Transylvania: Early history

As promised I did look into the subject. I might add two things at the very beginning. First, I'm in no way an expert either on Transylvania or this period. What I know comes from my general knowledge of Hungarian history and some reading on the subject for the purpose of writing this blog. Second, my knowledge comes from Hungarian sources, which may color the thesis that the Latinized Dacians couldn't have survived unnoticed for about a thousand years after the fall of Dacia to the "barbarians"  and hence modern-day Romanians are not the direct descendants of the Romanized inhabitants of today's Transylvania.

In 1987 a monumental three-volume history of Transylvania appeared under the imprint of the publishing house of the Hungarian National Academy: Erdély története három kötetben. The editors– László Makkai, András Mócsy, and Zoltán Szász–were the foremost historians in the field. Each longer part or chapter was written by a recognized expert. Endre Tóth wrote about Dacia, István Bóna about the period of migrations (271-896), and László Makkai about the early Hungarian rule (896-1526). Just to give you an idea of how thorough the treatment is, these three chapters take up more than 350 pages. The three volumes are a hefty 2,000 pages. Therefore, I must drastically abbreviate the story and concentrate only on the most important themes.

A sidenote: when this book came out Ceausescu's Romania was outraged. Romanian historiography in those days was blatant, primitive propaganda. To give a taste of the situation then, Ceausescu's own brother was one of the most celebrated "historians" of the country.

Let me start with Endre Tóth's description of the fall of Dacia. Archeological findings of Roman cemeteries and villages prior to 270 are plentiful; however not one Roman site was found that could be dated after the collapse of Dacia. According to Tóth some Roman coins and Christian articles were found past this date but they are not enough to prove continuity.

The Roman province of Dacia was first overrun by the Visigoths; under their rule today's Transylvania became almost uninhabited. Soon enough another Germanic tribe, the Gepids, appeared on the scene; they originally came from the area of the Vistula (in today's Poland) and moved into the region before the Huns showed up from Central Asia around 370. Eventually the Gepids became the favorite Hun vassals, and they took part in some of Attila's most famous battles. Therefore they received Attila's permission to settle in the Carpathian basin. After Attila's death in 457 the Gepids turned against the Huns and established their own kingdom that almost perfectly maps the borders of today's Transylvania. This date can be pretty well corroborated by archaeological finds.

The Gepids brought to Transylvania a surprisingly high level of cultural attainment. However, after about one hundred years a new group arrived from Central Asia, the Avars, a multilingual tribal society headed by a central ruler called the khagan. The Avars, just as later the Hungarians, were being pushed from farther east, and for a number of years they tried to escape the attack of other Asiatic tribes by somehow getting beyond the Carpathian mountains.

And here let me elaborate a bit because I found the description of the Avars' difficulty getting into the  Carpathian basin intriguing. The Gepids apparently made sure that there was an 80-100 km wide area in the high mountains that was left untouched, heavily forested, with no mountain passes. That was apparently their equivalent of the Great Wall of China. The Avars tried several times but simply couldn't penetrate the Northern or Eastern Carpathians. So they shifted tactics and moved southward. First they attacked the people living in Moesia (today part of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania), later moved a bit westward into Sirmium (Srem in Serbian, Szerémség in Hungarian) and eventually managed to get into the Carpathian basin relatively easily from the south at the end of the sixth century. They defeated the Gepids who were either killed or absorbed.

The Avars were not as clever about the country's defenses as the Gepids and soon enough Slavic tribes were able to penetrate the narrow mountain passes. In the sixth century Slavic tribes moved toward Moldavia-Wallachia, the two Romanian provinces that eventually constituted modern Romania (minus Transylvania and Bessarabia). By the seventh century there are archaeological finds attesting to the presence of Slavs in Transylvania as well. Slavic presence is also evident from some of the geographic names: Bystra/Beszterce (from Slavic "fast"), Krasna/Kraszna (from Slavic "red"), Congrád (from "cerni grad" meaning black castle).

Finally, a few more words about the society the Hungarian conquerors found in 895-896. By that time Slavic tribes had moved into the area in such great numbers that the Avars for all practical purposes had disappeared. And then by the middle of the thirteenth century Hungarians were the dominant force, inhabiting practically all of Transylvania with the exception of mountains higher than 2,500 feet.

All in all, it is hard to believe that Romanized Dacians could have survived the Visigoths, Gepids, Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Hungarians. To my mind an "outlaw society" (and I don't mean this disparagingly but rather to indicate a society outside of the mores of the dominant group–i.e., Dacians hiding out in the mountains) is at best marginalized by historical forces. But, to continue the wild west metaphor, there's no smoking gun to squelch the Dacian theory. There's always another side to the story. And that's what makes life, especially for a historian, so fascinating.

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Dumneazu
Guest
I know the tome you refer to, but it is very much a product of the 1980s, an attempt to focus a level headed historian’s argument against the radical “Daco-Romanian Continuity” arguments which were in favor during the reign of Nicolae Ceaucescu. The “Daco-Romanian” arguments are based on the throeies of “Protochronism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protochronism) a somewhat batty theoretical interpretation of Romanian history that began in the 1920s. (In a sense, the Hungarian editors were trying to form sober, informed historical arguments in answer to an onslaught of of semi-insane, nationalistic pseudoscientific officially backed B.S,… a form of discourse not at all unfamiliar to readers of this forum….) From the Wikipedia article: “The ideas have been explained as part of an inferiority complex present in Romanian nationalism, one which also manifested itself in works not connected with Protochronism, mainly as a rejection of the ideas that Romanian territories only served as a colony of Rome, voided of initiative, and subject to an influx of Latins which would have completely wiped out a Dacian presence.” Under Ceaucescu the idea that all western civilization secretly owed its accomplishments to Daco-Romanians was official policy, and the tendancy for massive self-aggrandisement left a legacy which is… Read more »
GDF
Guest

Dumneazu: “Under Ceaucescu the idea that all western civilization secretly owed its accomplishments to Daco-Romanians was official policy, and the tendancy for massive self-aggrandisement left a legacy which is still strong today in some circles: Kolozsvar ex-Mayor Gheorghe Funar’s antic digging of fake Dacian archeological sites in downtown Cluj during the 1990s is one example.”
From what I hear, the remaining hole in the central square does contain the ruins of a Roman era house (the other hole was refilled). The plan of the present local government is to convert the whole square into a pedestrian mall, and to cover the dig with glass (nowadays it serves as a depository of trash). By the way many archeologists believe that the Roman forum of the former Roman town of Napoca is somewhere near this square.
By the way, the correct spelling is Ceauşescu, with the ş pronounced as in she.
To make sure I am clear, in no way I defend the two lunatics (Funar and Ceauşescu).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Dumneazu: “the Hungarian editors were trying to form sober, informed historical arguments in answer to an onslaught of of semi-insane, nationalistic pseudoscientific officially backed B.S,… a form of discourse not at all unfamiliar to readers of this forum..”
I’m glad you also liked the work of the historians who put together this monumental piece of historical work. Yesterday I was very tempted to say something about the science of topomyny, that is the etymological study of geographic names. There are some fascinating examples of direct derivations from Slavic languages and from Hungarian into Romanian. Perhaps one day when the Hungarian political scene is really dull I will return to the topic because after all there are some people on this list who know Romanian.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Professor Your summary of the history of Transylvania tells us what happened not why. Sometimes events way beyond ‘our neck of the woods’ alter our history. With out going into too much detail the ‘cause of the problem’ was that well known exploding volcano Krakatoa. If Krakatoa 1883 was about a 200 Megaton event, Then Krakatoa 525 was a real a humdinger. It was preceeded by Krakatoa 416 (116 years before) when it went off at ‘half-cock’. This set up the real monster Krakatoa 525. This chain of volcanic events, I think is very similar to the final explosion of Santorini in the middle of the 1500s BC. Records suggest that Krakatoa 525 caused much global cooling with reductions and in some cases total crop failures. When this happens the small herbivore population plummets. This is followed by a drastic fall in the predators, which feed on them. If things return to normal there is a rapid increase in the population of the small herbivores, which is not compensated for by a corresponding increase in predators who breed at a slower rate. The result is a veritable murrain of fleas and a pandemic of Bubonic plague. This weakens or kills… Read more »
Paul
Guest
The Hungarian obsession with Trianon and with the former territories they controlled (Transylvania included) never ceases to amaze me. It’s true, the ‘historians’ fight over Transylvania’ and the big question “Who was first in Transylvania, Romanians or Hungarians?’ are interesting. Of course the answer won’t changed any of the realities in the region. I will make just some comments regarding your post. There are numerous archeological findings about continuing habitation in Transylvania after 270. For that you have to check studies by archeologists that actually worked in there in the last 90 years. For a list of arguments for and against the Roman-Romanian continuity please see the wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_Romanians It’s interesting that Hungarians choose to ignore the ‘Gesta Hungarorum’ that talks about the presence of Vlachs in Pannonia at the time of the arrival of the Magyars. Dumneazu the continuity theory (from a Roman colony to a Romance language speaking population) has nothing to do with Protochronism that was an aberration of course. In the center of Cluj/Kolozsvar there are no fake Dacian sites but Roman walls; Cluj was a Roman provincial capital. Funar’s nationalist policies were idiotic but that doesn’t mean that everything that is older than the… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “It’s interesting that Hungarians choose to ignore the ‘Gesta Hungarorum’ that talks about the presence of Vlachs in Pannonia at the time of the arrival of the Magyars.”
I don’t think that Anonymus is a reliable source because his gesta shows the situation in his own time rather than in earlier centuries. I wouldn’t take him too seriously. As far as the archeological findings are concerned I simply relied on what the authors of the History of Transylvania described. According to them there are no archeological findigs that would prove the continuity of a Romanized population. I’m no archeologist but I find it very difficult to believe the Daco-Roman continuity theory. However, I realize that there are others who do.

Paul
Guest

Well, read all the arguments from the other side too, instead of automatically believing the official history written in your country. And always keep in mind that at that time the populations were very small compared to nowadays. Unfortunately the whole debate about this issue was and still is highly politicized. Historians from both countries simplify the arguments of the other side in order to make their line of argument more credible.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Well, read all the arguments from the other side too, instead of automatically believing the official history written in your country.”
Obviously you didn’t read my piece very carefully. The last sentence read like this: “There’s always another side to the story. And that’s what makes life, especially for a historian, so fascinating.” I suggest to you what you suggest to me: read the other side as well. Here is the book in English: http://mek.oszk.hu/03400/03407/html/

Paul
Guest

🙂
Thank you. I already read it (the early part) some years ago, during my History studies. I did noticed your ending but my ungracious advice was determined by the rest of your post, citing only one author/source. Hope you didn’t take it personally. There is a project to do a common Romanian-Hungarian history textbook but considering the wide differences regarding this subject (and others) I have some doubts about its chances to succeed.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: I did noticed your ending but my ungracious advice was determined by the rest of your post, citing only one author/source”‘
I wrote an earlier piece on Trianon in which I explained that it doesn’t matter who was there first. The important thing is that by the nineteenth century the Romanians were in majority and there was very little assimilation. In fact, in spite of Magyarization attempts the number of Romanians was growing. I gave some figures from the 1910 census. I’m against any kind of historical rights and therefore, for example, I’m on the side of Kosovo and not of Serbia.
Otherwise I’m also skeptical about a joint Romanian-Hungarian textbook. I just read in a Hungarian paper that there was a poll taken in Slovakia among 15-year olds and according to 36% of them the most hated ethnic group is the Hungarian. Slovakia is only for the Slovaks. So, here we are while among Hungarians, I’m sure, the Romanians are the most hated. I don’t know when this is going to end.

Paul
Guest
You imply that Transylvania had a Hungarian majority in the past and as you probably guess that idea is not valid in Romanian historiography. You’re right, historical rights don’t matter; same opinion about Kosovo. Anyway, about HU-RO. It’s unfortunate that Romanians are the most hated nation in Hungary. Relations in Transylvania between the two groups are reasonably good. In Romania, Romanians from outside Transylvania tend to distrust Hungarians more than Romanians from Transylvania. In what concerns Romanian views of Hungary I have only a 2005 pool/study on the opinions of Romanians about foreign policy. The pool included a question about the views/sentiments Romanians had regarding several countries. On this ‘thermometer’ Hungary got 52 (from 100), so still on the positive side (50 was neutral); more than Serbia (49), Ukraine (49), Russia (46) or ‘Arab countries’ (41) (I know ‘Arab countries’ sounds silly and overly generalizing); Italy got the warmest sentiments (66). The conclusion is that Romanians dislike some other nations more than they dislike Hungary. It somehow make sense; Hungarians see themselves as the ones who lost, and see Romanians as the ones that won while Romanian nationalist cry for other territories (Northern Bukovina, Bessarabia (Moldova))taken by the Russians. Ohh… Read more »
GDF
Guest
Paul:” You imply that Transylvania had a Hungarian majority in the past and as you probably guess that idea is not valid in Romanian historiography.” I am not an expert in this but here is what I experienced: when I grew up in Kolozsvar/Cluj in the 1950s, the city’s population was about 80,000 and its majority was vastly Hungarian. At least that is my impression based on the fact one could speak Hungarian everywhere and everybody understood it. I actually grew up to elementary school age without speaking Romanian. This is unimaginable today. My understanding is that at that time the number of Hungarians in Transylvania was around 2.5 million. Today the city’s population is beginning to approach 500,000 and the percentage of Hungarians is below 20%. The number of Hungarians in Transylvania is now around 1.4 million and it is expected to drop to one million or less by 2030. In the meantime the villages that used to have Hungarian population are still that way and the same with the villages with Romanian population. The only major change is in the villages formerly populated by Germans (Saxons and Schwabs); most of them are now populated by Roma. I think… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Paul: “You imply that Transylvania had a Hungarian majority in the past and as you probably guess that idea is not valid in Romanian historiography.” I really didn’t think very much about it simply because we have no possible way of knowing what the situation was in the earlier times. I am guessing, but most likely Transylvania was very sparsely populated in the first place. What the exact combination was, let’s during the reign of Prince Gábor Bethlen, I wouldn’t know. (You know I didn’t get that far in my three-volume history of Transylvania. Smiley here is in order.) As I said earlier this period is not my field. What I really know about is Hungarian foreign policy between the two world wars. I also know a lot about internal politics in the 20s. I feel really comfortable there. But returning to the population mix, I have the feeling that the two sides have widely divergent views on the subject. One thing is sure there was originally a Romanian noble class but its members became assimilated. Enough to think of the Hunyadi family. I think that was a normal development. The same thing happened to some extent to the Croatian… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Anyway, about HU-RO. It’s unfortunate that Romanians are the most hated nation in Hungary.
Again, I’m guessing. This was my impression until recently, although it is possible that the Slovaks are taking over the Romanians because Ján Slota’s rabid anti-Hungarian comments.
“Relations in Transylvania between the two groups are reasonably good. In Romania, Romanians from outside Transylvania tend to distrust Hungarians more than Romanians from Transylvania.”
Yes, I know that. I also know that nowadays Hungarians from very underdeveloped areas in Hungary actually travel to the Arad to work there and find that they have no problems with their Romanian co-workers. I’m actually rather hopeful that eventually there will be a reconciliation within the European Union.

Öcsi
Guest

GDF: “I am not an expert in this but here is what I experienced: when I grew up in Kolozsvar/Cluj in the 1950s, the city’s population was about 80,000 and its majority was vastly Hungarian. At least that is my impression based on the fact one could speak Hungarian everywhere and everybody understood it.”
I was in Kolozsvár in early May for a couple of days and about 10 groups/classes of young students passed me on the sidewalk and most of them were speaking Hungarian. Perhaps they were too young to know better. I was surprised, especially after all the stories I’ve heard.
I’m not arguing your point but children’s perceptions are sometimes at odds with those of adults. Anyway, I was glad to hear them carelessly chatter away in Hungarian.
And as Eva S. Balogh says, she’s hopeful that there might be a reconciliation within the European Union. So am I.

GDF
Guest

Öcsi: “I was in Kolozsvár in early May for a couple of days and about 10 groups/classes of young students passed me on the sidewalk and most of them were speaking Hungarian. Perhaps they were too young to know better. I was surprised, especially after all the stories I’ve heard.”
I think I was misunderstood. In no way am I implying that one is not allowed to speak Hungarian is Transylvania, although ugly scenes occur occasionally. But why would the Romanians not have their equal to the Magyar Garda?
What I meant to say is that in the early 50s in Kolozsvar/Cluj “everyone” spoke Hungarian. Meetings were held in Hungarian. Store clerks spoke Hungarian. Employees in government offices spoke Hungarian. During May Day and similar parades slogans were yelled in Hungarian (I still remember one: Eljen a part, eljen a part, eljen a roman munkas part). Hungarian children could grow up without speaking Romanian.
Today this is not the case.

Paul
Guest
@ Öcsi I am surprised by the fact that you were surprised that the kids were speaking Hungarian. Did you think that Hungarians are not allowed to speak Hungarian in Romania? Come on. As a Hungarian (especially if you’re Székely) you can go from kindergarten and to finishing university hardly speaking any Romanian(the official language of the country). Plenty of Székelys don’t speak Romanian. Looks that the situation in Transylvania is seen from outside the region in much darker tones than it actually is. @GDF You are generally right about Kolozsvar/Cluj and the urban population change. In the first half of the century the city had a Hungarian majority. I was also much smaller. Most of the villages surrounding it were Romanian tough. The new neighborhoods built were populated mainly with Romanians from the region but also from outside it. Romanians from outside Transylvania moved into the cities but this was not the main factor in the changing ethnic balance of some of Transylvania’s cities. The main factor was industrialization and the fact that former Romanian peasants from Transylvania moved into the expanding cities while previously for several centuries they were subjected to segregation and rural life by such measures… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GDF: “A substantial part of this change was due to Ceausescu regime’s policies (one could settle in an urban area with a permit only and those permits were mostly given to people with Romanian ethnicity”
I have the feeling that the Ceausescu era’s policies only accelerated the process of Romanization of urban centers. That usually happens over time in any case. See the history some of the larger cities and towns in Hungary during the 19th century. Both Buda-Pest and, for example, Pécs were solidly German-speaking at the beginning of the century while by the end they became overwhelmingly Hungarian-speaking.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
@Paul It might just be possible to get a ‘view’ of the demographics of Transylvania in earlier times. As I understand the religious situation in that land. Romanians were followers of the Orthodox religion and Magyars were Catholics. Since church revenues are a function of population wealth and size. If you can get at any diocesan maps for the period and/or tithe records (Church taxes) it might be possible to show some correlation between these records and the population distribution. I hope Prof Balogh is right and that there will be reconciliation within Europe. I however fear that the pig-ignorant Rancid Right in Hungary will try to stir up old hatreds. In days gone by I used to visit Split and Hvar as often as I could. In those days I did not sense any tensions in a very racially mixed community. May be it us ‘grockles’ (visitors) who had something to do with it. I went back in 2002 and found it had been ‘partially cleansed’. I could feel the tension within the community. I do not want to say much more as ‘the other side’ took away the grand daughter of someone I rather liked. I found out… Read more »
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