Did Romanians Living on Church Estates in Medieval Transylvania Pay the Tithe?
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
The Romanians of Transylvania, who were followers predominantly of the Orthodox rite, did not pay tithe to the Western Church in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. However, again according to the secondary literature, beginning in the fifteenth century, two groups of Transylvanian Romanians were obliged to pay this tax: those living on church properties and those who had moved to settlements formerly inhabited by Catholics (referred to as “terrae Christianorum”). This study deals with the issue of the first group, analyzing the only source that would support the thesis in question, namely a letter of King Sigismund of Luxembourg (which in some editions was dated to 1398 and in others to 1425 or 1426). Although the facts described in the document would correspond to realities from 1426, the contradictory dates, the confusing language, and the absence of the original (the earliest manuscript copies of the text are from the eighteenth century) arouse suspicions. Even if we accept it as authentic, the phrase “decima Volahorum,” which is used in the letter, cannot be interpreted as an ordinary tithe, but only as a royal tax. Neither the late medieval registers of revenues of the Alba Iulia chapter nor the urbaria of the estates of the Transylvanian bishopric offer any evidence in support the thesis according to which Romanians who lived on church properties paid the tithe.
Keywords: Transylvania, tithe, Romanians, church property, source criticism