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PART ONE: The Dawn of National Consciousness

The roots of ethnic conflict in Transylvania go back at least as far as the collapse of the feudal kingdom of Hungary on the blood-soaked plains of Mohács. This battle against the Ottoman Turks in 1526 resulted in the division and depopulation of the once powerful and prosperous kingdom of Matthias Rex (1458--90). The Hungary that had provided stability for Eastern Europe for over 500 years was now subjected to depredations from both East and West. Transylvania, which had been an integral part of this kingdom, henceforth faced an uncertain future as the Habsburgs and the Ottomans attempted to consolidate their hold over northwestern and central Hungary respectively.

The defeat at Mohács opened an age of constant conflict. The Hungarian population was dramatically and drastically reduced in the ceaseless military struggles. Many sections of the former kingdom were totally depopulated. It was during these critical years of the Turkish wars that Transylvania gained added significance for the peoples of Eastern Europe. The Hungarian princes who governed it from 1541 until the end of the seventeenth century provided continuity to the quest for Hungarian independence. At the same time, Transylvania became a haven for the Rumanian populations of Wallachia and Moldavia.

The study by L. S. Domonkos provides an ethnic profile of the medieval kingdom of Hungary on the eve of the Battle of Mohács. It sketches the ethnic composition and the prevailing state order of which Transylvania was an integral part. Domonkos also shows that the relations between these diverse groups were not confrontational along ethnic lines.

The study by Louis J. Elteto focuses on the beginnings of the disintegration, which in the long run produced some of the nationality conflicts of the future. Elteto's analysis reflects on the period that follows the Battle of Mohács, its main concern being to outline the impact of the Reformation on the national consciousness of the Hungarians, Saxons, and Rumanians of Transylvania. This period represents for all the peoples of Transylvania an important phase in the differentiation of their respective self-definitions.

Béla K. Király's study is concerned with the role of Transylvania in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in fostering or hindering

the concept of independence for the kingdom of Hungary. As noted above, the Battle of Mohács signalled the end of independence for Hungarian statehood. Its division into Habsburg and Ottoman-occupied parts meant that the remainder, i.e., Transylvania, was now the only hope for the preservation of Hungarian liberty and the only political entity that could work toward the reestablishment of the kingdom of Hungary.

Together these three studies provide the broad background for the developments that led to the emergence of modern nationalism in Transylvania.

1. The Multiethnic Character of the Hungarian
Kingdom in the Later Middle Ages


The Hungarian kingdom in the late Middle Ages was not a national state in the modern sense of the word, but a multiethnic political unit in which the Magyar nobility held the dominant position. In this respect Hungary is not unique, for the medieval period does not offer examples of national states. Hungary had within its borders a large number of non-Magyar inhabitants in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries who were nevertheless members of the "Natio Hungarica" or "Natio Hungarorum," irrespective of the ethnic background. The terms of "Natio Hungarica" or "Natio Hungarorum" should be viewed basically as indicators of geographic and not ethnic origin. An individual belonged to the "Hungarian Nation" if he or she resided under the authority of the king of Hungary, i.e., in the lands of the Hungarian crown.[1] Probably the clearest illustration of this point can be drawn from late medieval university practices. A large number of students from the Hungarian kingdom attended the University of Vienna in the fifteenth century, where the scholars were divided into four "nations," following the model of the great University of Paris. These nations were the Austrian, which also included Italy; the Rhenish, comprising the Rhineland and Western Europe; the Hungarian, with the Slavic areas added; and the Saxon, to which belonged students from northern and eastern Germany, Scandinavia, and England.[2] If, for example, a student from one of the Transylvanian Saxon towns enrolled at the University of Vienna, as Thomas Altenberg of Szeben (Hermannstadt, Sibiu) did in 1453, he was inscribed into the registers of the Hungarian Nation[3] and not the Saxon Nation, for the simple reason that he came from a territory of the Hungarian crown. The fact that Thomas Altenberg spoke German and might have felt more at home in the Austrian, Rhenish, or Saxon nations at the University does not enter the picture at all. He was, because of the geographic location of his home, a member of the Natio Hungarica.[4]

The Hungarian kingdom in the fifteenth century comprised a geographic entity bounded by the Carpathian Mountain range in the north, east, and southeast, and by the Danube and Száva (Sava) rivers in the south and southwest. The western border with Austria did not follow any major geographical barrier or line. The area of the kingdom was about 300,000 square kilometers (or 124,000 square miles) and included the regions of Hungary proper, Croatia-Slavonia, and for a time the coast of Dalmatia. The population of fifteenth-century Hungary (including Transylvania but excluding Croatia-Slavonia), has been estimated to have been between 3.4 and 4 million inhabitants. The more conservative figure given by Erik Molnár,[5] who based his calculations on a family unit of four members, is probably more nearly correct than the estimates of István Szabó, who took a five-member peasant family as the norm.[6] It is interesting to note that in 1720, almost 200 years after the Battle of Mohács, the population of the same area is still 3.5 to 4 million.[7] This gives some indication of the devastation caused by the Turkish wars. Under the authority of the Hungarian crown, the areas of Transylvania and Croatia-Slavonia enjoyed a degree of autonomy in their political and administrative life but were parts of the regnum Hungariae. The kingdom was subdivided into counties, of which fifty-seven were in Hungary proper, seven in Transylvania, and seven in the Slavonian area. South of the Száva River frontier were a number of military districts (bánságok), which were buffer areas against Turkish expansion and scenes of a number of campaigns against the Ottomans during the early period of the reign of Matthias Corvinus.

In the early sixteenth century, Miklós Oláh (1493--1568), humanist scholar, friend of Erasmus, and later archbishop of Esztergom --- and as his name indicates, of Rumanian origin --- composed an important geographic treatise entitled "Hungaria,"[8] in which he gave an invaluable description of the kingdom as it was before the Turkish devastation. Oláh's work has been studied with care by art historians, but it is also important to us because in Chapter XIX of "Hungaria," Oláh enumerated the various inhabitants found in Hungary during his own lifetime. He describes these as follows: "The territory of the Hungarian kingdom contains in our time diverse nations, [namely] Hungarians, Germans, Bohemians, Slavs, Croatians, Saxons, Székelys, Vlachs, Serbs, Cumans, Jaziges, Ruthenians, and most recently Turks."[9] Oláh mentions twelve "nations" who resided under the sovereignty of the Hungarian crown. These same twelve groups were present during the 200 years prior to the Battle of Mohács, which is the period on which we plan to focus. It is well known that Mohács brought about the destruction of the medieval Hungarian monarchy and ushered in great

changes that also effected the subsequent ethnic composition of the state, to the detriment of the once dominant Magyar element. Following roughly the outline presented by Oláh, let us examine the twelve "nations" and their major characteristics during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


The first mentioned "nation" were the Magyars, who were the dominant ethnic group in the Hungarian kingdom in the late Middle Ages. Not only were the Magyars the politically significant element, but they also constituted the vast majority of the population. By the end of the fifteenth century, the kingdom was more thoroughly Hungarian than it ever was until the post-Trianon era of the twentieth century.[10]

Our most reliable, although unfortunately incomplete, sources of information concerning the wealth, size, population density, etc. of the late medieval Hungarian state are the taxation records of 1494--95. These were prepared during the tenure of Zsigmond Ernuszt, bishop of Pécs and treasurer (thesaurarius) of the realm, who in 1496 was accused of having stolen a sizeable sum from the treasury. In order to clear himself, Ernuszt prepared elaborate accounts for the period 1494--95, which are an invaluable source for the study of the social and economic conditions of the period.[11]

Elemér Mályusz, one of the most renowned Hungarian medievalists, estimated on the basis of taxation documents that 77.25 percent of those employed in agricultural pursuits in the fifteenth century were Magyars. This is based on the analysis of the names of the taxpayers. Mályusz also found that about 17 percent of the names were such that it is impossible to determine the ethnic group to which the individual belonged. Some of these were undoubtedly also Hungarians, which would push the percentage up further, to about 80 percent.[12]

The Magyar population was concentrated in the lower-lying regions of the Carpathian Basin, in the plateau areas, and in the river valleys. Since there was, for a long period, an ample land reserve, the less desirable areas were left to others or remained unoccupied. Particularly strong were the settlements in the counties of Baranya, Tolna, Bács, and Bodrog. Towns and villages in the valleys of the Körös, Szamos, and Maros in eastern Hungary were inhabited predominantly by Hungarians. The same is true of the lower valley of the Vág and Nyitra rivers in northwestern Hungary. The evidence presented by surviving charters and other documents from the fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries is overwhelming: the place names are predominantly Hungarian, indicating that the majority of the population was in fact Magyar.[13]

If one were to draw a map showing ethnic distribution in Hungary, the more mountainous regions would show the presence of Slovak, Rumanian, or Ruthenian inhabitants in large areas. This, however, should be viewed with a certain amount of caution because of the great differences in the density of the population between the counties on the plain and in the Carpathian or Transylvanian regions. Mountains and forests can give livelihood to much smaller numbers of people; consequently, settlements were of more modest proportions in these regions. Furthermore, since many of these mountain settlements were of more recent foundation, they were also less populous.[14] To illustrate density of population, we must again turn to the tax lists of 1495, which measure the number of porta (tax-paying units) per county. There were 15,000 portas in Baranya, 11,000 in Somogy, and 10,000 in Tolna County. At the same time there were 300 portas in Árva County, 790 in Liptó, and 1,420 in Zólyom[15] all located in the mountainous areas of northern Hungary. It is clear that the population of the Magyar-inhabited plains counties was several times the number of inhabitants that could be found in the border counties, which were generally more sparsely inhabited and where the Hungarian population was a smaller proportion of the total.

Of the fifty-seven counties that made up Hungary proper, twenty-two counties formed a coherent block of Magyar-inhabited areas. Around this core were twenty-six counties where other "national" or ethnic groups were present in larger or smaller numbers. And, finally, there was a number of counties in which the Magyar element was probably less than 20 percent. Seven of these were in the northernmost part of the kingdom: Trencsén, Árva, Turóc, Liptó, Zólyom, Szepes, and Sáros. Two, Máramaros County in the east and Pozsega in the southwest, had few Hungarian inhabitants, although even there the nobility was predominantly Magyar.[16]

In general, we can say that the weight of the Hungarian population was to be found in the south, in those regions that fell under Turkish domination first and remained subjugated for the longest. It is there that the tragedy of Hungarian history can be found. While the southern counties would be depopulated, the northern would be able to grow relatively unimpeded. In 1495, there were 2.75 portas per square kilometer in Tolna County and .80 porta per square kilometer in Trencsén County. Yet, in 1870, Trencsén County had 258,000 inhabitants, Tolna 222,000.[17]

Two areas under the Hungarian crown but with some degree of autonomy were the Croatian-Slavonian region and Transylvania. The number of Hungarians in Slavonia was small. Except for a few members of the nobility, the percentage of Magyars in this region was insignificant.

In Transylvania, the situation was quite different. There were three administrative units in Transylvania: the Saxon region (Szászföld), the Székely region (Székelyföld), and the Seven Counties (Belsõszolnok, Doboka, Kolozs, Torda, Küküllõ, Fehér and Hunyad). The Saxon region was obviously German; the Székelys were Magyars; and in the seven counties the total population was about two-thirds Magyar, and one-third Rumanian (Vlachs, Wallachians).[18] In some areas, the number of Vlachs (Wallachians) was probably higher.

We have until now been concerned mainly with the peasantry, which, after all, was the bulk of the population. Let us now examine briefly the other segments of the Magyars, namely the nobility and the urban dwellers. The "political nation" was made up of the nobility, secular and ecclesiastic, which constituted about 5 percent of the total population. The vast majority of these belonged to the petty or lesser nobility, which was almost exclusively Magyar. Among the barons and prelates, however, there were many who rose to prominence although of non-Hungarian ancestry. Random examples of this can be seen in the case of the Cillei (Cilli) family, the powerful competitors of the Hunyadis. The Croatian-Slavonian Frangepán and Vitrovec families were also considered barons of the Hungarian kingdom.[19] Although some Hungarian historians have tried to disprove that the Hunyadi family was of Vlach (Wallachian) origin, the overwhelming evidence supports the view that they indeed were not Magyars, but rose in the service of the Hungarian king, received nobility, intermarried with Magyar noble families, and thus rose to prominence.[20] A large number of others were also able to make this transition, among them the famous Drágffy, Majláth, and Nádasdi families.[21] Similarly, leaders of the Slovak, Ruthenian, and Saxon communities made their way into the ranks of Hungarian nobles. There are, however, instances where the reverse situation was also evident. Magyar nobles living in predominantly Slovak-inhabited areas became linguistically assimilated to their subjects, as is evident from their correspondence by the sixteenth century.[22] Generally, it was advantageous for any person, regardless of ethnic background, to join the ruling class rather than to be part of the exploited segment of society.

Among the prelates there was also a number of important men who rose to prominence in the Hungarian state, although they were

ethnically not Magyars. Excellent examples of this are provided by the careers of Archbishop János Vitéz of Esztergom and of his nephew, the great humanist-poet Janus Pannonius, bishop of Pécs (Fünfkirchen). The Vitéz family was of Slavonian origin and had intermarried with Magyar nobility.[23] Vitéz was one of the most loyal supporters of Hunyadi, and under Matthias was eventually rewarded with the offices of chancellor and primate of Hungary. Janus Pannonius was a member of the Royal Council and privy chancellor. It was obviously ability that determined the rise of these men and not the question of whether they were Magyar or Slavonian. Other examples abound: the successor of Janus as bishop of Pécs was Zsigmond Ernuszt, whose family originated from Austria and who was probably partially Jewish. György Szathmári, bishop of Várad (Oradea, Grosswardein) and later of Pécs, was born of German parents in Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) while Johann Filipecz, bishop of Várad, was a Moravian. László Vingárdi Geréb, bishop of Transylvania, was a member of a Saxon family that made the transition to the Magyar nobility in the course of the fifteenth century. All these men served the Hungarian kingdom without being of Magyar ancestry and had a strong attachment to the "Natio Hungarica," of which they were an integral part.

When we examine the backgrounds of the heads of the "political nation," namely the kings, we find that the Hungarian kingdom was ruled by men who were, for the most part, non-Magyars. The list of rulers for the fifteenth century presents a curious picture. Sigismund (1378--1437) was of the House of Luxembourg. Although a stranger in Hungary at first, by the end of his reign he often wore Magyar dress, swore in Hungarian, and was buried next to his hero, Saint László, at Várad. Albert (1437--39) was a Habsburg, Wladislaw I (1440--44) a Pole. János Hunyadi, regent (1446--52), was of Rumanian ancestry; László V (1444--57) lived most of his life abroad and probably knew little if any Hungarian. The only "true Magyar" king was Matthias (1458--90), succeeded by the Polish Wladislaw II (1490--1516). The ethnically predominantly Magyar kingdom of Hungary was ruled by non-Hungarian kings through most of the fifteenth century.

Turning our attention away from nobles, prelates, and kings, we find that the population of the urban centers was predominantly non-Magyar. Hungary was slow to develop cities. The growth of towns before the Tatar invasion was minimal, and even in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the number of true cities was very small.[24] The Decree of 1514 enumerated those cities (civitas) that by virtue of their privileges could be counted as genuine urban centers. Altogether there were only twenty-four in the whole kingdom, the most important of

which were the free royal cities of Buda (Ofen), Pest, Kassa, Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg), Nagyszombat, Bártfa, Eperjes, and Sopron (Ödenburg).[25] By 1500, however, there were about 750 market towns (oppidum, mezõváros) throughout the land.[26] It is an interesting Hungarian phenomenon that from the second half of the fifteenth century onward the growth of the civitas stagnated, while the number of oppida increased considerably.[27] The population of the market towns was often made up of German settlers (hospites, guests) in the early fourteenth century. During the course of the next 100 years, however, large numbers of Magyar and Slavic settlers took up their residence in the market towns. In the areas inhabited predominantly by Hungarians, the oppida became mainly Magyar, while in areas where the Slavic population was the majority, their movement to the market towns made those particular settlements Slavic.[28] Our information about the development of oppida in the Transylvanian area is fragmentary. The almost complete monopoly of the Germans as urban settlers was eventually broken down by the movement of both Magyar and Slavic populations into the cities and towns.

This urbanization trend was a general European phenomenon and is not peculiar to the Hungarian kingdom. Two obvious results of this population movement were the abandonment of villages in many formerly inhabited areas[29] and the increase of Magyar and Slavic elements in the urban centers. The fact that many towns had increasingly mixed populations made it possible to weaken the ethnic identity of the non-Magyars, especially of the Germans. This led in some instances to the "Magyarization" of some individuals, just as others lost their German identity and became part of their Slovak environment. In Buda, for example, the Ohnwein family became Bornemissza during the course of the fifteenth century.[30] In Eperjes, the entry of Magyars into town life and their growing influence has been demonstrated by the study of Béla Iványi.[31] Towns such as Székesfehérvár and Esztergom were almost completely Magyar by 1500, although they had had large French, Flemish, and Italian populations in the previous centuries. Szeged and Óbuda were always Magyar. Pest was changing from a predominantly German to predominantly Hungarian town. In Buda, the German-speaking population was still very strong. Only in the fifteenth century were the Hungarians able to force the Germans to agree to the rotation of the judgeship (judocus) so that one year the incumbent was German, the next Hungarian.[32] The German preponderance at Buda can best be seen in the organization of the parishes on Castle Hill. The Hungarian parish was the Church of Saint Mary Magdalena, a simpler, smaller structure. The German parish church, named after Our Lady (today

Matthias or Coronation Church), was a far more imposing and larger structure than the parish of the Magyars. The laws of the capital city of Hungary were written in German and are known as the Ofner Stadtrecht.[33] Buda became a Hungarian city only in the twentieth century.

Before leaving the subject of the Hungarian element, let us turn briefly to the examination of the Székelys (Siculi, Seklers). In origin and language, they were Magyars and lived as a compact block in the eastern part of Transylvania called the Székelyföld. All the Székelys were considered noble and as such owed military service but paid no taxes to the king.[34] The royal representative in the region was called the ispán (comes sicolorum), whose primary function was to lead the Székely military units in case of war. Their social organization still reflected the vestiges of the clans that made up the "Székely nation." Originally, there were seven territorial units based upon these clans, each of which was called a szék. From these, several subunits (fiúszék) were formed in the course of time. At the head of each szék there was an elected captain (hadnagy, later kapitány) and a judge.[35] Together, all the Székelys formed the Universitas Sicolorum, one of the three administrative units of Transylvania. The population was originally divided into two major classes based upon the type of military service that they performed; i.e., those who fought on foot were called darabant and those who fought on horseback, lófõ. In 1473, Matthias Corvinus reorganized them militarily and created three classes, namely the primor, who led a troop of Székelys into battle; the primipilatus, composed of the lófõ, who constituted the cavalry; and the pixidarius, made up of those who fought on foot.[36]

This autonomous block of Magyar-speaking inhabitants in Transylvania was able to retain its language, customs and institutions throughout the late Middle Ages and for centuries thereafter.

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