostly seminomadic Rumanians and Serbs. Between 1741 and 1744, during the reign of Mihail Racovita, about 15.000 Rumanian families abandoned Muntenia, many of which settled in the Banat. Racovita was expelled by the Turks and followed by Constantin Mavrocordat, who continued the exploitation of the peasants; during his reign, the number of families paying taxes dropped from 146.000 to 35.000. The flight of the Rumanian peasants to the Banat continued and it was impossible to halt it, in spite of orders from Vienna. The result of the immigration in masses was that the number of the Rumanians in historical Transylvania increased from 250.000 in 1700 to 547.000 in 1761 and to 787.000 in 1784. 164

D. Draghicescu, in his book published in 1907 in Bucharest, writes about the life of the peasants in Muntenia and Moldavia in the 19th century:

"How were the peasants able to pay all these taxes? Very bitterly. There are still old men who can tell us what they saw in their early childhood. They have paid, because the magistrates, the agents and the farm hands of the age invented tortures and sufferings which could have served as examples even for the Spanish Inquisition. It is said that the servants of the landlords put large trunks of tree on the abdomen of those who could not pay their tributes so that they were suffocated; or that they hanged them in the smoke above the hearth, or they burned them and mutilated them with hot iron-chains. Constantin Golescu wrote around 1820: 'I assert that there were people, who, because they were unable to pay a certain amount of money, were hanged with their head downward in pigsties which then were put on fire'". 165

Pascu, p. 164:

The Uprising of 1784

pp. 169 - 170:

The clear national consciousness is attested in numerous contemporary references to the rebels' intention of expelling the nobility from the country and replacing the foreign administration with a Romanian one.

Pascu makes efforts to show that the peasant uprising towards the end of the 18th century in Transylvania was a consciously Rumanian, national action. There are newspaper reports of Rumanians "thinking" of calling Muntenian peasants for help, people speak about plans to unite Transylvania with Muntenia, etc. That Horea would have said "I die for my nation" (Pascu, p. 170) is not probable - Horea had not the conscience of a nation (in the modern sense of the word) and may have used such words as norod, neam, or popor (old words for "people"). It is not plausible that Horea would have uttered a similar statement at all; this was probably attributed to him by later authors.

Among the Rumanian peasants, the belief of a righteous, generous emperor was widespread; they believed that Joseph II has made laws to ameliorate their situation but the landlords did not keep them. Horea travelled to Vienna and received encouragement from Joseph II in 1784.

The concept of the nation in its modern sense started to develop in that period; Istoria României. Compediu, 1969 (p. 268), also eager to find a national character to the peasant revolt of 1785, gives the following account:

The struggle of the Transylvanian Rumanians for political rights

The social and at the same time national character of the revolt of Horea demonstrates the fact that the process of formation of the Rumanian nation was in progress, and, parallel with this, the transformation of ethnical conscience to national conscience.

The revolt led by Horea, Closca and Crisan was not a conscious, pre-meditated action. The peasants did not struggle for political rights but revolted against some concrete grievances. The centers of the revolt were the marketplaces. The holders of the right to have an inn interdicted the peasants to sell their own spirits. This was a severe blow for them, since the selling of spirits was one of their most important source of income; they naturally revolted. To this comes, that at the same time, an imperial clerk deprived the peasants of the area, the Transylvanian Alps (Muntii Apuseni) of their right to the forests. This was another important source of income for them, since they made and sold many kinds of vessels and other products of wood. The Orthodox priests and the leaders - Horea, Closca, and Crisan, - incited the people against the Hungarian landlords, and masses of furious peasants killed all men they encountered on the estates; the Orthodox priests baptized their wives and children according to the Orthodox faith; in other cases even women and children were killed. Several towns and villages were devastated. 166 The Orthodox priests baptized also those few Hungarian petty nobles who joined the rebellion, which caused that most of these left the movement. This is an early sign of the fact that the rise of the Rumanian national sentiment was in a high degree connected with the Orthodox Church.

As pointed out by Joseph Held, 167 the long-range consequences of the uprising were very serious. Those Rumanians who led the revolt - predominantly not peasants but Orthodox priests, village teachers and other intellectuals, whose number increased in the following decades - transferred their hatred to all Hungarians, regardless of class. This tradition was certainly an important factor in the 19th century, when the intolerant, chauvinistic attitude became dominant in Rumanian politics, defeating those who wanted cooperation and peaceful coexistence.

As an immediate consequence of this uprising, the emperor issued a document in August 22, 1785, by which he abolished the personal servitude and the binding to the earth of the peasants. These have received the right to marry according to their own wish, to study all kinds of trades and professions, as well as to dispose of their goods. 168

About the Supplex libellus Valachorum

A Memorandum written by Rumanians living in Transylvania was presented to Emperor Leopold II in 1791.

Pascu, p. 178-179:

Written by Iosif Mehesi, a high official at the Transylvanian Aulic Chancellary, in collaboration with the most learned Romanians of the time, it made several proposals for reforms. 1) That the Romanian nation should be restored to its rightful position next to the Hungarian, Szekler, and Saxon nations...

The writers of the Supplex defined the "nation" in its modern (ethnical) sense; for them, it comprised all Rumanian-speaking individuals. The Transyl-vanian diet was composed of representatives of the three "nations" of Transylvania - according to the feudal definition: the Hungarian nobles, the Szeklers, and the Saxons, not including the serfs. The Supplex did not take notice of the juridical status of Transylvania, which was based upon the Diploma Leopoldinum from 1691, revised in 1699 and 1701. This recognized the laws of St. Stephen and of all the following Hungarian kings, as well as the laws of independent Transylvania. The Supplex may have been right in questioning the feudal order, pointing out its obsolence and demanding the same rights for all inhabitants - thus, for all serfs. But instead of this, it demanded privileges for all Rumanians. Therefore, the diet could only refer to the fact that the Hungarian serfs are in the same situation as the Rumanian serfs. 169

The writers of the Supplex argued that the Rumanians were earlier one of the (feudal) nations, referring to a sentence in the treaty between the three nations and the peasants concluded at Bábolna in 1437. About one of the peasant leaders, Pál Vajdaházi, it is stated: vexilifer Universitatis regnicolarum Hungarorum et Valachorum huius principatus Hungariae (the standard-bearer of the universality of the Hungarian and Rumanian inhabitants in this province of Hungary). From this text, the authors of the Supplex drew the conclusion that before the treaty concluded in 1437, the Rumanians also were a Transylvanian nation, but were deprived of this by the treaty, which was concluded in order to oppress them. 170 This is, however, obviously a false reasoning: the word universitas refers also to the Hungarian serfs, who did not belong to the Hungarian feudal nation, they were also "outside the fortifications of the Constitution". Universitas in this document means the entirety of the peasants (all of the peasants) who concluded the contract with the nobility. 171 Also other sections of this treaty refer to the Rumanians always together with Hungarian serfs and never with Hungarian nobles. 172

All this was clear for the diet and made the practical rejection of the Supplex natural; according to the laws of the feudal order.

The affirmed continuity in Transylvania of the Rumanians was the other argument for the demands included in the Supplex. The authors asserted that the Gesta of Anonymus proved that the Hungarians found a Rumanian population when they settled in Transylvania in the 10th century. 173 At that time, this problem was not yet solved; the necessary data to decide it were not yet collected. Today, we know that the theory of Roman - Rumanian continuity north of the lower Danube is false. 174

The third argument was the large number of the Rumanians in Transylvania - which was correct and frightened the Hungarian nobles.

159I. Iordan, Nume de locuri românesti în RPR Rumanian Placenames in the Peoples' Republic of Rumania , Bucharest, 1952, vol. I, p. VII.

160Istoria României în date The Chronological History of Rumania , ed. C.C. Giurescu, Bucharest,1971, p. 151-152.

161IR Compendiu, 1969, p. 241.

162Ibid., pp. 241-242.

163 Jancsó, 1931, p. 212 - 213.

164 Jancsó, 1931, p. 213.

165Draghicescu, 1907 1996, p. 390. - Constantin Golescu (1777-1830) was the author of the first Rumanian narrative of a journey. He travelled in Western Europe and comapared in his narrative the conditions there with those in his own country, Muntenia.

166In 20th century Rumanian historiography, the extreme horror of this peasant rebellion is generally ignored or denied. However, in a book about Horea's revolt published in 1884 in Bucharest (Nicolae Densusianu, Revolutia lui Horea, pp. 163-171), one may read: "In their fury, they the peasants did not spare the women nor the children of their lords, and they executed their feudal lords in the same way as they executed also those who did not possess any serfs. The revolution was not only against the nobles but against all Hungarians."

"In every place where the troops of peasants marched, nothing of the houses of the nobles remained but ashes or depressing ruins. Thus, the remains of this horrible war of extermination, although covered by the new ruins of the years 1848-49, are still extant in the county of Zarand." (Quoted by Draghicescu, 1907 1996, p. 351.)

167 Joseph Held, "The Horea-Closca Revolt of 1784-85: Some Observations", p. 93 - 107; in: Transylvania. The Roots of Ethnic Conflict ed. J.F. Cadzow, A. Ludanyi, L.J. Elteto, The Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio, 1983.

168 Istoria României. Compendiu 1969, p. 267.

169 István Kocsis, Történészek a kereszten Historians on the Crucifix , Budapest, 1994, p. 292.

170 Benedek Jancsó, Erdély története The History of Transylvania , Cluj-Kolozsvár, 1931, p. 71.

171 Idem.

172 Kocsis, 1994, p. 294 - 295.

173 For a description, with the relevant passages in English translation and a critical discussion of Anonymus' text see Illyés, 2-nd edition 1992, pp. 11 - 32.

174 Cf., in English: Du Nay, A., 1977, 1996; Illyés, E., 1988, second edition 1992; in Hungarian: Kosztin, Á., A dákoromán legenda. Keresztény kultuszhelyek Erdélyben The Legend of the Daco-Romans. Christian Cult-places in Transylvania , 1989; Vékony, G., Dákok, rómaiak, románok Dacians, Romans, Rumanians , Budapest, 1989.

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