Between “Faithful Subjects” and “Pernicious Nation”: Greek Merchants in the Principality of Transylvania in the Seventeenth Century*
Nicolae Iorga Institute of History
Towns in Transylvania were among the first in which Balkan Greeks settled in their advance into Central Europe. In this essay, I investigate the evolution of the juridical status of the Greeks within the Transylvanian principality during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in order to understand how they were integrated into the institutional and juridical framework of Transylvania. A reinterpretation of available privilege charters granted to the Greeks in Transylvania sheds light on the evolution of their official status during the period in question and on the nature of the “companies” the Greeks founded in certain towns of the principality in the seventeenth century. A close reading of the sources reveals tensions between tax-paying Greeks, whom the seventeenth century Transylvanian princes referred to as their “subjects of the Greek nation,” and the non-resident Greek merchants. Furthermore, strong inconsistencies existed between central and local policies towards the Greeks. I analyze these discrepancies between the princely privileges accorded to the Greeks and the status of the Greek merchants in Nagyszeben (Hermannstadt, today Sibiu, Romania) in particular. The city fathers of this town adhered strongly to their privilege of staple right and insisted on imposing it on the Greek merchants, but the princely grants in favor of the Greeks nullified de facto the provisions of the staple right. While they had obtained concessions that allowed them to settle into Transylvania, Greeks nevertheless negotiated their juridical status with the local authorities of Nagyszeben as well.
Keywords: Transylvania, Saxon towns, Greek merchants, Saxon traders, annual fair, staple right, trade, seventeenth century