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A wide variety of Germans migrated to Hungary during the course of the Middle Ages. Five important groupings of these settlers can be identified. Let us begin with the people who are usually referred to as the Saxons of Transylvania.

The first major influx of German settlers into the region occurred during the reign of Géza II, who issued a call for colonizers in 1141. These first settlers were mainly from the areas of Saxony in northern Germany, and, although subsequent people came from all parts of the Holy Roman Empire and Flanders, the term "Saxon" came to denote all Transylvanian Germans. The Germans received a major set of privileges

from king András II in 1224 in a document usually referred to as the Diploma Andreanum.[37] Although this gave them autonomy in most local matters, they were still subject to the authority of the count (comes) of Szeben (Sibiu, Hermannstadt). Following the Tatar devastation, the Saxons were able to free themselves from the comes and had similar immunities to those that governed the life of free cities. Eventually, the area developed further administratively, with complete local judicial autonomy. By the fourteenth century, there emerged the so-called Seven Seats (Stühle, sedes), to which two other "seats" were later added.[38] Other important Saxon centers were the cities of Beszterce (Bistrita, Bistritz) and Brassó (Kronstadt, Brasov), which were able to gain, by the fifteenth century, the same tax privileges as the other Saxon seats.[39] The Saxon settlements in Transylvania were obliged to pay a set sum of taxes to the royal treasury, to be delivered on Saint Martin's Day.[40] They also contributed an agreed-upon number of soldiers to the royal army.

When the first German settlers arrived, they found the environment hostile to the growth of towns; but as they prospered, urbanization set in, and soon the villages were subordinated to the rising towns. The areas settled by the Saxons were only sparsely occupied by Hungarians, and thus it was possible for the Germans to create large, coherent blocks of territory almost exclusively inhabited by their own people. Penetration of Magyars and later of Rumanians into these units was slow. The first mention of Vlachs in the Saxon cities comes in 1404.[41] It is interesting to note that a number of the judges among the Saxons, known as Gräve,[42] made the transition to Magyar nobility, intermarried with Hungarian families, and advanced in the administrative or ecclesiastic field. The Saxons formed the Universitas Saxonum (or Saxonorum) and were one of the three elements (together with the Székelys and the Magyar nobles) who made up the Universitats Trium Nationum.[43]

The second major concentration of Germans was in the area of Szepes (Zips) and Sáros in northeastern Hungary, on the important trade routes between Poland and the Hungarian plains. These settlements originated mainly from the period following the Tatar invasion. The first major charter of privileges was issued to the settlers in 1271 by István V.[44] The newcomers, many of whom came from the region of Flanders, settled in among the existing Magyar and Slovak villages, forming not a continuous unit of territory such as existed in Transylvania, but a mosaic of settlements bound together by their common privileges. These newly-arrived Germans soon emerged as the dominant ethnic element in the cities of Kassa, Lõcse, Késmárk, Bártfa,

Eperjes, and others.[45] Their numbers were reinforced by continuous new migrations, especially from Silesia. The cities prospered under the commercial advantages granted to the settlers and steadily rose in importance throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. To further protect their privileges from possible erosion, a confederation under the leadership of Bártfa came into existence in the fifteenth century. This bound the northeastern cities together in common defense of their interests in national and international matters. Every second year they held conferences to develop a unified policy on major issues. This development reached its peak in 1485 with the signing of a far-reaching promise of cooperation among the cities.[46]

The third major group of Germans settled in the north-Hungarian mining towns in what is today central Slovakia. Most of the immigrants came following the Tatar invasion, from the areas of Thuringia and Nürnberg. In these mining regions, the German settlers found a mix of Slovak and Magyar inhabitants. The towns were predominantly German, although some movement from the countryside into the cities is evident.[47] The language, culture, and even architectural style in these towns were predominantly German. The Slovak and Magyar elements were not among the leaders of these municipalities.

The fourth area of German domination can be seen in the various towns throughout the Hungarian kingdom. We have already mentioned the strong German influence on the life of the capital city, Buda. The same situation prevailed in other towns such as Pozsony and Sopron. In both cities, the town council was usually dominated by the German element, and the majority of the correspondence and city council documents were in German.[48] Nagyszombat (Tyrnava) was also founded with special privileges granted to German colonists by king Béla IV in 1238[49] and grew into a major trade center on the highway leading to Brünn (Brno) and Prague from Esztergom and Buda. The town became one of the free royal cities with extensive privileges and immunities. In Transylvania, the town of Kolozsvár (Cluj, Klausenburg), which became a free royal city in 1316, was at first a Magyar settlement. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the German element had become dominant. There was, however, a constant influx of Magyars into the city, and by the second half of the century the Hungarians had made major advances.[50] In 1458, a compact, or union, between the Magyars and the Saxons was established. Half of the town council had to be made up of Germans, the other half of Magyars. Likewise, the judgeships (Richter) also had to be rotated, with one German and one Hungarian serving his term. Although this meant considerable political

progress for the Magyar population, the Germans managed to retain their economic superiority well into the next century.[51]

Finally, one more area of German settlement needs at least passing attention, namely, the region on the western borders of Hungary with the Austrian lands. In the area that is now part of the Burgenland, there were extensive Magyar settlements in the period before the thirteenth century. Subsequently, however, a shift in populations occurred, and a number of new settlers from other parts of Austria were brought here and established their homes in the area of the Neusiedlersee (Fertõ Tó), in a southwestern direction. The Hungarians were progressively pushed from this region in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.[52]

To sum up, we can say that the German settlers in Hungary, although a small minority compared to other ethnic groups, exerted an influence that was far greater than their numerical strength would indicate. The fact that they were mainly urban dwellers and possessed extensive privileges and immunities helped to insure their prosperity. Their presence in Hungary was a definite economic and cultural advantage and helped to raise the general level of society in the kingdom.


The most difficult task facing the historian in dealing with the ethnic character of the medieval Hungarian kingdom is the problem concerning the origin of the Rumanians. This has been debated and disputed, and much ink has been spilled on all sides in heated and acrimonious debates that have not resolved the basic issues satisfactorily. Our study focuses on the ethnic elements that made up the Hungarian state in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; we can therefore avoid getting involved in the question of Daco-Rumanian continuity and thus eliminate at least one major controversy. With strict reliance on documentary evidence, we shall try to trace the increasingly important role that the Rumanians played in Transylvania in the period under discussion.

There is no written evidence for the presence of Rumanians in Transylvania prior to the beginning of the thirteenth century, although we must emphasize that all documentation for this generally underdeveloped area is meager. From the location of the first settlements it seems probable that the Rumanian migration into Transylvania began sometime in the twelfth century, first as a trickle. Later, when the situation in Wallachia and the Balkans became more threatening due to the Turkish expansion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the trickle became a steady stream.

The Vlachs first appeared in the vicinity of Hátszeg (Hateg) and Fogaras (Fagaras) around 1206-09.[53] These were small settlements, and until the middle of the thirteenth century there is no evidence of any major group of Vlachs living in Transylvania, for the examination of all geographic names, mountains, rivers, towns, and villages shows a preponderance of Magyar, some Slavic, a few German, but no Rumanian names.[54] Following the Tatar invasions and especially in the late thirteenth century, a number of royal fortifications were established in the southern border areas. Subsequently, the kings of Hungary employed large numbers of Vlachs in these frontier defense areas. Other settlements followed. With the authorization of László IV, sixty Rumanian families were settled on the lands of the bishop of Transylvania.[55] Other early settlements were established mainly in Bihar (Bihor) and Hunyad (Hunedoara) counties and in the districts of Brassó (Brasov, Kronstadt) and Szeben (Nagyszeben, Sibiu, Hermannstadt). Even with these settlements, in 1301 there were only nine places in all of Transylvania where the habitation of Rumanians can be proven by documentation.[56] In the following 100 years, the number of places with Rumanian names increased considerably. In the charters and documents from 1301 to 1350, there were 820 place names mentioned, of which 641 are Hungarian, 36 Rumanian, and the others Slavic or German. Fifty years later (1400), the known town and village names had risen to 1,757, of which 1,355 are Hungarian and 76 Rumanian. While we must be careful not to put too much credence in these numbers, simply because place names alone do not necessarily reflect the exact character of the populations, still, we cannot ignore the significance of these statistics. It is quite clear that prior to 1300 the number of Rumanians in Transylvania must have been small, and even in the mid-fourteenth century the numbers do not reveal a massive population block.[57] It is important to remember that the fact that many Rumanians still followed a seminomadic existence, herding their flocks in mountainous regions, makes any estimate of their true numbers difficult.

The social organization of the Rumanians who settled in Transylvania was relatively simple. The various groups of wandering herdsmen and soldiers were under the leadership of a voivode and of a knez or kenéz. These local leaders were the major official contact between the Rumanians and the Hungarian political or ecclesiastical authority.[58] Generally the kenéz offered the services of his people to the captain of a royal fortification or to a feudal lord. The condition of the Rumanian population does show a marked difference between those who were in royal service and those who lived on the lands of secular or ecclesiastical lords. The Vlachs on royal estates or fortifications were more likely to keep their freedom and were often granted extensive

privileges and immunities by the kings. The Rumanian inhabitants of the great feudal estates, on the other hand, often sank to the level of exploited serfs.[59] This explains why a large number of the Rumanian peasantry took part in the great Peasant Revolt of 1437 in Transylvania. Many Rumanians found themselves on the lower level of the socioeconomic ladder and were probably even more exploited than the Magyar-speaking peasantry and townspeople. To the downtrodden Vlach peasantry the relief promised by the leaders of the revolt was something worth fighting for. Rumanians were present at the signing of the first Treaty of Kolozsmonostor (Manastur) on July 6, 1437, together with the representatives of the Magyar-speaking peasantry.[60] Mention must also be made of the problem of the religious cleavage between the Vlachs and the ecclesiastical authority of the Hungarian state. The Vlachs were Orthodox and resented any efforts, especially during the reign of Louis the Great, to force the Roman faith upon them. Attempts to impose the payment of ecclesiastical tithes upon the Rumanians met with widespread resistance.[61] In order to wean a kenéz away from his Orthodox religion, Hungarian nobility was bestowed on him if he would turn Catholic. A number of them did, and several kenéz families made the transition to Magyar nobility, showing little regard for their former people. They had become members of the ruling class.

By the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, there were major blocks of Rumanian inhabitants in the counties of Hunyad, Temes, Krassó, Fogaras, and Máramaros. Many of these regions had royal immunities and are known to have cooperated with each other on a regular basis. New waves of settlers continued to cross the Carpathians from Wallachia and added to the ever increasing number of Rumanian settlements in Transylvania and also along the lower Danube area of Hungary. The Turkish expansion in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries only furthered this development. Although still excluded from the "Three Nations" that made up the political power in Transylvania, the Rumanians were becoming an increasingly significant force as a result of their numbers.


A wide variety of Slavic populations could be found within the borders of the Hungarian kingdom. Since much of the area of the Magyar state had been inhabited by diverse groups of Slavs even before the Hungarian conquest of the ninth century, there are only a few areas in the central plains where Slavic place names are missing. Slavic place names can also be found in scattered locations throughout the Transylvanian region.[62]

The largest group of Slavic inhabitants in Hungary proper were the Slovaks, who inhabited the northern tier of counties. If we superimposed the map of modern Slovakia upon this region, we would find that the sparsely populated northern area was inhabited predominantly by Slovaks, although the feudal nobility was Magyar. The lower counties of the modern Slovak state, however, were inhabited mainly by Hungarians, while in the middle band of counties there was a varied mix of populations between these two groups, with some Germans thrown in. While it is true that there was a slow northward expansion of the Magyar element in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there was also a corresponding southward movement of the Slovaks.[63] The result was a thorough mix where so-called ethnic boundaries are impossible to establish. During the course of the fifteenth century, the Slovaks made some headway in establishing themselves in the formerly almost exclusively German-dominated cities.[64] As a result of the Hussite wars, there was also some movement of Czechs, or Bohemians, into the area of northern Hungary. This was especially true during the period when Jan Giskra was overlord of this area. Some of his Czech warriors settled down permanently in these territories.

Another area inhabited by a Slavic population was the region of Croatia and Slavonia, autonomous parts of the Hungarian kingdom. Slavonia was the western part of the land between the Dráva and Száva rivers. The area comprising Valkó, Szerém, and Pozsega counties was then still a part of Hungary. Valkó and Szerém were inhabited mainly by Magyars and Pozsega was already predominantly Slavonian, with only a few Hungarians.65 Beyond the Száva River lay Croatia, and south of that, in the area increasingly threatened by the Turks, were Serbians.

The last group mentioned by Miklós Oláh in his "Hungaria" were the Ruthenians, who in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were still a very small ethnic group within the Hungarian state. They first settled in the area of Máramaros in eastern Hungary during the thirteenth century. Under the reign of Louis the Great, other Ruthenians were allowed to settle, here and in Bereg County.[66] Subsequently, the Ruthenians expanded mainly toward the north, into the areas of Ung, Zemplén, Sáros, and Szepes counties. Their social and economic conditions were unfortunately among the most miserable of any ethnic group. Unlike many of the Rumanians who were settled on royal estates and enjoyed some privileges, the majority of the Ruthenian population was located on private feudal domains.[67] Their leaders were at a disadvantage in securing privileges for themselves and for their people, nor did

the Ruthenians enjoy royal protection as some Rumanians did. Almost invariably they sank to the level of serfdom.


Finally, we come to a number of smaller groups who deserve mention but are not generally of great importance. First among these were the Cumans (Kunok), a people of Turkic origin who were first admitted into the kingdom by Béla IV prior to the Mongol invasion. Subsequently, other smaller groups joined them. In return for military service, they were given a large block of territory between the Danube and Tisza rivers. Their nomadic lifestyle and primitive ways caused friction with the native Magyars. Eventually, however, they settled down and were Christianized, and the process of assimilation began. Surrounded by almost purely Magyar-inhabited areas, it is not surprising that by the end of the fifteenth century the Cumans had become Hungarian in speech, although they clung to the privileges granted to them by the kings and still performed their military obligations as prescribed by the charters. The Jaziges (Jászok), probably of Alan descent, settled north of the Cumans in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and enjoyed some of the latter's privileges. They, too, were linguistically assimilated into their Magyar surroundings by the end of the medieval period.68

Jews lived in some of the Hungarian urban centers but were never as numerous as they were in Spain, Germany, or Poland. The major medieval Jewish centers were in Buda, Sopron, Székesfehérvár, and Kõszeg. Mention should also be made of Italian merchants found in a number of cities but especially numerous in Esztergom and Buda.


A synthesis such as this can do no more than give a broad outline of the multiethnic nature of the Hungarian kingdom in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Two important questions have to be raised and answered in order to make our treatment complete and dispel any possible misunderstandings. First, was there such a thing as a "nationality policy" adopted by the kings or ruling elements of Hungarian society toward the non-Magyar population, and second, was there ever a conscious "Magyarization" of the ethnic minorities living within the borders of the kingdom? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding No. The presence of non-Magyar elements was used by the kings, the nobility, and the Church for their diverse and often selfish reasons. The goals could be political, economic, or military, and to

achieve these aims the various ethnic groups could be used or even abused by the ruling classes. Nor was there a conscious policy of creating a multiethnic state in the Carpathian Basin. The fact that it did develop is the result of forces that were not willfully set into motion. Furthermore, there is no indication that there were efforts made by any segment of society to assimilate the non-Magyar elements by force. Fifteenth-century people just did not think in these terms. Depending on such factors as geography, social mobility, marriage, or even religious preference, certain non-Magyars became assimilated into the majority population, but at the same time some Hungarians became Slovaks or Germans in speech and customs.

In looking at late-medieval Hungary, do we detect the seeds of future ethnic conflict? Again, the answer is negative. Multiethnic states were common in the fifteenth century and they are common even today. That this particular state eventually broke up is due to many factors but was certainly not inevitable. If we look upon the multiplicity of causes that brought about the destruction of this multiethnic state, there can be no doubt that the curse of blind, excessive nationalism is among the most obvious, and unfortunately its bitter fruits are still with us today.

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