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A Short History

Table of Contents



Transylvania is Far from Mesopotamia

Who Were the Dacians and What Became of Them?

The Period of the Great Migrations

The Scourge of Europe

Rex and Dux, Mines and Border Guards

How Does it Happen that Three is Really Four?

The Tearful Chronicle

Raven on High

The Remainder

A Peculiar, Peculiar Little Country

Transylvania in World Politics

Cast onto the Periphery

The Fight for Freedom, the Compromise, Dualism

Downfall and Punishment

Since Then


Transylvania, with its deep valleys surrounded by a coronet of peaks, its wide basins and highlands, pine forests and the Alpine meadows at the feet of imposing glaciers; with its salt mines already worked in prehistory, with its gold gathered since Neolithic times from veins in its rocks and from the waters of its streams; with its refreshing, acidic, wine-like, naturally carbonated springs, Transylvania, a small area in the lap of the Eastern and Southern Carpathians, a country on the easternmost edge of Central Europe. Even though it was approached early by Eastern Orthodoxy emanating from Byzantium, its Christianity is basically western. Initially the Roman ritual was predominant but later it became the bastion of European Protestantism.

Transylvania, this land protected by its mountains but accessible by its passes and open valleys, was overrun, ravished, conquered and reconquered. It was the historic apple of Eris between its original inhabitants and the conquering Hungarians, between the Hungarians and the Turks, between the Turks and the Austrian Habsburgs, between the Austrian Habsburgs and the Hungarians and between the Hungarians and the Romanians. Transylvania is the land of a remarkable people whose language is Hungarian, but who are distinctly Székely, and who consider themselves descendants of the Huns. According to the legends of their origin, they are the long awaited children of Prince Csaba, one of Attila's sons, who came along the Highway of the Armies, the Milky Way of the Heavens. This myth of their national origin is well-appreciated in the other parts of Hungary as well, but it is nowhere as strong as here. The dilemma of their true origin can not be discussed here, but it should be mentioned that their centuries-long role as guardians of the borders can be documented not only in Transylvania. There were Székelys along the no-man's lands separating nations and countries in the southern and western Transdanubia, near the foothills of the Alps, in Pannonia, next to the southern Slav-German (Austrian-German) ethnic groups, as well as in the north, along the contemporary Slovakian-Ruthenian (Carpatho-Ukranian) border. The origin, history and fate of the Csángó-Hungarians, who were pushed beyond the Carpathians and who were there slowly broken up, is a historical question, allied to that of the Székelys. Their remnants, mired in Moldavia, still use a medieval Hungarian, just as though some hidden, detached fragment of a Serb or German population had kept old Slavic or Teutonic alive in their daily speech.

Transylvania is the native land of independent, towering individuals. This is whence Sándor Kõrõsi Csoma started out toward the East, searching for the original home of the Hungarians and marooned in a mountain monastery in Tibet, uncovered the secrets of the Tibetan language, previously unknown in the West. It was in Transylvania that the son of Farkas Bolyai, János Bolyai, spent most of his life and "created a new world out of nothing" by independently delineating absolute geometry, anticipating most forcefully Einstein's theory of relativity. It was this land that Count Samu Teleki, the passionate hunter and explorer returned to from Africa, the only Hungarian traveler whose name is associated with the discovery of large tracts of "terra incognita". All were remarkable eccentrics, native geniuses of the forests and the crags.

Transylvania was an independent principality for barely 150 years and yet, in 1568, at the Diet in Torda, the assembled representatives enacted into law the principle of religious freedom, unprecedented in Europe at that time and for very many years thereafter. For the readers and movie-goers in Europe and around the world, Transylvania is the secret and mysterious refuge of Dracula, the monster hiding in the blood-stained ossuary of a casemated castle among the lightning-torn, ghost-ridden mountains. We consider Dracula as a specter born of a diseased imagination, and that is exactly what he is, although there are traces of a historic model for his existence. In one of the most beautiful Székely ballads, the masons were unable to keep the walls of Déva castle from crumbling until they drained the unresisting wife of mason Kelemen of all her blood, burned her lily-white body and mixed her ashes with the mortar. Then and only then would the stones hold and the walls rise. Béla Bartók drew many of his ideas from Transylvanian, Hungarian and Romanian folklore. His opera, "Bluebeard's Castle", with all of Bluebeard's former wives immured in their rooms, takes place among the mountains of Transylvania. One thing is certain: the soil of Transylvania has always produced more myths than wheat. Among the fateful storms of history and in the frequent famines, only a people having a rich and vivid imagination could survive. In the recent past, Transylvania again became the center of a fiction that must be classified as a myth. The Romanian ethnic group, late in developing into a nation and into a realm, based its national pride on its mid-Balkan roots and made the hypothesis of the continuous evolution of its Daco-Roman descent not only a part of, but the actual basis of its national and popular ideology.

The borders of Transylvania can be determined accurately by the geography of its mountains and rivers, both historically and administratively. Politically and ethnically, however, in the present Romania, these borders are more uncertain, more vague and in fact are forcibly obscured and eliminated . For a millennium the early Slavic and other nationalities were accommodated roughly in this sequence -- Hungarian, Saxon, and Romanian people. Even though there were numerous conflicts among them, they coexisted so that again and again there was hope for tolerance and for a joint development so essential for mutual advantage. Yet, in this century and, particularly, during the second half of this century, there was a sharp increase in the Romanian endeavors toward the complete assimilation or annihilation of the Hungarian, Saxon and other extra-Transylvanian Romanian nationalities. This created a serious crisis affecting all of Europe. Transylvania was called a "Fairy Garden" and was considered an experiment in the history of East-Central Europe. In fact, more frequently, it was a small but threatening, inflamed and purulent wound on the body that was Europe.

 [Next] [HMK Home] Transylvania
A Short History