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6: How Does it Happen that Three is Really Four?

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As mentioned in the Prologue, one of the historic, and not geographic, characteristics of Transylvania was its specific population. Even at the earliest mention of them, they were already a Hungarian speaking people, and yet they were the clearly distinctive Székelys. They considered themselves to be the descendants of the army of Csaba, one of Attila's sons, who returned to Transylvania along the Highway of the Armies -- the heavenly Milky Way. They thus considered themselves to be Hun in origin. This is one of the world-wide Savior myths, in which the divine liberator is not some placid prophet who can be crucified, but a belligerent leader of armies. The origin and prehistory of the Székelys are lost in obscurity, or rather there are so many hypotheses concerning them, that both the interested layman and the inquisitive expert are overtaken by dizziness. It has been mentioned repeatedly, but without any evidence, that the Hungarians already found them in the Carpathian Basin in 895. Their archaic organization clearly points to Asiatic Turcic traditions strengthened by the long-time survival of Turcic runic script among them, yet the Székely dialect shows no deviation whatever from the Hungarian as far as the occurrence and prevalence of Finno-Ugrian, Turcic or other linguistic remnants is concerned. It is a fact that in the campaigns of the Árpád era, they had to serve both as scouts and as rearguard. This suggests a recent contact since the dangers and bloody losses ensuing from these assignments were always imposed by the military rulers of the nomadic peoples on their latest allies or subjects.

The least controversial theory of their origin suggests that the Székelys were remnants of the Kabars who joined the Hungarians at the time of the dissolution of the Khazar Khanate, when the perhaps forcefully ejected Hungarians started out to find a new homeland. It is certain that they were not scattered, or at least not scattered as much as the seven conquering Hungarian tribes during the postnomadic period, when Hungarian society was transformed and reshaped by the strength and the demands of the centralized royal power.

They became guardians of the borders. They were not the first ones and not the last ones. Yet, they served in this capacity for such a long time, and with such lasting effects on the life of numerous generations, as was unprecedented among the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin.

In Transylvania, in the Székelyfőld (Land of the Székelys), a large and tightly knit block emerged. In the other borderlands of the country, thus principally in the southwestern part of Transdanubia, the Gőcsej, north of Pozsony and in the Bihar, the individuality of the small Székely groups, their autonomy and characteristics rapidly started to disintegrate, fade and disappear. Next to Transylvania, the most persistent traces come from Gőcsej, but among the people in this region only the faintest folkloric traditions testify to their original provenance.

The basic population was divided into six clans which, in turn, were sub-divided into four branches each, and thus gave structure to society, to the family and to the economic and military existence of the nation. The judges who saw to their affairs and their leaders in war were designated so that inheritance, election, recall and rotation all played a role. In such a system, there was considerable rigidity but also not a little flexibility.

When the Transylvanian Székely "szék"-s were established -- szék in this context means a territorial and administrative unit and, incidentally, is totally unrelated to the name of the people -- the societal structure of these units duplicated and reflected the national whole. They did not move or settle by clans or by branches if such a move was forced upon them, but always in almost random groupings assembled from the entire nation. This was carried to the point that when some major disaster reduced or destroyed a branch, the area was reconstituted and replenished from the other branches in order to maintain the continuity of tradition.

For a long time, the Székelys kept to simple animal husbandry and to a grazing economy with a nomadic changing of their pastures. The forests and the land were owned jointly. The families had the right to use the land but had no right of ownership. Even later, when private ownership became stronger, a sensible collectivism was stubbornly maintained with a village-based joint ownership and with the repeated opportunity to redistribute joint property according to need. Yet, they could not remain untouched by their feudal environment, and there was also an ongoing internal differentiation. Thus, a Székely nobility evolved on an economic basis. The rest of the population was divided into those who fought on horseback and those who fought "only" on foot, thus forming the three classes identified clearly both in peace at home and in war. The Székelys gained their privileges and independence with their own blood and toil. These are frequently threatened and the Székelys must stand up again and again in their defense They protest verbally, in writing and, occasionally, by taking up arms. This will be discussed later. Let us now return to the fateful history of the original settling of the land.

During the first third of our millennium much was already decided in a most ominous fashion. There are few written sources for fixing the years of their beginning. It can, however, be determined from indirect sources that the first Székely settlements in Transylvania took place during the reign of the first kings of the House of Árpád. When, during the reign of Géza II (1141-1162), in the middle of the 12th century, large scale German colonization took place which was going to have effects lasting nearly a millennium, the Germans settled in areas from where the border-guarding Székelys had been moved out, to be closer to the actual frontiers.

German colonization? In Transylvania, this group, traditionally strong in numbers, wealth and intellect, underwent a fateful decline only toward the middle of the 20th century. We refer to this German speaking population as the Saxons, just as we do to the related population in today's Slovakia, the former Hungarian Felvidék, and Upper Hungary. In contrast, the also German speaking groups who were settled in western and southern Transdanubia, in the southern Great Plain -- mostly in the segment belonging to Serbia, where they formed an almost continuous ring -- in a semicircle around Buda, and who also lived and live in decreasing numbers in scattered locations throughout the rest of the country, were called in the common parlance the Svabians.

A significant percentage of the "Saxons" are ethnically truly of Saxonian origin. Of our "Svabians" only a small fraction came originally from Svabia. In both groups there was a significant influx of many other ethnic German groups during the Middle Ages, as well as in more recent times. It is almost a historic accident that because of the ethnic origin of a few leading families, these two categories of Germans became a rigid fixture in the Carpathian Basin and retained their designation in a dual and parallel fashion, assimilating subsequent and different German ethnic groups.

Transylvania became familiar with the county system. Then the Crown relegated Transylvania, or rather a part of Transylvania to the authority of a voivode, the holder of which title stood between the counties and the central administration. The autonomy of the Székelys survived in the szék-s or seats, where they were gathered into territorial and ethnic blocks. The arriving Saxons, whose first waves originated in and around Luxembourg and who left there to escape the rigid, feudal shackles, were also organized into szék-s and thus gained special opportunities and an autonomous administration. They also did not have to adapt themselves to the county system.

Later on, a Székely ispán was appointed. For a while, however, the Székely and Saxon szék-s were withdrawn from the voivode's authority and were combined under the control of the Szeben ispán. At this time -- we are in 1210 -- a source mentioned the Szeben ispán as the one who led the Székelys, the Saxons, the Petchenegs and the Romanians in war. The emphasis here is distinctly on the latter. Shortly before this time, the Pechenegs still attacked several times across the eastern Carpathians. The earlier Székely settlements were established largely for this reason. Later the Petchenegs became satellites, "robbers into thief catchers", and guardians of the borders. Their small numbers hastened their assimilation. We are not concerned with them here, but must mention, however, that it was not they who represent the fourth element in medieval Transylvania which appeared last, or perhaps simultaneously with the Saxons, and which joined the other communities induced or forced by circumstances into a lasting union.

Let us list the four : Hungarians, Székelys, Saxons and Romanians. The list is not weighted in any way and represents only the historic sequence. It is an open question why we are separating the Hungarians and the Székely into separate "nations" when they spoke the same language and who, according to one view, differed from each other but very slightly. This may even lead us into the camp of those who, for whatever reason, wished to decrease the demographic and historic role of the Hungarian presence in this region (hypothesizing even that the Székelys are Hungarianized Romanians). The answer is that the Székelys who were very proud, liked to consider themselves as a separate "nation", particularly when they hoped that this separateness would assure them their privileges as guardians of the borders, their Székely freedom and the autonomy inherent in their szék-s. A Székely "nation" is not a fiction, but has to be interpreted in the context of the times and of the prevalent legal concepts. The concept had a different meaning than what it has today. It meant a tribe or a tribal association -- that is, a community of shared obligations, rights, duties and possibilities.

The predecessors of the early-latter day Romanians, who established their country late, but very successfully, were living at the time of the Hungarian conquest in the Central Balkans, where they were in close linguistic proximity with the Albanians who remained much closer to their original region. Linguistic evidence also suggests that most of them engaged in a pastoral life in the mountains. Since at that time this very hard life had little appeal, the higher mountainous regions gave them ample opportunities for expansion. In the early sources, Byzantium, a major power fighting a desperate defensive war at this time, called them the Wallachians, and it was only in the last century that this term became the pejorative designation of Oláh. The Byzantians actually called all the latinizing, non-Greek Balkanian people Wallachians, and were pleased to use the people so designated for their own purposes. The region was recognized as a desirable area during an almost incidental campaign -- note how the Hungarians discovered the Carpathian Basin during their first Central European incursion, and the idea of establishing a permanent residence here had considerable appeal.

We can find the first indications of an approach of the Wallachians from the external slopes of the Carpathians toward the Hungarian territory during the Byzantian campaign involving Transylvania in 1166. These dates -- the Byzantian campaign of 1166 and the campaign of the Szeben ispán in 1210, using Wallachian fighters (actually against the Bulgarians and not the Byzantines) -- determine the time when we can definitely assert that there was a Romanian ethnic presence on the soil of Transylvania. Their gaining strength was contributed to markedly by one of the greatest Hungarian historical cataclysms. But first an interlude.

There was already an organized German colonization in Transylvania, on territory formerly inhabited by the Székelys, when other, Germanic newcomers appeared, this time from the east. The Teutonic Knightly Order, authorized by a Papal Bull of 1198, had barely been established by German nobles in Palestine from among the knightly crusaders, when they were expelled from the Holy Land. They were chased back to Europe, and in 1211 the benevolent Andrew II (1205-1235) invited them to the Barcaság, mainly in order for them to oppose the Cumanian attacks and to convert the Cumanians, which truly was their mission. The Teutonic Order, which later proved to be so aggressive, very soon attempted to establish an independent country on the land received from us and to place themselves under the protection of the distant Pope and thus free themselves from the nearby Hungarian king. When after a number of ominous signals Andrew discovered that instead of the wooden castles, which he had very hesitantly approved, the Teutonic Knights were beginning to build permanent stone castles, the disappointed king expels them in 1225 by force of arms. Fleeing from Palestine, the Teutonic Order -- after the brief interlude of their Transylvanian settlement -- were issued a later much regretted invitation by the Poles and settled in Prussia and along the Baltic littoral. We will not follow their adventurous and, for so many, tragic and painful history.

Returning to the Romanians, Wallachians -- the first charter which mentions them relates to the land of a Romanian village chief, in the Szőrénység and is dated 1247. They were primarily engaged in sheep and goat grazing, but as a consequence of their migratory way of life, they also bred horses and inhabited almost all habitable parts of a very wide area, north of Macedonia and south of Moldavia. Thus, to find the precise location of their original home is even more hopeless than it is for the Hungarians. For centuries, their main characteristic was migration, during which they lived and moved among a number of different ethnic groups. They participated in markets and, with their animals functioned as highly regarded carters and transporters. Wherever they were, they participated in local activities but the looseness of their affiliations satisfied their needs of the time. It did not, however, promote the concentration of the population needed for the formation of a country. It did maintain a way of life with a number of archaic traits. This initial dilatoriness, which was not rare at the turn of the millennium, was maintained by them for many-many generations.

Their coherence was strengthened by their religion. Examined in more detail, the animal husbandry which was pervasive among the Wallachians, albeit by no means exclusive to them, is hard to compress into the neat categories drawn up by the economic historians and ethnographers. A few definitions become unavoidable: in a nomadic system, the change of pasture -- primarily the change between summer and winter pastures -- involves the migration of the entire population. When only the shepherds accompany the flocks to the winter pastures, it is known as transhumation. This may have meant a trip of several hundred kilometers, twice each year and also forced the men into lengthy absences from their families. It had enormous effects on sexual customs and on the raising of children. In high altitude grazing, the flock grazed during the summer in the lush mountain meadows, and in the winter lived in stables on forage gathered during the summer. In these cases, the pasture and the home were usually not too distant from each other, and family life was not subject to a seasonal periodicity.

Depending on the region and the period, these three methods of animal husbandry were used interchangeably by the Wallachians. A description -- admittedly from the last century -- is so singularly affective that I must quote it. It describes the existence of a fourth method. Thus, "The life of these herdsmen is very singular and quite different from that of any other shepherd. With 60-70 of their master's goats they roam over the bare crags all winter. Completely left to their own devices, they are far from any social contacts and may not see another human being for months. In previously designated spots, such as caves or hollow trees, their master will have deposited cornmeal for them which the shepherds use as they go along. There is no variety in their days, they pass in complete uniformity. Such a shepherd picks a large beech tree and fells it in such a fashion that it falls unto one or two other beeches and thus bring down three trees at the same time. The more the better. His work takes several hours during which the goats watch from a safe distance, chew their cud and wait for their meal being prepared. When the centuries old beech trees hit the ground, the shepherd gives a yell and the hungry herd strips the buds and bark with their sharp teeth. The shepherd, having removed the snow, builds a huge fire and filling a large kettle with snow hangs it on a metal tripod. When the water boils, he adds cornmeal from his shoulder bag, stirs it into a porridge and dines as contentedly as the city dweller at a six course dinner. He slakes his thirst with the snow melted in his kettle and stretching out on a pile of branches sleeps soundly, having been awake all night for fear of predators. After the goats have consumed their dinner, they lie down but the shepherd soon interrupts their rest. He breaks a path through the deep snow and the goats follow in single file and so they go down into a valley where they spend the night, protected from the howling winds. He does not close his eyes all night and building several small fires around the herd to keep away the slavering wild animals, watches them until the morning. Should it start snowing again at night, the shepherd immediately rousts the herd from its rest and keeps them moving back and forth. Thus, they stamp the snow down, keep warm and also keep from being covered by snow. This is the daily routine of the mountain goat herd. Finally, after six months of misery, hard even to imagine for a person used to social intercourse, with a face blackened by storms and freezing cold, but with a sound, healthy stomach and in good strength he descends with his herd to the village."

I quoted from: "Sándor Ujfalvi, the old Hunter. Kolozsvár in the year 1854". I did this not only to show a new, albeit rather extreme form of animal husbandry; the quote says more about the incredible tenacity and simplicity shown by the men engaged in this form of animal care, who lived among their animals which, in turn, survived on buds and bark. This adaptability and the willingness to live like this were major factors in their entry into and expansion within the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin. This was a vastly different approach than that of the other nations -- including the Hungarians -- who brought their cattle and horse breeding practices and their warlike traditions with them from the steppes of Asia.

In the region where the Wallachians lived and moved for a long time as transients, Romanianization was much stronger than in Transylvania and in Transylvanian Dacia. This was the area where the Proto-Romanians -- under strong Slavic and other influences - became Latinized in their language and in the demonstrable orientation of their leading classes. They evidently also mingled, here and there, with the descendants of the early Dacians. This is a much more defensible hypothesis than that of the local Transylvanian continuity.

Their Latinity, while clearly dominant as far as their language is concerned, did not prove to be very strong in a much more important area. Initially, they were under the aegis of Christianity, following the Latin ritual. But the proximity of Byzantium, and perhaps under the influence of the Slavic people, they soon and irrevocably fell under the dominance of the Eastern Ritual. The Greek Orthodox Church, the Pravoslavia, never shaken by the Reformation that hit its Western counterpart, solidly permeated the entire social structure. Through religious instruction, philosophy and mentality it became a decisive factor for entire regions and people. Even today, the dividing line in the Balkans and in the Carpathian Basin is not geographic or historic, but religious. It is the line between the Roman and the Eastern Rites that separates Central Europe from Eastern Europe.

Gothic Spires and Onion Domes

Coming to the end of this chapter, we arrive in the middle of the 13th century. At this time, there were only two Transcarpathian events which affected the Wallachians and which deserve attention. For a short time, there was a Bulgarian-Wallachian state, and this was significant since it meant that the Wallachians, this Proto-Romanian ethnic group, began to participate in a higher order of organization than previously. Secondly, the Cumanians, whose proximity was the reason for the invitation to the Teutonic Order, also began to develop a more advanced administrative structure in the area to the east and to the south of the Carpathians. The Cumanians were transiently allied to the Bulgarian-Wallachian block, mentioned above, but the increasing pressure by the Tatars (Mongolians) from the East, made them look for assistance to the West and even accepted Christianity.

When Andrew II crowned his eight-year-old son Béla, the later Béla IV, as associate king -- remember, there was a precedent for this -- he gave him Transylvania as a "practice kingdom". When Béla reached adulthood, one of his main concerns was to attach Cumania to Hungary. In this he was eventually successful. By the time it was accomplished, however, a significant part of the Cumanian population is Wallachian. A basic area began to take shape, extending from the Havasalfőld to Moldavia, where there were first Romanian Voivodates, later Romanian principalities and finally -- much later -- the present Romanian fatherland. Young King Béla's conquests in the direction of Cumania were so successful that Hungarians, Székelys and Saxons in large numbers, voluntarily or otherwise, migrated to the region beyond the Carpathians. It is at this time that the ancestors of the Hungarians known as Csángós (wanderers ?) settled in Moldavia. Although the Hungarian conquerors initially occupied the Viennese basin as well, they rapidly withdrew from there to the line of the Lajta river. In the end, the Moldavian Csángó were the only remaining block of Hungarian extraction beyond the Carpathian Basin.


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