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5: Rex and Dux, Mines and Border Guards

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After Stephen strengthened both his position and the position of his central administrative base, he systematically proceeded to consolidate the smaller, and thus individually hardly threatening counties, which he then entrusted to his followers. He also established a network of bishoprics which covered the entire country and endowed a number of monasteries and chapters. This naturally extended to Transylvania as well. Here, however, a precise reconstruction is made difficult, among other reasons, by a delay in written documentation and by the fact that the numerous wars and internal uprisings seriously damaged the religious depositories of these documents. Thus, the medieval material of the archives gives only incomplete information or even misinformation, since the "earliest" documents that have come down to us are not truly the earliest documents pertaining to these sites, but only the earliest that we have been able to discover.

It is certain, however, that the organization of counties in Transylvania followed a definite pattern, and that these territorial-administrative-economic units were designed in this area with the defense of the kingdom as the paramount consideration. Namely, the Transylvanian counties at this time did not have a defined border toward the "outside", in the direction of the Carpathians and the castles serving as the administrative centers were established on their most secure, western segment of the counties. While the counties and bishoprics -- among them the Csanád bishopric, which was headed by the tutor of the crown prince Imre, the later martyr and saint, Gellért -- were the products and depositories of a strong, central will, there emerged a fateful countercurrent, which we may refer to as the trend toward regional constitutional laws. Parenthetically : if we accept the etymology of the name Erdély (Transylvania) - and why shouldn't we? - namely : Erdőelve = Beyond the Forest (literally Trans-Sylvania), we must know that it was the central mountains of Erdély, the Bihar Mountains, that were covered with huge, dense forests beyond which, according to contemporary thinking, Erdély (Transylvania) was located.

Stephen, having defeated Koppány, and having warded off Gyula's forceful and Ajtony's less significant endeavors toward independence, was looking farther into the future. In order to increase the legitimacy of his son Imre, to guide him into the arduous profession of ruling, and to give him a taste of its reality, he used not only the Admonitions -- attributed to him but actually only inspired by him, but he also used the promising crown prince as an important war leader and, in fact, promoted him to a viceregal position. Thus, Emericus Dux, appointed by Stephanus Rex, was entrusted with Bihar, between the eastern border of the Great Plain and the western border of Transylvania, as a quasi autonomous realm. The new State thus evolved a dual administrative-economic axis, the first one between Esztergom and Székesfehérvár, which could be extended toward Pécs, the other one between Biharvár and Csanádvár, the northern pole of which was transferred shortly to Nagyvárad.

When Prince Imre was killed in a hunting accident in Bihar, probably along the upper reaches of the Berettyó, during a boar hunt, Stephen's hopes for a secure succession were lost. What remained was a dubious precedent, which was not unusual at this time and which was also familiar in Hungarian traditions. This was the institution of the ducatus (dukedom). Later, during the reign of the House of Árpád, this promising office was usually entrusted to the younger brother of the reigning king, who was then ready and waiting for the time when he could legally take the single, legal step toward the throne.

During the 11th century, a number of Petcheneg attacks reached Transylvania through the eastern passes of the Carpathians, and some of these attacks extended to the Great Plain. It became apparent that the traditional Hungarian system of the buffer zone with a wide, uninhabited area separating it from the neighboring people and countries failed to provide adequate protection, even though the defenders of this buffer zone were supposed to halt the first assault of the enemies, and even though there were defensive lines with one earthen defensive castle in every county. For this reason, additional castles were built according to a plan that would be called today "a defense in depth".

As far as the history of the settlements and of the ethnic mix of the population is concerned, the picture of the first centuries of Transylvania under Hungarian rule, can be determined from the names of the settlements and of the rivers. This nomenclature, which persisted even during the subsequent settlements by Saxons and Romanians with some modification according to their language uniformly attests that in the 9th and 10th centuries this region was shared by the remnants of the earlier Slavic population and the conquering Hungarians, in the most part well separated from each other. This arrangement was possible because the older Slavic population preferred, for reasons of defense, the heavily forested areas, while the lately arrived Hungarians settled in the valleys and basins more suitable for grazing and for agriculture.

No organic continuity can be demonstrated for the towns or larger settlements of the former Dacia Provincia. Sometimes even the simplest signs of life are missing in the ruins which have lain uninhabited for centuries. Their names are forgotten. They are recalled only by the enthusiasm of recent times, but initially the impetus is not the Daco-Romanian Continuity hypothesis. It is due rather to the currently popular and nostalgic retrospection to times long past and to antiquity. Neo-Latin was an earlier product of the love of Antiquity of its devotees. It was only later that it fit in well with the romantic, vigorous, national aspirations of the Romanians, and was most suitable to their ideology and rationalizations.

During the reign of Stephen and of his first successors, the social structure of Transylvania showed no difference from that of the country in general. The stratification, the rule and the subservience evolved in the same fashion as on "this side of the forest".

Why, and to what extent did this new East-Central European country, the Hungarian kingdom, need this province, which extended far to the east, and which differed from every other province by its natural geography? It is fundamental in this regard that those who rushed hither from the Etelkőz saw the entire Carpathian Basin as a unit which suited their way of life and which provided their desperately desired security. It is characteristic that they very soon relinquished the Viennese basin, which they also conquered as far as the present Melk, when they realized that it was a poorly defensible western salient. The correctness of their assessment is shown by the fact that the realm lasting from the conquest to the 20th century was interrupted for any length of time only twice. The Turks entered through the soft underbelly along the lower Danube, while the Germans (Austrians) entered along the upper Danube, from the Viennese basin.

Salt was the economically most important product of medieval Transylvania. Its commercialization and distribution was facilitated by the fact that its bulk could be transported by water, mostly on the Tisza and its tributaries, but also on the Maros network, which was a part of the Tisza network, but was important enough to merit special attention. Even though Hungary had century-long access to the Adriatic, the production of salt by evaporating sea water was more difficult and its transport more cumbersome than mining the salt deposits of the ancient seas and distributing of large blocks of rock salt.

Even though the data do not reflect it, it seems very unlikely that the mining of the previously so important Transylvanian precious metals was not continued under Stephen and under his first successors. It is also clear that a significant number of furs and raw hides were obtained from this region. One part of the very large herd of horses must also have served for export. It was this that stimulated the rapaciousness of the occasional invaders.

We had some kings whose activities and legends are characteristically related to a certain part of the country. Ladislas I, who was successful in arranging the canonization of Stephen, Imre and some others of his favorites, and who later was himself elevated to the gallery of Hungarian saints, according to legend, performed most of his great and miraculous deeds in Transylvania. The best known of these, also known as the St. Ladislas Legend, is a variation on the theme of his chivalrous deeds and relates how the king saved the daughter of the bishop of Várad from a marauding Cumanian fighter. This legend, which is depicted most frequently in Transylvanian churches -- oddly enough, mostly in the mining communities -- has an additional piquancy. It is not bad enough that the legend is full of pagan motives and allusions not quite becoming to a sainted king, but, that after the fight, the maiden saved from the Cumanian, "looked into the head" of the victorious knight, i.e. picked off the lice. This motif is disturbing not only because from today's perspective it is distressing that the knightly king, the future saint, had headlice, but also because such an intimate, personal activity by the maiden could have been performed only to her lover, a man who, speaking biblically, "had known her".

Returning to earth from the sphere of legends, it is certain that Ladislas I extended the borders of Transylvania to the east and settled a privileged class of border guards in Transylvania with the charge of protecting the internal foothills of the Carpathians against the bellicose tribes, firmly settled on the eastern slopes of the Carpathians and usually identified with the Cumanians. It seems likely that it was this group of soldiers, with whom he must have had frequent contact in the course of his numerous campaigns, who created his circle of legends and spread the word about his miraculous deeds, usually associated with military activities. It may also have been due to them that when their patron died during the summer of 1095, he was first buried in Somogyvár, but his remains where soon transferred to Nagyvárad.

Even though a small number of Petchenegs participated in the protection of the borders on the principle that the robbers make the best thief catchers, Ladislas also recruited his own bow and arrow cavalry from other parts of the country, and thus a large number of Hungarians joined those of their compatriots who remained in place immediately after the conquest. They were Hungarians, but they were not yet Székelys.

At this time, the internal organization and legal status of the Transylvanian counties were not in any way special. The counties and religious organizations followed the same pattern as in the other parts of the country. The one thing that should be noted is that when Ladislas' successor, King Koloman, brought Croatia under his rule he sent a voivode to take charge. This Slavic position of honor, previously unknown in our country, did affect Transylvania fairly soon and certainly from the end of the 12th century. It will cause many political problems and, later, will create even more problems for the recording historians.

The voivode specially appointed over a larger region could enjoy much more power, or could grasp more power than the ispáns (comes) in charge of the smaller, individual counties. The temptation was great for the representative of the central authority to further his own ambitions at the expense of the regional interests. The voivodes frequently became rebellious little kings. On the other hand, in the case of the newly acquired Croatia, this form of legal administration was appropriate, if for no other reason, than for the pacification of the local southern Slavic people and of their leadership and reassurance that in this way they may have a certain amount of autonomy. In the case of Transylvania, it has led to the assumption that there was such an independence of the region and of its people. For this there is no evidence and no precedent in the objective study of the 10th and 11th centuries. If there was any such independence, it was much earlier, at the time of the gyulas, and certainly no later than the time of Ajtony.


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