pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Did Romanians Living on Church Estates in Medieval Transylvania Pay the Tithe?

Géza Hegyi
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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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


One of the most significant differences between Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity in the Middle Ages was the paying of the tithe. While Catholics had to pay one tenth of their most important agricultural produce to the Church (or its value in currency), members of the Orthodox Church had no such obligation.1 Given this difference, the study of the collection of the tithe in a region in which members of the two Churches lived side by side but in which the Catholic Church was nonetheless the religion of the state (and therefore also the more dominant religious institution) is of particular interest. The following question arises: how did this asymmetrical intercultural relationship affect the original exemption from paying the tithe among Orthodox communities?

In the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, the Western Church was compelled to confront this issue when relatively large groups of people who followed the Eastern rite came under its authority, first in southern Italy and then, as a consequence of the Crusades, in the Holy Land and Greece.2 In these areas, which were denominationally mixed, the new landlords preferred to put Orthodox serfs on their estates (which sometimes earlier had been worked by Catholic serfs), from whom they could demand higher seigneurial taxes, since Orthodox serfs did not have to pay the tithe. Since this clearly led to reductions in the incomes of the Western Church, at the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 the Church stipulated, in the 53rd canon, that estate owners collect the tithe from all tenants regardless of whether the serfs followed the Western or Eastern rite.3 We know very little about how this measure was actually put into practice, but with the fall of the Latin states at the end of the thirteenth century, it became irrelevant anyway.

The History of the Research on the Subject

The other region in which communities belonging to the two Churches (the Catholic and the Orthodox) lived intermixed was East Central Europe, or more precisely, Bosnia, Galicia, and Eastern Hungary (including Transylvania), where Catholic Hungarians, Székelys, and Saxons lived alongside comparatively large Orthodox Romanian, Serb, and Ruthenian communities under the jurisdiction and rule of the Hungarian kingdom, which was fundamentally Western in its cultural and religious orientation.

Hungarian and Romanian scholars and historians have studied the question of the relationship between the Romanian communities of this region and the paying of the tithe for a long time. Transylvanian historian József Kemény (1795–1855) did some of the fundamental groundwork on the subject,4 drawing on the source work of József Benkő (1740–1814), Ignác Batthyány (1741–1798), and Antal Szeredai (1740–1798), among others.5 Greek Catholic historian Zenovie Pâclişanu (1886–1957)6 and Orthodox theologian Ştefan Lupşa (1905–1964)7 made Kemény’s findings part of the Romanian historiography, often adding their own interpretations of the sources. In his monumental work on the burdens placed on the serfs of Transylvania in the sixteenth century, David Prodan (1902–1992) offers a relatively short but all the more thorough discussion of this question.8 Historians Andor Csizmadia (1910–1985),9 Ernst Wagner (1921–1996),10 Adrian Andrei Rusu (1951–),11 and Ioan-Aurel Pop (1955–)12 only touch on the question of the “tithe paid by Romanians.” Viorel Achim (1961–), in contrast, has added considerably to our understanding of this question with numerous essays on the issue as it arose in Banat13 and with the publication of several new sources.14 Thus, today he is considered the expert on the subject.

The historians and writers named above are in almost complete consensus on the view that, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Orthodox Romanians did not pay the tithe.15 If from time to time one finds references to Orthodox Romanians alongside the word “decima” in the sources, either this was a reference to a tithe paid to the Archbishop of Esztergom by the king from his incomes (including the fiftieth paid by Romanian-speaking subjects)16 or the Romanian community in question had converted to Catholicism17 (although the Hungarian kings, in an effort to further religious conversion, strove to prevail on the pope to exempt these converts from paying the tithe).18

The situation began to change under King Sigismund, but the changes affected only some of the Romanian communities.19 In Hungary more narrowly understood (i.e. not including Transylvania), with the exception of the efforts of a few prelates (in 1415 and 1469), Romanians remained exempt from the tithe.20 In Transylvania, however, according to the consensus in the secondary literature, first Romanians living on the estates of the bishop and of the chapter were compelled to pay the tithe, followed by the Romanians who had settled on “Christian lands,” i.e. villages or plots which earlier had been inhabited by Catholics.21

An Analysis of the Charter of 1426

In this article, I examine the first of these two cases, i.e. the case of Romanians who were living on estates owned by the Church and the question of whether or not they were obliged to pay the tithe. On the basis of the sources, I throw into question the consensus mentioned above in the secondary literature.

Some historians have dated the start of this practice to 1398,22 while others have dated it to 1425 or 1426.23 When one examines the secondary literature more closely, however, one notes that in each case these conclusions are based on the same source, specifically a letter in which King Sigismund informed the Transylvanian nobility that, the request made by their delegates (Miklós Apafi of Almakerék [Malâncrav/Malmkrog] and László Gyerőfi of Szamosfalva [Someşeni]) notwithstanding, for the moment he would not oblige the Romanians living on the estates of bishops and other Church estates to pay the tithe (“decimam Volahorum episcopalium et ecclesiasticorum exigere distulimus”), since in order to maintain the bishops’ banderia24 and in order for the chapter and other figures of the Church to be able to fulfill their obligations to the military, they would have to tax the Romanians on their estates (“episcopus banderium proprium, capitulum autem et alii viri ecclesiastici certas summas pecuniarum ratione exercitus solvere et propter illas expediendas eorum Volahos exactionari habent”). He did promise, however, to come to Transylvania once the military campaign that was underway at the time had come to an end and to reach a decision on this issue, after thorough negotiations, that would satisfy both parties. In a separate postscript he even exempted the noblemen without lords (“nobiles dominos ... non habentes,” i.e. a nobleman who was unwilling to serve as the familiaris25 of another, wealthier lord) from military conscription (“ab ingressu presentis nostre exercitualis expeditionis duximus supportandos”).26

The different datings by different historians are explained by the fact that, in the clause of the document, at the date formula, the year according to the Christian Era is not indicated next to the place (Visegrád) and the day of the year (“vigilia festi Visitationis Virginis gloriose,” i.e. July 1). True, one should be able to determine the year in which the letter was written on the basis of the three regnal years of King Sigismund specified in the same place (“regnorum nostrorum anno Hungariae XImo, Romanorum vero IIdo, Bohemiae VIto”), but these three dates contradict one another. His eleventh annus regni as King of Hungary refers to 139727 (and not 1398, as it was considered by some of the editors!), while his second regnal year as “Roman” (i.e. German) King refers to 1412, and his sixth annus regni as King of Bohemia to 1426.28 It is possible that individual numbers were distorted when the text was copied or issued, and we could even presume how this distortion took place if we could assume that the Czech annus regni is accurate,29 in other words that the letter was written on July 1, 1426.30 In this case, the original text must have read “regnorum nostrorum anno Hungarie XLmo, Romanorum vero sedecimo,” and the Latin numerals could easily have been miscopied as “XI” and “secundo.”31

The simplest way of verifying the abovementioned emendation, clearly, would be simply to consider the original of the charter. We do not, however, have any such charter, and indeed to my knowledge there are no reliable transcriptions either, neither from the Middle Ages nor from the Early Modern Era. Most of the editions (more precisely, those dated to 1398) are based on József Benkő’s edition, but Benkő did not indicate the source he used. The editions dated to 1426 follow quite faithfully (servilely) one of the copies made by József Kemény sometime around 1840,32 which refers to Count Ádám Székely’s (†1789) collection of manuscripts, which at the time was held in the library of the Calvinist college in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg).33 The collection is currently held by the Cluj County Directorship of the Romanian National Archive, and one of the two volumes containing the text was indeed found in it, but the volume contained no reference to the source on which the text was based, so it offered no further clues.34 Given the similarities in the ways in which the text was apparently miscopied, however, one can assume that this version and the Benkő edition are closely related and indeed were perhaps themselves based on the same flawed copy.

The text is found three more times in Kemény’s collection of manuscript copies.35 One of these versions is less interesting than the other two because it simply reproduces Benkő’s version.36 In the second, however, the regnal years which were reconstructed by me figured, and, according to this, it was dated to 1426, but Kemény later “corrected” the numbers, prompted by the works of Benkő and Kósa, and changed the year to 1398.37 Thus, it is possible that Kemény was using the original document or, more probably, a better quality copy, a hypothesis which seems plausible in part because some of the names are written using forms that were historically accurate (e.g. Gerew and Wissegrad for Gyerő and Visegrád). The third version of the text, which has not yet been published, is even more interesting. It is found in the copy of the November 1, 1426 transcription made by the convent of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur), a copy which includes a plethora of explanatory notes.38 The original version of this transcription has not survived either, and again, Kemény has failed to indicate the source, but the use of medieval spellings for names and the almost correct date formula39 suggest that this version is in all likelihood a relatively close variant of the original.

A summary of the letter, dated to 1425, was published by György Fejér, who refers to the Codex Széchényianus held in the Manuscript Collection of the National Széchényi Library as the source, though in all likelihood he never actually set eyes on this codex, since he repeats word for word the corresponding passages from the first catalogue of the collection, which offers ample summaries of the contents of the individual holdings.40 Regrettably, the Codex Széchényianus, which once consisted of eleven tomes, cannot actually be identified among the holdings of the Széchényi Library at the moment, but I did manage, using the old catalogue, to find a version of the text in question dated to 1425 in a volume of copies made in 1792–1793.41 A reference in this work led me to the valuable collection of Dániel Cornides,42 but since this collection also failed to indicate the sources on which it was based, I again failed to find any version of the text dating back earlier than the second half of the eighteenth century, and thus also failed to come any closer to the hypothetical original.

It was necessary to go into detail concerning these texts and the issues surrounding them because the absence of the original and the decisive role played by Benkő and Kemény in bringing the charter into “circulation” casts a shadow of doubt on the source in question.43 However, the manner in which the text has been passed on (down several branches, see Fig. 1) makes it seem highly unlikely that the charter is merely a fabrication cobbled together by erudite eighteenth-century source collectors (even if, given the confusion concerning the date of its composition, it is not free of all doubts). Of course, this alone hardly suffices to confirm its authenticity, and thus further study is necessary, more specifically, an examination of its contents.


Figure 1. The textual filiation of the July 1, 1426 charter issued by King Sigismund. I used bold to indicate what was allegedly the medieval original and its transcriptions, italics to indicate manuscript copies made in the Modern Era, and parentheses to indicate textual “witnesses” which today are either lost or inaccessible.

The fact that the source seems to correspond, from the perspective of its genre, to the age in which (one assumes for the moment) it was composed can be cited as evidence of its authenticity. The first examples of comparable “closed letters” (litterae clausae) date to the 1420s, i.e. documents in which only the address written on the exterior indicates the person to whom the letter is addressed, and in the text of the letter only “fideles dilecti” is used as a form of address, but in the line in which the dates are written various years of reign are given (often without the date for the Christian era).44 The various details mentioned in the text seem to correspond to the facts as we know them on the basis of other sources. For instance, there is mention of Miklós Apafi between 1399 and 1446 in the sources and of László Gyerőfi between 1411 and 1430.45 Sigismund was indeed in Visegrád in July of 1426, and he did indeed spend an extended period of time in Transylvania between November of 1426 and July of 1427, as he had promised to do.46 The announcement of the coming war was also accurate, since on June 12, 1426 the king wrote a letter to Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, in which he indicated that he wanted to send three armies to the fields, in part to fight against the Hussites and in part to fight, under his leadership, against the Turks, who Dan II of Wallachia (1422–1431) had driven from his land at the end of May.47 The military campaign was indeed launched in the summer or autumn of that year in accordance with these plans, with only the slight alteration that the royal army was led not by the king himself, but by Pippo Spano, Count of Temes (Timiş).48

The written materials which have survived from the period in question draw a distinction, too, between members of the petty nobility who served as “familiaris” and those without lords (“dominos non habentes”). According to King Sigismund’s decree of 1435 (his so-called fifth decree), the former had to join the army at their lords’ expense as part of their lords’ banderia, while the latter had to do so at their own expense, under the leadership of the count of the county (“eorum comes parochianus”).49 It is quite clear that for the people who belonged to this second group, which was of little value on the battlefield anyway, the exemption in 1426 from having to participate in the military, which was a significant financial burden, came as a relief.

The language and tone of the source, however, are both problematic. While most of the words which seemed to me at first a bit unusual and more part of the Latin used in the Modern Era (for instance, words like conspectum, facunde, gratitudo, subsistens, and involutus) can actually be found in the charters of the time, the same cannot be said of the rare phrases built out of them (for instance “ingratius apparere non debet,” “exigere distulimus,” and “causis rationabilibus subsistentibus”).50 In some places, the sentences are so complex that they are almost incomprehensible, and the text is heavy with interpositions and stylistic frill. This baroque phrasing, furthermore, is coupled with a remarkably restrained and diplomatic tone. The king almost seems to be making excuses for himself to the Transylvanian nobility (which would be odd indeed) for his refusal to compel Romanians living on Church properties to pay the tithe. If one compares this with the clear and simple phrasing and style of similar orders,51 the difference is striking. Thus, while there are strong arguments in favor of considering the text authentic, given the absence of the original and the unusual stylistic features we would be wise to use the charter only with some qualifications and reservations.52

The question of authenticity, however, ultimately is of only secondary importance, since in my assessment we would not be able to use the document as a source in a discussion of the question of the Romanian-speaking communities and the Church tithe even if its authenticity were beyond any doubt. If we interpret the phrase “decima Volahorum episcopalium” as a reference to the tithe as it is generally understood, then why would the document present the notion of the ruler not collecting this “tithe” for a time as some kind of unusual favor or kindness, and why would the nobility of the province complain of releasing it (to the Church!)? Collecting the tithe, after all, was hardly possible without the assistance of the secular authorities (“brachium seculare”) and in particular the support of the king and the participation of the county authorities.53 Nonetheless, in the Middle Ages it did not become an official state tax, since at least in principle the justification for the collection of the tithe was the notion that it was “Christ’s inheritance.”54 In other words, it was the rightful property of the Church and the Church alone. Similarly, although the nobility often came into conflict with the higher clergy over the issue of the tithe, these conflicts never broke out over questions of principle, but rather over the practical matters concerning the tithing on the estates of the noblemen or over personal differences. In the question of how the bishop taxed his own serfs (with a tax, furthermore, that he was entitled, as a “religious right,” to collect from every member of the Catholic Church), laymen quite certainly had no say whatsoever.

One might propose as a solution to this dilemma the changing relationship between the state and the tithe, which was shifting because of the growing threat posed by the Ottoman Empire. Following defeat in the Battle of Nicopolis, at diet held in Temesvár (Timişoara/Temeschwar) in October 1397, Sigismund decreed, at the prompting of the barons and noblemen, that as long as the war with the “pagans” was still underway, every figure of the Church was obliged to surrender half of his income55 for the defense of the border. Furthermore, according to Sigismund’s decree, estate owners were to turn over half of the tithe collected from their serfs directly to the individuals designated by the assembly.56 This measure was still in effect in 1439 (since the threat posed by the Ottoman Empire had hardly vanished,)57 and according to some of the scolars this may well explain the king’s and the nobility’s interest in the question of the tithe in 1426.

An essay was recently published on the implementation of paragraph 63 of the 1397 law, and the conclusions reached in this essay make it easier to verify the above hypothesis.58 Two of the findings are important from the perspective of the question at hand here. One of them is the observation that, when paying this wartime tax, the figures of the Church always turned over precisely the same sum59 to the representatives of the king60 or his treasurer (a sum which varied only depending on the individual institution in question). The exact amount was determined by those compelled to pay it in the course of negotiations with the king,61 and it was not changed at the councils which were later held and announced every year (where the only question was whether or not someone would be given an exemption for the year in question).62 Thus, this wartime tax can be considered a sort of “flat fee,” and it did not in fact depend on the actual income for a given year (the stipulation of the 1397 law notwithstanding).63 Indeed, the state made no effort to determine the actual annual revenues of the churchmen or to seize its precise share of them.

Furthermore, as was determined in the aforementioned article, the misleading phrasing of some of the charters notwithstanding, the tax in question in fact was only paid by the members of the middle layer of the Church, i.e. the provosts and their chapters, the archdeacons, and some of the monastic orders (the Benedictines and the Premonstratensians), not the bishops. The bishops contributed to the defense of the country by keeping their banderia ready and armed (as indeed is indicated in the document allegedly from 1426 under examination here).64 They were only able to do this, of course, by using their incomes as prelates, the vast majority of which came from the tithes collected from the serfs on their estates.65 Thus, it would hardly have been in the interests of the state to have attempted to put these incomes under its direct administration (furthermore, it would have been a violation of canon law). This could only be done when a seat was left empty. When a bishop died, Sigismund often left his diocese under the control of a secular “governor,” and the tithes that were collected from the estates were used to strengthen defenses in the southern borders.66 This practice, however, cannot have been the solution adopted in the case of the situation described in the July 1, 1426 document, since Balázs Csanádi (1424–1427) was serving as Bishop of Transylvania at the time.67

Thus, in my view, the phrase “decima Volahorum,” if indeed existed at all, did not mean the “normal” Church tithe. Rather, it must have been some kind of royal tax which Romanians, specifically, were obliged to pay to the royal treasury. One could mention, as a comparable example, the charter of 1293, in which King Andrew III of Hungary exempted the 60 Romanian families who were going to be settled on the estates of Fülesd (Feneş) and Enyed (Aiud) of the Transylvanian chapter from payment of the so-called fiftieth (“quinquagesima ovium”)68 and the tithe (“decima”). The text is very precise in this case and specifies that this latter is a royal tax too, not a Church tithe.69 Prodan interprets the mention of a tax in both the 1293 document and the 1426 document as a synonym for the fiftieth.70 This interpretation is interesting in part because sources indicate that Sigismund collected the fiftieth from the Romanians of the Transylvanian chapter, neglecting its aforementioned exemption. This happened because the king allegedly bore a grudge against the Transylvanian elite, perhaps because of its mass participation in the uprising of 1403. The chapter only regained its right to keep the “quinquagesima” from Regent János Hunyadi in 1446.71 In this context, it is easier to understand why the nobility of the province protested in 1426 against the favors granted to the Church landlords regarding the collection of the “Romanian tithe” (i.e. the fiftieth). The goal of the king, however, is quite clear from the text: with the exemption, he sought to strengthen military potential of the Church.

Evidence Found in Economic Documents from the Late Middle Ages

Thus, the letter from 1426 does not suffice to prove that the Romanians living on Church estates in Transylvania were compelled to pay the (Church) tithe. Apart from this document, there are no other sources which one could cite in support of this contention. The lists and registries which were drawn up in the Late Middle Ages, furthermore, clearly reveal this notion to be false. In the records concerning the incomes of the Transylvanian chapter in 1477, 1496, and 1504, villages which paid their taxes in sheep (i.e. the villages with Romanian populations) are clearly distinguished from the settlements which paid the Church tithe, i.e. paid the tithe in grain and wine.72 Even if it were possible, in principle, that some of the latter settlements had Romanian populations (too),73 it is still clearly obvious that the vast majority of Romanian villages were not obliged to pay the tithe. The urbarium which was drawn up sometime around 1552 for the estates of the Transylvania bishopric does not indicate which settlements were obliged to pay the tithe and which were not, but the villages which are identified as Romanian (“Walacalis”) or under the stewardship of a so-called “kenezeus” (head of a local Romanian community)74 do not figure in the 1587–1589 tithe-lease registry listing the settlements of the seven Transylvanian counties which paid the tithe.75


As this discussion has shown, there is no real evidence in the sources in support of the contention according to which the Romanians living on Church estates in Transylvania were in a disadvantageous position, from the perspective of an obligation to pay the tithe, in comparison with the serfs living on royal or noble estates (through this contention which has gained widespread acceptance in the secondary literature and is often repeated as something of a cliché).76 In fact, the same principle applied to all of them in the Late Middle Ages: they could only be compelled to pay the tithe if they had settled on so-called “Christian lands” (i.e. in settlements which earlier had been inhabited by Catholics). At most one could suggest that in their implementation of this principle the bishop and the chapter were more consistent when dealing with their own estates than when dealing with the estate of others. This question, however, will have to await further study.

Archival sources

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Colecţia colegiului reformat Cluj [Collection of the Calvinist college in
Kolozsvár] (Fond 890)

Biblioteca Academiei Române [Romanian Academy Library], Filiala Cluj [Cluj-Napoca Branch], Cluj-Napoca (BAR-CJ)

Ms. KJ 288/C, Josephus Kemény, Diplomatarii Transilvanici Supplementum, 13 vols.

Ms. KJ 288/D, Josephus Kemény, Diplomatarii Transilvanici Appendix, 22 vols.

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary],
Budapest (MNL OL)

Diplomatikai Fényképgyűjtemény [Diplomatic Photograph Collection] (DF)

Diplomatikai Levéltár [Diplomatic Archive] (DL)

Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtár és Információs Központ [Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences], Budapest (MTAKt), Kézirattár és Régi Könyvek Gyűjteménye [Departement of Manuscripts and Rare Books]

Ms. TörtOkl 2o15–26 és 4o31, Daniel Cornides, Diplomatarium, 13 vols.

Országos Széchényi Könyvtár [National Széchényi Library], Budapest (OSzK), Kézirattár [Manuscripts Collection]

Fol. Lat. 1119., Chartae Transsylvanicae diversi argumenti ex documentis fide dignis descriptae.


Printed sources

CDHung = Georgius Fejér, ed. Codex diplomaticus Hungariae ecclesiasticus ac civilis. 40 vols. Buda, 1829–1844.

CDTrans = Zsigmond Jakó, Géza Hegyi, András W. Kovács, eds. Codex diplomaticus Transsylvaniae: Diplomata, epistolae et alia instrumenta litteraria res Transsylvanas illustrantia Erdélyi okmánytár; Oklevelek, levelek és más írásos emlékek Erdély történetéhez. 4 vols. Vol. 26, 40, 47, 53. of Publicationes Archivi Hungariae Nationales 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó–Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára–MTA BTK Történettudományi Intézet, 1997–2014.

COD = Josephus Alberigo, Perikles-P[etrus] Joannou, Claudius Leonardi, Paulus Prodi, eds. Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta. Bologna: Centro di Documentazione Istituto per le Scienze Religiose, 1962.

Decreta 1301–1457 = Franciscus Döry, Georgius Bónis and Vera Bácskai. Decreta regni Hungariae. Gesetze und Verordnungen Ungarns 1301–1457. Vol. 11. of Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976.

DocRomHist C = Sabin Belu, Ioan Dani, Aurel Răduţiu, Viorica Pervain, Konrad G. Gündisch, Marionela Wolf, Adrian Rusu, Susana Andea, Lidia Gross, Adinel Dincă, eds. Documenta Romaniae Historica: C. Transilvania. 7 vols. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei, 1977–2014.

DocRomHist D = Ştefan Pascu, Constantin Cihodaru, Konrad G. Gündisch, Damaschin Mioc, Viorica Pervain, eds. Documenta Romaniae Historica: D. Relaţii între ţările române [Documenta Romaniae Historica: On Relations Among the Romanian Lands]. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei, 1977.

DocVal = Antonius Fekete-Nagy and Ladislaus Makkai, eds. Documenta historiam Valachorum in Hungaria illustrantia usque ad annum 1400 p. Christum. Vol. 29. of Études sur l’Europe Centre-Orientale. Ostmitteleuropäische Bibliothek. Budapest, 1941.

KmJkv = Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556) [Record Books of the Kolozsmonostor Convent (1289–1556)]. 2 vols. Vol. 17 of Publicationes Archivi Hungariae Nationales 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

Hurmuzaki = Eudoxiu Hurmuzaki, Nicolae Densuşianu, eds. Documente privitoare la istoria românilor [Documents on Romanian History]. 7 vols. Bucuresci, 1887–1897.

RI = Wilhelm Altmann, ed. Die Urkunden Kaiser Sigmunds 1410–1437. 2 vols. Vol. 11/1–2 of Regesta Imperii. Innsbruck, 1896–1900.

Ub = Franz Zimmermann, Carl Werner, Georg Müller, Gustav Gündisch, Herta Gündisch, Konrad G. Gündisch and Gernot Nussbächer, eds. Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen. 7 vols. Hermannstadt–Bucureşti: Verein für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde, 1892–1991.

ZsOkl = Elemér Mályusz, Iván Borsa, Norbert C. Tóth, Tibor Neumann, Bálint Lakatos, Gábor Mikó, eds. Zsigmondkori oklevéltár [Document Archive from the Era of King Sigismund]. 14 vols. Vol. 1, 3–4, 22, 25, 27, 32, 37, 39, 41, 43, 49, 52, 55 of Publicationes Archivi Hungariae Nationales 2: Fontes. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó–MNL OL, 1951–2013.


Secondary literature

Achim, Viorel. “Consideraţii asupra politicii faţă de ortodocşi a regelui Ludovic I de Anjou, cu referire specială la chestiunea dijmelor” [Considerations Concerning the Politics of King Louis I of Anjou Towards the Orthodox, With Particular Reference to the Issue of Tithes]. In Ovidiu Cristea, Gheorghe Lazăr, eds., Vocaţia istoriei: Prinos profesorului Şerban Papacostea [The Vocation of History: Homage to Professor Şerban Papacostea], 69–79. Brăila: Muzeul Istros, 2008.

Achim, Viorel. “Convertirea la catolicism a românilor din zona Beiuşului în două documente din 1421” [Conversion to Catholicism Among Romanians in the Area Around Beiuş in Two Documents From 1421]. Mediaevalia Transilvanica 5–6 (2001–2002): 83–95.

Achim, Viorel. “Disputa în legătură cu dijmele bisericeşti din Caransebeş şi Căvăran (1500)” [Disputes in Connection with Church Tithes in Caransebeş and Căvăran (1500)]. In Dumitru Şeicu, Rudolf Gräf, eds., Itinerarii istoriografice: Studii în onoarea istoricului Costin Feneşan [Historiographical Itineraries: Essays in Honor of Historian Costin Feneşan], 179–205. Cluj-Napoca: Academia Română Centrul de Studii Transilvane, 2011.

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1* The research has been implemented with the support provided from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary, financed under the K 119 430 funding scheme, and the Hungarian Academy of Science Domus Hungarica Program.

Schmid, “Byzantinisches Zehntwesen.” See also: Zimmermann, “Zehnt,” 496.

2 Richard, “The Establishment,” 45–46.

3 COD, 235. See Schabel and Tsougarakis, “Pope Innocent III.”

4 Kemény, “Bruchstück.”

5 [1398]: Benkő, Milkovia, 2: 321–23, see 320 (Kemény dates it [“Bruchstück,” 385] to 1425 or 1426); 1468: Szeredai, Notitia, 103–4; Batthyány, Leges, 3: 529–30; 1498: ibid., 609; 1500: Szeredai, Notitia, 120 (fragment).

6 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele.”

7 Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 46–52.

8 Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53–57.

9 Csizmadia, “A tized Erdélyben,” 44–45.

10 Wagner, “Register des Zehnten,” 203, 219.

11 Rusu, “Sinodul de la Florenţa,” 97–98, 111.

12 Pop, De manibus Vallacorum, 398, 401–5.

13 A geographical and historical region most of which today lies in southwestern Romania and northeastern Serbia.

14 Achim, “Les Roumains;” idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad;” idem, “Consideraţii;” idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş.”

15 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 382–85 (see also 390–92); Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 456–57; Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53–54; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 11–13; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 169–70, 172–73; idem, “Consideraţii,” 73–76; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 189–92. Only Lupşa, who approaches the question from the perspective of grievances, contends that even as early as the fourteenth century several attempts were made to compel the Romanians to pay the tithe (Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 47–50), but in support of this contention he either refers to sources which are falsifications or offers arbitrary interpretations of the documents on which he draws.

16 1262(?): CDTrans, 1: no. 235 (see no. 221); 1293: ibid., no. 519.

17 1358: CDTrans, 3: no. 985 (Szád [today Marosberkes/Birchiş] and its surroundings, in Arad County); 1377: DocRomHist C, 15: 281–93, 296–302 (Aranyosmeggyes [Medieşul Aurit] and its attached estates). See Pall, “Românii din părţile sătmărene,” 14–18, 24–26, 29–30. There is consensus in the Hungarian and Romanian secondary literature that Catholic proselytism met with only limited success among the Romanians. Only some of the Romanian elites of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) and Hátszeg (Haţeg) and their surroundings permanently converted to Catholicism. See Juhász, “Nyugati misszió,” 263–78; Rusu, “Sinodul de la Florenţa,” 117–27; Achim, “La féodalité roumaine;” idem, “Convertirea,” 85, 88–92, 93; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 187, 193, 198–200.

18 CDTrans, 2: no. 619; 3: no. 609–10.

19 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 385; Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 457–58; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 15, 16–17; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 169–70; idem, “Consideraţii,” 77. According to another interpretation which is less persuasively grounded in the sources (Csizmadia, “A tized Erdélyben,” 44; Rusu, “Sinodul de la Florenţa,” 98), the obligation to pay the tithe only began to be placed on the Romanians of Transylvania in 1468 (permanently or temporarily), but it was placed on all Romanians, with no exceptions (see also Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 50–52).

20 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 457–58; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 5–8, 12–17; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 170–73, 176–78; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 189–92.

21 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 385–92; Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 458, 460–61; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 11–12, 15, 16; idem, “Disputa din episcopia de Cenad,” 172–73, 175; idem, “Disputa din Caransebeş,” 189. Prodan disagrees. He contends that the decrees were never actually put into practice, and thus at the end of the Middle Ages the Romanians of Transylvania, like the Romanians of Hungary, did not pay the tithe (Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 54–57).

22 Pâclişanu, “Dişmele,” 457–58; Lupşa, Catolicismul şi românii, 49.

23 Kemény, “Bruchstück,” 385; Achim, “Les Roumains,” 12.

24 Military units in medieval Hungary which were identified by the banner of the nobleman or high-ranking member of the clergy under which they fought.

25 The term refers to a relationship unique to the feudal society of medieval Hungary: the “familiaris” performed services for the lord usually for payment in cash or in kind, not for estates, and unlike in Western Europe, where the relationship between vassal and liege was usually life long, the “familiaris” could sever ties to his lord if it was in his perceived interests. See Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 126–28.

26 The various editions: with a date of 1398: Benkő, Milkovia, 2: 321–23; Kósa, De publica, 50–51; CDHung, 10/3: 213–14; Kemény, “Erdélynek,” 30–32; Moldovanu, “Contribuţiuni,” 172; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 400; DocVal 504–5 (summary). With a date of 1426: Moldovanu, “Contribuţiuni,” 234; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 538–39. Summaries of content with a date of 1425: CDHung, 10/8: 606; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 533.

27 In some editions (Moldovanu, “Contribuţiuni,” 234; Hurmuzaki, 1/2: 539) the tenth Hungarian (1396) and fifteenth Roman (1425) regnal year figures in the clause (as an alternative), but clearly these dates do not agree either.

28 Sigismund was crowned King of Hungary on March 31, 1387, and King of Bohemia on July 28, 1420. He, however, considered his reign as King of Germany to have begun not with his coronation in Aachen on November 8, 1414, but rather with his election on September 20, 1410, although at the time only two of the electors voted for him, giving him a total of three votes, including his own, and so the election which was (re)held on July 21, 1411 should be considered valid (Hoensch, Kaiser Sigismund, 63, 148–57, 186–89, 293). For most of the period of his reign (1387–1401, 1409–1437), in contrast with standard practice in the Angevin period, dates were recorded using not the calendar year, but rather simply beginning from the day on which he had taken the throne (Engel, Archontológia, 1: 528–29, respectively 549–64, passim).

29 On the basis of the three royal titles and the date given for the day, it is quite clear that the letter should be dated to sometime between 1421 and 1432, since following his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor on May 31, 1433, Sigismund marked his title as emperor and the year of his rule in these kinds of decrees (see also CDHung, 10/8: 648, 649).

30 See ZsOkl, 1: 594 (between no. 5386 and 5387).

31 On the shifting use of Roman numerals and numbers written using letters in the same date formula see Házi, Sopron, 1/2: 220, 261, 269, 307; CDHung, 10/8: 648, 649, stb.

32 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/C, 3: 91–92.

33 For a short history of the collection, see Jakó, “Forschung der Quellen,” 71–72.

34 SJAN-CJ, Collection of the Calvinist college in Kolozsvár (Fond 890), no. 46, 235–36 (dated to 1426). The other copy, which is mentioned by Kemény (ibid., no. 43, 93), is inaccessible at the moment. Since for the most part the Székely collection contains the text of charters dealing with the Apafi and Bethlen families (including the abovementioned source), it seems possible to me that these texts were copied from materials held today in the Erdélyi Fiscalis Levéltár Apafiana (i.e. the materials on the Apafi family in the Transylvanian Fiscalis Archive), which are part of the National Archives of Hungary. See also Trócsányi, Erdélyi kormányhatósági, 545, 559–60.

35 Kemény, a famous collector of source materials, intended to publish a comprehensive corpus relating to the history of Transylvania. On his work see Jakó, “Forschung der Quellen,” 74–76.

36 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/D, 4: no. 124.

37 “regnorum nostrorum annorum Hungariae quadragesimo <videlicet XI>, Romanorum XVI <vero II> et Bohemiae sexto” (BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/C, 2: 307–9).

38 BAR-CJ, Ms. KJ 288/D, 5: no. 26.

39 “regnorum nostrorum anno Hungariae XXXIX, Romanorum vero XVI, Bohemiae VI” (ibid).

40 Miller, Catalogus, 1: 504. See CDHung, 10/8: 606.

41 OSzK, Fol. Lat. 1119, ff. 188r-v. Most of the volume was copied from Cornides’ collection, along with shorter sections from the works of Fejérvári, Pray, and Hevenesi.

42 MTAKt, Ms. TörtOkl 2o16: 288–89. (I was able to obtain a photographic copy of the text thanks to Sándor Előd Ősz and Klára Láng. I offer them my grateful thanks for their assistance.) Here, the dating of the charter is the following: “regnorum nostrorum annorum Hungariae Xmo, Romanorum XVIo et Bohemiae sexto.” For a brief summary of the work and pursuits of Cornides and an assessment of his collection, see Jakó, “Forschung der Quellen,” 72–73.

43 Each of the two esteemed source collectors has been tied in the secondary literature to falsifications. On Benkő, see CDTrans, 1: no. 7, 148. On Kemény, see Mályusz, “Kemény József;” Rady, “Forgeries.”

44 1422: DF 239437 = ZsOkl, 9: no. 120; Házi, Sopron, 1/2: 220, CDHung, 10/6: 480–81 = 555–56 (the latter was mistakenly dated to 1423); 1424: Házi, Sopron, 1/2: 261; 1425: ibid., 269–70 (and the postscript); 1426: ibid., 306–7; 1435: CDHung, 10/8: 648, 648–49. These were all sent to cities (Pozsony [Bratislava/Pressburg], Sopron [Ödenburg], Bártfa [Bardejov/Bartfeld]), which is why they have survived.

45 Engel, Genealógia, Becsegergely nem 2. tábla: Apafi [Becsegergely kindred, second chart: family tree of the Apafi family], and also ibid., Mikola rokonsága 2. tábla: Gyerőfi (szamosfalvi) [Mikola kindred, second chart: the family tree of the Gyerőfi of Szamosfalva family].

46 Engel and C. Tóth, Itineraria, 120–22.

47 Iorga, Acte şi fragmente, 3: 80–81. Its regesta: RI, 11/2: no. 6667. See Pervain, “Lupta antiotomană,” 103–4; Cîmpeanu, “Dan al II-lea,” 62–63. I would like to thank András W. Kovács for the assistance he provided searching for and locating important works in the Romanian secondary literature.

48 The postponements of trials from early June to October 6 (DL 80042v, 89876, 80056, 80057) because one of the two parties entered the military campaign contain information on the destination, the enemy, the commander, and individual participants. The royal army was still in arms on September 5 and October 8, so the trials that had already been delayed were again postponed from October 6 to January 13, 1427 (DF 268668 = DocRomHist D, 1: 240–41, and DF 286463). Pippo Spano (Filippo Buondelmonti degli Scolari by his full name) was in Orsova/Orşova on September 8 (DL 87996), though we do not know whether he was still on his way to his destination or already returning. The timing of the military campaign can thus be interpreted in two different ways. Most scholars put it sometime in July and/or August (Pervain, “Lupta antiotomană,” 104–6; Engel, “Ozorai Pipo,” 266, 293 [note 133]), but others come to the conclusion that it took place in September and October (Cîmpeanu, “Dan al II-lea,” 63–64). The success of the campaign was short-lived, since by the end of the year the Turks had again managed to drive the prince, who supported the Hungarians, from the land (see also DocRomHist D, 1: 242–43, 247–48). Dan II’s place on the throne was only secured after two more interventions by King Sigismund (in March and April and then again in July of 1427). See also Pervain, “Lupta antiotomană,” 107–14; Engel and C. Tóth, Itineraria, 121–22. Cîmpeanu, “Dan al II-lea,” 65–70 only makes mention of the incursion which took place in the spring.

49 Decreta 1301–1457, 279–80 (paragraph 2).

50 I used the search software of the digital library on medieval Hungary (www.mol.arcanum.hu/medieval).

51 See footnote 44.

52 Norbert C. Tóth, who has a thorough knowledge of all of the charters issued in Hungary in 1426 as the editor of the relevant volume of the corpus related to the Sigismund era, has unequivocally pronounced both Sigismund’s letter and the November 1, 1426 transcription falsifications (ZsOkl, 13: no. 804, 1270).

53 See for instance 1397: Decreta 1301–1457, 173 (paragraph 66); 1411: ibid., 233–34 (paragraph 6); 1538: Szeredai, Notitia, 159; 1553: ibid., 174.

54 “decime viris ecclesiasticis debeant provenire” (1357: DocRomHist C, 11: 86); “patrimonium crucifixi” (1403: DF 287051; 1432: Ub, 4: 458, 492; 1435: ibid., 563; 1486: DF 292085); “patrimonium Christi” (1468: DF 277565; 1498: DF 277631; 1500: DF 277657, 277662); “patrimonium ecclesie Christi” (1500: DF 277658); “patrimonium crucis Christi“ (1500: DF 277653); “patrimonium episcopi” (1504: DF 277684).

55 Sometimes the papacy considered requiring the Transylvanian parish priests to pay half their incomes as an extraordinary contribution or tax, but Sigismund always blocked this. See also 1393: Ub, 3: 50–51; 1412: ibid., 515–17, 547–49. This tax should not be confused with the annates, which clericals who had received an ecclesiastical benefice had to pay to the papal treasury. It also consisted, eventually, of half of the first year’s income of a benefice.

56 Decreta 1301–1457, 172 (paragraph 63).

57 Deér, “Zsigmond király,” 189; Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 227.

58 C. Tóth et al., Pozsonyi viszály, 179–99, 412–16.

59 Ibid., 185–87 (table 8).

60 On these individuals see ibid., 195–96.

61 Ibid., 193. See 1397: ZsOkl, 1: no. 5098, 5122; 1398: ibid., no. 5559, 5617; 1399: ibid., no. 5899.

62 C. Tóth et al., Pozsonyi viszály, 191–93, 414–15.

63 Ibid., 188, 193, 414.

64 Ibid., 197–98, 415–16. Towards the end of the period of King Sigismund’s reign, the Transylvanian bishops had to keep 150 so-called “lances fournies” (between 450 and 600 armed men) at the ready. The banderia were used first and foremost in the troop movements towards Wallachia (1415/1417: Decreta 1301–1457, 398; 1432/1433: ibid., 420).

65 1436: “Georgius episcopus dicte ecclesie Transsilvane ... pro defensione et conservatione partium nostrarum Transsilvanarum banderium suum sive gentes suas exercituales in proximo contra rabidos insultus perfidorum Turcorum easdem partes nostras et ipsarum confinia devastantium levare et transmittere debet atque tenetur, proptereaque omnes reditus et proventus sui episcopatus ante tempus limitatum sibi necessario debet administrari” (Ub, 4: 600–1). In time, a view gained widespread acceptance according to which the bishops had the right to collect the tithe because of their obligation to defend the homeland: 1500: [decime] “pro defensione regni ordinati sunt” (DF 277658, 277653); 1504: [Nicolaus de Bochka episcopus ecclesie Transsilvanensis] “gentes suas, quas pro patrie illius defensione continue alere tenetur, ex proventibus huiusmodi decimalibus servare ... habet” (DF 277684).

66 Engel, Realm of St Stephen, 227; C. Tóth, “A főpapi székek betöltése,” 112–14.

67 Engel, Archontológia, 1: 70.

68 This term refers to a tax which was levied in Serbia, Hungary, and Transylvania in the thirteenth–sixteenth centuries on pastoral Romanians who had to give a sheep or a lamb for every fifty sheep or goats.

69 “ab omnique exactione seu collecta regali scilicet quinquagesima, decima vel quacumque alia iidem Olaci extorres habeantur, penitus et immunes”; “nullus collector seu executor regalis decime seu quinquagesime vel collectarum quemlibet pro tempore constitutus Olacos ipsius capituli ... audeat molestare, nec quinquagesimam, decimam seu exactionem aliam quamlibet exigere presumat ab eisdem” (Ub, 1: 195–196). See also CDTrans, 1: no. 342, 519–20.

70 In 1374, the Romanian serfs of the Várad [Oradea/Grosswardein] chapter also paid one-tenth of their sheep as a “fiftieth” tax (DocRomHist C, 14: 700). See also Prodan, Iobăgia, 1: 53, 54–55. Prodan (ibid.,

53) also considers it possible that the 1293 “decima” refers to a swine or bee tithe, which in the Late Middle Ages were among the feudal taxes that were paid by Romanians (i.e. among the taxes which were not specific to religious belonging). Ibid., 67.

71 On the exemptions enjoyed by the estates owned by the chapter: 1293: Ub, 1: 195–96, see 1331: CDTrans, 2: no. 708. On the measures taken by Sigismund which trampled these privileges underfoot and on the restoration which took place under János Hunyadi: 1446: DL 31142 (see also 1446: DL 277507; 1453: DF 277531; 1458: DF 277538–277539). The sources contain no similar data concerning the estates of the Transylvanian bishops, but they may have obtained exemptions, since they are not mentioned in the 1461 registry of the fiftieth (DL 25989. Pâclişanu, “Un registru”).

72 The serfs of the following settlements paid the fiftieth: Fülesd, Zalatna (Zlatna), Ompolyica (Ampoiţa), Metesd (Meteş), Bokorháza (Presaca Ampoiului), Muzsnaháza (Măgina), Nagyorbó (Gârbova de Sus), Kisorbó (Gârboviţa), Oláhbocsárd (Bucerdea Română), Diómál (Geomal), Banya (unidentified), Pád (Spini), Répás (Râpaş) (1496: Barabás, “Tizedlajstromok,” 436). Alongside explicit data (CDTrans, 1: no. 519; 3: no. 335, 498; DF 275267), the designation “Olah-/Wolah” (DF 277596, 275410, 277694, DL 36354) indicates that these communities were Romanian, as does the mention of the local ruler called “kenezius” (CDTrans, 2: no. 550, DL 30962) and the tax “sheep fiftieth” (Pâclişanu, “Un registru,” 597), both of them being characteristic exclusively of Romanian communities. Grain and wine tithes were paid by the serfs living on the chapter estates of the following settlements: Kutyfalva (Cuci), Felenyed (Aiudu de Sus), Nagyenyed (Aiud/Engeten), Magyarorbó (Gârbova de Jos), Bocsárd (Bucerdea Vinoasă), Vajasd (Oiejdea), Borbánd (Bărăbanţ), Kisfalud (Miceşti), Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg), Poklospatak (Pâclişa), Sóspatak (Şeuşa), Dálya (Daia Română/Dallendorf), Magyarcserged (Cergău Mare), Bolgárcserged (Cergău Mic/Kleinschergied), Kereztyenfalwa (today Székásgyepü [Presaca], see Ub, 4: 450–51), Buzd (Boz/Bussd) (1477: Barabás, “Tizedlajstromok,” 417; 1496: ibid., 421–22, 428–29; 1504: DF 277689, ff. 2v–3r, 7v–8r). The presence of a Catholic priest (CDTrans, 2: no. 549, 1041, 1059, 1075–1079; 3: no. 217–18; Ub, 3: 338, 369; KmJkv, 1: no. 112–13, 1099, 1403, 1514.; DF 277525; DL 31026, etc.) and the designations “Magyar” or “Zaz” (DF 277596, 277694, DL 28865, 36354) indicate that these settlements had Hungarian or Saxon populations. See also Map 1.

73 Kereztyenfalwa is mentioned in the fiftieth registry for 1461 too (Pâclişanu, “Un registru,” 600). By the end of the Middle Ages, people with Romanian names lived in Sóspatak, Dálya, and Poklospataka (cca 1470: DL 36312, pag. 3; 1496: Barabás, “Tizedlajstromok,” 430–32).

74 The urbarium includes six Romanian villages without names, in the area around Krakkó (Cricău/Krakau), Igen (Ighiu/Krapundorf), and Sárd (Şard), which were part of the estate of Gyulafehérvár. In addition to these settlements, Őregyház (Straja), Herepe (Hăpria), Rákos (Rachiş), Oláhlapád (Lopadea Veche), and Apahida (Păgida) can also be considered Romanian settlements, as could Tótfalu (Tăuţi), Sztolna (Stolna), Hidegszamos (Someşu Rece), Hévszamos (Someşu Cald), Egerbegy (Agârbiciu), Sólyomtelke (Corneşti), Köblös (Cubleşu), and Csinkó (a settlement which has since disappeared), which were part of the estate of Gyalu (Gilău). They all paid the fiftieth (Jakó, “Az erdélyi püspökség,” 108–11, 114–15). See also Map 1–2.

75 Jakó, Adatok, 20–75. 20–25, 52–61.

76 This is inconceivable if for no other reason than simply because this additional burden would have constituted clear disadvantages for the owners of Church estates and would have prompted their Romanian serfs to leave én masse. One notices that the historians who have espoused this notion limit it Transylvania proper. Achim, for instance, contends that Romanians living on the estates of the bishopric and chapter of Várad, which lies outside the historical region of Transylvania, did not pay the tithe (Achim, “Convertirea din zona Beiuşului,” 90).


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

The Organization of the Central Court of Justice in Transylvania in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century

Zsolt Bogdándi
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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This study analyzes the organization of the independent Transylvanian central court of law, the so-called Royal/Voivodal/Princely Table (Tabula) and its court of appeal, the court of personal presence (personalis presentia), in light of the modest secondary literature, the dietary decisions, and archival sources. We offer a sketch of the organization of the Hungarian royal and Transylvanian voivodal court of law in order to present the model on which the central court system was established in the period of the Principality. We also present the characteristics of the functioning of the central court that can be attributed to the special features of Transylvanian society and the newly emerging state.

Keywords: Principality of Transylvania, Age of Principality, umpirage, courts of law, Princely Table


It is probably a commonplace by now that the political history of the new state that emerged in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which was splitting up in the aftermath of the battle of Mohács (1526), is much better known than the economic, social, cultural, or legal history of this region. Uncommon topics, such as the organization and the functioning of the central judicial system of Early Modern Transylvania, have basically escaped the attention of historians, and thus the secondary literature on them is relatively poor.1 This is surprising, given that many of the sources (and in the case of family archives the clear majority) were produced in the course of court cases and thus primarily are documents which concern and reflect the functioning of the judicial branch.

This study presents the structure of the Transylvanian princely high court and its court of appeal, the court of personal presence, in the second half of the sixteenth century. We chose this period as the focus of our investigation as these were the decades during which the basic offices of the independent Transylvanian state, such as the autonomous courts of law, came into existence. These offices functioned according essentially to the same principles for the next ca. 150 years. We do address the so-called Princely Table in order to avoid confusion, as during the reigns of king elect János II Szapolyai (1556–1571) (also known as János Zsigmond) in Transylvania and in the counties of the Hungarian Kingdom that were attached to it (called the Partium2) royal high court and under the reign of the Báthorys (1571–1602), which lasted almost until the end of the period investigated here, a voivodal high court was functioning, though with a structure and jurisdiction that was somewhat different from the medieval royal and voivodal seat.

It is important to clarify the names that were used to denote the central court of the political entity in the given period. In the diplomatic sources, i.e. the summonses (evocationes) and the reports (relationes), the “court” (curia) is the most frequent term used. This term clearly referred to the Princely Table.3 From the plentiful examples that illustrate the identical meaning of the two terms, let us just refer to a few: in his mandate dated November 3, 1585, Zsigmond Báthory (voivode/prince of Transylvania with interruptions between 1585–1602), ordered nobles to send István Keresztúri to the high court (“coram nobis in curia nostra”) for the eighth day (octava) to stand trial for the acts of might of which he was accused.4 In the report of the bailiffs of the voivode, which is dated two days later and written in Hungarian, they referred to the court of law in the native Hungarian form: the suspects are called to appear at his Table (“táblájára”) and his court (“udvarába”) to give an explanation of their deed.5 Curia/Court/Table consequently were all used to denote the high court of the ruler. Most of the mandates of judges were issued in the name of the ruler. Cases in which the prosecutors referred to a mandate of the institutionalized high court, such as when in 1572 court scribes Dániel Vadai and Gábor Bősházi summoned someone on the mandate of the court of the ruler (“ex commissione sedis judiciariae spectabilis magnificentiae vestrae”), were rare.6

For those interested in the judicial system of Early Modern Transylvania, the scope of the sources on which one can touch when analyzing the characteristics of a certain period is limited. The decrees of the Transylvanian and Hungarian diets contain many measures on the central jurisdiction, but these measures formed only a framework, and sometimes it is rather unclear how the different acts, which in many cases simply reasserted previous regulations, were implemented. In order to understand the functioning of the so-called high (curial) courts, it is therefore necessary to study the documents they issued and the formulary books they composed. This is particularly true, given that the archive of the high court did not survive. In the period studied, of course, one cannot talk about an institutionalized archive of the Princely Table. The relevant documents were kept in the lodgments of the protonotaries (protonotarii), and after their deaths, these documents were inherited by their successors.7 It is possible that fragments of the “archives” of the protonotaries survived the upheavals of the age of the Principality and were incorporated into the Archive of the Transylvanian Royal Table (Tabula regia iudiciaria Transylvaniae), which was established at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and were only destroyed during the siege of Budapest in 1945. It is also not clear whether in the sixteenth century some kind of minutes (registrum) were kept during the functioning of the high court8 or the follow-up of a lawsuit was limited to the notes made by the protonotaries at the back of the mandates (mandatum) and sentences (litterae iudiciariae). Nor has any register survived of the distribution of letters of fines (litterae iudiciales) or the order of taking up (levata) and adjudicating the cases.

Antecedents: The Royal Curia and the Court of Law of the Voivode of Transylvania9

The structure of the medieval royal courts of law is well known, and their close association with the king’s court is well reflected by its name, “curia.” Since the legislative reform of King Matthias (1458–1490), three “major judges” were in position: the judge royal, (iudex curiae regiae), the count palatine, and the royal personal presence (personalis presentia regia).10 The royal court of law in Buda consisted of these chairs, the leading chair of which usually was the judge (személynök). By issuing summons with short deadlines (fifteen and thirty-two days), the royal court transformed itself into a permanent court of law.11 This permanence, however, is relative, as towards the end of the Middle Ages more and more cases to be continuously heard were postponed to a certain court period.12 These periods were more or less regularly held on the octava of the main feast days, such as on that of the octava of St. George, the octava of St. Michael, Epiphany, and the octava of St. Jacob.13 After the establishment of the Table, the court of the personal presence of the king did not cease to exist. In certain cases (in matters of knightly honor, major acts of might, and guardianships), the King acted as propria in persona. In matters of perfidy, the person was summoned to appear in front of the king, but the judgments were declared by the whole diet and the letters of sentence were issued in the name of the prelates, barons present, and the whole nobility. In the royal high court, a special chair was kept for the king, who sometimes occupied it. Apart from him, the members of this court were the ordinary judges, their deputies and protonotaries, the assessors, and a scribe for each protonotary. In preparing and deciding on the cases, as well as in general throughout the whole lawsuit, in most cases the protonotaries, who were the representatives with legal expertise, were the most important persons. With the establishment of the Royal Table the jurisdiction of the royal council also did not cease to exist. The king and the members of his council (prelates and barons) held court if one of the parties was not satisfied with the decision made at the high court and held the case in the personal presence of the king.14 On these occasions, the major judges, the protonotaries, and the assessors had the right to attend but were entitled neither to speak nor to vote. The case under appeal was presented by the judge under whose presidency the former decision had been made, and this decision was then either approved or changed.

In Transylvania, the voivodal court, following the pattern of the royal high court, was usually held in fixed locations connected to the Church feasts.15 The court periods were usually held first in Szentimre (Sântimbru) and Torda (Turda/Thorenburg) and later in Székelyvásárhely (Marosvásárhely, Târgu Mureş/Neumarkt), and from the end of the fifteenth century onwards more or less consistently in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg). In the early period, the dates of the courts changed frequently. From the fifteenth century onwards, usually four octavas were held, the octava after Epiphany, the octava of St. George, the birth of St. John the Baptist, and the octava of St. Michael. The holding of the sessions was later regulated with some minor modifications by the 1486 decree of King Matthias and in a decree of Wladislas II (1490–1516).16

The Foundation of the Princely Table

From the perspective of its foundations, the political entity that gradually came into existence in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Hungary following the fall of Buda (1541) could build on the juridical system sketched above. After the period between 1541 and 1556, which can be considered more as a period of orientation, the formation of the independent state of Transylvania took place after the end of 1556, during the period of Queen Isabella (1541–1559) and after the return of King elect János II Szapolyai. The decisions made in Kolozsvár at this time reflected the preparations for independent statehood. They ordered the election of judges, protonotaries, assessors, and a legal director (director causarum) on the condition that they could not claim a share of the income of the court of law, but they would be paid by the queen and her son based on an individual agreement.17 Despite the early statutes, the central juridical system did not come into existence immediately, and in the early stages its functioning was not undisturbed. The initial disorder is reflected in the archival sources, and it is also indicated by the lack of charters. There are no surviving documents from the first two court sessions, which decided on the “de iure” foundation of the high court at the end of 1556, even if theoretically they should have been exceptionally long. One year later, Queen Isabella, in a charter she issued in the market town of Torda on July 2, 1557, mentioned a court session to which the diet, which was also held in Torda beginning on June 1, postponed every lawsuit of all the three Transylvanian nations.18 The document, in reference to the decrees of the 1556 diet of Kolozsvár, approved almost verbatim the previous judgment of the voivodes of King Ferdinand, István Dobó and Ferenc Kendi (1553–1556).19 It is clear from a later source that the court session began on June 24 (“pro festo Nativitatis beati Joannis baptistae”), and here, unlike later, following the example of the medieval voivodal court of law, the cases of the three nations of Transylvania were heard together. The decree of the diet held in June 1557 probably referred to the same court session, when the lawsuits related to the acts of might committed since the incursion of Péter Petrovics20 were postponed to the octava of the feast of the Holy Trinity.21 Then the octava of Michaelmas day was also mentioned, to which the “bigger” lawsuits were postponed, but there is no surviving evidence relating to that court session, nor is there any similar source on the session of March 1557, to which a letter of sentence refers.22 The decree of the diet of June 1557 relating to the judicial system was limited to a stipulation according to which eight assessors should partake in the work of the court of law. This stipulation probably goes back to medieval origins. In a mandate issued in 1561, nine assessors were listed. Thus, when each seat of the assessors was filled, the Princely Table consisted of twelve legists, including the two protonotaries and the legal director (director causarum).23 It is worth noting that the Transylvanian legal director took part in the work of the Table, because there is no information indicating the involvement of the director causarum of the Partium area in the work of the high court. The jurisdiction accessible to him was probably limited to the counties in Partium.

It is clear from the above that the activity of the Princely Table was not permanent or continuous, but rather was connected to different sessions, so-called termini for all the nations of the estates (Transylvanian nobles, nobles from the Partium, Székelys) as well as to the Transylvanian diets. After the reorganization of the high court, the aim was to have two court sessions a year for each nation, but the dates varied frequently and sometimes sessions were cancelled. As far as one can tell on the basis of the decrees, the six legislative sessions were reinstalled during the reign of István Báthory (1571–1586) at the end of 1571, with some adjustments of the previously indicated dates. The two court sessions of the Transylvanians were held beginning on the Monday after Reminiscere Sunday and the octava of St. Luke, that of the Székelys’ beginning on the octava of Epiphany and June 1 and for the Hungarian nobles from Partium beginning on the octava of St. George and December 1. Not counting Sundays, for the latter the two sessions were ordered to last for twenty-five days and the sessions for the first two nations were to last thirty days.24 This structure was formalized in the Approbatae.25

The Princely Table also had jurisdiction in the cases appealed from the court of the Saxons, the Universitas,26 the seat of which was in Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt), but without a separate court session for them their cases usually were discussed during the diets.27 There was no need for a separate Saxon court session, as the cases of Saxons were only rarely appealed to the princely high court, and they only could have been summoned at their own court.28

The diet held in March 1557 decided, on the question of the location of the courts (both in the case of the lawsuits of the Hungarian nobles of Partium and the Transylvanians), that they were to be held where the royal majesties were actually residing, but for the periods to follow separate sessions were to be held for the Transylvanian nobility, the Székelys, and the nobles of Partium.29 In the Middle Ages, if the king was presiding at the high court, the court held its meetings in one of the council chambers of his palace. In other cases, however, it met in the house of the Primate of the country (the Archbishop of Esztergom) in Buda, probably at the same place where the “official room and archive” of the smaller chancery was kept.30 It seems likely that, based on medieval model, when the ruler was in Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg) and took part in the work of the princely high court, the location of the sessions was one of the rooms of the princely palace, while on other occasions the previously mentioned domus iudiciaria, i.e. the lodge of the protonotary (and in the meantime certainly of the smaller chancery), could have served as the site of the trials. This was true, of course, only when the court session was held in Gyulafehérvár. Because of the features of the new state, in order to meet the needs of the nations that formed the state, the princely court of law was itinerant. Thus, one cannot speak of a permanent seat for the Princely Table. In Kolozsvár, Vásárhely, or Torda the domus iudicaria was a rented lodge that suited the needs of the court.31

At the abovementioned 1557 diet, a decree was issued which according to Zsolt Trócsányi “disposes a separate high court for the Partium region… (let Bálint Földváry be the protonotary, let the separate Hungarian high court be established).”32 However, in my assessment, in light of the legal evidence this decision did not undo the unity of the princely high court. In the text of the decree there is no reference to a high court of Partium. The decree mentions only an expert protonotarius designated to judge on the cases brought by Hungarian nobles from the Partium region, similarly to his fellow who was working in Transylvania. This was also when the question of the number of assessors was raised (“assessoribus pluribus iuris peritis sedem iudiciariam ornare dignentur”), with members who were probably more familiar with the customary law of the Hungarian nobility from the Partium. Accordingly, in 1559, the Table adjudicated during the St. Luke’s day court session of the Hungarian nobility from Partium held in Gyulafehérvár as a unified body, and as had become customary in Hungarian documentary practice by the mid-fifteenth century, the protonotaries indicated on a letter of sentence who the person was who would revise and issue the document (“Lecta et extradata per me magistrum Valentinum de Fewldwar serenissimae regiae majestatis prothonotarium”), and in addition, the document was also indorsed by László Mekcsei (“Coram me Ladislao de Mekche eiusdem serenissime regie majestatis prothonotarium”).33 The jurisdiction of the two protonotaries had not yet been clearly defined, so there was no person who was assigned exclusively to the cases of the Hungarian nobles of Partium, the Székelys, or the Transylvanian nobles. This is probably why, during the court session held for the Hungarian nobility from Partium after St. Luke’s day, the order of their signatures on a letter of sentence that was issued in a case concerning a major act of might was just the opposite.34 The joint jurisdiction of the two protonotaries was also expressed in a decree issued in June 1558, according to which justice was to be served in the presence of both persons and both persons should agree on the incomes and the usage of the seal.35 This was probably done in order to avoid the related controversies which would have arisen if a person who was expert in Hungarian law were to be chosen to act as president of the high court, to be present at the hearings, to handle the income of the court, and to pay the assessors from this income and turn over the rest to the treasury.36 This position, however, referred to as super intendens, most probably remained vacant, as there are no references to the activities of this figure in the legal evidence or the later decrees; a person with the similar task of presiding over the high court was only invested in 1589. It is more important that at the same time, on the basis of a medieval model,37 a court of appeal to the high court was founded. This made it clear that the cases judged by the protonotaries could be brought to the personal presence of the queen and her son, who judged with their councilors.

The Court of Personal Presence (personalis presentia)

In the late medieval period, the king held a court of appeal with the prelates and barons in cases in which a person was discontent with the decision reached by the major royal courts and their protonotaries at a trial held at the high court and appealed to the personal presence of the king.38 In these cases, the judges ordinary, the protonotaries, and the assessors had the right to attend but were not entitled to take the floor;39 the case appealed was presented by the judge ordinary in front of whom the case previously had been presented, and then the decision of the first instance was either approved or changed. Precisely this procedure was employed in Transylvania in the second half of the sixteenth century: the case was presented by the protonotary in front of whom the case originally had been presented; then the decision was either changed or approved at the personalis presentia, and the letter of sentence was issued (similarly to that of the Princely Table) in the name of the ruler (elected king, voivode, prince), with the judicial seal and the lecta of the protonotary.

The court of appeal of the high court usually appears in the sources as “solius majestatis nostrae presentiam” or in Hungarian as “felséged tulajdon személye” (“the personal presence of your majesty”). It is not clear how much this indeed meant the personal presence of the ruler, but for instance on May 27, 1570 in Torda the letter of sentence issued emphasized the actual presence of János II.40 Of course, this suggests that the ruler was not always physically present. From the period of János II, there were instances, if only rarely, when some persons of the court of the personal presence were mentioned by name; Mihály Csáki, who served as chancellor and councilor (1549–1551, 1556–1571), appears twice, and Jakab Pókai, master of ceremonies (magister curiae), is mentioned once among the assessors.41 In most cases, however, the identity of the councilors who formed the court remains unknown. While the Princely Table’s personal composition was determined by the decrees, the sources suggest that the members of the court of the personalis presentia were chosen by the ruler and depended on the circumstances. While the court of the personal presence of István Báthory, voivode of Transylvania during the diet of Torda on May 30, 1573, was formed by some magnates, councilors, Transylvanian nobles, and legal experts,42 the sources from September 1582 mention only councilors, protonotaries, and legal experts,43 while in March 1592 councilors, legal experts, the president of the high court, protonotaries, and assessors adjudicated.44 In the period of the Triple Council (1583–1585) designated to govern Transylvania by István Báthory, who had earlier been elected king of Poland, the praesides who represented the prince took part in the court of appeal, and for the court session on the octava of St. Luke’s day in 1583 they even took the young prince with them to Kolozsvár.45 They did so primarily because they (and probably expert legal officers) were entitled to revise the appealed cases “in persona Principis,” which role was later taken over by János Ghiczy (1585–1588) when he became governor.46 We have a concrete example when, at the court of personal presence, the governor was adjudging: in a lawsuit concerning the ownership of the Kund (Cund/Reussdorf) estate the first instance was held at the high court of Kristóf Báthory (1576–1581), but after the death of the voivode, the case was appealed to the court of personalis presentia, where the decision was made by the governor with councilors and legal experts.47

It is relatively easy to determine when and where the courts of personal presence were held. The personalis presentia was presiding in the same periods as the high court of law, i.e. during the high court sessions and the diets, and also at the same locations. We have data from the beginning of the period discussed here when the personalis presentia gathered on the fourth day of the octava of the Epiphany session in 1559 held in Gyulafehérvár.48 A decision was made on a case which originally had been heard at the high court in the session that began on June 24, 1557 (members of the court were “nonnullis dominis et nobilibus, sedis nostre judiciarie juratis assessoribus magistroque prothonotario nostro,” as at the time Mekcsei was the sole protonotary). The claimant, however, was not satisfied with the decision, so he appealed to the personal presence of the queen and her son. László Mekcsei, the protonotary, approved this appeal, but because of the obligations of the rulers (“nobis itaque diversis quidem arduis nostris et regni nostri negociis occupatis existentis”), the case was postponed to the Epiphany session of 1559, where “unacum nonnullis dominis proceribus ac aliis nobilibus prestantibusque viris consiliariis regni nostri prothonotariisque nostris pro tribunali sedentibus prenominatus protonotarius noster seriem dicte appellacionis nobis requirentibus refferre curavit.” After this, the privilege presented was read out, those present were consulted on the case (magnates, nobles, councilors, protonotaries), and the decision of the high court was approved.49 Interestingly, the protonotaries were mentioned as members of the court of personalis presentia, i.e. the same people who had made the decision at the first instance. In medieval legal practice, however, they had the right to attend the court hearing but did not have a say. However, in this case, alongside the councilors, they also seem to have been able to adjudge (again). Later, however, this practice was not typical. In the court of the personalis presentia, with only a few exceptions, the councilors decided with the assistance of legal experts. There was a telling example of a case in March 1577 which sheds some light on the functioning of the personalis presentia during the court sessions and the strict division of the courts according to nations. On March 25 (i.e. at the session after Reminiscere Sunday for the Transylvanian nobility), in Gyulafehérvár a letter of sentence was issued in the name of Kristóf Báthory which tells of a lawsuit which had begun one year earlier at the session held on St. Luke’s day in Kolozsvár between István Lázár of Szárhegy (Lăzarea) and Boldizsár Bánffy of Losonc (Lučenec) concerning a piece of land by the Tapolca River in the Székely seat of Gyergyó. A common inquest had been ordered, but the respondent had not been satisfied with the decision, so he had appealed “in solius nostri presentiam.” There, on March 23, 1577 (a Saturday), in the presence of the voivode, his councilors, and legal experts, the respondent’s lawyer presented his argument according to which the claimant could not summon him to the court of the voivode, but rather only to the Székely seat and the session held for the Székelys. He therefore requested that the case be sent back to the court of first instance and the appeal be terminated.50 The objection of the respondent was accepted at the court of personal presence, as the claimant had no right to summon the respondent to the session held for the Transylvanian nobility, but only to the Székely seat and their session. They nonetheless stipulated that the claimant had the right to summon the respondent to appear at the next Székely court session (“proclamari facere possit”).

Regarding the jurisdiction of the court of personal presence, one can only sum up by saying that the decrees do not include any related regulation, so appeals to the personalis presentia depended only on the financial resources of the contestants.

The Foundation of the Presidency of the Princely Table

The diet held in Medgyes (Mediaş/Mediasch) in December 1588 ordered a “chief legal expert” to lead the process (processus) of the Princely Table.51 Earlier, I thought that this office had been created in 1558 with the establishment of the office of super intendens. However, there is no sign of its actual functioning.52 Trócsányi emphasizes the dubious effectiveness of this act,53 and as we could not find data on the bearer of this office in the sources, it seems more and more likely that this 1558 decree remained on paper only. Accordingly, the praesidens was only appointed during the diet of Medgyes (or as a consequence of this diet, at the beginning of the next year). Why was there a need for this office, and why was the president installed in his office precisely when he was? It is known that at the diet of December 1588 Zsigmond Báthory was bestowed with his princely rights. In return, the estates managed to expel the Jesuits and to remedy their smaller legal complaints.54 The establishment of the office of praesidens may indicate strengthening of the estates, or one may think that the magnates who possessed power tried to take control over jurisdiction and prevent the young prince from strengthening his hold on power. As we have seen in discussion of the personal presence, the method was given, as previously, the Triple Council designated by István Báthory and then János Ghiczy, the governor, oversaw the activities of the court of law in persona principis (as later the president did). The text of the decision of Medgyes does not mention the name of the designated praesidens, but we have data on the president of the high court from the court session that began on February 23 of the following year.55 Previously, I thought that the anonymous praesidens in the letters of sentence could be identified as a literatus, Gergely Szentegyedi Somlyai. The only pitfall of this identification is that he appears in the sources as director causarum of Transylvania in 1591,56 and he appears as the president of the princely high court only in September 1592. Consequently, he assumed this office two years earlier than suggested by Zsolt Trócsányi, and he remained in this position up until his death at the scaffold erected on the main square of Kolozsvár.57 But who was the first praesidens of the high court, who was in office between 1589 and 1592?

The identification of the magnate praesidens appointed at the diet of Medgyes was not made possible by study of the letters of sentences but rather by a note in the royal book (liber regius) of Zsigmond Báthory. On March 7, 1589, Zsigmond Báthory gave councilor, president of the high court, and count of Torda County Boldizsár Bánffy and his wife the market town of Marosszereda (today Nyárádszereda/Miercurea Nirajului) and the part of the estate of Nagyadorján (Adrianu Mare) in return for one fourth of the castle of Bethlen (Beclean).58 This means that Bánffy was presiding at the first court session after the diet of Medgyes. Probably, there was some hope that the prestige enjoyed by the magnate and count of Torda County would help maintain the undisturbed functioning of the high court. There is no data on the legal erudition of the first praesidens. This may explain that his – lacking in sources difficultly definable – tasks were taken over by “egregius” Gergely Szentegyedi Somlyai in 1592, who was advancing as a practicing legal expert to this office. We do not know the circumstances of the dismissal or rather voluntary demission (as he was able to keep all his other offices) of Bánffy, but it clearly shows the caliber and the high ambition of the literatus Gergely Somlyai that as a praesidens he followed an “in persona principis” councilor.59

There is increasing uncertainty concerning the fate of the office of the president of the high court after the violent marginalization of the group of magnates who raised objections to the break with the Porte. Given the limited number of letters of sentences, it is increasingly certain that the usual court sessions were cancelled after February 23, 1592 (Reminiscere Sunday) and the high courts were only functioning during sittings of the diet. This could be explained by the confused internal political situation, the participation in the war, and the perpetual state of crisis, but in fact we do not know the precise reason for this transformation.60 A letter of sentence dated to the period of the diet held in Gyulafehérvár beginning on April 25, 1593 mentions some councilors, legal experts, the president, the protonotaries, and the assessors as members of the princely high court.61 At the same time, the sentenciae issued the following year had different wording. The letter of sentence dated May 10, 159762 was issued during the diet in Gyulafehérvár that began on April 27 and to which the guardianship cases, further acts of might cases appealed from the county courts, and other short procedures usually heard at the personal presence of the prince (“coram propria nostrae serenitatis presentia”) were postponed. The hearing of these cases during the diets was decided because of the cancellation of the court sessions, which was decreed in Act 9 of this very diet: “until the Lord God shows the dates when the sessions should be hold.”63 Compared to the previous period, the composition of the high courts that gathered during the diets also changed. Along with the protonotaries and the assessors, the “presence” of Zsigmond Báthory was represented (“in persona nostrae serenitatis”) by Pongrác Sennyei, master of ceremonies (1593–1598), according to what was noted above in May 1597 but also in January and March 1598,64 with the important difference that the title of praesidens was no longer part of his title. We know that, in 1598, the influential councilor Pongrác Sennyei performed the tasks of a chancellor, such as opening the report of an interrogation.65 His tasks may have been associated with his jurisdictional duties, but as the sources do not mention him as the president of the high court, his title remains unclear.

According to Trócsányi, the “Transylvanian national high court was single-leveled and the diet also was unicameral.”66 The part of his statement regarding the jurisdiction is true only to a certain degree. It is clear from the documentary evidence that until the 1590s the court of the personalis praesentia functioned as the court of appeal of the high court. The curial judicial system, thus, was two-leveled. Further investigations will also determine whether in the seventeenth century, after the end of the period of war, the court of appeal of the high court functioned again or not.


For the Principality of Transylvania, which came into existence after 1556, the constitutional setup of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary was the model. With regards to the formation of the central court of law, usually referred to as the Princely Table, the medieval models were tailored to local circumstances. This explains the characteristics of the judicial system: the originally separate protonotaries for Transylvania and for the Partium region, which were originally separate (but not with separable jurisdiction); the separate director for Transylvania and Partium (the scope of whose activity cannot be precisely defined); the separate court sessions for each nation (later, with the frequent contraction of the sessions held for the nobility of Partium and Transylvania); the holding of these events in different locations; and the voluntary and partial absence of the Saxons from this system (the civil suits of the Saxons were only rarely brought to the high court, and these suits, for which there was no separate court session, were usually discussed at the diets). The medieval models were also followed by ordering the court of personal presence as the court of appeal to the high court, where the chair was supplemented by councilors and which occasionally was attended by the ruler himself. The establishment of the office of praesidens is also related to the question of the structure of the high court. Although there was an earlier attempt to appoint a superintendens, the establishment of the presidency of the Princely Table took place only after the diet of Medgyes in 1588, probably at the initiative of the powerful estates and probably based on the model of the medieval personalis praesentiae regiae in judiciis locumtenens.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], Budapest (MNL OL)

Erdélyi vonatkozású iratok [Documents on Transylvanian matters] (R 298)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár], Cista comitatuum (F 4)

Kolozsmonostori Konvent Országos Levéltára (KmKOLt) [Archives of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur)], Cista comitatuum (F 17), Protocolla, libri regii et stylionaria (F 15)

Wesselényi család levéltára [Archive of the Wesselényi family] (P 702)

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Fond familial Bánffy (Fond 320) [Archive of the Bánffy family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Bethlen de Ictar (Fond 329) [Archive of the Bethlen family of Iktár, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Kornis (Fond 378) [Archive of the Kornis family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Thoroczkay (Fond 444) [Archive of the Thoroczkay family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Teleki din Luna (Fond 438) [The Kendilóna/Luna Archive of the Teleki family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Primăria oraşului Dej (Fond 24) [Archive of the town of Dej/Dés]

Biblioteca Centrală Universitară “Lucian Blaga” Cluj-Napoca (BCU), Colecţii speciale [“Lucian Blaga” Central University Library of Cluj-Napoca, Special Collections]

Ms. 309, Ms. 1271 (Formerly in the Manuscript Collection of the Library of the Transylvanian National Museum, now in custody of the BCU)


Printed sources

Banyó, Péter, and Martyn Rady, eds. With the assistance of János M. Bak. The Laws of the medieval kingdom of Hungary. Volume 4. 1490–1526. Decreta regni mediaevalis Hungariae. Idyllwild: Charles Schlacks, Jr./Budapest: Department of Medieval Studies, CEU, 2012.

Barabás, Samu ed. Székely Oklevéltár VIII. 1219–1776 [Székely Diplomatary]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1934.

Bogdándi, Zsolt, and Emőke Gálfi, eds. Az erdélyi káptalan jegyzőkönyvei 1222–1599 [The protocols of the chapter of Transylvania]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

Fejér, Tamás, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds. Az erdélyi fejedelmek királyi könyvei I. 1569–1602. Báthory Zsigmond királyi könyvei 1582–1602 [Royal books of Transylvanian princes I. The royal books of Zsigmond Báthory]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556) I–II [Protocols of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor]. Budapest: Akadémiai kiadó, 1990.

Kolosvári, Sándor, and Kelemen, Óvári, eds. Magyar Törvénytár: 1540–1848. évi erdélyi törvények [Hungarian Legal Code: Transylvanian Laws in 1540–1848]. Budapest: Franklin-társulat, 1900.

Szilágyi, Sándor ed. Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek: Monumenta comitialia regni Transsylvaniae. I–XXI. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1876–1898.

Veress, Endre, ed. Báthory István király levélváltása az erdélyi kormánnyal (1581–1585) [The Exchange of Letters Between King István Báthory and the Government of Transylvania]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1948.


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Bogdándi, Zsolt. “A fejedelemség kori törvénykezési szakaszokról (1556–1600)” [On the Court Sessions of the Age of the Principality]. Erdélyi Múzeum 77, no. 1 (2015): 64–83.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi központi bíráskodás kialakulása és főbb jellegzetességei (1541–1571).” [Main Features of the Central Jurisdiction of Transylvania]. In A magyar jog fejlődésének fél évezrede: Werbőczy és a Hármaskönyv 500 esztendő múltán [The Development of Hungarian Law in Half a Millennium: Werbőczy and the Tripartitum after 500 Years], edited by Gábor Máthé. 117–39. Budapest: Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem, 2014.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely deákról” [On literatus Gergely Szentegyedi Somlyai]. In A magyar arisztokrácia társadalmi sokszínűsége, változó értékek és életviszonyok [The Social Diversity of the Hungarian Aristocracy, Changing Values and Living Standards], edited by Klára Papp, and Levente Püski, 37–46. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetem Történelmi Intézete, 2013.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi és a partiumi jogügyigazgatók a 16. század második felében” [Legal Directors in Transylvania and the Partium in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century]. In Hivatalnok értelmiség a kora újkori Erdélyben [Clerk Intelligentsia in Early Modern Transylvania], edited by Zsolt Bogdándi, and Tamás Fejér. 9–24. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2017.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek hiteleshelyi jellegű tevékenysége a 16. század végén” [Place of Authentication-like Activities of Transylvanian Protonotaries at the End of the Sixteenth Century]. In “...Éltünk mi sokáig két hazában.....” Tanulmányok a 90 éves Kiss András tiszteletére [Studies in Honor of the 90th Birthday of András Kiss], edited by Veronka Dáné, Teréz Oborni, Gábor Sipos. 135–46. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2012.

Bónis, György. A jogtudó értelmiség a Mohács előtti Magyarországon [The Legal Intelligentsia in Hungary Before the Battle of Mohács]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1971.

Bónis, György. Magyar jogtörténet II [Hungarian Legal History]. Kolozsvár: Méhkas Diákszövetkezet, 1943.

Dáné, Veronka. “Minden birodalmak ... törvénnyel is oltalmaztatnak.” Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség törvénykezése [“Every Empire… is Protected by Law.” The Legislation of the Principality of Transylvania]. Korunk 24, no. 3 (2013): 50–56.

Dáné, Veronka. “Az Őnagysága széki így deliberála:” Torda vármegye fejedelemségkori bírósági gyakorlata [The Court of His Majesty Ordered as Such: The Jurisdiction of Torda County in the Age of the Principality]. Debrecen–Kolozsvár: Debreceni Egyetem Történelmi Intézete–Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

Dósa, Elek. Erdélyhoni jogtudomány: Első könyv: erdélyhoni közjogtan [Legal Studies in Transylvania: I. Common law in Transylvania]. Kolozsvár, 1861.

Eckhart, Ferenc. Magyar alkotmány- és jogtörténet [Hungarian Constitutional and Legal History]. Budapest: Osiris, 2000.

Fejér, Tamás. “Kancelláriai jegyzetek az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária okleveles gyakorlatában a Báthoryak korában (1571–1602)” [Extra Sigillum Notes in the Documentary Practice of the Transylvanian Princely Chancellery]. Turul 88, no. 3 (2015): 81–96.

Hajnik, Imre. A király bírósági személyes jelenléte és ennek helytartója a vegyesházakbeli királyok korszakában [The Personal Presence of the King and his Locumtenens in the Period of the Kings of Different Houses]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1892.

Hajnik, Imre. A magyar bírósági szervezet és perjog az Árpád- és a vegyes-házi királyok alatt [On the History of Hungarian Legal Organization and Procedural Law During the Árpád Dynasty and the Kings of Different Houses]. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1899.

Jakab, Elek. A Ghyczyek Erdély történetében különös tekintettel a kormányzói intézményre [The Ghyczy Family in the History of Transylvania, with Special Regard to the Institution of the Governor]. Budapest: Az M. T. Akadémia Könyvkiadó-Hivatala, 1875.

Janits, Iván. Az erdélyi vajdák igazságszolgáltató és oklevéladó működése 1526-ig [The Jurisdiction and Charter Issuing Activity of the Transylvanian Voivodes until 1526]. Budapest: Királyi Magyar Egyetemi Nyomda, 1940.

Kubinyi, András. “A királyi udvar a késő középkori Magyarországon” [The Royal Court in Late Medieval Hungary]. In Idővel paloták... Magyar udvari kultúra a 16–17. században [Palaces in Time… Hungarian Courtly Culture in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries], edited by Nóra G. Etényi, and Ildikó Horn. 13–32. Budapest: Balassi kiadó, 2005.

Oborni, Teréz. “Zoltay János Supplementum Tripartiti (1583 körül?) című kézirata” [The Manuscript of János Zoltay, the Supplementum Tripartiti (ca. 1583?)]. In A magyar jog fejlődésének fél évezrede: Werbőczy és a Hármaskönyv 500 esztendő múltán [The Development of Hungarian Law in Half a Millennium: Werbőczy and the Tripartitum after 500 Years], edited by Gábor Máthé. 141–62. Budapest: Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem, 2014.

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Szabó T., Attila (compiled by), Ferenc Kósa, Emese Fazakas, János Zsemlyei, Zselyke András, Ágnes Daly, Piroska B. Gergely, Miklós Kürti, György Szabó, Csilla Szabó T., Magdolna K. Tichy, Borbála Zsemlyei, eds. Erdélyi Magyar Szótörténeti Tár [Hungarian Transylvanian Etymological Dictionary]. XII. Budapest–Kolozsvár: Akadémiai Kiadó–Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Szabó, Béla. “Az erdélyi szászok bíráskodási szervezete a korai újkorig” [Jurisdiction of the Transylvanian Saxons Until Early Modern Times]. Jogtörténeti Szemle, no. 1–2 (2017): 31–40.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései: Adalék az erdélyi rendiség történetéhez [Diets of the Age of the Principality of Transylvania: Addition to the History of the States of Transylvania]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690 [The Central Government of Transylvania 1540–1690]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1980.

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1 Oborni, “Zoltay János,” 141–62; Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi központi bíráskodás,” 117–39; Dáné, “Minden birodalmak,” 50–56; Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 237–68.

2 This term refers to the eastern territories of the Hungarian Kingdom that joined the estates of Transylvania and formed the Principality under Ottoman suzerainty.

3 On the close association between the curia as a court of law and the royal court, see: Kubinyi, “A királyi udvar,” 16–17.

4 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Cista Dobocensis, fasc. 4., no. 48.

5 Ibid., for further Hungarian-language examples of the usage of the term tábla, see: Szabó T. et al., Erdélyi Magyar Szótörténeti Tár, 12: 781–82.

6 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), no. 59.

7 Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 144.

8 The first reference to a list of the lawsuits that were heard at the court is from February 1676. It was made in the course of a court session which was held in Segesvár (Sighişoara/Schässburg): In nomine domini. Series causarum levatarum in anno 1676 in civitate Segesvar pro dominis regnicolis, magistro S. [?] ac domino Stephano Sarpataki existente celebratarum. Copy in the volume Promptuarium stylorum patvaristicorum, compiled in 1703. BCU, Ms. 309., f. 12–23.

9 From the secondary literature on the royal courts, we build on the following works: Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 31–58; Bónis, Magyar jogtörténet, 72–75; Bónis, A jogtudó értelmiség, 245–65; Eckhart, Magyar alkotmány- és jogtörténet, 140–46; From the recent international literature of the topic, see: Rady, Customary Law in Hungary.

10 This was the main royal court of justice, which issued sentences under the king’s judicial seal. Its ruler was the locumtenens personalis presentiae or later, simply personalis (“személynök”).

11 Bónis, Magyar jogtörténet, 73–74; Béli, Magyar jogtörténet, 94–96.

12 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 212–13.

13 Ibid., 210–11; Béli, Magyar jogtörténet, 94.

14 On the court of the royal personal presence, see: Hajnik, A király bírósági személyes jelenléte; Bónis, A jogtudó értelmiség, 134–48, 245–65, 333–54.

15 Janits, Az erdélyi vajdák, 32–35.

16 Ibid., 34.

17 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 58.

18 The case in question was heard on June 25: “... instante scilicet termino brevium et continuorum judiciorum, ad quem videlicet terminum universae causae fidelium nostrorum regnicolarum trium nationum partium regni nostri Transilvanensis, juxta publicam constitutionem eorundem hic Thordae ad primum diem Junii ex edicto maiestatis nostrae congregatorum, videlicet factum honoris, novorumque actum potentiariorum, transmissionumque tangentes et concernentes et aliae in articulis in ipso conventu editis denotatae adiudicari debentes, per maiestatem nostram generaliter fuerant prorogatae ...” The members of the court were nobles, sworn assessors, and the protonotary (here they refer to only one, and the document was endorsed solely by László Mekcsei). MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Comitatus Albensis, Cista 2, fasc. 3., no. 5. The three feudal “nations” (natio) of Transylvania were the largely Hungarian nobility, the Saxon patricians, and the free Székelys.

19 According to the text of the document: “... cum autem juxta publicam constitutionem fidelium nostrorum ordinum et statuum regni pro festo beatae Catherinae virginis et martiris proxime preterito in civitate Koloswar ex edicto maiestatis nostrae congregatorum factam et per nos confirmatam, universae causae tempore imperii prefati regis Romanorum in hoc regno... suis processibus in suis vigoribus relictae sint.” Cf. Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 64.

20 Péter Petrovics was a pro-Ottoman magnate, ban of Lugos (Lugoj) and Karánsebes (Caransebeş), and a fervent supporter of King János I Szapolyai (1526–1540) and his son.

21 “Maiores causae differantur in octavum diem festi sancti Michaelis discuciendae, alie vero causae videlicet factum honoris decimarumque uniuersae concernentes, noui actus potenciarij ab ingressu domini Petrowyth comitis spectabilis et magnifici patrati vel patrandj, transmissiones item comitatuum Saxonum et Siculicalium sedium ac literae transmissionis quae in curiam regis Romanorum per appellacionem deducendae erant, causae eciam dotum, rerum parafernalium, jurium impignoraticiorum et diuisionum inter fratres carnales patrueles, matrueles fientium sine intermissione discuciantur; discussionis autem dies sit die octauo post festum sancte trinitatis.” Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 80.

22 “... litteras nostras adiudicatorias sententionales Albe Julie decimo sexto die diei sabbati proximi post dominicam Oculi in anno 1557, in termino celebrationis judiciorum profesti beati Gregorii papae ...” See: SJAN-CJ, Arch. of Dés (Dej) (Fond 24), no. 172; In February 1557, the court period was set as St. George’s day, but it was postponed, probably due to the harvest and other problems. See: Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 80.

23 Bogdándi, “Az erdélyi és partiumi,” 14.

24 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 496–97. On the court periods, see: Bogdándi, “A fejedelemség kori törvénykezési szakaszokról,” 64–83.

25 Kolosvári and Óvári, Erdélyi törvények, 168–69. The Constitutiones Approbatae is a collection of decrees and legal practices which were codified in the seventeenth century and published in 1653.

26 The Universitas Saxonum was an administrative and legal entity of the Transylvanian Saxons, headed by the comes Saxonum, who resided in Szeben.

27 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 530. On the separate courts of law of the Saxons, see: Szabó, “Az erdélyi szászok bíráskodási szervezete,” 31–40.

28 Dósa, Erdélyhoni jogtudomány, 104–5.

29 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 89.

30 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 232. See also Kubinyi, “A királyi udvar,” 16–17.

31 There is concrete data on this from the court session of St. Luke’s day in 1590. Dániel Pápai and Mihály Kolozsvári, who were notaries at the court, reported that they disembarked on November 3 “hic in praedicto civitate Coloswar, apud domum circumspecti Joannis Hozzu, domum videlicet judiciariam celsitudinis vestrae.” There, they summoned János Gyerőfi to appear at the curia on the sixth day. See: SJAN-CJ, Arch. Kornis (Fond 378), no. 231.

32 Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238. At the diet of June 1557, the possibility of sending one special judge to Várad (Oradea) for the nobility of Partium (Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 81) came up, but probably because of the perpetual state of war this could not have been accomplished.

33 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bethlen of Iktár, (Fond 329), chronologically organized documents. Cf. MNL OL, Arch. Wesselényi (P 702), 1. item, chronologically organized documents.

34 16 May 1560: “Proclamata, publicata presentata, lecta et extradata per me Ladislaum de Mekche serenissime electe regie majestatis Hungariae protonotarium. Coram me magistro Valentino de Fewldwar serenissimae regie majestatis prothonotario.” MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Comitatus Bihar, Cista Bihar, fasc. 1., no. 21.

35 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 99. According to Trócsányi, this is when Mekcsei was designated as protonotary of Transylvania, but he had been appointed to this office earlier, in 1554. See: Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238. Cf. Jakó, A kolozsmonostori konvent, no. 5316.

36 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 97.

37 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 57–58; Hajnik, A király bírósági személyes jelenléte, 24–25.

38 Hajnik, Bírósági szervezet, 57–58.

39 Banyó and Rady, Laws of medieval Hungary, 142.

40 The respondents who were dissatisfied with the decision brought the case “... pro maturiori discussione in solius majestatis nostrae presentiam ...” where the king adjudged with councilors and legal experts on the cases appealed from the high court to the personal presence of the king (“de sede nostra judiciaria in solius majestatis nostrae presentiam apellatarum personaliter in judicio pro tribunali consedissemus”). MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista comit. (F 17), Comitatus Doboka, N, no. 12.

41 János II addresses his letter to one of the market towns. He informs the town that when on the last day of the court period over which he presided with councilor and chancellor Mihály Csáki, master of ceremonies Jakab Pókai, and other legal experts (“pro causarum de sede nostra judiciaria in solius majestatis nostrae presentiam appellatarum revisione et adiudicatione pro tribunali consedissemus”), protonotary Miklós [Wesselényi] explained that the claimant was not satisfied with the result and so he had appealed the case to the court of personalis presentia, where the previous decision of the high court was approved. See the formulary book of János Báchy, BCU, Ms. 1271., f. 196v–197v.

42 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), no. 63.

43 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista comit. (F 17), Comitatus Doboka, K, no. 54.

44 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F15), no. 12. p. 108–11.

45 Veress, Báthory István király levélváltása, 107–8.

46 Jakab, A Ghyczyek Erdély történetében, 58.

47 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Thoroczkay (Fond 444), no. 98.

48 MNL OL, Documents on Transylvanian matters (R 298), 8. box (Documents concerning the Vitéz family).

49 “Nos igitur preinsertis litteris privilegialibus dicti capituli in specie produci ac perlegi facientes quesitoque superinde prefatorum dominorum procerum ac nobilium prestantiumque virorum consiliariorum, prothonotariorumque nostrorum nobiscum in discussione et examine presentis cause constitutorum et existentium consilio prematuro, habito superinde cum eisdem diligenti tractatu, de eorundem itaque consilio et sana deliberatione judicium prefatae sedis nostrae judiciariae tanquam rite et legitime factum in omnibus punctis, clausulis et articulis tanquam rite et legittime factum laudandum et approbandum et ratificandum judicialiter decrevimus et commisimus.” See ibid.

50 “... in curiam nostram citari et evocari facere nequaquam potuisset sed suis modis in sede Siculicalia et sic tandem in termino celebrationis judiciorum pro dominis Siculis regnicolis Transilvanensis celebrandorum proclamari facere debuisset, sicque causam intentare et prosequi potuisset.” MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Cista Gömöriensis, no. 6.

51 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 3: 242.

52 Bogdándi, “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely,” 43–44.

53 Trócsányi, Törvényalkotás, 238.

54 Trócsányi, Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség korának országgyűlései, 188.

55 “... instante scilicet termino celebrationis judiciorum diei dominicae Reminiscere, ad quem utputa terminum universae causae dominorum nobilium Transylvaniensium ab obitu [...] Ludovici regis Hungariae [...] ex publica eorum constitutione adiudicari solitae per nos generaliter fuerant prorogatae, una cum domino praesidente, magistrisque nostris prothonotariis et juratis assessoribus sedis nostrae judiciariae ...” MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista comit. (F4), Comitatus Albensis, Cista 3, fasc. 3., no. 13.

56 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 816; Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1614.

57 Bogdándi, “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely,” 43–44.

58 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 946.

59 Of the presidents of the high court, only Gergely literatus is not referred to as councilor in the sources. See: Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 356. On his career, which ended tragically, see: Bogdándi, “Szentegyedi Somlyai Gergely,” 37–46.

60 It is not by chance that this is the court session when the jurisdiction of the county courts was broadened and achieved its final state. See: Dáné, “Az Őnagysága széki így deliberála, 27.

61 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Kornis (Fond 378), 5. box “... una cum nonnullis dominis consiliariis nostris aliisque prestantibus et jurisperitis viris, necnon praesidente, magistrisque nostris prothonotariis et juratis sedis nostrae judiciariae assessoribus.”

62 For a summary of the letter see Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 955. It was published with partially erroneous identification of the dates in Barabás, Székely Oklevéltár, 8: 324–37.

63 “addig, míg az Úristen az terminusok szolgáltatásának idejít mutatja,” Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 4: 118–19.

64 In a letter of sentence issued on January 15, 1598, the court is explained in the following terms: “[...] instante scilicet termino brevium judiciorum sub comitiis generalibus dominorum regnicolarum Transsilvaniensium, nec non etiam partium regni Hungariae ditioni nostre subiacentium, in civitate nostra Alba Julia ad festum Epiphaniarum domini novissime praeteritum indictis celebratorum, ad quem videlicet terminum causae tutelarum, nec non etiam factum transmissionum super novis actibus potentiariorum in sedibus comitatuum confectarum et similium negotiorum brevi processu juridico terminari solitorum tangentes et concernentes, coram propria persona nostrae serenitatis ex publica eorundem regnicolarum nostrorum constitutione adiudicari solitae per nos generaliter fuerant prorogatae, una cum fidelibus nostris magnifico domino Pancratio Senniei consiliario et magistro curiae nostrae, magistrisque nostris protonotariis et juratis sedis nostrae judiciariae assessoribus.” A homicide case appealed from the County Court of Zaránd was heard at the high court. See: SJAN-CJ, Arch. Teleki from Luna (Fond 438), no. 88; Cf. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), fasc. IVa, no. 27.

65 On this, see: Fejér, “Kancelláriai jegyzetek az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária okleveles gyakorlatában,” 91.

66 Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 355.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Formularies of the Chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century

Tamás Fejér
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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In this essay, I examine the formularies that were used in the chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality which took form at the end of 1556 during the first 50 years of its existence. I offer brief descriptions of four of these formularies in which I indicate their length and present the most important aspects concerning the nature of the information they contain. I also offer a detailed presentation of one of them in order to call attention to the importance of the rigorous study of every detail of these sources. Historians cannot afford to ignore these sources, which contain over 1,100 formulas, as they are vital to the study of the history of law and the history of the chancellery itself. They offer glimpses into the work of the chancellery, the ways in which charters were produced, and the processes according to which the texts of the charters were transformed into formulas, processes over the course of which, for the most part, the compilers “cleaned” the documents of their specific details (i.e. proper names, place names, and dates), keeping only the essential elements on the basis of which they would be able to compose the texts of new charters.

Keywords: formulary, formula, chancellery, documentary practice, Early Modern Era, Transylvanian Principality


The publication and study of formularies1 looks back on a significant history in Hungarian historical scholarship. The origins of this history are tied to the work of legal historian Márton György Kovachich (1744–1821).2 Among the historians who built on his work, I would mention here only György Bónis (1914–1985), who studied primarily medieval formularies3 but at the same time left an indelible mark on the scholarship on the formularies of early modern Transylvania by publishing and presenting in an exemplary manner the collection of formulas compiled by János Jacobinus who served at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as princely secretary (1598–1601).4 His thorough edition could serve as a model for the study of all of the Transylvanian formularies of the Early Modern Era, though (one should add) the Jacobinus formulary, which is only ten pages long and contains only 22 formulas, made possible an examination that was rigorous in its attention to every detail, which would hardly have been possible in the case of a formulary consisting of several hundred pages and containing several hundred formulas. I share Bónis’ view that “the Transylvanian formularies should be published individually at least as regestas and excerpts, and the conclusions which can be reached on the basis of them should be drawn.”5 In my opinion, however, it would suffice if we had a thorough exposition and description of each of the formularies from the era of the Transylvanian Principality and the short titles at the beginning of the individual formulas (which for the most part offer a good impression of the essential aspects of the text) were to be published. This would enable scholars to inform themselves relatively easily about the content of a given manuscript, and they would then be able to examine the original texts which are of interest to them (depending on whether their interests lie in legal history, institutional history, diplomatics etc.). However, formulas which contain specific data (such as proper names, place names, and dates) or which are of interest for some other reason could be published as regestas, which are useful, if perhaps with some caution, from other perspectives as well, and not simply as formulas.6

In the first half-century of its existence, several formularies were used in the Transylvanian chancellery7 which took form at the end of 1556. In 1938, Anna Pécsi familiarized the community of Hungarian historians with the János Bácsi formulary,8 and a few years later, György Bónis and Antal Valentiny published the aforementioned János Jacobinus formulary. After these promising initial efforts, however, interest in formularies waned. Only recently have there been signs of some change. A substantially more rigorous examination of the János Bácsi formulary has been undertaken,9 and I myself recently published an article on another formulary from the late sixteenth century.10 In addition to these formularies, we know of one formulary and a fragment of another formulary which were also used in the chancellery in the second half of the sixteenth century. In this article, I offer a brief description of these formularies, including a detailed presentation of one. Ideally, a thorough study of all the formularies from the same perspectives would be necessary in order to provide a broader picture of everyday administration in the chancellery (for instance) or even the composition of the formulas themselves.11 The formularies, after all, are interesting not only from the perspective of legal history, but also as sources on institutional history, more broadly, or diplomatics, more narrowly.


1. The formulary of János Bácsi.12 This formulary, which as far as we know is the earliest one to have been used in the chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality, is named after Ioannes Bachy, whose name is found on the binding. This Bácsi served at the end of the 1560s and the first years of the 1570s as a scribe in the chancellery. The voluminous formulary consists of 341 numbered pages which contain 466 formulas and the epitaph for King Mátyás (1458–1490), thus a total of 467 Latin texts. At the beginning of the manuscript, one finds a detailed alphabetical index of the titles of the individual formulas and the page numbers on which they are found.13 According to the index, the formulary consists of three “books,” though there are no references to these “books” in the formulary itself. The index, however, indicates that the first book is found on pages 1–130, the second on pages 131–228, and the third on pages 229–311. Most of the manuscript seems to be the work of a single scribe. Only towards the end does one find formulas and one or two short entries which could be attributed to other hands, and the last formula (from December 15, 1641) is the work of an entirely new scribe. This last formula, however, suggests that the formulary was in use for a long time, including into the reign of Prince György I Rákóczi (1630–1648). For 340 of the formula, the issuer is not indicated. This information, however, would not have been necessary from the perspective of the charters for which the formula would be used. The other 126 formula were issued by the following issuers: four by Lajos II (1516–1526), 70 by Ferdinand I (1526–1564), 28 by János Szapolyai (1526–1540) and Prince János Zsigmond (1556–1571),14 12 by György Fráter, who served as Bishop of Várad (Oradea/Grosswardein), treasurer, regent and chief justice (1542–1551), four by Pál Várday, Archbishop of Esztergom and royal deputy (1542–1549), two by László Mikola, the queen’s vice regent and Transylvanian deputy chief justice (1542–1551), and one each by palatinal deputy Ferenc Révay (1542–1553), judge royal Tamás Nádasdy (1543–1554), royal counselor István Cserényi and protonotary Pál Szigeti (1567–1571). Thus, a substantial proportion of the material does not have any specific bearing on Transylvania or is from the period before the chancellery began to function. A significant number of the formulas were “cleaned” by János Bácsi (to whom the compilation of the formulary is attributed) of their specific details (such as proper names, place names, and dates). Only ten formula have dates ranging from 1531 to 1569. The place of composition is given slightly more often.15 With only a few exceptions, the formulary contained the templates for the documents which were under the sphere of authority of the cancellaria minor (which itself was headed by the protonotary). Thus, clearly it was in use by the cancellaria minor and it clearly constitutes an important source on the functioning of the principality’s chancellery and, within this, the smaller chancellery. It is a source that still awaits proper rigorous study.

2. A surviving fragment of a formulary with a total of only seven pages16 with 22 formulas in Latin and one truncated text. Of these, 17 were issued by János Zsigmond and five by Kristóf Báthory (1576–1581). Only a few of the texts contain proper names and place names. Five of the formulas indicate the place of composition (Gyulafehérvár), and one even contains the date (May 30, 1568). The texts seem to have been written by two different hands. Most of the formula were composed on the basis of de gratia documents, which were under the authority of the great chancellery.17

3. Stylionarium cancellariae Sigismundi Báthory.18 This manuscript, which comes to 276 pages and is the work of many hands, contains 224 formulas in Latin. Most of them, as indicated in the formulary, were issued by Prince Zsigmond Báthory (1581–1597, 1598–1599, 1601–1602), while János Zsigmond issued six, István Báthory (1571–1576) one, Kristóf Báthory seven, and the place of authentication from Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur, today a district of the city of Cluj) two. For 15 formula, the issuer is not provided. For 37, the date is given, most often including the day, month, and year, but sometimes only the year. The earliest date of composition is November 20, 1572 (pag. 84–90). The latest, not including the six formula which were copied onto pages 224–29 (which had been left empty) in the first half of the seventeenth century, was composed on January 2, 1595 (pag. 275–76; the latter formula is also the last entry to be made in the manuscript). 22 of them date to the first half of the 1590s and thirteen to the 1580s, i.e. to the reign of Zsigmond Báthory.19 The name of director causarum fiscalium (kincstári jogügyigazgató) János Királyfalvi appears in the formula entitled “Procuratoria constitutio coram prothonotario facta” (which is found on the first page of the formulary). János Királyfalvi rose to this office sometime between November 16, 1591 and February 14, 1592.20 Thus, work began on compiling the manuscript after he had won this post, and it came to an end sometime after the date of the aforementioned last formula (January 2, 1595). The formulary was in use for decades, or at least one can come to this conclusion on the basis of the formulas which were copied into it in the first half of the seventeenth century, the latest of which was issued by Prince György I Rákóczi (pag. 227–28).

With regards to the contents of the formulary, it contains primarily models for documents belonging to the authority of the cancellaria minor. It also contains formulas for de gratia charters, but not many. Thus, the formulary was used first and foremost by the clerks of the smaller chancellery. For a significant share of the documents, the proper names and place names remained, but the dates rarely survived.

4. The formulary of János Jacobinus.21 The formulary attributed to János Jacobinus, who served as secretary of the chancellery (1598–1601), was never actually completed. It is only ten pages long and contains 22 formulas in Latin, of which 15 were issued, according to the formulary, by Zsigmond Báthory, one by his wife, Maria Christierna of Habsburg,22 and five by Mihai Viteazul, Voivode of Wallachia (1593–1600) and for a short time (November 1599–September 1600) imperial governor of Transylvania for Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. (In the case of one of the formulas, the issuer is not indicated.) Six of the formulas are dated, and the dates all fall between September 1, 1597 and May 15, 1601. Most of the documents contain proper names and places names. Almost without exception, the formulary contains formulas which were composed on the basis of charters drawn up in the great chancellery, so it clearly was used here too.

5. A formulary from the era of Zsigmond Báthory.23 As far as we know, the historian and archivist Lajos Kelemen (1877–1963) was the first person to offer a short description of this formulary in his work on the Manuscript Collection of the Cluj University Library. According to Kelemen, at the time, the manuscript collection contained more than 20 formularies dating from the sixteenth–nineteenth centuries. One of them, he noted, was the János Bácsi formulary. “The other, more interesting formulary,” he writes, “is a copy by the chancellery scribes of the charters which were drawn up in the chancellery of Zsigmond Báthory.”24 The formulary was used by the art historians Jolán Balogh (1900–1988)25 and András Kovács26 and also by the historian Adrian Andrei Rusu.27 The manuscript and the wealth of material it contains, nonetheless, remained essentially unknown to (or has not met with interest among) scholars until only recently.28

The 30 × 19.4 cm manuscript is 161 pages long29 and contains 399 individual texts. Some of these texts, however, have not survived in their entirety, and some of them were not drawn up by the chancellery (for instance, wedding invitations). The formulary does not have an original title, and the writings were penned by several different hands. The formulas, naturally, were written in Latin. One finds only three Hungarian-language texts, one of which was added to formula 193 as a transcript and the other two of which are wedding invitations (formulas 249 and 251).

The manuscript, which contains some 400 individual texts, clearly demonstrates that, given the variety and complexity of the administrative tasks it faced, the chancellery needed formularies as complete as possible, for the necessary charters and documents. Considering the essentially established charter-formulas and the wide diversity of the types of documents, it seems likely that even clerks familiar with the composition of charters needed the formulary, and scribes with less experience in all certainty made considerable use of it. Thus, the clerks who compiled the formulary copied the charters which were drawn up in the chancellery (or at least some of them) into the manuscript, with larger or smaller omissions. They were guided by the practical goal of recording these texts so that they could be used later as models in the composition of documents of a similar nature. Thus, as I will demonstrate later in this article with examples, the formulas contained varying amounts of information in comparison with the original charters. Rarely was every element of the original preserved. Usually, only sections which might later be useful or necessary in the composition of a new document were kept, while specific details, such as proper names, place names, and dates were omitted. Many of the formulas, however, fall somewhere between these two “types.” The intitulatio and the inscriptio were shortened, dates of composition were recorded only partially or omitted entirely, and some of the proper names and place names—which in general, as was typical of formularies, were simply replaced with the letter T (talis) or “T de T,” or, less frequently, the letter N (nomen)—were removed.30 The titles at the beginning of the formulas informed the reader of the type of document and the essence of the text. In a few rare cases, they also referred to the specific content of a formula, for instance “Nobilitatio pro Ioanne Fiotta cum armis” (formula 70) and “Donatio duorum pratorum foenilium egregio domino Benedicto Mindzenthy” (formula 266).

Some of the formulas are of a de iustitia nature, i.e. they concern matters of the administration of justice and would be used as templates for documents such as letters of summons (litterae evocatoriae), letters of inquest (litterae inquisitoriae), letters of postponement (litterae prorogatoriae), and letters of sentence (litterae sententionales) etc., while some are of a de gratia nature, for instance coat of arms letters (litterae armales), grants of market rights, estates, and tithe, comes (ispán), and bishopric appointments, exemptions, princely approval letters (litterae consensuales), etc. The former, naturally, reflect the work of the smaller chancellery, the latter of the great chancellery. Thus, we are dealing with a “mixed” formulary which was used in both branches of the chancellery of the principality and which reflects almost all of the areas of the extensive documentary practice of the chancellery. Many of the formulas were products of the work of the chancellery as a place of authentication. In the course of this work, charters were issued for the different parties concerning the declarations (fassiones) which were made in front of the protonotary or, less frequently, the chancellor on matters such as pledges, the exchange of estates, wills, and letters of attorney (litterae procuratoriae). There are also some formulas which were not based on charters issued by the chancellery (for example, various letters of report or litterae relatoriae which were drawn up at the command of the prince and sent to the chancellery by places of authentication or bailiffs, i.e. homines vaivodales,31 wedding invitations, or other charters drawn up by issuers which will be mentioned below). One notices the efforts of the compilers to group the various formulas by type of document. For instance, the formulas found on pages 87–98 and 355–72 are summons, the formulas on pages 115–26 are letters of attorney, those on pages 166–72 are letters of nobility (nobilitatio), those on pages 8–11 and 343–54 are admonitions (litterae admonitoriae), etc. In some cases, however, formulas that were similar from the perspective of their subjects were copied alongside one another. For instance, formulas 295–298 deal with Church matters, and within this group, formulas 297 and 298 concern the Transylvanian Romanian Orthodox Church. Formula 299 also concerns the Romanians of Transylvania, recording the bestowal of the office of voivode (vaivodatus) of a village. Thus, these three formulas form a new unit from the perspective of their content. Formulas 306–310 all address matters concerning the Saxon communities. In some cases, these two organizational principles are mixed, i.e. the compilers have grouped the formulas according to type of document and subject matter. Formulas 144–149, for instance, are all mandates (broadly understood) concerning the division of landed property (divisio). Within this, formulas 144, 146, and 148 are letters of admonition and summons, formulas 145 and 147 are princely orders regarding the execution of such divisio, and formula 149 is a litterae certificatoriae. Thus, one finds clear signs of deliberate efforts to arrange the formulas in groups, but there is no single principle or system according to which the entire manuscript can be said to have been organized. The large number of formulas and the amount of time that was devoted to compiling the manuscript (more on this soon) indicate that for years the compilers collected the texts of charters that were being issued with the aim of creating a resource in which clerks would find a model or template that could be applied to almost every new case that might arise.

Zsigmond Báthory is indicated as the issuer of the vast majority of the formulas. Chronologically, the following formula were issued by the following individuals: formula 49 by Voivode István Majláth (1534–1541); formulas 322, 334, 355, and 358 by János Zsigmond;32 formula 270 by István Báthory; nine formulas by Kristóf Báthory;33 formulas 365 and 366 by Hungarian King Rudolf (1576–1608); formula 282 by the aforementioned Kolozsmonostor place of authentication; and formulas 179, 185, and 186 by the Gyulafehérvár place of authentication.34 In addition, Chancellor Farkas Kovacsóczy (1578–1594) is given as the issuer of formula 141, castellan of Eger Bálint Prépostváry of formula 103, castellans and iudex nobilium substitutus (helyettes szolgabíró) of the district of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) of formulas 187 and 213, and János Gerendi of formula 286. One also comes across formulas for which the issuer is not given, but in all likelihood most can be attributed to Zsigmond Báthory. It is not entirely clear why formulas based on charters that were not issued by the chancellery were included. As examples, one could mention the litterae manumissionales of János Gerendi or the charters issued by the aforementioned officers of Karánsebes. It is quite clear, however, that the given clerk considered the documents important (even if perhaps not from the perspective of the documentary practice of the chancellery) and for this reason included them in the manuscript.

The formulary gives the date for 43 of the formulas.35 The earliest among them is April 19, 1538, the latest May 20, 1595. For 15 of the formulas, the charters on which they were based give the date, and for another two the date is found in their copies in the aforementioned Stylionarium cancellariae Sigismundi Báthory (hereafter StylionariumSB). These seventeen formulas are from the period between September 5, 1583 and January 2, 1595. Thus, we know the dates of 60 formulas in total. 58 were issued between 1583 and 1595, during the reign of Zsigmond Báthory. Most of them (51) were issued in the period between 1590 and 1595. There are also formulas for which only the year is given (for instance formulas 105 and 162) and others for which only the day and month are given (for instance formulas 182, 195, and 221). For some of the formulas, only the place of composition is given.36 With varying precision, one could date most of the formulas for which no date is given on the basis of the information and concrete references they contain, but that is not my aim here.

With regards to the place and time of the compilation of the formulary, one can come to the following conclusions on the basis of the discussion above. Since the formulary contains almost exclusively models of charters produced by the chancellery, it was in all certainty composed in the chancellery. However, the compilers of this “official” formulary, which was compiled for use by the chancellery, have not yet been identified by name. A comparison of the letter of reports sent to the chancellery by the various chancellery scribes and the handwritings found in the formulary might yield conclusions concerning this question. Watermarks37 helped me determine the date of composition of the manuscript. The earliest Brassó (Braşov/Kronstadt) watermark in the formulary was already in use in 1589,38 so one might cautiously suppose that 1588 was the terminus post quem. Thus, sometime after 1588 the compilers may have begun to copy the texts of the charters into the manuscript. As already mentioned, most of the dated formulas were drawn up in the early 1590s, and this offers further support for the conclusion above. (In the best-case scenario, the dates of the formulas indicate the date when the original charters which served as models were drawn up, but at the same time they can serve as a terminus post quem for the date when the given charters were transformed into formulas.) The latest dated items in the formulary date from May 20, 1595, but after this, another 80 formulas were copied into the manuscript. Thus, in all likelihood, the work of compiling the formulary came to an end in late 1595 or the beginning of 1596, if the manuscript at the time was not significantly longer than the version which has survived to the present day (which as noted earlier, consists of 161 pages).

Copies of the texts of several charters which served as models survived in the so-called libri regii registers,39 which were maintained by the chancellery. At the same time, two of the original charters, on which formulas were based, have survived, and variations of the texts of some formulas are found in the StylionariumSB as well. These various texts offer insights into the processes according to which the individual formulas were composed. Here, I offer a detailed presentation of differences between only the following versions. Zsigmond Báthory’s 1590–1591 liber regius contains a copy of the charter which served as the model for formula 169.40 It was copied in an abridged form, so the formula contains a considerably more complete text, though the names of the neighbors of the exempted house were omitted. At the same time, the dates differ. In the case of the liber regius registry, the date is October 8, 1590, whereas in the case of the formula, the (quite definitely incorrect) date is December 16, 1591.41 This also indicates that one must treat the dates in the registries of the formularies with caution, since the compilers obviously did not trouble themselves much over the precise dates when copying the texts (in this specific case, the date may indicate the day on which the text was copied into the formulary). Formula 108 also consists of a more complete version of the text, since the charter of June 3, 1591 (which was used as a template) was also entered into the liber regius in an abridged form.42 In this case, however, the formula contains all the individual data, with the exception of the date. A copy of the original charter on which formula 221 was based was similarly entered into the liber regius of Zsigmond Báthory.43 Because the clerk sought to compose a model for a charter of confirmation, in the formulary he shortened the ten-page privilege to a page and a half, since he mentions only the issuers of the three charters to be transcribed. Their names are followed, after the remark “Descriptis litteris omnibus usque ad finem conclusio hoc modo sequitur,” by the usual confirmation clause. It should be noted that the month and day given for the formula are February 20, whereas the date for the copy found in the liber regius is January 26 (1591), and instead of the actual issuers of one of the transcribed charters, one finds a fictive name: Gergely Petroczky. The names of the estates, which according to the formula were in Szörény (Severin) County, were also omitted. The copy of the charter, however, concerns properties in Máramaros (Maramureş) County, i.e. in an entirely different county.44 Compared to the text copied into the liber regius,45 almost half of formula 223 is missing (the section beginning with the pertinentia charter-formula and ending with the date). Also, some of the family names are imprecise (for instance the name Georgius Bako is given instead of Georgius Domonkos), and several proper names have been omitted. The date of composition of formula 110 was removed, as were two words, but otherwise the text corresponds entirely to the version copied into the liber regius.46

The original which served as the basis for the formula 266 has survived, as has the liber regius copy.47 As a comparison of the texts reveals, there are very few differences between the formula and the original. The absence of the date, however, constitutes a serious obstacle to efforts to use the formula as a historical source. At most, one could base conjectures concerning the date of the formula on the mention of Benedek Mindszenti in the offices of cubicularius (kamarás) and arendator decimarum (tizedarendator). The entry in the liber regius, however, contains all the essential information (even if it was written in abridged form). This suggests that the quite numerous abridged entries in the libri regii contained all the essential information in the original charters, if perhaps in different wordings.

Thus, on the basis of the discussion above one can conclude that the texts of the charters which served as models were transformed into formulas with the omission of shorter or longer passages and usually the partial or complete removal of specific details. The resulting texts contain all the elements that would later be necessary to draft charters of full value and force. In the case of formulas which contained either some or (in very rare instances) all of the proper names and place names and the date, a comparison with the versions found in the libri regii reveals that the compilers of the formulary did not always concern themselves much with the precise transcription of specific information (and one should note, this was not their goal). Rather, in some cases they simply gave fictive dates and fictive proper names instead. Thus, formulas which contain specific information, though valuable and worthy of study as examples of this genre of document, should be used as historical sources preferably only if other sources are available against which this information can be verified.

With regards to the texts found in both formularies, the following details merit mention. Formula 86 contained some of the proper names, but they were omitted from the version copied onto pages 14 and 15 of the StylionariumSB. According to the secondary literature, the more specific details one finds in such a text, the more likely it is that the text in question was copied directly from the original.48 Thus, it is possible that the version from which more of this information is missing was made on the basis of the text found in the formulary under discussion, and in the course of the process of copying the text, specific details which seemed superfluous were omitted. Though they share the same title, formula 362 and the version found on pages 37 and 38 of the StylionariumSB vividly illustrate that the clerks who drafted the formulary were concerned not so much with fidelity to the original texts as they were with the task and practical goal of creating useful formulas. Kristóf Báthory is mentioned as the issuer of one, Zsigmond Báthory of the other (as we are dealing with formulas, the fact that the date 1590 appears in the Kristóf Báthory text did not cause the compiler any particular difficulty). They are both “genuine” formulas, and thus both are lacking in specific information. Only one longer passage reveals that they are versions of the same text. In this case as in the aforementioned one, the text found in the formulary is more complete, which again suggests that the less detailed version was based on it. The same is true of formula 364 and the formula copied onto pages 42 and 43 of the StylionariumSB. The text of the first is more complete and contains individual elements. It is important to mention that in one of the texts the person lodging a complaint is a man, while in the other, she is a woman. Thus, the compilers of the formulas clearly were willing to modify the original details at any time, since these details had no practical significance whatsoever anyway. At the same time, there is a case in which, although the version found in the formulary is more complete (formula 363), the other version (StylionariumSB, page 42) contains passages of text which are not in the former. Concerning formula 391 and the text on page 52 of the StylionariumSB, the latter is slightly more complete and includes the date of composition, so formula 391 may have been based on it. Thus, all signs suggest that in some cases the compilers “borrowed” texts from the formularies to make their own collections as complete as possible. I would also mention formula 279 and the text on page 259 of the StylionariumSB, which are identical in every way and which contain all the individual information. It seems likely that both texts were copied directly from the same charter.

One very frequently comes across various “instructions” in the texts, most of which are in Latin, though a few are in Hungarian. These instructions are intended as guidance in the composition and editing of charters (they also spare the compilers of the manuscript the task of copying passages which seem superfluous or which can already be found in the formulary), but they also clearly show that the compilers knew the contents of the formulary well. Furthermore, they offer glimpses into the everyday work of the chancellery and the process of drawing up the charters. In other words, they call attention to concrete aspects of the “minor details” of work at the chancellery, aspects about which we otherwise would have no other sources on which to draw. In the interests of providing a clear overview, I have divided these instructions into three groups. The first group consists of instructions concerning which formula to use for substitution of the passages of text omitted from a given formula, for instance “Caetera ut in attestatoriis simplicibus” (formula 7); “Caetera ut in formula praemissa” (formula 14); “[...] (prout in litteris salvi conductus) usque ubivis in ditione nostra constitutis et commorantibus [...]” (formula 57); “Initium sit prout in litteris passus: Universis et singulis spectabilibus etc.” (formula 68); “[…] etc. caetera ut in donationis formula usque limitibus existentibus” (formula 137); “[...] etc. caetera prout in aliis formulis” (formula 280); “[...] etc. vide nro 285 usque earum veritas suffragatur” (formula 305); and “[...] etc. prout in aliis ad finem usque” (formula 383). Since in some cases the formulas used for charters of transcription or confirmation do not contain the charters to be transcribed, the compilers note that they must be copied into the charters which will be issued: for instance “Interserantur statutoriae de verbo ad verbum. Subiiciatur: [...]” (formula 46); “Hic integre et totum debebit describi mandatum quo perfecto sic ad caetera progrediendum” (formula 216); “Hic tota requisitoria est describenda qua descripta sic exordiendum” (formula 276); formula 267 for certain princely approval letter mention only the issuers of the charter to be transcribed and then add that it must be “usque ad finem videlicet nonagesimo tertio”, in other words copied in its entirety. “Az uthan mindgiarast ird ezt [then immediately write this]: Et paulo inferius subscriptum erat [...] Ez uthan esmet [then again] scribe hoc: [...].” Similarly, according to the instruction in formula 285, the charter should be copied “[...] usque ad finem. Absolutis litteris subiiciatur post numerum anni: Et in ultima earundem margine subscripta erant [...] Tandem sequitur: [...]”. One also comes across notes offering assistance in the phrasing of the charter or the composition of a similar kind of document: for instance, formula 6, regarding the situation of a person unable to appear before the chancellery or the place of authentication, says the following: “[...] qui cum ob loci distantiam (vel alio impedimento quocunque fuerit).” It then notes that the time and place of the execution should be indicated: “Qumodo ipse (tempus) in et ad (locum seu curiam nobilitarem) [...] accessisset.” In the text of a mandate of institution (litterae introductoriae) issued to the letter searchers (requisitores/levélkeresők), after the inscriptio and salutatio, one finds the following: “(Tandem donatio de verbo ad verbum sine ulla immutatione scribatur. Initium autem inde fiat: Quod nos cum ad nonnulorum etc. Sed pro Quod nos scribatur Cum nos ad etc. in eam formam.) Cum nos dignum et honorificum habentes respectum […] etc. usque haeredibus et posteritatibus utriusque sexus universis. Tandem sequitur: vigore aliarum litterarum nostrarum donationalium […].” At the very end of the formula, there is also a reference indicating that “Praesentibus [i.e. the “Praesentibus perlectis exhibenti restitutis” clause] omittatur in statutoria ad requisitores etc.” (formula 247); at the end of formula 231, which concerns granting the fourth part of the tithe (quarta decimarum) without paying the arenda49 the compiler offers the information necessary for another variation: “Quando vero pro arenda datur, tunc sic scribitur: a loco decimari solitarum pro solita arenda quadraginta florenos, uti perhibetur, constituenda plebano eius loci annuatim et consuetis temporibus de reditibus arendae decimarum huius regni dependenda vita eiusdem T. durante. Et commissio debet dirigi etiam ad plebanum.” After the formula 294 for the invitation to the Diet, the compiler notes the following: “Brassoviam et Bistricium50 scribatur: una cum iudice vestro. Ahol penig polgarmester ninchien [where there is no mayor], sic: una cum regio sedisque iudicibus vestris.”

In addition to including these instructions, the compilers often abbreviated some charter-formulas. One could mention the abbreviation “S. P. D.” for “Secus non facturi. Praesentibus perlectis exhibenti restitutis. Datum etc.” (for instance formulas 77 and 224–225). In some cases, a compiler has changed the word order (for instance formulas 69, 89, and 110), interchanged shorter passages (formulas 146, 200, and 202), made corrections (formulas 13, 58, and 131), given other possible versions in the margins (formulas 76, 113, 237), or inserted words which were omitted (formulas 76, 11, 173). Finally, I would mention a special case when the first two thirds of a formula were copied on folio 51v and 52r and the last third was copied on folio 62v, though this was then indicated at the end of the former with the note “Caetera vide numero 194 inferius.”51 In this case, the compilers simply wanted to add a new coat of arms letter to those already listed but there was not enough space for the introduction of the lengthy document. On the basis of this, however, one could conclude that in the course of compiling the manuscript the clerks kept a certain number of pages for specific types of documents and then later used them. This happened only rarely, however. Otherwise the system would have been more effective in the classification of the documents on the basis of type.

I will not delve into an investigation of the rich and complex content of the manuscript,52 but I will call attention to the foreigners who came from various parts of Europe and who were active in Zsigmond Báthory’s entourage and in the territory of the principality.


In summary, the almost 1,300 pages of the formularies discussed above contain more than 1,100 formulas which provide, if not an exhaustive, then at least a detailed and thorough overview of the kinds of charters and documents issued by the chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality in the second half of the sixteenth century, including documents the originals of which did not survive. They also offer glimpses into the work of the chancellery, revealing aspects of its functioning on which there are few or no other sources. Thus, they are important sources if only from these perspectives, but considering the serious loss of early modern source materials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on Transylvania, including the large-scale destruction of the princely archives, they are even more significant. And while it is important, as noted in the discussion above, to treat the formulas with caution when using them as historical sources, at the same time one can hardly ignore the relevance of the information they contain, given that most of them were composed on the basis of charters which were in fact issued and delivered and which in many cases have not to our knowledge survived. Thus, anything we know of their content is based on the formulas. In other words historical scholarship has a great deal to gain from more focused study of the Transylvanian formularies, which for the past six or seven decades have been largely pushed to the margins of scientific inquiry.

Archival Sources

Biblioteca Centrală Universitară “Lucian Blaga” Cluj-Napoca (BCU), Colecţii speciale [“Lucian Blaga” Central University Library of Cluj-Napoca, Special Collections]

Ms. 999, Ms. 1271 (Formerly in the Manuscript Collection of the Library of the Transylvanian National Museum, now in custody of the BCU)

Muzeul Secuiesc al Ciucului, Colecţia de documente [Szekler Museum of Ciuc, Archival Collections], Miercurea Ciuc (MSC ColDoc)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], Budapest (MNL OL)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár], Libri regii (F 1)

Kolozsmonostori Konvent Országos Levéltára (KmKOLt) [Archives of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor], Protocolla, libri regii et stylionaria (F 15)

Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Colecţia bresle [Collection of Guild Documents, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ] (Fond 544), Breasla lăcătuşilor din Cluj [The Locksmiths’ Guild of Cluj]

Fond familial Wesselényi din Jibou (Fond 250) [The Zsibó/Jibou Archive of the Wesselényi Family, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]


Printed sources

Bónis, György, and Antal Valentiny. Jacobinus János erdélyi kancellár formuláskönyve (1602) [The Formulary of Transylvanian Chancellor János Jacobinus]. Kolozsvár: Minerva, 1947.

Fejér, Tamás, Etelka Rácz, and Anikó Szász, eds. Báthory Zsigmond királyi könyvei 1582–1602 [The Libri Regii of Zsigmond Báthory, 1582–1602]. Vol. I/3 of Az erdélyi fejedelmek királyi könyvei I. 1569–1602 [The Libri Regii of the Transylvanian Princes I. 1569–1602]. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2005.

Iványi, Béla. “Egy 1526. előtti ismeretlen kéziratos formulás könyv” [An Unknown Manuscript Formulary from before 1526]. Történelmi Tár (Új Folyam) 5 (1904): 481–538; 6 (1905): 33–41.

Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556) [The Protocols of the Kolozsmonostor Convent (1289–1556)]. 2 vols. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

Kovachich, Martinus Georgius, ed. Formulae solennes styli in cancellaria curiaque regum, foris minoribus ac locis credibilibus autenthicisque regni Hungariae olim usitati. Budae, 1799.


Secondary literature

Andea, Avram. “Formulary and chancery practice in Transylvania during Michael the Braveʼs reign (1599–1600).” Anuarul Institutului de Istorie G. Bariţiu. Series Historica [Yearbook of the History Institute G. Bariţiu. Series Historica]. Supplement no. 1 (2015): 263–80.

Balogh, Jolán. Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek: XVI. század [Kolozsvár Stone Mason Workshops: Sixteenth Century]. Budapest, 1985.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Az erdélyi ítélőmesterek hiteleshelyi jellegű tevékenysége a 16. század végén” [The Work of Transylvanian Protonotaries as Place of Authentication at the End of the Sixteenth Century]. In “... éltünk mi sokáig ʻkét hazábanʼ...” Tanulmányok a 90 éves Kiss András tiszteletére [“… for a long time we lived in ‘two homes’…” Essays in Honor of the 90-year-old András Kiss], edited by Veronka Dáné, Teréz Oborni, and Gábor Sipos, 135–46. Debrecen: Debreceni Egyetemi Kiadó, 2012.

Bogdándi, Zsolt. “Fráter György bírói működésének emlékei Bácsi János formuláskönyvében” [Signs of the Work of György Fráter as a Magistrate in the Formulary of János Bácsi]. Történelmi Szemle 56, no. 4 (2014): 621–38.

Bónis, György. “A Somogyvári formuláskönyv” [The Somogyvári Formulary]. In Emlékkönyv Kelemen Lajos születésének nyolcvanadik évfordulójára [Commemorative Volume on the 80th Birthday of Lajos Kelemen], edited by András Bodor, Béla Cselényi, Elemér Jancsó, Zsigmond Jakó, and Attila Szabó T., 117–33. Bukarest: Tudományos Könyvikadó, 1957.

Bónis, György. “Az Ars Notaria mint retorikai és jogi tankönyv” [The Ars Notaria as a Textbook on Rhetoric and Law]. Filológiai Közlöny 9, no. 3–4 (1963): 373–88.

Bónis, György. “Magyi János formuláskönyve és a gyakorlati jogtanítás” [János Magyi’s Formulary and Practical Instruction in Law]. In A pécsi egyetem történetéből [On the History of the University of Pécs], edited by Andor Csizmadia, 225–60. Pécs: A Pécsi Tudományegyetem Állam- és Jogtudományi Karának Tudományos Bizottsága, 1967.

Bónis, György. “Uzsai János Ars Notariája” [János Uzsai’s Ars Notaria]. Filológiai Közlöny 7, no. 3–4 (1961): 229–60.

Bresslau, Harry. Handbuch der Urkundenlehre für Deutschland und Italien. Vol. 1. Leipzig: Veit & Comp., 1889.

Dreska, Gábor. “Das Formelbuch des Notars Johann Magyi aus dem 15. Jahrhundert.” In Les formulaires, edited by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle, and Silio P. Scalfati. Paris: L’école des Chartes, 2016. Accessed March 12, 2018. http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/cid2012/part11.

Fejér, Tamás, and Anikó Szász. “The so-called Libri Regii Protocols of the Transylvanian Princes.” Colloquia. Journal of Central European History 13, no. 1–2 (2006): 272–89.

Fejér, Tamás. “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária regisztrumvezetési gyakorlata a 16. században” [The Transylvanian Chancellery’s Practice of Keeping Registers in the Sixteenth Century]. Levéltári Közlemények 85 (2014): 3–32.

Fejér, Tamás. “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv a 16. század végéről” [A Chancellery Formulary from the End of the Sixteenth Century]. Erdélyi Múzeum 77, no. 1 (2015): 84–112.

Fejér, Tamás. “Királyfalvi János (†1603) ítélőmester hivatali pályája” [The Career of protonotary János Királyfalvi (†1603)]. In Hivatalnok értelmiség a kora újkori Erdélyben [The Bureaucratic Intelligentsia in Transylvania in the Early Modern Era], edited by Zsolt Bogdándi, and Tamás Fejér, 63–79. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2017.

Jakó, Zsigmond. “Filigrane transilvănene din secolul al XVI-lea” [Transylvanian Watermarks from the Sixteenth Century]. Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai. Series Historia 13, no. 1 (1968): 3–19.

Kelemen, Lajos. Kézirattári értékeink [Our Valuable Items in Manuscript Collection]. Edited by Margit B. Nagy. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2010.

Kovács, András. “ʻFarkas az én nevem ...ʼ A gyulafehérvári fejedelmi fegyvertár és ágyúöntés kezdeteinek történetéhez” [“Farkas is My Name…” On the History of the Origins of the Principality’s Armory in Gyulafehérvár and Cannon Casting]. Dolgozatok az Erdélyi Múzeum Érem-és Régiségtárából. Új Sorozat 2 (2007): 157–72.

Köpeczi, Béla, gen. ed. History of Transylvania. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1994.

Mareş, Alexandru. Filigranele hîrtiei întrebuinţate în Ţările Române în secolul al XVI-lea [Watermarks of Paper Used in the Romanian Lands in the Sixteenth Century]. Bucureşti: Editura Academiei R.S.R., 1987.

Pécsi, Anna. “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária első formulariumos kézirata” [The First Formulary Manuscript of the Chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality]. In Emlékkönyv Szentpétery Imre születése hatvanadik évfordulójanak ünnepére [Commemorative Volume on the 60th Birthday of Imre Szentpétery], 385–95. Budapest, 1938.

Pécsi, Anna. Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária kialakulása és okleveles gyakorlata 1571-ig [The Formation of the Chancellery of the Transylvanian Principality and its Charter-Issuing Practice up to 1571]. Budapest, 1938.

Rio, Alice. Legal Practice and the Written Word in the Early Middle Ages: Frankish Formulae, c. 500–1000. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Rusu, Adrian Andrei. “Raporturi ale curţii principelui Sigismund Báthory cu ierarhia românilor din Transilvania la începutul ultimului deceniu al secolului al XVI-lea” [Relations of the Court of Prince Zsigmond Báthory with the Romanian Hierarchy of Transylvania at the Beginning of the Last Decade of the Sixteenth Century]. Acta Musei Porolissensis 12 (1988): 311–15.

Szentpétery, Imre. Magyar oklevéltan [Hungarian Diplomatics]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1930.

Szovák, Kornél. “Funktion und Formen der Formelbüche im mittelalterlichen Ungarn.” In Les formulaires, edited by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle, and Silio P. Scalfati. Paris: L’école des Chartes, 2016. Accessed March 12, 2018. http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/cid2012/part20.

Trócsányi, Zsolt. Erdély központi kormányzata 1540–1690 [The Central Government of Transylvania, 1540–1690]. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1980.

1 The secondary literature on the subject (both Hungarian and international) clarified the role and importance of formularies in the medieval documentary practice a long time ago, so I will not bother rehearsing the general ascertainments here. See for instance Bresslau, Urkundenlehre, 1: 608–45; Szentpétery, Magyar oklevéltan, 91–92, 129–30, 177–78. Among recent studies, I would mention Rio’s Legal Practice and the Written Word, which suggests new approaches to the use of the formularies of the period in question as historical sources. I would also note that formularies have again caught the interest of scholars and researchers. One could mention first and foremost the conference organized by the Commission internationale de diplomatique and entitled Les formulaires. Compilation et circulation des modèles d’actes dans l’Europe médiévale et modern, which was held in 2012. Some two dozen presenters examined the problem areas of formularies, in accordance with the focus and themes of the conference. Two Hungarian medievalists were among the presenters: Kornél Szovák (see Szovák, “Funktion und Formen”) and Gábor Dreska (see Dreska, “Das Formelbuch”). Their research and participation in the conference demonstrates that Hungarian medieval studies also consider this question important.

2 Kovachich, Formulae solennes.

3 Bónis, “Somogyvári formuláskönyv,” 117–33; Bónis, “Uzsai János,” 229–60; Bónis, “Ars Notaria,” 373–88; Bónis, “Magyi János,” 225–60. For an overview of the Hungarian formularies of the Middle Ages, see Szovák, “Funktion und Formen.”

4 Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus.

5 Ibid., 5.

6 For instance, alongside the titles found at the beginning of the formulas, Béla Iványi also published in extenso the “formulas which were actually delivered” and the “most interesting and most valuable” formulas. See Iványi, “Kéziratos formuláskönyv,” 481–538 (part 1); 33–41 (part 2).

7 On the formation and functioning of the chancellery until 1571, see Pécsi, Erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária. On the chancellery in greater detail see Trócsányi, Erdély központi kormányzata, 181–250, 365–75. On the era in general see Köpeczi, History of Transylvania, 247–97.

8 Pécsi, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária első formulariumos kézirata,” 385–93.

9 Bogdándi, “Fráter György,” 621–38.

10 Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 84–112.

11 The chancellery was divided into two sections, each of which had its own staff: the great chancellery (cancellaria maior), which dealt with issues concerning internal administration and foreign affairs (and which issued the charters pertaining to these matters), and the smaller chancellery (cancellaria minor), which dealt with the production of documents pertaining to the administration of law.

12 BCU, Ms. 1271. For more on the formulary, see Pécsi, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária első formulariumos kézirata,” 385–93; Bogdándi, “Fráter György,” 621–38; Kelemen, Kézirattári értékeink, 47–48.

13 For instance, at the letter D (fol. 6r) there is a reference to the following titles: “Divisionalis cum excisione iuris quartalicii fol. 146;” “Divisio rerum mobilium inter filiam et novercam fol. 150;” “Donatio per notam fol. 157;” “Divisionalis pannonica fol. eodem;” “Divisionalis alia in eadem forma fol. eodem;” “Donatio per notam infidelitatis fol. 162;” “Divisionalis ex iudiciaria deliberatione fol. 169;” “Divisionalis ex iudiciaria deliberatione fol. 189;” “Divisionalis similiter ex iudiciaria deliberatione fol. 196.

14 In the case of János Szapolyai and János Zsigmond, since with only three exceptions there are only references to the name Ioannes, the person who issued the given formula must be determined on an individual basis, when possible. Most of them, however, can in almost all certainty be attributed to János Zsigmond.

15 Pozsony (Bratislava/Pressburg), Buda, and Várad occur the most frequently, though Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg), Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg), Torda (Turda/Thorenburg), Enyed (Aiud/Engeten), and Szamosfalva (Someşeni) are also found.

16 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 64. This fragment is mentioned by Jakó, Kolozsmonostori konvent, 1: 159.

17 Further research would be necessary to determine whether or not this fragment (or rather the formulary of which it presumably is a surviving excerpt) was used by the chancellery, keeping in mind that, according to note added to the formula entitled “Dilatio causae,” the text in question was written down in Kolozsvár by a scribe named Johannes R.

18 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 12. According to the pagination, at the moment 15 pages are missing from the manuscript. Scholars have only recently begun to devote attention to the formulary, and some of the formulas have been published (see Fejér, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária,” 26; Bogdándi, Erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 144–46). The manuscript itself, however, has not been made the subject of rigorous study. According to Bogdándi, the formulary was compiled by a scribe of protonotary Márton Radvánczy (1582–1596). See Bogdándi, “Erdélyi ítélőmesterek,” 138–39.

19 The only exception is the formula (pag. 34–35) the date of which is indicated as 1580, but even in the case of this formula, Zsigmond Báthory is given as the issuer.

20 Fejér, “Királyfalvi János,” 66.

21 SJAN-CJ, Coll. of Guild Documents (Fond 544), The Locksmiths’ Guild of Cluj, no. 3. The formulary was published by Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus, 25–56. Pages 5 and 6, which at the time had survived, are now missing from the manuscript. The formulas which give Voivode and Imperial Governor Mihai Viteazul as the issuer were again published by Andea, “Formulary and chancery practice,” 276–80.

22 After Zsigmond Báthory’s second abdication from the throne of the principality, on behalf of the emperor Rudolf II Maria Christierna governed Transylvania from April until August 1598.

23 BCU, Ms. 999. I note here that both in the main body of this article and in the footnotes, I refer to the sequential number of the formulas.

24 Kelemen, Kézirattári értékeink, 48.

25 Balogh, Kolozsvári kőfaragó műhelyek, 230, 280–81, 297–98.

26 Kovács, “Farkas az én nevem...,” 163–64.

27 Rusu, “Raporturi,” 311–15. Rusu also offers a brief presentation of the formulary.

28 Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 84–112.

29 The sequential numbers of the formulas also indicate, however, that several pages are missing from the manuscript.

30 There is a case (formula 258) in which, instead of the frequently occurring letter T as a reference to the proper name, one finds an abbreviation: “mag[nifi]ci d[omini] I[oannis] G[alfy], magistri curiae et consiliarii nostri.” Thus, on the basis of the offices he held, we can identify this figure (in all certainty) as princely counselor and master of the court János Gálfi.

31 Some of these documents were in all likelihood the work of chancellery scribes and thus belong quite naturally among the formulas.

32 We can also attribute the texts for which only Ioannes is given as the issuer to János Zsigmond.

33 Formulas 48, 172, 328, 338, 362, 369, 370, 371, 372.

34 On the issuer of formula 186, see Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1529.

35 From these, the date given for formula 169 is incorrect (see footnote 40). At the same time, we included here the charters transcribed in formulas 193 (fol. 62r) and 268 (fol. 90r–v), which also give the date.

36 For instance, formulas 36, 53, and 58. Regarding the date, one comes across variations like “Datum in Alba Iulia, die etc. anno Domini etc.” (formula 59) and “Datum in civitate nostra N die N mensis N anno N.” (formula 78). There are also cases in which dates are mentioned in the text of a formula, for instance formulas 27, 87, and 216. This information is sometimes very useful in efforts to determine the date of composition of the charter.

37 Based on the watermarks in the manuscript one could identify the papermills in the following cities as the places of origin of the paper used: Brassó (for instance fol. 21, 23, and 25), Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt) (for instance fol. 37, 38, and 40), Memmingen (for instance fol. 4, 5, and 6), Kempten (fol. 71, 74, 76, 77), and Lengfelden (fol. 10). The works used in the identification of the watermarks: Mareş, Filigranele; Jakó, “Filigrane transilvănene,” 8–19.

38 Fol. 36, see Jakó, “Filigrane transilvănene,” 12 (watermark no. 36); Mareş, Filigranele, 17 (watermark 126).

39 For more on the libri regii kept by the chancellery, see Fejér and Szász, “Libri Regii,” 272–89; Fejér, “Az erdélyi fejedelmi kancellária,” 3–32.

40 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 30r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1269.

41 One comes across similar cases in János Jacobinus’ formulary as well. For instance, the date of composition of formula 10 is March 9, 1599 (see Bónis and Valentiny, Jacobinus, 39–41), whereas in the case of the original charter the date is March 8, 1598. (MSC ColDoc, no. 754.)

42 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 260v. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1579.

43 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 152v–157v. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1393.

44 A comparison of formula 158 and the original on which it was based, which was drawn up on May 18, 1588 (SJAN-CJ, Arch. Wesselényi [Fond 250], no. 150d), reveals much the same thing: both of the charters which were to be transcribed were omitted from the formula made for a charter of transcription and the original charter, which was lengthy, has been shortened to a half-page. The text of the formula also contains omissions, but the proper names in it and the specification of the type of charters to be copied made it possible to identify the original charter. See formula 181 and MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 44r (see also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1287), in which, along other significant differences, András Szatmári is referred to as nobilis, while in the liber regius copy he is referred to as circumspectus and a resident of Nagybánya (Baia Mare/Frauenbach).

45 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 134v–135r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1663. See formula 309 and MNL OL, GyKOLt, Libri regii (F 1), no. 3. fol. 106v–107r. (See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 337.) In this case, the formula contains all the specific information except the date. Only the more general charter-formulas have been omitted. A comparison of formula 59 and the liber regius registry reveals much the same thing (MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla [F 15], no. 11. fol. 45r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, 1298): alongside certain charter-formulas, the date is also missing, and the compiler has given an incomplete form of the name of the beneficiary (“Nicolai T. Albensis”).

46 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Protocolla (F 15), no. 11. fol. 313v–314r. See also Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1626.

47 On the publication of these texts, see Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 99–100.

48 Bónis, “Magyi János,” 230.

49 Following the secularization of Church properties in 1556, the tithe was tied to the incomes of the princely treasury. Often, the landowners rented the tithe from the treasury for a set price (arenda), but the princes could yield their claim for instance to the fourth of the tithe or the entire tithe for specific individuals without payment of the aforementioned fee.

50 Beszterce (Bistriţa/Nösen).

51 Formulas 172, 194.

52 See Fejér, “Kancelláriai formuláskönyv,” 94–99.

pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

The Society of the Residence of the Transylvanian Princes in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century

Emőke Gálfi
Research Institute of the Transylvanian Museum Society
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The aim of this study is to present the society of the town of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg) in the fifty years following the secularization of the holdings of the Church. The transformation of the episcopal estate into a princely domain brought a number of changes in the life of the settlement, such as the reorganization of its government and the acquisition of legal and economical privileges. In the period of the Báthory princes (1571–1602), the town was again transformed to meet newly arisen needs.

Keywords: princely estate, society of market towns, secularization, urban government, Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia/Weissenburg)

The central place of Gyulafehérvár1 in the history of Transylvania is well known, and there is a great deal of secondary literature based on primary historical sources which emphasizes its importance.2 The truth, however, is much more depressing: in part because of its importance, the city, which was home to the prince, perished several times in the modern era, meaning not only that its population dropped to an insignificant number and its buildings were destroyed or left in ruins, but even its archive, which reflects the history of the town, was destroyed.3

The landlord of the market town (with the exception of the area belonging to the Transylvanian Chapter) at the end of the Middle Ages was the bishop of Transylvania. Of the two types of towns in Hungary that historians have identified in the period in question based on their ground plans,4 Gyulafehérvár belongs to the group of settlements with castles in the center and outlying districts.5 The cathedral, the bishop’s palace, the houses of the canons and the altarists, the Dominican and Augustinian friaries, the hospital, and probably the chapter school were all located within the walls of the castle. The market square was located in front of the western gate6 in the area outside the castle. The townspeople of the market town lived in the western area, and the houses inhabited by the tenant peasants of the chapter and the provost were located in the southeastern area called the “Major.”7 The society of the bishop’s residence consisted of geographically distinct quarters inhabited by heterogeneous groups of clerics and laymen; the two were tied together by more or less close connections and lived under the jurisdiction of their landlords, the bishops of Transylvania.

The first basic change in the life of the settlement was the transformation of the bishop’s seat to a princely residence in 1542. After the death of János Statileo (1542), the last medieval Transylvanian bishop, the bishop’s seat remained vacant, and the bishopric’s estates and the bishop’s market town itself was given to the recently arrived Queen Isabella Jagiellon (1539–1559, the widow of King János I Szapolyai) for the upkeep of her court.8 At that time, the chapter town, which was about the same size as the market town of the bishop, had not yet been handed over to the queen. In 1551, as the queen was leaving, under the rule of the Habsburg House the city of Gyulafehérvár was again put under the authority of the bishop, but in 1556, with the return of the queen and her son and the secularization9 of the Church estates in the country,10 the town began to undergo radical changes.

The First Phase of the Urban Development after the Secularization of Church Estates Goods

The history of Gyulafehérvár as the residence of the prince of Transylvania began in 1556, although some parts of the city had already been in the hands of the rulers before the secularization of Church estates. The rise of the city as the residence of the prince is tied to the person and the second rule of Queen Isabella (1556–1559), because her overall reforms to urban policy also included changes which determined the development of Gyulafehérvár. The most important change was that as part of the process of secularization, from that time on, the entire settlement became the estate of the queen and, later, of the ruling prince of Transylvania. Because the entire settlement was brought under the rule of one landlord, the separate quarters of the city were unified under the same chief judge of the town (iudex primarius). The bishop’s market town, which previously had been under its own judge, and the chapter town11 (“Major”), which was probably led by a so-called kenéz12 before 1556, came under the authority of the town judge, although on a lower level of administration the “Major” still remained under the authority of the kenéz.13

The change in the town’s leadership and in the number of people who served as members of the inner and outer councils can also be dated to this period. In the Middle Ages, the town magistracy was led by a judge, four jurors (iurati), and an unknown number of external councilors.14 After 1556, the membership of the magistracy rose to six jurors and 20 councilors (consules),15 who were led by a judge.16 Although the surviving sources only contain data concerning the full composition of the magistrate beginning in 157117 they do at the very least indicate that before 1571 the magistrate consisted of one judge and six jurors.18 In all likelihood, the judges were elected in January,19 and immediately after fulfilling their mandates, they could not be reelected. However, there were cases when members of the magistracy who had dealt successfully with the problems which had arisen in the administration of the town were reelected after several years.20 The sources also indicate that judges in many cases were elected from members of the jurors,21 and after having served for one year as judges, they became members of the external town council, together with the so-called consules.22 On the model of the former bishop’s market town, the Gyulafehérvár court judge (provisor) became the court of appeal for the townspeople of the market town. 23

A change took place which was a decisive event in the life of the town in the mid-sixteenth century, the first sign of which is evident from the composition of the town’s government: alongside the chief judge, a judge of the townspeople of Lippa (Lipova) and of Temesvár (Timişoara/Temeschwar) appears among the members. The judge of the townspeople of Lippa also became one of the nine assessors of the court of law of the court judge, along with the chief judge and two jurors of the town, which became the court of appeal for the townspeople.24 The two judges were the heads of the quarter called Lippa, a name which appears in the sources in the second half of the sixteenth century. The name of the quarter can only be explained by the fall of the towns of Lippa and Temesvár to the Ottomans in the summer of 1552. Following this event, many refugees fled to Transylvania, and many of them settled in Gyulafehérvár and its surroundings.25 The fact that the townspeople of Lippa and Temesvár had a separate street and quarter in Gyulafehérvár suggests an organized settling process which can probably be associated with the Rascian magnate Miklós Cserepvith26 and perhaps Gianbattista Castaldo, governor of Transylvania (1551–1553).27

The sources do not indicate clearly when the inhabitants of the Lippa quarter acquired the right to elect their own representatives and when were they included in the government of the town. However, based on the reorganization of the magistracy after 1556 and the relationship of Queen Isabella and King János I Szapolyai (1526–1540) to the town of Lippa, it is reasonable to suppose that the leaders of the Lippa quarter became members of the town’s government after 1556. According to the diploma of the leaders of the quarter from 1567, the townspeople of Lippa and Temesvár functioned under the leadership of two judges and six jurors as a common municipal council.28 It is probable that the judges and jurors were elected from the former townspeople of the two towns equally (3-3). The council confirmed their diplomas with its seal.29

The return of Queen Isabella in 1556 meant the legal unification of the quarters, the reorganization of the urban government, the bestowal of economic privileges. One of the economic privileges of Gyulafehérvár was the right to have an annual fair. The “letter on the annual fair” was mentioned in the Town Book of Gyulafehérvár in 1597 and 159830 as a treasure that the judge in office takes over from his predecessor, along with the town’s archive. The letter and the archive were destroyed in 1600.31 Like the urban statutes, the privilege could have originated from Queen Isabella, and it must have specified the dates of the annual fairs. As far as we know, the town had two annual fairs in the Middle Ages.32 The annual fairs held in the second half of the sixteenth century are known from a calendar produced in the printing workshop of Gáspár Heltai.33 As the calendar was printed in 1572, it seems likely that it reflects the situation of the period of the reign of king elect János II Szapolyai (or Prince János Zsigmond; 1540–1571) or probably an earlier period. In Gyulafehérvár, three annual fairs were held in that period: the first on the day of the appearance of Saint Michael or Saint Stanislaus (May 8),34 the second on Michaelmas (September 29), and the third on Maundy Thursday.

In comparison, among the market towns in the territory of the estate of Gyulafehérvár35 Enyed (Aiud/Engeten) also had three fairs, but otherwise annual fairs were held only in Krakkó and Tövis (Teiuş/Dreikirchen), in the former twice a year and in the latter once a year.36 For further comparison with the other towns in Transylvania and Partium,37 Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg) and Várad (Oradea) both had three fairs, but with its six annual fairs, the market town of Debrecen had by far the most.38 In 1558, four annual fairs were held in Kolozsvár39 and 12 annual fairs were held in the medieval city of Várad,40 so some settlements may have had more fairs than the settlements mentioned above, but based on the comparison of medieval and early modern fairs, it is clear that the data in the calendar are accurate,41 even if the calendar does not include every single fair.

With regards to the land and estate management of the town, it is clear that before 1556, apart from the forests and meadows, properties were also used as commons in the boundary of Gyulafehérvár; there is data of a mill being donated to the town by János I.42 After the secularization of the Church estates, the town was able to acquire the former chapter school and the Holy Spirit hospital (founded by Bishop István Upori), which at the beginning of the sixteenth century also included a bath house and a slaughter house.43 The last will and testament of János Zsigmond informs us about their fate, in which he left 1,500 florins for the construction of the school of Gyulafehérvár and the needs of its students and 500 florins for the hospital.44 Both sums were handed over to the town’s leader by the executors of his last will on June 22, 1571.45

With regard to the ecclesiastical privileges of the town, as we have emphasized a number of times, until 1556 Gyulafehérvár did not have the right to elect its own priest.46 Although a number of signs suggest that the townspeople and the members of the chapter were open to the ideas of Protestantism,47 it is unlikely that the townspeople received this basic privilege, neither from Queen Isabella nor later from her son. Given that the milieu in which the prince moved was saturated with religious polemics fueled in part by Giorgio Blandrata,48 who was open to the religious reforms, it seems likely that the townspeople followed the faith of the prince. This is reflected by their strong opposition when, according to the account given by Giovanandrea Gromo, in 1565 the Protestants expelled the Catholic priests from the cathedral and smashed the altars, statues, and images they found there.49

The secularization of the castle district merits separate discussion. At the end of the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical society of the town was concentrated in this district. Part of the castle was in the hands of the bishop, while part was owned by the chapter. In the case of this quarter, the process of secularization took years. Queen Isabella and later János II left the formerly Catholic clerics, who swore their loyalty to them for the rest of their lives, in their possessions. The possessions of the canons and the lower clergy who had to flee Transylvania, however, were immediately confiscated by the treasury and were donated to the queen’s and her son’s supporters. Among the canons who left the country, one finds Máté Báthai, canon and archdeacon of Torda (Turda/Thorenburg), and Ferenc Szengyeli, canon and archdeacon of Küküllő and Transylvanian vicar, on whom there is no information whatsoever in any of the surviving sources from after September 1556.50 The same is true of the altarists of the altars dedicated to Saint Matthew and Saint Lawrence, whose houses, which according to the sources were empty, were therefore later given away.51

The abovementioned Ferenc Szengyeli must have committed an unforgivable crime, along with György Fráter52 (1482–1551), by assisting in the exhumation and removal53 of the body of Orbán Batthyány54 (?–1547). Szengyeli’s deed is telling regarding the spread of Protestantism, as he probably aimed to set an example with this extraordinary act, and this is not our sole indicate in the sources of his anti-Protestantism.55 After the return of Queen Isabella, Szengyeli was forced to leave the town. His house, which was the residence of the archdeaconry of Küküllő, was later given to Ambrus Szabadkai Kis, the court judge of János Zsigmond, and his family.56 The date of the donation is unknown. We know only that Ambrus Kis,57 who belonged to the lesser nobility, first served Bálint Török58 (1502–1550). After Török was taken captive, Kis then served Katalin Pemmflinger, after whose death he settled in Transylvania. In 1555, he was in the service of Pál Bornemissza,59 bishop of Transylvania, in 1556 he probably swore loyalty to Queen Isabella, and in 1568 he died in Transylvania as a court judge in Gyulafehérvár.60

As a result of the royal donations, by 1556 the castle district’s population, which previously had consisted mostly of clerics, was made up primarily of high-ranking representatives of the courtly nobility. During the reign of Queen Isabella, however, very few secularized Church possessions were given away, or at least the sources indicate only a few. It hardly seems coincidental that during the last period of her reign (1556–1559), in one year’s time no more than 62 pages of diplomas were entered into the royal book (Liber Regius).61 There is no information concerning any of the estates in Gyulafehérvár having been given away by Isabella. There is only an indirect reference to this in a diploma of János Zsigmond from 1561, which mentions similar donations made by his mother. The elected king then gave his doctor for life a stone house which had belonged to the Saint Matthew altar of the cathedral, but with the specification that the doctor was only entitled to belongings in the house which had not already been given away by János II himself or his mother.62

Even at the beginning of the reign of János II, the donations (of which the example cited above seems typical), were cautious and were meant only for the lifetime of the individual to whom they were given, but not his heirs. This is also true of the Gyulafehérvár house of Ambrus Mosdósi, former dean and archdeacon of Ózd, and altarist (rector) of the Holy Cross altar. It is not clear whether he got the donation from the queen or his son, and the donation only legitimized his continuous possession of the property, but it is clear that he held the building until his death, as in 1570 it ended up in the hands of Kristóf Hagymási, captain of Huszt (Xyct).

The belongings of the Saint Magdalene altar of the cathedral also remained in the hands of its rector,63 Lőrinc Szentmihályi,64 who is mentioned in a later source as requisitor of the place of authentication and court judge in Gyulafehérvár. In 1568, the prince gave him the house that had belonged to the altar and two vineyards on the edge of the town, a mill with two wheels in Felenyed (Aiudul de Sus), and one-third of a mill in Lámkerék (Langendorf/Lancrăm), on the Sebes River, which all had belonged to the Saint Magdalene altar.65 These estates were in the hands of Szentmihályi as altarist already. As in the case of Mosdósi, the donation only legitimized his holdings. The houses in the castle district that belonged to the canons and the altarists and to which manor houses, gardens, mills, tenant peasants, and vineyards in the surrounding vine slopes belonged were usually donated by the rulers with all their belongings,66 as happened in the case of the Saint Magdalene altar, but in many cases (and especially with the passing of time) only some of these belongings were given to the beneficiary.

In Gyulafehérvár, during the reigns of Queen Isabella and János II, the princely court took possession of the lodges that had belonged to the clergy until the process of secularization, but the prince did not envision keeping the center of his court as prince there for the long term. As the secondary literature has already shown, János II planned the development of a new seat at the nearby Szászsebes (Mühlbach/Sebeş), but due to his death at a young age this plan was never realized.67

The Residence of the Báthory Princes

In light János II’s plans regarding Szászsebes, it is beyond dispute that, with the death of the elected king, Gyulafehérvár remained the residence of the rulers because of the decision of the prince, István Báthory. Báthory was taking into consideration, when making this decision, that the town and the extensive lands around it were princely property.

Certainly thanks to István Báthory68 and perhaps because of the growing population of the princely center, the urban magistracy was extended to a degree that was visible in the town’s government. Accordingly, in the last third of the sixteenth century, the town’s government was represented by a judge, 12 jurors, and 40 external councilors.69 The latter appear in the sources not as consul but senator.70 The “forty men” were probably chosen from among the townsmen of the five parts of the city (fertály or quarters): the Vár (“Castle”), Tégla, Bódog, Lippa, and Tövis, as is indicated in the early-seventeenth-century entries of the Town Book.71 After 1571, Lippa quarter probably lost its right to elect its own judge and probably was only able to elect senators, like the other quarters. The chapter’s outskirts, called “Major” and geographically separate from the quarters that formed the previous market town of the bishopric, were inhabited by Romanians72 and were still governed by the kenéz, who was subordinated to the town judge and the town’s magistrate.73

Judging by their names, the 12 jurors were craftsmen (Szabó, Borbély, Nyírő, and Mészáros74) and merchants, but it is likely that most of the members of this leading elite were literate and were well aware of the town’s legal customs and the taxes and duties that were due to the prince. The jurors were probably chosen from among the senators, but the sources contain no data concerning this in the case of Gyulafehérvár.75 In the case of the judges, it was established practice that they first served as members of the body from which the jurors were chosen, and during this time they learned the ins and outs of governance. Between 1581 and 1600, of the 12 people who were elected to serve as judges76 (there were 12 individuals elected to serve as judges in this period because some of them were reelected), seven of them had served as jurors and on an average it had taken 7.7 years for them to be elected as judges. After the end of their year in office, the town judges again became jurors, and one also finds them among the town senators, a position which some of them held several times.77 The town’s notary, who kept the Town Book and the minutes of legislative protocols, had an important role in managing the town’s issues, but he was also the person to put down in writing the different court cases that were brought to the town judge, as well as the last wills.78

The judge of the town was normally elected at the beginning of the year, probably around Epiphany, and the rule according to which the same person could not serve as a judge for two consecutive years was enforced, but someone who had performed well could be reelected after a year had passed.79 In January, a judge who was leaving the position usually gave an account of the work he had done over the course of the year, and he then handed over the town’s archive and the symbol of town magistracy’s power—two swords—to his successor.80 The chest for the archive of the town contained a book bound in parchment dyed red, which András Kovács identifies as the Town Book of Gyulafehérvár,81 an “old black decorated book,” which may have included the urban statutes, a Decretum (that is, the Tripartitum82 of István Werbőczy), important privileges (such as those concerning the town’s annual fairs), the privileges concerning the ploughlands, and “some protocols,” which probably meant the legislative protocols.83

The site of deliberations concerning legislation in the second half of the sixteenth century must have been the town hall, which was by the outer market square of the town.84 In contrast with views which have gained prominence in the secondary literature,85 we believe that, based on the model of Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt), Brassó (Braşov/Kronstadt), and Kolozsvár86 (the communities of which created or purchased a place for the town’s government in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), Gyulafehérvár also must have had a similar house by at least the second half of the sixteenth century, if not earlier. The “house of the town” (város háza) referred to in the diploma cited above, therefore, must have been the town hall, not the house of a townsman which became the property of the town after his death without legal heirs (the text could also be interpreted to suggest this), because had that been the case the house would have been inherited by the landlord (the prince) and not the community of the market town. The fact that the significantly smaller market town of Sárd in the neighborhood of Gyulafehérvár also had a town hall in 158387 which was on the main square of the settlement also supports this conclusion.88

The magistracy described above only had jurisdiction over the townspeople, who were only one segment of the society of the princely market town. The most precise description of the different layers of the society was given by the magistrate itself in 1604. According to a text entered into the Town Book, the contemporaries clearly drew distinctions between “noble, urban, and military estates,”89 i.e. the nobility, the townspeople, and military men in the service of the court. And within the “urban estate” they drew a distinction between the inhabitants of the quarters listed above and the Romanians in the “Major.” 90

In the territory of the town, representatives of the three layers lived side by side,91 and although in the castle district the nobility was the clear majority, townsmen and military officers also had holdings within the walls.92 Gyulafehérvár had two main squares, one within the town walls, the other in front of the western gate (Saint Michael’s Gate). The latter also functioned as the market square of the town. The outer main square was home to various shops, which were either run by the townspeople themselves or rented by them for the periods of the annual fairs or for a year.93 The three annual fairs of the town were held here, as were the weekly markets. There we find also the cemetery and the parish church of the town (which before the secularization of Church belongings was dedicated to the Virgin Mary),94 and, as noted above, the town hall. This outer, rather long main square was not only the center of the town in an institutional sense, but was also a true reflection of the town’s social structure. While the character of the main square in the walled town was determined by the nicely reconstructed residences of magnates, which were renovated versions of houses which had belonged to the canons and altar deans,95 on the outer main square it was the court nobility, the garrisons of the court, and the richest burgesses who tried to acquire houses. There was a significant overlap among the members of the last group and members of the magistrate. The names of the judges of Gyulafehérvár are known from 1563 onwards, with some shorter and longer gaps. These are supplemented occasionally by information on the jurors and senators. The names of altogether 17 judges who served between 1563 and 1600 are known, of which nine had houses in the outer main square96 and one on the main square of the walled town.97 We know of another three who owned two plots either on the outer main square or in its immediate vicinity.98

The noble society of the princely residence, to which the rich members of the townsmen described above were trying to find their way, were identical with the nobles who were present at the princely court. The identity of the high-ranking representatives of these nobles and the locations of their houses in the castle district are familiar from the secondary literature,99 so it would be superfluous to touch on this layer here. However, the same is not true of the third group of this urban society, the military population.

Foreign travelers who described Gyulafehérvár recurrently mentioned that there were many garrisons and comparatively few townspeople in the city.100 At the end of the Middle Ages, the military command of the castle of Gyulafehérvár was under the authority of its castellan.101 The function existed during the reigns of Queen Isabella and János Zsigmond, and sources indicate that in 1562 (i.e. during János Zsigmond’s reign), the garrison of the princely court consisted of approximately 1,500 men, of which 500 were footmen and 1,000 were cavalrymen. Between 1564 and 1567, 200 footmen and 100 cavalrymen served under the Italian mercenary leader Gromo.102 As the difference between the numbers is big (1,000 cavalrymen vs. 100), it is likely that the cavalry consisting of 1,000 men was not permanently present at the court, and according to medieval customs, the closest members of the noble retainer of the king also had to have cavalrymen, though we do not know who served as their leader.103 Sources indicate that the castellan of Gyulafehérvár existed as a function until the death of János II,104 the castellan may have been in command of the 500 footmen. Sources also mention castellanus from the period after the death of János II,105 but by then the castellanus was in charge of the watch of the two town gates and was not the military leader of the town and castle.106 Between 1556 and 1571, the castellan not only had military duties but also was involved in the administration of justice, as he had a seat among the assessors of the court judge.107

After the death of János II, the courtly military and its leadership was reorganized to meet newly arisen needs, and two chief captains were appointed to lead the courtly military. One led the cavalrymen, the other led the riflemen, known as the pedites pixidarii or by their other name, the presidiaries (praetoriani) or blue guardsmen, who formed part of the footmen. From then on, the title of castellan ceased to exist, but probably the former function of the castellans survived in the title of the two castellans of the town gates, who were probably the closest subordinates of the head of the blue guardsmen. There is no other explanation for the statement made by Farkas Bethlen,108 according to which 600 men were in charge of protecting the gates of Gyulafehérvár, as the number of the blue guardsmen was 600 altogether.109 The sources also contain information concerning the subordinates of the castellans of the town gates, such as the corporal, Tamás Dévai, who served at the Saint Michael’s Gate in 1591.110

After the death of János II, György Bánffy became the first chief captain of the cavalry. The sources give indications of his role in this position as of 1572.111 The function sometimes is also referred to by the sources as the captain of the noble retainers,112 which clearly shows that the leading officers of the princely court had to hire cavalrymen themselves,113 who were led by the abovementioned chief commander of the cavalry. There are also data concerning the deputy of the commander of the cavalry; in 1583, László Brinyi, courtly vice-captain, served in this position.114 According to the account of Pierre Lescalopier from 1574, the cavalry numbered 600 men, two companies of which were formed by Polish pike-bearers.115 The size of the cavalry remained the same in later times; in 1585, István Báthory, when organizing the new government in Transylvania, ordered János Ghiczy116 to have 600 cavalrymen paid on a monthly basis kept at the princely court.117 Two expense lists from 1586 somewhat contradict these numbers, as according to the first 670 cavalrymen had to be hired and according to the second 255, but the contradiction can be explained if the first included all the cavalrymen, while the second included only the cavalrymen who resided at the princely court.118

In the town books, contemporaries write about the layer of courtly footmen as the third constituent of the society of the town.119 Their chief captain from the reign of István Báthory until his death in early 1585120 was certainly János Sasa.121 The abovementioned castellans and their captains, corporals,122 and billeters123 served under the chief captain of the courtly riflemen. Not all of the cavalrymen and riflemen who served at the court owned a residence at the princely seat. The billeters had to arrange their lodges, which meant numerous impositions. In 1589, the widow of Mátyás Szinyei Szabó, the late preacher of Gyulafehérvár, sold her house in the walled town at Szentegyház Street partly because of her poverty and debts and partly because, as she emphasizes, she could not bear the rowdiness of the people to whom she provided lodging.124

The members of the military who owned houses were not concentrated in a separate quarter or street of the town. Sometimes they lived in adjacent houses,125 but this was not a general trend. However, real estate owned by the representatives of this social stratum changed hands among members of this stratum, which can be partly explained by their personal ties (e.g. Albert Király, the chief captain of the cavalrymen was the legal guardian of the orphans of the late István Károlyi, chief captain of the riflemen126) but also by the fact that the house of a military man was expanded with annexed buildings, which fitted their lifestyles. Accordingly, in 1585, as ordered by his last will and testament, the widow of the aforementioned János Sasa, chief captain of the riflemen, sold her house on the outer main square for 320 Hungarian florins to rifle captain Bálint Rácz.127 Two years later, Bálint Rácz sold the house again to a military man, István Károlyi, chief captain of the riflemen, this time for 425 Hungarian florins,128 and in 1591 the house was purchased by Benedek Mindszenti, who served as captain of the castle of Udvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc) at the time and who paid 500 florins for it.129

The chief captains of the courtly military also belonged to the nobility or gained nobility in recognition of their heroic deeds. A diploma on the outer main square stone house of István Károlyi specifically mentions that the owner came into possession of the building through his heroic deeds.130 Using their wages, the corporals and the captains who belonged to the mid-layer of the riflemen tried to get by either in the territory of the town or in its surroundings.131 In many cases, they may have married women from among the townswomen, as did literatus Péter Sólyomkői, for instance, who served as riflemen second lieutenant and then captain, and who married132 the daughter of Ferenc Pontyos, judge of the refugees from Lippa.133 He received a noble manor house for his service at Borosbocsárd (Bucerdea Vinoasă), when he sued Mihály Pontyos for the house of his father-in-law, Ferenc Pontyos. The house stood on the outer main square, and Mihály Pontyos sold it without asking him.134 Sólyomkői may have sold his house in Borosbocsárd in 1591 in order to cover his expenses connected to the protracted lawsuit.135

The sources contain little information concerning the lower ranking riflemen of the court. We know only which parts of the princely center one of them owned a house or a plot in.136 They also got some share of the lands on the edge of the town, which were assigned to the military population, as sources from 1604 mention that the three urban estates divided the lands on the boundary of the town among themselves.137 This is probably why the town council decreed in 1596 that the land called Csigás should be divided up among the townspeople so that if one of them were to die and his widow were to remarry a military man they would not have the right to hold the land in question, rather it would come back into the possession of the town, which then would redistribute it among the townspeople.138

The non-noble riflemen, like the inhabitants of the other settlements of the domain, had to pay seigniorial dues and the tithe as a tax on their houses, so like other segments of the population of the market town, they complemented their incomes with agricultural work. Interestingly, however, the sources offer no indication of any riflemen owning vineyards on the boundary of the town. These vineyards, it seems, belonged to the townsmen and the nobility. We do not know whether there was some kind of related regulation in the urban statutes,139 but it is clear that viticulture required more work and care than other agricultural activities, and this may explain why the group that was mostly involved in soldering did not have similar holdings.

The princes took care of their merited soldiers themselves, as was common practice at the time. The Polish king István Báthory wrote to the Triple Council (hármas tanács) of Transylvania in 1583, noting that he had “ordered a place” for his guardsman, Péter Szerémi, in Saint George’s Gate, so they should give him a salary. The guardsman had to be given a place because, in the words of the king, “he already was gnawed by the wounds he suffered in our army.”140 The order was executed, as in 1586 Péter Szerémi took part in an interrogation as a townsman of Gyulafehérvár; he was approximately 35 years old at the time.141

Instead of a conclusion, we have tried to determine the approximate number of people who lived at the princely seat. Many of the factors concerning the population are highly uncertain, so we use only the data which seem precise. At the end of the fifteenth century, the town, including its ecclesiastical lower and middle classes, was home to approximately 1,000 people.142 Due to a mid-sixteenth-century wave of refugees and the presence of the princely court the population of the market town certainly rose. We estimate the population to have numbered at least 1,500 people. The minimum of the military population may have been 755 and its maximum 1270, and it is worth noting that we did not count the family members of the cavalrymen and the foot soldiers, because we do not even have an approximate number for them. As at the end of the Middle Ages the ecclesiastical society in the territory of the castle numbered at least 100 people (and this number may have doubled with the retinue of the bishop and later the queen), and since we also have to assume that there were at least as many inhabitants in the castle in the second half of the sixteenth century, there must have been a total of approximately 200 people living within the walls of the castle. If one adds these three numbers together, the population of Gyulafehérvár came to at least 2,500 to 3,000 people.


The transformation of the bishop’s seat into a princely residence brought a number of changes. This process can be divided into two development phases. We have put emphasis on the description of how this transformation influenced the development of the society of the princely center in the two periods of the town. Drawing on this data, we tried to estimate the population of the town.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], Budapest (MNL OL)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár] Cista Comitatuum (F 4)

Gyulafehérvári Káptalan Országos Levéltára (GyKOLt) [Archives of the Chapter of Gyulafehérvár] Centuriae (F 3)

Kolozsmonostori Konvent Országos Levéltára (KmKOLt), [Archives of the Convent of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur)] Cista comitatuum (F 17)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Wien (HHStA) Hungarica

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Hunedoara al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Hunedoara County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Deva (SJAN-HN)

Colecţia de documente [Collection of diplomatics]

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Cluj al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Cluj County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Cluj-Napoca (SJAN-CJ)

Fond familial Bánffy (Fond 320) [Archive of the Bánffy family in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Béldi (Fond 324) [Archive of the Béldi family in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Fond familial Gyulay-Kuun (Fond 351) [Archive of the Gyulay and Kuun family in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Colecţia generală de documente (Fond 546) [General collection, in the Archives of the Transylvanian National Museum, in custody of the SJAN-CJ]

Colecţia de documente cu peceţi atârnate (Fond 560) [Documents with hanging seals]

Primăria oraşului Bistriţa (Fond 44) [Archive of the town of Bistriţa (Beszterce/Bistritz)]

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Sibiu al Arhivelor Naţionale, [Sibiu County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Sibiu (SJAN-SB)

Magistratul oraşului si scaunului Sibiu. Colecţia de documente medievale (Urkunden). [The magistrate of the town and seat of Sibiu. Collection of medieval documents (Urkunden)]

Biblioteca Naţională a României, Biblioteca Batthyaneum, Alba Iulia [Romanian National Library Batthyáneum Library, Alba Iulia] (Batthyaneum)

Arhiva Capitlului din Transilvania [Private archive of the chapter of Transylvania]


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Bessenyei, József. Enyingi Török Bálint okmánytára [Cartulary of Bálint Enyingi Török]. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1994.

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1 The literature on European princely residences and courts includes (and this list is hardly exhaustive): Elias, Die höfische Gesellschaft; Idem: The Court Society; Ritter von Žolger, Der Hofstaat; Asch–Birke, Princes, Patronage and the Nobility; Starkey, The English Court.

2 Some of the important works on the history of the town include Entz, Székesegyház; Kovács, “Középkori székhely,” 191–201; Kovács, “Az építkező Bethlen Gábor,” 276–94; Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 235–58; Kovács, “Fejedelmi nyomda,” 178–88; Kovács, “Gyulafehérvári séta,” 418–23; Lakatos, “Hivatali írásbeliség;” Lakatos, “Önkormányzati testületek,” 495–530; Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 185–203; Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei.

3 The privileges of the town perished due to the destruction wreaked by the Heyducks in 1600 at Tótfalud (Tăuţi), close to Gyulafehérvár, to where the chief justice of the town had the documents taken for safe refuge after he had gotten news of the loss at the battle of Sellenberk (Şelimbăr/Schellenberg; October 28, 1599). Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 38–39.

4 Erik Fügedi distinguishes two basic ground plan types: castles with outlying areas (e.g. Gyulafehérvár, Győr) and sprawling settlements that grew together [e.g. Várad (Oradea)]. Fügedi, “Városok kialakulása,” 319.

5 The town and the castle can be identified on the early eighteenth-century map of Giovanni Morando Visconti. Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” Picture nr. VII.

6 Saint Michael’s Gate, the western gate, was under the authority of the bishop, while the eastern gate, Saint George’s Gate, was in the hands of the chapter. Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 236–37.

7 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 240, 246, 250.

8 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 1:189.

9 I. e. the confiscation for the princely treasury.

10 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 2: 64–65.

11 On the identity of the kenéz the first data comes from later, only from 1585: Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426.

12 In this case, the name kenéz refers to the leader, the judge of the Romanian quarter.

13 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 875.

14 Lakatos, Hivatali írásbeliség, 62.

15 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb., Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

16 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 250.

17 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb., Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

18 For 1568: SJAN-CJ, Arch. Béldi (Fond 324), no. 89–128. no. 101; SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57. For 1569: MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 29; Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, János Zsigmond, no. 96, 222.

19 The town judge, Gergely Igeni, appears as the leader of the town on January 14, 1571. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 26.

20 April 5, 1575. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), H. 79; November 27, 1568. SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

21 August 24, 1568. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Béldi (Fond 324), no. 101; April 3, 1570. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Gyulay and Kuun (Fond 351), no. 216; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 9. There is not enough data to suggest that judges were only elected from the jurors.

22 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

23 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 7.

24 SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

25 Gálfi, “A Lippa-fertály,” 143–49.

26 Councilor (1556–1558), ban of Karánsebes (Caransebeş) (1559) and Lugos (Lugoj) (1558). Trócsányi, Központi kormányzat, 26; Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 50

27 July 9, 1552. Letter of Castaldo to archduke Maximilian: “Nicolaus Cheprevith mihi scribat circa duo Rascianorum millia cum uxoribus et familiis servasse et versus Lippam duxisse, ubi munitionem arcis non parum adiuvant, pro quibus petit aliquem locum in regno isto ubi habitare possunt”. HHStA. Hungarica. Fasc. 66. Konvolut A. f. 5. r. I thank Klára P. Kovács for sharing this data with me.

28 Pál Szabó, János Zilay, Demeter Nyerges, Ádám Mészáros, Ferenc Pontyos, Pál Tollkötő, Gál Somogy and Bálint Harany. SJAN-SB, ColDocMed, U IV. no. 1123.

29 “…according to our oath, we have it sent to you under our seal” (kegyelmednek hitünk szerint pecsét alatt küldettük). SJAN-SB, ColDocMed, U IV. no. 1123.

30 “vásárról való levél” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 26–27.

31 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 38–39.

32 Weisz, Vásárok, 143.

33 Calendar for 1573 from Szaniszló Iacobeus. RMNy I. no. 315. and RMK 1. no. 93. http://dspace.bcucluj.ro/handle/123456789/26168 (accessed: December 11, 2018), its edition: Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 111–24.

34 Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

35 Gyulafehérvár, Enyed, Abrudbánya (Abrud), Zalatna (Zlatna), Krakkó (Cricău), Igen (Ighiu), Sárd (Şardu), Tövis.

36 Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

37 Partium is the part of the country that once belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary, hence its name (Partes/Partium Regni Hungariae). Unlike other parts of Hungary which belonged partly to the Habsburgs and partly the Ottomans, this region was part of the Principality of Transylvania.

38 Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

39 Jakab, Oklevéltár. 2: 34–35.

40 Lakatos, “Hivatali írásbeliség,” 252.

41 For the survival of medieval fairs, see the fairs of Várad held on Epiphany (January 6), Pentecost, and on Saint Francis’ day (October 4), the fair of Zilah (Zalău) on Saint Margaret’s day (July 13) and that of Kolozsvár on Iudica Sunday and Saint Emeric’s day (November 5). Weisz, “Vásárok,” 139–40, 148, 164. Binder, “Régi kalendáriumok,” 113–14.

42 Gyulai, Erdélyi királyi könyvek, 10: 68–69.

43 Batthyaneum, IV, no. 3.

44 Heckenast, “Végrendelet,” 324–25.

45 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61.

46 Gálfi, “Gyulafehérvár a középkor végén,” 35; Gálfi, “A Lippa fertály,” 149.

47 Several canon are known to have had a positive attitude towards Protestantism, such as Mihály Csáki, the future chancellor, and Márton Kálmáncsehi Sánta, but Ambrus Mosdósi, the former canon and archdeacon of Ózd also belongs to this group. Horn, Tündérország útvesztői, 23–32; Gálfi, Levélkeresők, 48–52.

48 Jakó, “A Hoffhalterek,” 241–60.

49 Entz, Székesegyház, 131–32, 205.

50 Máté Báthai appears as canon and archdeacon of Torda for the last time on September 25, 1556 in a diploma of Ferenc Szengyeli. Jakó, Adatok a dézsma, 12.

51 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 17), Comit. Alb. K. 18.; F 3. D. 32.

52 Or György Martinuzzi, bishop of Várad, cardinal, royal governor, great supporter of János I, who, after the fall of Buda (1541), had an important role in the formation of the Transylvanian state. For the most recent monograph on his career, see Oborni: Az ördöngös barát.

53 According to a letter by Anna Nádasdy, György Fráter had the body of Orbán Batthyány, who had been buried in the “monastery” in Gyulafehérvár, exhumed and had his body re-buried in manure. Bunyitai, Rapaics, and Karácsonyi, Egyháztörténelmi emlékek, 5: 1; Mihalik, “A kanonok két leánya,” 154; Entz: Székesegyház 192–93.

54 Member of the court of János I, later confident of Queen Isabella and supporter of Protestantism. He had a role in the murder of Imre Czibak, bishop of Várad (1534).

55 Because of their stubbornness, Ferenc Szengyeli excommunicated János and György Macskási of Rápolt. Bunyitai, Rapaics, and Karácsonyi, Egyháztörténelmi emlékek, 5: 289. (no. 211)

56 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 251. (Note 111.)

57 Bessenyei, Enyingi Török Bálint, XXX, no. 30, 279, 281, 283, 289, 313.

58 A magnate who later became a member of the barons of the country and courtier to the queen. After the death of Louis II (1526) he was first a supporter of János I and then of Ferdinand I, and finally again János I until his death. After the fall of Buda in 1541, he was captured by the sultan. He died in Istanbul.

59 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 2. Fasc. 3. no. 38.

60 SJAN-CJ, General Collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

61 Fejér, “Regisztrumvezetési gyakorlat,” 5, 19.

62 MNL OL, KmKOLt, Cista Comit (F 17), Comit. Alb. K. 18.

63 A diploma in 1563 mentions him as the dean of the Saint Magdalene altar. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), L. 20.

64 Gálfi, Levélkeresők, 55.

65 Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, János Zsigmond, no. 57–58.

66 SJAN-CJ, Arch. Béldi (Fond 324), no. 101.

67 Jakó K., Az első kolozsvári egyetemi könyvtár, 6.

68 We do not know exactly when the magistrate of the town was transformed but it is certain that for 1585 more than six jurors were identified in the sources. Determining the date is difficult, because the diplomas on urban legal matters list the judge and only one to three jurors, who in many cases were the same people. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 5. Fasc. 1, no. 18, and GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3). D. 7; Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426; Batthyaneum, VI, no. 81, 82.

69 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 7.

70 The earliest data is from July 12, 1581. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 286.

71 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 30–31.

72 “in suburbio Valachali eiusdem civitatis Albensis Maior vocato” Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 717.

73 Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 426.

74 I. e. Tailor, Barber, Snipper, Butcher.

75 This was the practice in the case of Torda (Thorenburg/Turda): “iuratus civis e numero quinquaginta electorum patrum.” Bogdándi, A kolozsmonostori konvent, no. 669.

76 Péter Gyógyi, Márton Mészáros/Németi, Ferenc Vajda, István Nyírő, Ferenc Csányi, László Betlen/Szabó, Gergely Mészáros, Bertalan Mészáros, János Kovács, János Lippai Szűcs/Siska, János Nyírő, István Baranyai Szabó. SJAN-CJ, Archive of the town of Beszterce (Fond 44), no. 5435; Batthyaneum, VI, no. 42; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), C. 36, D. 7, D. 9, H. 79; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit., (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 61; Cista 5. Fasc. 1, no. 61. and Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 63.; Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, 7/3, no. 192; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 268, 441, 451, 676, 743; Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 18–19, 22–24, 26–27; Szamosközy, Erdély története, 293.

77 E.g. András Bányai was judge in 1578 and senator in 1581. SJAN-CJ, Arch. Bánffy (Fond 320), Fasc. 61, no. 2; Bogdándi and Gálfi: Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 286. János Nyírő/Szabó was judge in 1598, and juror in 1600, Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 27.

78 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 4, 10–11.

79 Ibid., 22, 26–27.

80 Ibid., 27.

81 “öreg bogláros fekete könyv” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 3–5.

82 Assembly of Hungarian customary law, edited in 1514 by István Werbőczy.

83 “valami prothocolumokat” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 26–27.

84 November 8, 1590. “domus huius civitatis nostrae” Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1298.

85 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 8; Petrovics, “A város története,” 188.

86 Sigerus, Nagyszeben krónikája, 16; Nusbächer: Rathaus. 1–26; Kovács: “Kolozsvár városképe,” 47; Flóra, “The Town Hall of Kolozsvár,” 5–6.

87 “domus publica eiusdem oppidi” SJAN-CJ, Collection of Hanging Seals (Fond 560), no. 130., Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 389.

88 “in theatro oppidi” SJAN-CJ, Collection of Hanging Seals (Fond 560), no. 130.

89nemes és városi és darabont rend” Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

90 Ibid., 32.

91 Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 192–95.

92 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1356; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4. Fasc. 5, no. 46; SJAN-CJ, Archive of the town of Beszterce (Fond 44), no. 5435.

93 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 28.

94 Gálfi, “Gyulafehérvár a középkor végén,” 34–35.

95 Kovács, “Fejedelmi nyomda,” 178–88; Kovács, “Gyulafehérvári séta,” 418–23.

96 István Sipos, Gergely Igeni, Ferenc Pontyos, Ferenc Csányi, István Szabó/Nyírő, László Bethlen/Szabó, István Baranyai Szabó, János Szilágyi Nyírő, Gergely Mészáros. Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 18–19, 22, 29–30, 180; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 594, 866, 936; Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 39. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 5. Fasc. 1, no. 52, 61.

97 János Lippai Szőcs/Siska. ErdKáptJkv, 8/2, no. 117.

98 Ferenc Csányi, István Szabó/Nyírő, László Bethlen/Szabó. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 384, 866, 936; Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 39; Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 877, 1488.

99 Horn, Tündérország útvesztői, 9–144; Kovács, “Fejedelmi nyomda,” 178–188; Kovács, “Gyulafehérvári séta,” 418–23; Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 193, 195–97.

100 Erdősi, “Udvar a városi térben,” 194.

101 Batthyaneum, V. no. 26.

102 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 101.

103 Kubinyi, “A királyi udvar,” 309–37; Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 111.

104 The last bit of data on a castellan of Gyulafehérvár comes from January 1571. MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 26.

105 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 860; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb, Cista 4, Fasc. 5, no. 29, 30.

106 Kovács, “Fejedelmi udvar,” 237.

107 SJAN-CJ, General collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

108 Transylvanian chronicler (1639–1679) and chancellor of Transylvania (1678–1679).

109 Bethlen, Historia, 241–42.

110 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 835.

111 SJAN-HN, ColDoc, IX. no. 9.

112 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 740; Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1227.

113 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,”110.

114 Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 403.

115 Lescalopier, 91.

116 Governor of Transylvania (1585–1588).

117 Szilágyi, Erdélyi Országgyűlési Emlékek, 3: 64–65; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 406.

118 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 107.

119 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

120 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 604; Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 390.

121 Sunkó, “Udvari hadak,” 101.

122 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1440.

123 Ibid., no. 901.

124 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit., (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 5, Fasc. 1, no. 41.

125 Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1440.

126 Ibid., no. 1487.

127 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 390.

128 October, 4 1587. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 520.

129 Fejér, Rácz and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1487.

130 Ibid., no. 1487.

131 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 834; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb, Cista 3, Fasc 4, no. 7.

132 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 834.

133 SJAN-CJ, General Collection (Fond 546), no. 57.

134 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 18–20, 22–24.

135 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 834.

136 MNL OL, GyKOLt, Centuriae (F 3), D. 7, 52; MNL OL, GyKOLt, Cista Comit. (F 4), Comit. Alb. Cista 4, Fasc. 5, no. 63; Comit. Alb. Cista 4, Fasc. 5, no. 70. Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 520.

137 Kovács, Gyulafehérvár város jegyzőkönyvei, 32.

138 Ibid., 25.

139 According to the statutes of the market town of Tasnád (Tăşnad), from 1591 “there is no way to dispossess a vineyard from a townsman who has planted one unless he commits a capital crime.” As Tasnád, like Gyulafehérvár was the bishop’s market town in the Middle Ages, it is reasonable to suggest that the town of the bishop’s seat also had a similar privilege. Fejér, Rácz, and Szász, Báthory Zsigmond, no. 1413.

140 “hadainkban talált sebek miatt immár megnehezedett” Batthyaneum, VI. no. 52.

141 Bogdándi and Gálfi, Az erdélyi káptalan, no. 472.

142 Gálfi, “Gyulafehérvár a középkor végén,” 33.


Map 1. Giovanni Morando Visconti: the ground plan of the town of Gyulafehérvár at the beginning of the eighteenth century

A. Cathedral which at the time belonged to the Calvinist Church B. Jesuit church C. The palace of the prince M. Saint George’s gate N. Saint Michel’s gate O. Saint Michael’s Church (during the time of Visconti), the parish church of the Blessed Virgin and the surrounding churchyard before the secularization of the Church belongings. The outer city square, marked as Borgho on the map


pdfVolume 7 Issue 4 CONTENTS

The Participation of the Medieval Transylvanian Counties in Tax Collection

András W. Kovács
Research Institute of theTransylvanian Museum Society
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In Transylvania the county authorities had to assist in collecting royal (state) taxes owed by the serfs of noble estates (like in other parts of Hungary). In 1324 the king exempted the Transylvanians from paying the tax called collecta that they previously had to submit to the voivode. (Based on analogies, it can be suggested that this tax was collected either because of the cancellation of the yearly renewal of money or the refusal of the compulsory exchange of older money.) From 1336 the yearly renewal of money and with this the compulsory exchange of the former money ceased to exist. In order to compensate this profit of the treasury (the chamber), King Charles I (1301–1342) assessed a new tax, which similarly to the previous one was called the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae), but the “gate” (household or porta) became the taxation unit. This tax, according to the lease contract of the Transylvanian chamber from 1336, was also collected in Transylvania, but in 1366 King Louis I (1342–1382) exempted the Transylvanians from paying it. In 1467 the king tried to have the tax called tributum fisci regalis (that substituted the chamber’s profit) collected also in Transylvania, whereon an uprising broke out. This latter tax and the more and more frequently collected extraordinary tax (subsidium, contributio, taxa) usually made up one florin per household. For the upkeep of their delegations sent to the king, the Transylvanian counties collected an occasional tax, the so-called courting money (pecunias udvarnicales), from their serfs. There is data of its collection from the fifteenth century on. These taxes, normally collected from estates located in territory of the counties, were exempt from payment because of royal privilege or because they belonged to the town of Szeben (Sibiu/Hermannstadt), the Seven Seats (‘Sieben Stühle’), but estates of the towns of Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg), Brassó (Braşov/Kronstadt), Beszterce (Bistriţa/Nösen, Bistritz), and Medgyes (Mediaş/Mediasch) were also exempt. These settlements’ exemption from paying the taxes had to be confirmed by recurrent voivodal (or sometimes royal) mandates sent to the vicevoivodes of Transylvania, the county authorities, the tax assessors, and tax collectors.

Keywords: Middle Ages, Transylvania, tax collection, counties, pecunia udvarnicalis, taxa, contributio, subsidium


This study investigates the royal (state) taxes collected in Transylvania, the eastern province of Hungary, from the serfs who lived on noble estates, and the role county authorities1 played in the process until 1526. The taxation of these counties (Belső-Szolnok, Doboka, Kolozs, Torda, Hunyad, Fehér, Küküllő), because of a local tax and the exemption from paying the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae), differed from the taxation of other parts of the country, and was fundamentally dissimilar from the taxes paid by the privileged Transylvanian Székely and Saxon areas.

Fourteenth-Century Taxes

The most important bodies of the financial administration were the chambers; the Transylvanian chamber probably existed already by the end of the Árpádian period.2 In 1324 King Charles I exempted the Transylvanian nobility and their serfs from paying the lodging and upkeep tax (the descensus and the victualia) as well as the tax named collecta, which until then had to be submitted to the voivode of Transylvania (vayvoda Transsilvanus), the officeholder appointed by the king to lead the province.3 From 1336 the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae) became the direct tax of the serfs, which bears its name from the previous practice in which the treasury (chamber) earned profit through the yearly renewal of the money and the compulsory exchange of old coins. The taxation unit from that time on was the porta (household).4 According to the lease contract of the Transylvanian chamber from 1336, the levying of the household tax in the counties belonged to the jurisdiction of the chamber count, and the tax had to be collected by the officers of the chamber count (per comitum camere nostre vel suos officiales) in the presence of a delegate of the archbishop (of Esztergom), of the master of the treasury (in presentia hominum domini archyepiscopi et magistri tawarnicorum nostrorum), and the county authority. The count (comes provincialis; ispán) and the judges of the nobles (iudices nobilium; szolgabíró) received one-third of the fine that was inflicted on those who refused to pay the tax.5 In 1366 King Louis I exempted the Transylvanian nobles and their estates from paying the chamber’s profit (and the upkeep tax).6 Although later royal confirmations of the privilege charter are not known, the serfs of the Transylvanian nobles enjoyed this exemption for a long time (until 1467). Outside of Transylvania the chamber counts with their administration, the tax assessors and tax collectors (dicatores, exactores) assisted by county authorities, were in charge of collecting the tax.7

Extraordinary and local taxes however were sometimes also levied in Transylvania. According to a charter from 1368, the officialis at Szentimre (Sântimbru) of Péter Járai, vicevoivode of Transylvania (1344–1350, 1359–1368), with the help of the judges of nobles of Doboka and Kolozs Counties, had to collect a tax, four denars for each plot (mansio), awarded to the vicevoivode by the nobles of the country.8 There is no later reference to this tax.

Courting Money

The nobility of the Transylvanian counties collected the courting money (1448, 1456, 1477, 1488, 1499: pecunias udvarnicales)9 or courting denars (1466: denarios udvarnicales)10 from their serfs for the upkeep of their delegations11 sent to the king. The contemporary name of the tax according to data from 1491—if it is not a misspelling—may have been udvarlópénz,12 which, if one can connect with later mentions (1619, 1710), also attests to the meaning of the adjective ‘courtier’ (udvarló) as a ‘person who does service at the court.’13 There is no data on the collection of the courting tax elsewhere than in Transylvania.

The (deputy) counts (comites and vicecomites) and the judges of the nobles in Transylvania took part in the collection of this local (and extraordinary) tax directly. In 1448 the Transylvanian vicevoivodes ordered the barons, nobles, and people of all origin and rank in Szolnok County to collect the courting money from their serfs because the Transylvanian nobles decided to send a delegation, including Miklós Kémeri and János son of Gyerő of Gyerővásárhely, to the prelates, barons, and honorable persons of the country in Buda; but many people disregarded paying the money. So they again ordered the collection of money by the first day of the next court period of Szolnok County, and if nobles would again deny fulfilling it, the task shall be remitted to the vicecounts and the judges of the nobles to have it collected from every single estate under the fine of three marks.14

In 1456, at the assembly called by the vicevoivodes to Torda (Turda/Thorenburg) of Transylvanian nobles, Székelys, and Saxons, the deputies of the universitas of the nobility reported that they elected Tamás Lökös (Wass) of Cege (Ţaga) to join the delegation to the king, and he was given 32 gold florins of courting money (pecunias udvarnicales) for garments and horses. Afterward, the heirs of Tamás Lökös gave testimony that the deceased did in fact spend the money on clothes and horses.15 According to this account, the courting money was paid only by the nobility of the counties and not by the Székelys and Saxons. The exemption of the Saxons is also confirmed by the fact that royal, voivodal, and vicevoivodal mandates disallowed the Transylvanian nobility and the counties from collecting courting money from the estates that were lying in county territories but were attached to the Seven Seats (‘Sieben Stühle,’ its center was Szeben; 1488; 1491; 1492; 1501; 1505).16

In 1477 upon the request of Erzsébet, widow of János Dengelegi Pongrác, voivode of Transylvania (1475–1476, 1467–1472, 1475–1476), King Matthias (1458–1490) exempted her serfs from paying the courting money and sent a mandate to the voivode of Transylvania, the vicevoivode, and the county authorities stating such.17 Although it was the king who forgave its collection, the courting tax was not a tax collected for the ruler; in 1499 and 1501 voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi (1498–1510) referred to the royal taxes (contributio regie maiestatis; taxa regalis) and the courting money (pecunia udvarnicalis) as separate types of taxes.18

In 1492, when upon the request of the abbot of Kolozsmonostor (Cluj-Mănăştur), King Vladislas II (1490–1516) exempted the serfs of the abbey from paying the courting money, the abbot himself also called this tax in Transylvania an occasional one, but which the people of the abbey had not paid in living memory.19

In 1496, Vladislas II ordered that the tax the Transylvanians called courting money should be collected from all serf-holding nobles proportionately to their estates, with the exception of those nobles only who already live in the royal court.20

So the courting money was an occasional tax that the nobles of the Transylvanian parts would levy for no other reason than to cover the expenses of the delegates sent to the court. This is the reason why Székelys and Saxons did not pay it: as privileged peoples they appealed their issues on their own, and, what is more, the nobility of the counties was not entitled to offer any tax in their name.

Extraordinary Taxes

From the coronation of Matthias onwards, there is a markedly large quantity of data on the collection of extraordinary—including war—taxes,21 but the data on their collection originates mostly from the archives of Saxon towns.22 The war taxes however had been collected earlier as well, and in Transylvania too.23 The taxes passed by the Hungarian diet also applied to Transylvania, but the Transylvanian nobility in itself had no right to vote on the tax.24

In 1467 King Matthias eradicated the chamber’s profit (lucrum camerae) when the taxes of the treasury (tributum fisci regalis) were substituted for it;25 this was also to be introduced in Transylvania. However, after the Transylvanian uprising of 1467, the previous tax system was reintroduced (and even if more families lived behind one “gate,” they still had to pay only after one household). From the 1470s onwards, when Matthias had the extraordinary tax (subsidium, i.e., benefit, or contributio, i.e. tax) collected, he included the chamber’s profit in it, meaning that the lucrum camerae (or portal tax) was not collected separately; the two taxes added up to one florin per porta.26 The normally passed tax to be paid by tenant peasant households was collected yearly.27

The so-called royal account book of treasurer Zsigmond Ernuszt from 1494–1495 preserved the name of the royal tax collectors (exactores et dicatores) who were sent to Transylvania (in both years they were István Istvánfi and Miklós Kápolnai), their salaries (300/331 florins), as well as the sum of the tax levied on the seven Transylvanian counties. In every county, the tax collectors were accompanied by the counts and the judges of the nobles, who also received salary from the treasury (168/148 florins). In 1495 during the period of tax levying, the treasury either granted an honorarium to ten better-off Transylvanian nobles (potioribus nobilibus regni Transsilvanensis) or exempted their estates from the tax payment (probably because they mediated for the undisturbed collection of the tax).28

The levying (of the serfs) of nobles—one of the contributions (contributio) of the three privileged “nations”—was not amongst the largest Transylvanian incomes of the king. The instructions and reports29 written during the reign of King Ferdinand I (1526–1564) in Transylvania (1552–1556), of which the ones by royal deputies György Werner and Pál Bornemissza are likely the most important, testify to this.30 Thanks to the sophisticated literacy of the Habsburg administration, previously unknown data of major significance is available for this short period that also mirrors the medieval situation. According to the treasurer Péter Haller, the deficiencies of the collection of Transylvanian contribution can be attributed to the negligence of the counts; it was not possible, not even with voivodal powers, to force them to have the taxes collected, which was confirmed by the collectors of the contributio as well (1553).31 According to a 1554 letter of László Gyalui Vas, Transylvanian financial director (supremus proventuum Regie Maiestatis in Transsilvania administrator) of Ferdinand I, sent to an unknown recipient, it was almost impossible to collect the remainder of the contributio of the Transylvanian counties even with the power of the voivodes.32

There are no surviving tax accounts from the territory of the Transylvanian counties from before 1526.33 The participation of the counties in collecting the taxes for the king at this point is verified by the following charter evidences.

On December 4, 1464, King Matthias ordered his tax collectors (dicatoribus), Antal Patai Dezső and Mihály Zsuki, to present him their tax accounts.34 There is no information concerning the representatives of the county authority who were ordered to accompany them (previously Antal Dezső was count of Kolozs and Doboka Counties in 1460). From 1470 there is data pertaining to a royal tax collector of Fehér and Küküllő Counties called Miklós Piri (de Piry).35 A damaged charter of Matthias from 1472 urged the authority of one of the—probably Transylvanian—counties to collect the contributio from the estates of the nobles.36

On February 4, 1499, Péter Szentgyörgyi, the voivode in a mandate to Doboka County—to the comites or the vicecomites and judges of the nobility—and the universitas of its nobility urged them to collect the royal tax (contributio regie maiestatis) from the serfs of the county according to the register of the tax assessors, as the deadline set by the tax collectors, Tamás Harinai Farkas and János Somkeréki Erdélyi, had passed.37

In 1513 the voivode János Szapolyai (1510–1526) forbade Kolozs County from collecting the 47 florins of royal tax (subsidia maiestatis regie) owed by István Zsuki based on his wealth totaling 53 portas. He addressed the order to the authority of Kolozs County and to the tax collectors (exactoribus presentis subsidii);38 in 1518 it was also Szapolyai who sent a mandate to the authority of Hunyad County to gather and hand over to the tax collectors the 60-denar tax offered to the king (subsidium sue maiestatis) by the Transylvanian nobles;39 while in 1526 he ordered Fehér County to pay the royal tax (subsidia maiestatis regie) to the delegate of the treasurer.40

It was possible to compensate for the unpaid taxes directly from the estates of the nobles who denied payment, but this had to be brought into effect by the counties. In 1523 the vicevoivode István Tomori (1523–1526) informed Torda County that there was no longer any need to avenge the estates of Tamás Háportoni Forró as he did in fact pay the taxes (subsidium regie maiestatis).41

In Transylvania tax collection was supervised by the voivode,42 and the related lawsuits also belonged to the jurisdiction of his court, not that of the counties. In 1499, the voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi instructed every Transylvanian county that the lawsuits concerning the contributio due to the king and the courting money should be heard in front of the voivode and not at county courts.43 The example of the lawsuit below does not contradict this principle: in 1483 the voivode, István Báthory (1479–1493), ordered the steward (provisor curie) of Csicsó (Ciceu) castle to bring those servants and serfs of Mihály Szerdahelyi from Retteg (Reteag) who set themselves up for tax collectors and taxed the serfs of István Erdélyi at Virágosberek (Floreşti), Németi (Mintiu), and Csépán (Cepari/Tschepan) to the coming court period of Belső-Szolnok County. So the lawsuit was not about taxation,44 but about the related fraud, and by his authority, the voivode gave the order to the provisor.


In villages owned by and legally “attached” to the Saxon towns and seats but lying in county territory, the taxes paid by the serfs of the county nobility were not collected.45 The “separation” from the county primarily meant the exemption from its authority, but it went hand in hand with the exemption from the taxes collected in the counties as well as the exemption from mandatory soldiering. This of course did not mean that their tax-paying and soldiering duties ended, but that these duties had to be fulfilled according to their new environment. This paper does not aim to list every area that was exempted from county taxation and soldiering (e.g., the whole of the Székely Lands and Saxon Lands, for a while the Fogaras District, which was outside of the county organization, as well as towns that paid taxes in a different way, their lands, and also some market towns). In the following pages we will only discuss those cases that have data on the prohibiting of county tax collectors or on exemptions typically in the case of settlements that previously belonged to the authority of the counties but later were attached to one of the privileged towns, seats, or districts. The orders issued on these matters preserve important, elsewhere irretrievable data mostly on county taxation, as they specify what kind of tax should not be collected there.

The abbey of Kolozsmonostor

As noted above, according to the privilege charter of August 27, 1492 issued by King Vladislas II, the estates of the monastery of Kolozsmonostor were exempted from paying the courting money.46 Based on this it can be assumed that the serfs of other ecclesiastical institutions were also exempted from paying this tax, but as of now no further data confirms this.

The estates of the Saxon Seven Seats and the town Szeben

The inhabitants of the settlements lying in the territories of the counties but owning Saxon privileges were taxed differently than other serfs of the counties. From the fifteenth century numerous royal, voivodal, and vicevoivodal mandates survive which forbade the assessment and collection of the county taxes at the privileged settlements. As the majority of these estates lay in Fehér and Küküllő Counties, the addressees in most cases were the authorities of these two counties or the tax collectors being sent there, and in the case of the royal charters usually the voivodes and the vicevoivodes. For instance, the addressees of the mandate of Matthias dated to June 9, 1475 were the collectors of the one-florin tax of the Transylvanian parts, but primarily those of Fehér and Küküllő Counties, and the grantees were the Saxons of the Seven Seats and Two Seats (‘Zwei Stühle’), the Barcaság (districtul Bârsei, Burzenland, terra), Brassó and Beszterce (both civitates), furthermore the abbeys of Kerc (Cârţa/Kerz) and Egres, and the estates of the provostry of Szeben attached to the Saxons. The reason for this exemption was the obligation of the Saxons to pay a total of 10,000 gold florins, taking care of the division of this burden themselves.47 The methods of taxation applicable to the estates attached to the Saxon seats became established relatively late. In 1473 the envoy of Beszterce to Szeben was informed that the county tax would be collected also from the (county) territories attached to the Seven Seats.48

The exemption of the settlements from taxation had to be provided with recurrent voivodal (sometimes royal) mandates addressed to the vicevoivode, counties, tax assessors, and tax collectors.49

The abbey of Egres, the provostry of Szeben, the lands confiscated from Miklós Salgói, and the estates of the abbey of Kerc

In 1416 King Sigismund (1387–1437) sent a mandate to Miklós Csáki, voivode of Transylvania (1402–1403, 1415–1426), to further allow the hospites living on the estates of the abbey of Egres called Monora, Csanád, Apátfalva (Holdvilág), and Sorostély (all in Fehér County) to join the ‘banderial’ army of the seven Saxon seats and to prevent the Transylvanian nobles from forcing them under their own banderia.50 In 1416 the king, on the request of Imre, his special chaplain and abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Egres, forbade anyone from the occupation or collection of the incomes, the census, and the collecta of the same estates of the abbey after the abbot’s death as he put these lands under the protection of the Seven Seats.51

In 1424 King Sigismund donated the Saint Ladislas provostry to the town of Szeben, including its three estates (Nagyekemező, Kisekemező, Rüsz), and from the estates of Bolkács and Zsidve in Küküllő County, the sections that were confiscated from Miklós Salgói.52

The abbey of Kerc and its estates enjoyed the privileges of the Seven Seats in terms of jurisdiction, taxation, and soldiering already in the thirteenth century,53 but in 1474 King Matthias once again donated the estates to the Holy Virgin Church54 of Szeben.

Péterfalva (Petiş/Petersdorf) and Rovás

In 1486, King Matthias issued a mandate to the Transylvanian voivode and Fehér County in which he ordered that no tax (taxa, collecta) paid by the (serfs of the) nobility of the county shall be collected from the inhabitants of the Péterfalva and Rovás estates, as he attached these territories to the Saxon seats and exempted them from the authority of the Transylvanian voivode and the comes of Fehér County, as well as from soldiering (the two estates were earlier bequeathed by the widow of Péter Veresmarti to the Virgin Mary Church of Szeben).55 In 1488, referring to a royal privilege (exemptionalis), vicevoivode István Telegdi forbade Fehér County from collecting the royal taxes or the courting money from the inhabitants of Rovás as the estate belongs to the Virgin Mary Church of Szeben.56 However, even later on, there were noble holdings to be found at Rovás, where noble and voivodal jurisdiction remained.57

Talmács (Tălmaciu/Talmesch)

The king had the right to remove a settlement from the jurisdiction of the county. In 1453 King Ladislas V (1440–1457)—actually János Hunyadi (1452–1455), who wielded power with the title of chief-captain (supremus capitaneus regie maiestatis)—detached from Fehér County the castles of Talmács and Latorvár (Lotrioara/Lauter), as well as Vöröstorony (Turnu Roşu/Rothenturm) and its related estate and donated these to the Seven Seats. He also extended the Seven Seats’ right to the donated estates,58 the donation being confirmed by Matthias in 1468.59 Later this estate formed the basis of the Saxon sub-seat (Filialstuhl) of Talmács.

Rukkor (Rucăr/Ruckersdorf)

In 1453 King Ladislas V donated half of Rukkor, along with the estate of Talmács, to the Seven Seats,60 but its fate was different than that of other estates because its other half was obtained by the Saxons only in 1486.61 In 1488 Matthias banned the Transylvanian counties and the tax collectors there from assessing taxes on Rukkor, the tax of which had to be added to the census of the Saxons.62

Fogaras and Omlás (Amnaş/Hamlesch)

The district (districtus) of Fogaras and the estate of Omlás came into the possession of the Seven Seats as a royal donation in 1469,63 which then was confirmed by Matthias in 1472 and again in 1483.64 In 1486 Fogaras came back into the hands of its previous owners, the Vingárti Gerébs.65 The villages of the estate of Omlás later formed the Saxon sub-seat of Szelistye (Sălişte/Grossdorf). In 1485 the tax collectors of Fehér and Küküllő Counties had to be forbidden from collecting taxes from Omlás and Talmács (and other Saxon estates).66

Felek (Feleacu) (estate of Kolozsvár)

In 1377 King Louis I gave the ‘sheep fiftieth’ (quinquagesima ovium; this was a tax due to the king) of the Romanian serfs of Felek village to its owner, the town of Kolozsvár, and further forbade the tax collectors from the collection this tax.67 In 1415 King Sigismund also guaranteed the town that the Romanian inhabitants of Felek shall not be obligated to turn in the sheep fiftieth and foodstuffs (prandium),68 and in 1478 King Matthias issued a mandate to the Transylvanian tax collectors forbidding them to oblige the peasants of the two estates of Kolozsvár, Felek, and Fejérd (Feiurdeni; this latter was also donated to the town by him) to pay the taxes collected in the province, as their taxes should be tallied with that of Kolozsvár.69 In 1509 the palatine (1504–1519) and regie maiestati locumtenens Imre Perényi (1509–1510, 1510–1511, 1515) ordered the collectors of the taxa and the contributio of Transylvania not to count the serfs of Felek amongst those of the county, nor to collect their taxes.70

The estates of Brassó

The estates of Brassó that lay in Fehér County were also exempted from the taxation of the county. In January 1496 King Vladislas II—in response to the complaints of the town of Brassó—ordered the tax assessors and tax collectors of Fehér County not to demand provisionment (victualia) from the estates of Tohán (Tohanu/Tohan), Zernyest (Zărneşti), Újfalu (Barcaújfalu; Satu Nou/Neudorf), Sárkány (Şercaia/Schirkanyen), and Páró (Părău/Mikesdorf). This was because he donated them to the Corpus Christi altar of the parish church of Brassó for his salvation and in terms of taxation attached them to the town; therefore its inhabitants shall not pay taxes in the manner of the serfs of noble estates.71

Brassó received Törcsvár (Bran/Törzburg) and its estate from King Vladislas II in 1498 as a pledge.72 On July 24, 1500,73 in terms of paying the contributio and taxa, and soldiering, King Vladislas classified the serfs and other inhabitants living on the estates of Brassó as Saxons, mandating that voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi, treasurer János Bornemissza (1500–1504), and the tax assessors shall tax them accordingly. From the estates mentioned in the privilege—Pürkerec (Purcăreni), Zajzon (Zizin), Tatrang (Tărlungeni), Szentmihály (Cernatu), Türkös (Turcheş/Türkesdorf), Bácsfalu (Baciu/Batschendorf), Krizba (Crizbav/Krebsbach), Apáca (Apaţa/Geist; estate complex of Törcsvár), Sárkány, Mikefalva (= Páró),74 Újfalu (holdings of the town), Zernyest, and Tohán (the latter two belonging to the Virgin Mary parish of Brassó)75—some were in Fehér County and accordingly were exempted from county taxation. On June 24, 1501 in response to the complaints of the magistrates of Brassó and the Barcaság district, King Vladislas II gave a mandate not only to the county authorities but also the universitas of the nobility of the Transylvanian parts that they shall not assess taxes on the town of Brassó and its estates in the Barcaság and the tax collectors should not demand the taxa and the census, because they would then be taxed twice; in the meantime he also ordered the voivode Péter Szentgyörgyi to protect the grantees.76 In 1533, voivode István Báthory (1530–1534) explained in his answer sent to the authorities of the town Brassó that he had received their letter expounding on the privileges and exemptions of the town (namely, that Törcsvár and its parts belonged to the church of Brassó and since the “holy kings” these had been exempted from the contributio, that is from the taxa regia and the exercituatio, or had been paying those together with the Saxons) and that he also received knowledge of the fact that not long before, when the Saxons paid two florins per capita as subsidium, Brassó refused to pay the tax, and as a result the inhabitants of Törcsvár and its parts did not pay the tax at all, be it as Saxons or as nobles.77

The district of Radna (Rodna) (estate of the town of Beszterce)

Not long after the decision of the diet of 1467, which declared that the castle estates of Radna, Omlás, and Fogaras cannot be given away, in the autumn of 1469 Matthias gave the district of Radna (districtus Radna) to the town of Beszterce. The Saxon lands also counted amongst the royal domains, so this did not mean the contempt of the 1467 decision, in the background of which the king’s wishes can be supposed anyway. In 1472 King Matthias—in answer to the complaints of the town of Beszterce—ordered the tax assessors and tax collectors not to tax the Romanians (Vallachos) living in the district of the valley of Radna (in districtu Rodna Velgje).78

Volkány (estate of Segesvár)

Volkány was bestowed to Segesvár from Fehér County by King Matthias in 1487.79 King Vladislas II confirmed it again in 1491,80 and so did King John I (1526–1540) in 1531. In 1501, Péter Szentgyörgyi, the voivode of Transylvania—with reference to the royal donation that the mayor of Segesvár, Anthon Polnar, presented—ordered the incumbent counts, vicecounts, and tax collectors not to collect the royal taxa and the courting money in Volkány, the estate of the St. Nicholas Church of Segesvár; and also forbade the county to fine the people of Volkány, as had happened a couple of times in the past.81 In 1521, when Louis II (1516­–1526) confirmed the belonging of Volkány to Segesvár, he mandated the Fehér County authority and the universitas of its nobility to respect the extension of the rights of Segesvár.82 In 1527 it was Péter Perényi, voivode of Transylvania (1526–1529), who ordered the Transylvanian county authorities and the tax collectors not to force the inhabitants of Volkány to pay in any way the taxes levied on the county, as that would constitute double taxation of the village.83

Pócstelke (Păucea/Puschendorf; estate of Medgyes)

In 1508 Vladislas II exempted the serfs who lived at the part of Pócstelke that belonged to the St. Margaret Church of Medgyes from paying any ordinary or extraordinary royal tax (the estate of Pócstelke was bought for the church by the town),84 and in 1514 he ordered Küküllő County not to collect any tax at all (taxa, contributio and subsidium) in the estate part of Medgyes at Pócstelke.85

The above-listed exemptions (with the exception of Kolozsmonostor, and the its privileges later acquiring Pócstelke) are all recorded in the section of the 1494/1495 royal account book registering the exempted county territories (although it does not give details about the estates of Szeben). According to this source, amongst others, no tax was collected from Fogaras (the king forgave that to its previous landlord, Péter Geréb), from Radnavölgye, from the estates of Szeben, from “Csanád” (this meaning the Csanád, Monora, Apátfalva, and Sorostély estates of the abbey of Egres), and neither from the village of Felek, which belonged to Kolozsvár.86


The direct state tax of the serfs, the chamber’s profit (the lucrum camerae), was collected from 1336 onwards also in Transylvania with other local taxes; however, King Louis I exempted the Transylvanians from paying these in 1366. So far we only have fifteenth-century data on the collection of the so-called courting money in the Transylvanian counties for the upkeep of the delegates sent by the Transylvanian nobles to the royal court. When in 1467 instead of the lucrum camerae King Matthias introduced the tributum fisci regalis and wanted to collect it in Transylvania, an uprising broke out. After its fast repression only the one-florin tax was collected with growing intensity. The collection of the taxes of the counties was supervised by the leading officeholder, the voivode (and his deputy, the vicevoivode). The settlements which belonged to any of the privileged towns (Kolozsvár, Beszterce, Brassó) or to the Saxon Seven Seats, or which received a privilege themselves, were exempted from the jurisdiction of the counties, did not pay the taxes collected by the counties, and did not take part in the banderial army of the counties.

The sources do not suggest whether the counties were divided into smaller units, such as districts, and if so what role these played in taxation.

Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára, Budapest [Hungarian National Archives, State Archive] (MNL OL)

Diplomatikai Fényképgyűjtemény [Collection of Diplomatic Photographies] (DF)

Diplomatikai Levéltár [Collection of Diplomatics] (DL)

Archiv der Evangelischen Kirchengemeinde Mediasch


Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Sibiu al Arhivelor Naţionale [Sibiu County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Sibiu (SJAN-SB)

Magistratul oraşului şi scaunului Sibiu. Colecţia de documente medievale (Urkunden). [The magistrate of the town and seat of Sibiu. Collection of medieval documents (Urkunden)]

Arhivele Naţionale ale României. Serviciul Judeţean Braşov al Arhivelor Naţionale [Braşov County Branch of the Romanian National Archives], Braşov (SJAN-BV)

Arhiva oraşului Braşov, Colecţia Schnell [Archive of city Brassó, Collection Schnell]


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Decreta Regni Hungariae 1301–1457 = Decreta regni Hungariae: Gesetze und Verordnungen Ungarns. Collected by Franciscus Döry, edited by Georgius Bónis, and Vera Bácskai. Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes, 11. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1976.

DRMH = Decreta Regni Mediaevalis Hungariae: The Laws of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary. 5 vols. From the manuscript of Ferenc Döry, edited and translated by János M. Bak et al. Idyllwild: Schlacks; Bakersfield, Lake City, Los Angeles: Charles Schlacks Jr; Budapest: Central European University, 1989–2012. The Laws of Hungary. Series I: 1000–1526. Volume 1–4: 1000–1526.

Hurmuzaki = Documente privitóre la Istoria Românilor culese de Eudoxiu de Hurmuzaki [Documents regarding the history of Romanians collected by Eudoxiu de Hurmuzaki]. 21 vols. Bucuresti: Academia Română, 1876–1942.

KárolyiOkl = Codex diplomaticus comitum Károlyi de Nagy-Károly: A nagykárolyi gróf Károlyi család oklevéltára, edited by Kálmán Géresi. 5 vols. Budapest: Kocsi Sándor and Franklin, 1882–1897.

KmJkv = Jakó, Zsigmond, ed. A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289–1556). 2 vols [Protocols of the convent of Kolozsmonostor]. Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes, 17. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990.

KvOkl = Jakab, Elek. Oklevéltár Kolozsvár története első kötetéhez [Documents for the first volume of the history of Kolozsvár]. Buda: Magyar Királyi Egyetemi Könyvnyomda, 1870.

SzapolyaiOkl = A Szapolyai család oklevéltára: Documenta Szapolyaiana. Vol. 1, Levelek és oklevelek. Epistulae et litterae (1458–1526). Monumenta Hungariae Historica: Diplomataria. Collected and edited by Tibor Neumann. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, Bölcsészettudományi Kutatóközpont, Történettudományi Intézet, 2012.

SzT = Erdélyi Magyar Szótörténeti Tár [Transylvanian Hungarian etimological dictionary]. Collected and compiled by Attila Szabó T. 14 vols. Bucharest: Kriterion, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 1975–2014.

TelOkl = Samu Barabás, ed. Codex diplomaticus Sacri Romani Imperii comitum familiae Teleki de Szék: A római szent birodalmi gróf széki Teleki család oklevéltára. 2 vols. Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1895.

Ub = Franz Zimmermann, Carl Werner, Georg Müller, Gustav Gündisch, Herta Gündisch, Konrad G. Gündisch, and Gernot Nussbächer, eds. Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen. 7 vols. Hermannstadt: Verein für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde and Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Române, 1892–1991. – Additions and continuation (online): Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen (Online-Fassung), ed. Martin Armgart, Adinel Dincă, Thomas Şindilariu, Attila Verók, Sarah May, Johannes Gerstner, Gernot Nussbächer. Universität Trier, 2012. Accessed on December 2, 2018. http://siebenbuergenurkundenbuch.uni-trier.de

WassLt = Antal Valentiny, and András W. Kovács, eds. A Wass család cegei levéltára [Cartulary of the Wass family of Cege]. Erdélyi Nemzeti Múzeum Levéltára 3. Kolozsvár: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület, 2006.

ZsOkl = Elemér Mályusz, Iván Borsa, Norbert C. Tóth, Tibor Neumann, Bálint Lakatos, and Gábor Mikó, eds. Zsigmondkori oklevéltár. 14 vols [Sigismundian cartulary]. Publicationes Archivi Nationalis Hungarici 2: Fontes, 1, 3–4, 22, 25, 27, 32, 37, 39, 41, 43, 49, 52, 55. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó–MNL OL, 1951–2017.


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1 On the functioning of counties, see Tringli, “Le contee in Ungheria;” and Tringli, “Megyék.”

2 Weisz, “Kamaraispánok az Árpád-korban,” 85, 87.

3 CDTrans, 2: no. 510. Cf. Weisz, “A kamara haszna okán szedett collecta,” 556 (the collecta had to be paid for the rejection of the mandatory exchange of money or, in case the new money was not issued, it was collected as chamber’s profit); Weisz, “Royal Revenues in the Árpádian Age,” 258.

4 Engel, Kamarahaszna-összeírások, 3.

5 Decreta Regni Hungariae 1301–1457, 90–94. Cf. Hóman, A magyar királyság pénzügyei, 236.

6 CDTrans, 4: no. 492.

7 Gábor, A megyei intézmény, 114–18; Engel, Kamarahaszna-összeírások, 6.

8 TelOkl, 1:92. (with erroneous dating to ca. 1350). The more probable dating of the charter is 9 August [1368]. (CDTrans, 4: no. 710). In 1366 the collector of the royal castle estates revenues (iura regalia, collecta) that belonged to the honor of the voivode was Pál, provost of Szeben, beside whom Péter [Járai] vicevoivode delegated an other person (CDTrans, 4: no. 544).

9 1448: DL 44524; 1456: WassLt, no. 454; 1477: DL 45675; 1488: DF 245105; 1499: DF 261080.

10 1466: DL 31170.

11 Transylvanian delegates in the royal court for instance in 1369: CDTrans, 4, no. 736; 1496: DF 245425, etc.

12 pecunias wlgariter wdwarlopenz [!] (DF 245385, charter preserved in a contemporary copy).

13 SzT 13:707.

14 DL 44524.

15 WassLt, no. 454.

16 The royal and voivodal mandates forbade the collection of the courting money from the following estates: Rovás (Răvăşel/Rosch), which belonged to the Virgin Mary Church of Szeben (1488: DF 245105); Monora (Mănărade/Donnersmarkt), Csanád (Cenade/Scholten), Sorostély (Soroştin/Schoresten), and Holdvilág (Ţapu/Abstdorf), which belonged to the abbey of Egres ([Igriş], 1491: DF 245385); Csanád, Monora, Sorostély, Holdvilág, Bolkács (Bălcaciu/Bulkesch), Zsidve (Jidvei/Seiden), Nagyekemező and Kisekemező (Târnava/Grossprobstdorf and Târnăvioara/Kleinprobstdorf), which belonged to the Seven Seats (1492: DF 245158); Volkány (Vulcan/Wolkendorf), which was the possession of the Saint Nicholas parish church of Segesvár ([Sighişoara/Schässburg], 1501: DF 278466); Nagyekemező, Kisekemező, Rüsz (Ruşi/Reussen), Bolkács, Zsidve (belonged to the parish church of Szeben, 1505: DF 245623). Sometimes the courting money was also referred to as taxa (1488) or collecta (1492).

17 DL 45675.

18 DF 261080 and DF 278466.

19 DL 32511. The charter is quoted in Jakó, “A kolozsmonostori apátság,” 64, fn. 286. See also Szabó, “A kolozsmonostori apátság gazdálkodása,” 56 fn 159.

20 DF 245425 (19th-century copy: DF 253810).

21 The contributio (contributio generalis pro defensione regni ... Hungarie: DL 30207) was also collected in 1464 in Transylvania; in 1468 King Matthias exempted the Székelys of Aranyos and Maros Seats from paying the taxes of the treasury (tributum fisci regalis) that were to be generally assessed (KmJkv, 1: no. 1793).

22 Kubinyi, “A Mátyás-kori államszervezet,” 106–11.

23 E.g. in the protocols of the convent of Kolozsmonostor—in connection with an estate transfer—in an undated entry, dated by its editor to 1454, the war tax (exercitualis contributio: KmJkv 1: no. 1161) was already referred to.

24 Mályusz, Az erdélyi magyar társadalom, 59; Kubinyi, “Erdély,” 69.

25 Thallóczy, A kamara haszna, 95; Nógrády, “A lázadás ára,” 137.

26 Gyöngyössy, “A kamara haszna,” 146–47; E. Kovács, “Mátyás és az erdélyi lázadás,” 19. There are two examples of the payment of the one-florin tax in Transylvania: in 1470 in the Fogaras (Făgăraş/Fogarasch) district (in sede Fogaras) a one-florin tax for each household was collected (Ub, 6:469); in 1478 Matthias exempted the salt extractors of Vizakna (Ocna Sibiului/Salzburg) from paying the that tax (Ub, 7:179). In 1473 the serfs of the counties paid a one-florin tax (Ub, 6:545–46; quoted in Kubinyi, “A Mátyás-kori államszervezet,” 106).

27 Solymosi, “Az Ernuszt-féle számadáskönyv,” 414.

28 Kubinyi, “Erdély,” 69, 72–73. The source quoted here: Engel, Geschichte, 1, 38–39, 47, 149–50, 160. The sum assessed to the counties (1494/1495): Kolozs: 5643/5583, Fehér: 6788/6688, (Belső-)Szolnok: 2806/2756, Doboka: 31021½/3100, Hunyad 5654½/5604½, Küküllő: 3377/3307, Torda: 4071½/4051½, all together: 31442½/31090 florins. From this sum however only 17057½/19615½ came actually in.

29 Oborni, Erdély pénzügyei, 173, 180 (mandate of King Ferdinand I to Péter Haller, treasurer in 1553).

30 Engel, Geschichte, 3, 10–12 (the chapter entitled: De contributione subsidiorum in Transylvania).

31 Oborni, Erdély pénzügyei, 253–54, 259.

32 Ibid., 268–70.

33 C. Tóth, “Lehetőségek és feladatok a középkori járások kutatásában,” 402–3; Solymosi, “Az Ernuszt-féle számadáskönyv,” 414. The part with relevance to Transylvania of the account of the treasurer Osvát Szentlászlói (Túz) is from the beginning of the 1490s: Neumann, “A királyi városok adóztatása,” 105.

34 DF 255167.

35 Ub, 6:469. The tax collector in his letter written to Szeben asks for sending its delegates as the households (porta) could only be conscribed in their presence.

36 DF 257817. The addressee may have been one of the Transylvanian counties as the charter was preserved in the Malomfalva (Moreşti) archive of the Kemény family.

37 KárolyiOkl, 3:32–33.

38 SzapolyaiOkl, 390–91.

39 SzapolyaiOkl, 413–14.

40 SzapolyaiOkl, 513–14 (DL 63046.) Cf. DRMH, 4:258.

41 Szabó, Országgyűlések II. Lajos korában, 195 (DL 47526).

42 Neumann, “Dózsa legyőzője,” 96.

43 DF 261080.

44 TelOkl, 2, 157–58 (DL 74219).

45 On the estates of the Saxons in the counties, see Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 306–9. The tenant villages in the counties received by the Saxon as donations were listed only partly in the conscription of the household heads of the Seven Seats in 1488. See Draskóczy, “Az erdélyi Szászföld,” 4–6.

46 1492: DL 32511, quoted in Jakó, “A kolozsmonostori apátság,” 64 fn 286.

47 Ub, 7:53 (DF 244998).

48 Hegyi, “Radna,” 51. The document quoted here: “certe possessiones ipsis septem sedium Saxonibus annexas de novo et per regiam maiestatem donatas, que alias ad comitatus nobilium connumerare fuissent, dicari deberent et dicati sunt de facto” (Ub, 6:546). Cf. Ub, 7:135–36.

49 1434: Ub, 4:528 (DF 244749); 1469: Ub, 6: 394–95 (DF 245176); 1476: Ub, 7:104–5 (DF 245012); 1485: Ub, 7:399–400 (DF 245886); 1488: DF 245101–245102; 1491: DF 245385; 1492: DF 245153, cf. Neumann, “Királyi hatalom,” 51–52; 1492: DF 245158; 1493: DL 36614; 1495: DF 245215 and 245217; 1495: DF 245417 (cf. DF 245418, quoted in Draskóczy, “Az erdélyi Szászföld,” 5 fn 23); 1499: DF 245280 (privilege charter); 1504: DF 245617; 1508: DF 245663; 1509: DF 245679; 1511: DF 245708; 1513: DF 245722 and SJAN-SB, Urkunden, 5, no. 1235 (SB-F-00001-1-U5-1235); 1514: DF 245739 and 245741; 1515: SzapolyaiOkl, 360–61; 1543: SJAN-SB, Urkunden, 4, no. 416 (SB-F-00001-1-U4-416).

50 ZsOkl, 5: no. 1896. = Ub, 4:17–18. These four estates of the abbey of Egres had already been placed under the protection of the Saxons of Szeben by King Charles I in 1315 (CDTrans, 2: no. 228). The German and Hungarian names of Apátfalva refer to its ownership by the abbey of Egres. The later name of Apátfalva is Holdvilág (see e. g. 1491: DF 245385).

51 ZsOkl, 6: no. 969. = Ub, 4:53–56. From the confirmation of the charter dating to 1494 (DF 245208).

52 Temesváry, Erdély püspökei, 325–26; Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 305. The donation charter: Ub, 4:217–220. = ZsOkl, 11: no. 972 (DF 244687).

53 In 1264 Duke Stephen exempted the abbey of Kerc and its estates from the descensus demanded by the voivode of Transylvania and the barons, and made possible for them to pay the taxes together with the Saxons of Szeben and conforming to the privileges of those (CDTrans, 1: no. 250). This privilege was confirmed by the forthcoming kings as well (CDTrans, 1: no. 316 and 577; 2: no. 49) and was even further extended in 1322 by King Charles I, who attached the abbey of Kerc and its estates to Szeben (CDTrans, 2: no. 420). See as well 1469: Ub, 6:394–95 (DF 245176).

54 Ub, 7:5–6, 7:138–39. For the estates—(Szász)apátfalva (Apoş/Abstdorf), Földvár (Feldioara/Marien­burg), Glimboka (Glâmboaca/Hühnerbach), Kercisóra (Oláhkerc/Cârţişoara), Kisdisznód (Cisnădioara/Michelsberg), Kolun (Colun/Kellen), Mese (Meşendorf/Meschendorf), Miklóstelke (Cloaşterf/Klosdorf), (Szász)keresztúr (Criş/Deutsch-Kreuz) —see CDTrans, 2: no. 420; ZsOkl, 6: no. 1712. = Ub, 4:68; ZsOkl, 6: no. 1736. = Ub, 4:71; Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 305; Hegyi Géza, Erdély és a Szilágyság birtokviszonyai 1341-ben [The estate structure of Transylvania and Szilágy region in 1341] (map, appendix to CDTrans, vol. 4).

55 Ub, 7:411–12 (DF 245073). In 1460, the two estates got into the possession of Péter Veresmarti, royal judge (iudex regalis) of Szeben as pledges (Ub, 6:75–76).

56 DF 245105.

57 DF 245090–245092.

58 Ub, 5:374–76, 5:384–85. Talmács, Latorvár, Vöröstorony, Kistalmács (Tălmăcel/Klein-Talmesch), Bojca (Boiţa), Plopy, Porcsesd (Porceşti), predium Crevczerfelth, Oltalsósebes (Sebeşu de Jos/Unter-Schewisch), Oltfelsősebes (Sebeşu de Sus/Ober-Schewisch) (utraque Sebes).

59 Ub, 6:358.

60 Ub, 5:375.

61 Ub, 7:468–69.

62 DF 245103.

63 Ub, 6:436–37.

64 Ub, 6:532–33, 7:343.

65 Ub 6:195; DL 65135., Quoted, along with other data on the ownership of Fogaras, in Balogh, Az erdélyi renaissance, 227–28.

66 Ub, 7:399–400 (DF 245886), cf. Nussbächer, “Posesiunile oraşului Braşov,” 327.

67 DF 280997.

68 Ub, 3:642. = ZsOkl, 5: no. 58.

69 Ub, 7:197. King Matthias donated half of the village Fejérd and the market-town (oppidum) Kolozs to Kolozsvár in 1470 (KvOkl 234–35).

70 DF 281010. = Pop et al., Feleacul, 78.

71 DF 247078. For the history of Sárkány and Páró, which were considered to be parts of Fogaras district, see Nussbächer, “Posesiunile oraşului Braşov,” 326–33.

72 DF 247080. = Trauschenfels, Zur Rechtslage, 3–4, no. III. For the pledging of the estate of Törcsvár to Brassó and its later history, see Nussbächer, “Contribuţii,” 30–31.

73 DF 247090 = Trauschenfels, Zur Rechtslage, 6–7, no. V.

74 Mikefalwa is the other name of Páró (Nussbächer, “Posesiunile oraşului Braşov,” 326).

75 For the acquisition of Zernyest and Tohán, see Müller, Stühle und Distrikte, 306.

76 DF 247093.

77 SJAN-BV, Collection Schnell, 2, 102 (BV-F-00001-03-2-102).

78 Hegyi, “Radna,” 50–51. Cf. Ub, 6:535.

79 DF 278460 = Hurmuzaki, II/2:300. = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 342. Cf. DF 278462 and DL 13225.

80 DF 278462. = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 344–45.

81 DF 278466 (for its copy: DL 13225). = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 347–48.

82 DF 278467. = Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 354–55.

83 Müller, “Die Schäßburger Bergkirche,” 355–56.

84 DL 29926, quoted in Csánki, Magyarország történelmi földrajza, 5:890–91.

85 The mandate of Vladislas II from December 19, 1514 to Küküllő County (transcribed in the charter of Ferdinand I dated to November 13, 1552), Archiv der Evangelischen Kirchengemeinde Mediasch, no. 120. I thank Adinel Dincă for drawing my attention to the charter.

86 Engel, Geschichte, 1:39, 1:149. The account book does not mention Hunyad/Bánffyhunyad (Huedin) although—according to a document which was preserved only in a simple copy—in 1503 King Vladislas II gave mandate to the treasurer János Bornemissza, the royal tax collectors, and the authority of Kolozs County that no royal tax (taxa or contributio) shall be collected from the town of because of its role in the trade of Transylvania. DL 36850. This data should be considered as of doubtful authenticity until the emergence of the original charter.

* The research has been implemented with the support provided from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund of Hungary, financed under the K 119 430 funding scheme, and the Hungarian Academy of Science Domus Hungarica Program. I am thankful for the comments of Géza Hegyi and Boglárka Weisz on this article.


(Map drawn by Béla Nagy)

pdfVolume 7 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Comparative Approaches to Ethnonyms: The Case of the Persians

Odile Kommer, Salvatore Liccardo, Andrea Nowak

Odile Kommer: Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences
Salvatore Liccardo: Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences
Andrea Nowak: Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Vienna

This article1 examines ethnonyms for Persians in Medieval Latin, Greek, and Arabic sources. These ethnonyms are part of ethnic terminologies which changed over time and varied in different regional contexts. The ethnonyms for Persians are approached in different textual genres from a combination of historiographical, philological, and social anthropological perspectives. In the first part, the investigation of Persians in Late Antique source material sets out from the Tabula Peutingeriana and examines the entries on the map which refer to the Persians, highlighting both their ethnic and political meanings. The second part deals with source material on medieval South Arabia. First, it focuses on the texts of the tenth-century Yemeni scholar al-Hamdānī and his use of a set of ethnonyms for the Persian minority population, of which each term evokes a different association. This is followed by an analysis of the early thirteenth-century account of Persian traveler Ibn al-Mujāwir, in which the roles and meanings of ethnonyms for Persians in different narrative units are discussed. This case study shows that there are interdependencies between ethnonyms and other means of identification, such as language, lifestyle, place of dwelling, kinship, descent, and the division of the world into different spatial and ideological realms. The case of the Persians illustrates how the authors under discussion used ethnonyms as part of narrative strategies which support processes of selfing and othering.

Keywords: ethnonyms, ethnicity, historical geography, Alexander narrative, Late Antiquity, (Early) Middle Ages, South Arabia, Tabula Peutingeriana, Persian

This article focuses on the study of ethnonyms in medieval sources from Mediterranean Europe and Southern Arabia, or historical Yemen, through a comparative and interdisciplinary approach. In our understanding, ethnonyms are group designations which express ethnic differentiation. Thus, the terminological distinctions of collective groups never refer to bounded ethnic categories, nor are they fixed in their application. In this article, the case of “the Persians” serves as an example of the construction of identities through the use of ethnonyms by authors with different regional, temporal, and stylistic backgrounds in their historiographical, geographical, or cartographical accounts, as well as in literary narratives from medieval Mediterranean Europe and Southern Arabia.2 Broader categories of comparison are necessary, which are representative of various academic disciplines, including history, philology, and social anthropology.3 By thoroughly examining the sources, we have identified the following often interrelated key concepts and used them as additional categories of comparison: myths, notions of space, use of terminology, and (pseudo-)etymology.

We argue that the medieval authors under scrutiny employed ethnonyms as conceptual tools, and that ethnonyms were thus made meaningful. The Arabic sources for this case study on ethnonyms for “Persians” include two historical works by the tenth-century Yemeni scholar al-Hamdānī and a travelogue by the early thirteenth-century Persian author Ibn al-Mujāwir. The Latin and Greek source material includes the Tabula Peutingeriana and literary sources from Late Antique and Early Medieval authors.

Myths, Notions of Space, and Environmental Determinism

Myths often feature elements of great narratives which meet a universal human need for the expression of particular conditions. In this sense, they can function as a code of understandings of the world. In mythical narratives, the self and the other interact, as do human and divine elements. Furthermore, mythical narratives contain a processual element, which Angelika Neuwirth calls “myth[s] in a broken form.”4 In these narrative processes, the authors employ popular literary topoi with which they provide meaningful contributions to broader discourses.5 In the context of the analysis of ethnonyms and collective processes of identification it becomes evident that the medieval authors’ narrative strategies not only include mythical features, but that these mythical features are often linked to notions of space. In their accounts, real and imagined places, the distinction between center and periphery, environmental determinism, and spaces and places of collective memory function as unifying or separating elements. For example, a people’s ethnogenesis is constructed through processes of selfing and othering, often in reference to a certain place. As we argue in this article, ethnonyms obtain their various meanings precisely in this interplay of factors.

The Biblical-Quranic founders and ancestors of the South Arabians, together with environmental and climatic conditions, are the central elements of a mythically narrated moment in which the formation process of not only a town, but a South Arabian existence is explained. Environmental determinism is the notion that the physical environment exerts a determining influence on human societies and cultures. In South Arabian mythical narratives, the influence of planetary and stellar constellations on people and climates is particularly emphasized. The notion of environmental determinism was borrowed from Hellenistic Greek discourses and has later been applied in many regions of the world. It has often been used to suggest that some peoples are more advanced than others. In the beginning of his ifat jazīrat al-ˁarab, al-Hamdānī introduces the division of the world into seven “climates” (ˀaqālīm, sg. iqlīm) in accordance with the Ptolemaic idea.6 He locates Sanaa and South Arabia in the first climate and marshals different arguments to prove that the first climate is the best and, therefore, its inhabitants are also more advanced. According to the myth, the descent from Sām (Shem) through Qaḥṭān (Joktan) and Sanaa as the initial place of settlement in South Arabia are substantiated. The narrative strengthens the authenticity of the South Arabians, as well as the qaḥṭānīyūn and their South Arabian identity, by which they differentiated themselves from the North Arabians, the ˁadnānīyūn.

Although largely following Ptolemy’s view, al-Hamdānī disagrees with him concerning a climatic region named by Ptolemy after the Ethiopians (al-abasha), to which Yemen (South Arabia) is also assigned.7 It is particularly the terminological designation of this area as that of the Ethiopians which al-Hamdānī rejects. South Arabia and northeast Africa competed for power for centuries. Al-Hamdānī’s use of the term al-abasha refers to the territory and the dynasty of Aksum, which was a threat to the South Arabian kingdom of the Ḥimyar, and, in the third century, gained control over Yemen. In the sixth century, the abasha were finally expelled from South Arabia with the help of the Sasanian army. Al-Hamdānī takes a stance not only against the subsuming of Yemenis and Ethiopians in a geographical and terminological sense, but also against the idea of shared physical and personal characteristics. Ptolemy describes the area, ranging from the equator up to the middle of the Hijaz (the western part of the Arabian Peninsula), as being extremely exposed to the sun, which causes black skin-color, dark, frizzy, and thick hair, and the (allegedly) hot or even “uncivilized” temperament of its inhabitants. Al-Hamdānī argues against this, saying that the abasha are only a minority in this area and that the skin color of the inhabitants of the region varies greatly. From the perspective of skin color, some of the inhabitants of the region are in strong contrast to the abasha. He identifies the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and of China (al-īn) as such people, located at the edge of this zone. Obviously, al-Hamdānī dislikes the idea of subsuming the South Arabians and the Ethiopians under the same climatic zone, which would imply that they were similarly affected by environmental conditions and therefore share some characteristics. African ancestry was generally associated with inferior status by Arab authors, often related to racial stereotypes.8 Both the regional history of South Arabia and the desire to see the two ethnic categories as separate motivate al-Hamdānī to make these contentions.

The necessity of drawing a distinction between the abasha and the ˁarab (“Arabs”) is also expressed in a mythical tale recounted by Ibn al-Mujāwir in his Taˀrīkh al-Mustabir.9 According to the story, the territory of the abasha was originally connected to the territory of the ˁarab through a stretch of dry land, an empty valley which reached from Suez to Bab al-Mandab. Dhū l-Qarnayn,10 the mythical hero figure Alexander the Great, then opened up Bab al-Mandab so the seawater would pour forth, flood the valley, and form the Red Sea. By creating the Red Sea, Alexander the Great intended to separate the two regions and grant each people their own territory under their own rule, so that the violent conflict between the abasha and the ˁarab would finally come to an end. Alexander’s intentions notwithstanding, the abasha did not cease invading South Arabia and besieging its inhabitants until much later in history.



Anthropogeography, Terminology, and the Affective Dimension of (Pseudo-)Etymology

In Late Antique and Early Medieval Latin and Greek literature, ethnonyms played a central role in authors’ sense of place. While cartographic representations of the world seem to have been uncommon,11 geographical knowledge was spread through numerous geographical treatises. Being purely textual, these works reflect an image of the world as the product of the totality of names of places and peoples. Thus, ethnonyms constitute a fundamental part of the conceptualization of space. Their importance for the Roman and post-Roman sense of place, as well as their longevity, made ethnonyms a central instrument in authors’ attempts to understand and organize a shifting ethnic landscape. Ethnonyms served both to contextualize the gentes dwelling on the periphery of the Roman world and to support coeval political agendas.

Medieval Arabic geography, more precisely the classical school of the tenth century, was primarily concerned with cartographical material which depicted the (Islamic) world. These maps were accompanied by rather short explanatory commentaries.12 Ibn Ḥawqal revised, rewrote, and expanded the literary commentary of the work of his predecessor al-Iṣṭakhrī and thereby crafted a geographical treatise of considerable breadth, the Kitāb ūrat al-ar (The Book of the Image of the World).13 Ibn al-Mujāwir copied a section from this work for his South Arabian travelogue, in which Ibn Ḥawqal defines “the homeland of the Arabs,” diyār al-ˁarab.14 This section offers an example of how an ethnonym was used in an internal differentiation within the Islamic world. To define “the homeland of the Arabs,” the author takes into account elements of physical geography, i.e. mountains, landscapes, seas, deserts, and steppes, but also administrative districts and tribal territories. The ethnonym for “Arabs” is combined with the word diyār – diyār al-ˁarab. In the text and on the map, the word diyār is used again, but together with several tribal names to signify tribal territories. The meaning of the word diyār indicates that the sense of place is shaped by social and political interaction. Dār, the singular of diyār, means “dwelling, abode, house” and is often part of compound words that take on abstract meanings, e.g. dār al-aman “house of safety” and dār al-arb “house of war.” These expressions refer to places/territories which are defined by military conflicts and peace treaties.15 In the expression diyār al-ˁarab, the ethnonym is used to represent the home of a large ethnic group that in itself is not homogenous; this home is further structured through a geographical and tribal terminology.

Moreover, ethnonyms can be loaded with stereotypical qualities and values. In such cases, ethnonyms take on an affective dimension which has an impact on the way they are used or influences social encounters with the respective group. If ethnonyms are applied in this manner, categorical projections of positive or negative ascriptions are made to the respective group. The affective substance of an ethnonym is particularly interesting from the perspective of the distinction between self-ascription and the ascription by others. Even though ascriptions by others can have neutral or positive connotations, they frequently entail negative characteristics and fuel processes of othering.16 While some ethnonyms do not have an obvious disparaging tone, many of the names used by Roman rhetoricians and historians have a strong affective value. When they refer to people’s looks, for instance in the case of the Lombards (who were given this name because of their long beards17) or way of life, for instance the Arabes Scenitae (who were given this name because they dwelled in tents18), ethnonyms can highlight the “barbaritas” of distant peoples and reinforce Roman attitudes towards non-Romans.

Fantastic pseudo-etymologies, a specialty of the author and traveler Ibn al-Mujāwir, can add affective value to ethnonyms and give new connotations to a group’s name. The author explains that the Arabs call the inhabitants of the highland of Ẓafār and those of the islands Soqotra and al-Masīra al-saara, “the sorcerers,” since, as he claims, al-sir, “sorcery,” is their innate characteristic. This attribution conveys a strong sense of otherness which stands in close relation to the theme of insularity. Perceived as self-contained worlds due to their remoteness, islands inspired all kinds of ideas about the other.19 These stories could be used to evoke a sense of normalcy and self-affirmation among the readership.20 It is also possible that in this case the author misinterpreted the Arabic designation for the South Arabian Seri-speakers,21 since in Arabic the root consonants s--r bear the meaning “magic” or “sorcery.”

Resorting to synonyms, i.e. literary or archaic versions of the same name, Latin and Greek authors could adapt their ethnic terminology according to the political and cultural climate. The use of antiquated ethnonyms to describe Late Antique gentes, as in the case of the Goths (which were often designated as Scythians or Getae), was not only a matter of style. By repeating ancient ethnic denominations, writers could flaunt their literary knowledge, but they also drew the attention of their readership to older narratives concerning the peoples in question. This literary strategy could be considered a sort of “defense mechanism.”22 In other words, it reinforced the belief that the new ethnonyms (such as “Goths”) did not prove the existence of new peoples. This rhetorical device clearly shines through Synesius of Cyrene’s speech addressed to the emperor Arcadius. In an attempt to urge the emperor to pursue a more aggressive policy against the Goths, Synesius considers the new ethnonym a forgery made by the barbarians to frighten the Romans, to make them believe that another foreign nation had sprung from the soil.23

In what follows, we show how ethnonyms, considered as conceptual tools, were used together with the above exemplified key concepts to form distinctive discourses in the particular case of the Persians. In Part I of the case study, Salvatore Liccardo analyzes the way in which Persians are portrayed on the Tabula Peutingeriana. Since the Tabula Peutingeriana represents a compendium of Greco-Roman geographical and cartographical knowledge, a study of the visual and written representations of the Persians on the map will serve to highlight both the adaptability and diffusion of ethnonyms, which shaped and supported a specific ethnic discourse or political agenda. In Part II, Odile Kommer studies how the Yemeni author al-Hamdānī applies different ethnonyms for Persians and how this relates to strategies of selfing and othering in the context of interethnic relations between the tribal majority population of the Yemen and local Persian minorities. Her contribution is based on an analysis of al-Ḥasan al-Hamdānī’s Kitāb ifat jazīrat al-ˁarab and Kitāb al-Jawharatayn al-ˁaīqatayn al-māˀiˁatayn min al-afrāˀ wa-l-bayāˀ, Arabic sources written in Yemen in the tenth century. Andrea Nowak examines how Ibn al-Mujāwir, in his thirteenth-century travelogue Taˀrīkh al-Mustabir, traces the presence of the Persians in Yemen throughout its history and along the travel route. Since the travel genre presents a rich blend of styles and topics, it provides different narrative units in which ethnonyms are charged with meaning. Furthermore, Part II offers an example of how an Arabic exonym which predominantly conveyed negative ideas about a (Persian) other later became a neutral and, eventually, positive connoted Persian self-ascription.

The Case of the Persians Part I – Late Roman Empire

According to C. R. Whittaker, the Tabula Peutingeriana is “the only certain map, in any sense that we would recognize it, to survive from antiquity (…) although preserved in a medieval copy.”24 The map was intended to represent the entire inhabited world (in Greek oἰκουμένη), from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to India in the East. Despite its impressive size (6.75 m long and 32-34 cm high), the copy in our possession is, however, incomplete, since it is missing the western extremity, grosso modo, corresponding to the west coast of North Africa, the Iberian peninsula and most of the British Isles. While the history of this copy is rather clear,25 the dating of its archetype remains a topic of heated debate. For the purpose of this article, suffice it to say that there is a certain degree of academic consensus on the dating of the last redaction of the Tabula to the Late Antique period, more specifically to the first half of the fifth century.26 Among the several thousand writings on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a handful concern the Persians. These elements of the map represent the focus of the present analysis, which aims to highlight the essential connection between sense of place, ethnographic reasoning, and imperial political discourse.

References to Persians consist of regional names, city names, and ethnonyms. Although these entries are not particularly abundant, the Persian world appears to occupy a significant place in the imagination of the mapmakers. The most visible entry, PERSIDA (10B5–11C3),27 designates a vast territory stretching from the Tigris to the Indus River. Though it is located in a somewhat peripheral area which the mapmakers knew only partially, Persia differs in no way from any other region. As in the case of the Roman provinces, the map’s coverage focuses primarily on the street network and the urban centers. The only significant difference is represented by the use of the Persian unit of itinerant distance, the parasang, instead of the Roman mile.28

Regarding the presence of other territorial names, the Tabula includes also the rubric PARRIA (11C1–11C2), indicating the region of Parthia. The size and position of this caption seem to reflect its relation to the term PERSIDA. One name, Parthia, clearly represents a subcategory of a bigger entity, Persia, which encompasses a much larger number of cities and streets. Turning one’s attention to city names, one can find the illustrious urban centers of Ctesiphon (capital of the Sasanian Empire), Ecbatana (capital of Media and subsequently one of the seats of the Parthian kings), and Persepolis (royal residence of the Achaemenes).29 Both the entry for Ecbatana and the entry for Persepolis contain a specific reference to the ethnic component of these cities. Ecbatana is called “Ecbatana of the Parthians,” and Persepolis is defined as the “Persian commercial hub.” The coexistence of Persians and Parthians on the map mirrors the ethnic reasoning of Late Antique writers, who often used Parthi and Persae as synonyms.30 Although several sources mention the shift of power from the Arsacid to the Sasanian Empire,31 in Roman accounts Persians and Parthians appear as part of the same ethnic entity, sharing customs and ethnographical stereotypes.

The ethnonym “Persian” recurs on the Tabula on two other occasions.32 Halfway between the regions of Mesopotamia and Persia, squeezed in a complex and confused fluvial system, there are the entries TROGODITI PERSI (10B5) and FLVMEIPERSI (10B5). They are examples of ethnic “double names.” Within this category fall ethnonyms composed of a known ethnic denomination and a second textual element which serves to specify the group in question. In most cases, these double names represent a particular ethnic subgroup belonging to a larger gens. For example, the entries ESSEDONES SCYTHAE (11A3) and ROXULANI SARMATE (7A5) refer to specific groupings ascribed to the broader ethnicities of Scythians and Sarmatians. In other cases, a textual element matched with an ethnic umbrella term can hint at something more than a simple subgroup. It can evoke the geography of a people’s dwelling, their way of life, their physical appearance, and their political structure, or it may even recall a literary figure.33 In the case of the entries TROGODITI PERSI and FLVMEIPERSI, the double names, placed a few centimeters away from each other, represent two groups which share the same ethnic origin: they are both considered Persians. Although one can only speculate about their exact meaning, an analysis of these entries will serve to highlight both the ethnographic knowledge and the political agenda of the authors of the map.

The inscription FLVMEIPERSI represents the most enigmatic case. As the inscription exists today, on the only surviving copy of the map, the legend is obscure. It could be that the term reflects the mapmakers’ decision to coin a neologism in order to emphasize the exotic nature of this people. Another possibility is that the ethnonym is unintelligible, because one or more different hands involved in the transmission did not understand and, therefore, did not reproduce a previously existing abbreviation. For a better understanding, it is necessary to propose a significant emendation of the inscription FLVMEIPERSI.34

Although any interpretation of this legend is simply a more or less informed conjecture, one could suppose that the term Flumei refers to an unspecified Flumen. Emended as Fluminei Persae, the inscription would mean “the Persians of the River.” This explanation has some advantages. It is close to the text and seems to reflect the location of the inscription, which is stretched out in close proximity to a watercourse. Additional perspectives can be gained by looking at other double names on the Tabula Peutingeriana that seem to allude to the specific geographical area inhabited by a given ethnic subgroup. For instance, the legend PARALOCAESCYTHAE (10A4) has been interpreted as referring to Scythians living on the coast of the Caspian Sea,35 while the inscription RVMI SCYTHAE (11A1) arguably refers to another group of Scythians dwelling near the River Rhymmus.36 Finally, the map also has the legends VAPII (1A2) and VARII (1A3), which plausibly relate to two ancient Germanic ethnonyms with their typical ending (“varii”).37 If Amsivarii and Chasuarii were the correct reading of the terms on the Tabula, these two terms would be another two ethnonyms on the map that may have been derived from the name of a river, since there is a connection between Amsivarii and the river Ems, as well as between the Chasuarii and the river Hase.38

However, the Fluminei Persae would differ slightly from the aforementioned cases, because the name is an allusion not to a specific river but to an unnamed one.39 A look at the Cosmographia of Julius Honorius,40 a geographical treatise which is roughly coeval to the Tabula Peutingeriana, might help find a more equivalent example. In one of the different catalogues which constitute this work, one finds the ethnonym Fluminenses gens.41 Based on its position in the text (after the Feratenses and the Barzufulitani, but before the Quinquegentiani) and its content, Philippe Leveau has proposed interpreting this name as referring to a specific group of Mazices, a people of Mauretania Caesariensis, which lived next to the River Chelif.42 Since the Tabula Peutingeriana and the Cosmographia are similar, both in terms of chronology and the ethnonyms employed,43 the Fluminenses could represent an analogous case to the FLVMEIPERSI and therefore support the interpretation of the map’s legend as referring to the “Persians of the river.”

On the basis of this reasoning, one could hypothesize that TROGODITI PERSI and FLVMEIPERSI were used by the mapmakers to designate two ethnic groups living in two different environments. The “Persians of the River” could represent the inhabitants of the Tigris and Euphrates river valley, while the “Persian Troglodytes” could be the dwellers of the Zagros Mountains. However, the ethnic “double name” TROGODITI PERSI carries a meaning broader than a simple geographical characterization.

The last consideration introduces a subject central to this section of this article: the analysis and contextualization of the legend TROGODITI PERSI. Albeit less obscure, this inscription is also unclear. First, the text needs a small emendation: the inclusion of an ‘l’ in the term Trogoditi, which should read Trog<l>oditi. The unusual location of the legend is also problematic. In the segments representing the eastern and far eastern lands, the depiction of both physical and urban landscapes is often inaccurate. Nevertheless, the discrepancy between the content of the inscription TROGODITI PERSI and its position is particularly striking, because of the ethnographic tradition and evocative power connected to the term “troglodytes.” While Greek and Roman geographers used this term in connection with various ethnic groups living on the fringe of the inhabited world, most frequently in Ethiopia, the authors of the map put the cave dwellers next to a meander of the Tigris, making the homeland of this people anything but peripheral. In contrast with the comparative absence of cities and roads typical of the northern periphery of the ecumene, here city names and streets proliferate.

Nonetheless, this abundance of details is not the result of precise geographical knowledge of the region. The depiction appears chaotic and in some cases utterly wrong. The Mesopotamic fluvial system is far from being exact. The river Tigris, for example, has many incongruous characteristics. First, it gushes from a small mountain chain and then crosses another much longer one. Later, it flows into a neighboring river, the morphology of which is even more bewildering,44 and finally, after twisting with the latter, it flows into a circular inland body of water, named Palvdes (10C3). The number and location of cities and roads reflect a picture just as baffling. A few place names are written twice in two different positions of the map. This is the case with Sinjar, present on the map as Singara (10B5) and Sirgora (10C4, without a symbol), and Ain Sinu, on the map as Zagvrae (10B5) and Zogorra (10C4).45 As they doubled names, the mapmakers also doubled the relative routes (Singara-Hatris and Lacvs Beberaci-Singara). In addition to this confusion, one should mention the atypical position of the caption in question, which, due to the lack of space and the large amount of neighboring physical and urban elements, is vertical rather than horizontal.46

What is more perplexing about the entry TROGODITI PERSI is its content. The juxtaposition of the name “troglodytes” with the ethnonym Persians is unique. Late Antique Latin and Greek texts reflect a nuanced image of the Persians, who represented a sort of counterpart to the Roman world despite often being considered morally inferior.47 Accurate historical information, longstanding ethnic stereotypes, and literary metaphors and commonplaces interweave in the works of Late Antique writers, even in the writings of authors like Ammianus Marcellinus, Procopius, and Agathias, who either travelled to the eastern frontier or had (or claimed to have had) personal contact with Persians and access to Persian documents.48 Even if the depiction of Persians could vary according to author and political climate, Roman persons of letters shared a profound interest in this gens. The fourth-century historian Ammianus Mercellinus represents one of the most glaring examples of this fascination. In his historical work, known as the Res Gestae, he inserted a large number of excursuses which contain information primarily of a geographical and ethnographical nature. The section dedicated to the Persians, included in book 23 right before the account of Julian’s Persian expedition, is by far the longest.49 Since the chronology of this work (380s) is not very distant from the last redaction of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a brief analysis of Ammianus’ Persians highlights the extent to which the entry in question deviates from or converges with the opinions of his contemporaries.

Ammianus never explicitly defines the Persians as barbarians,50 yet his judgment of them cannot be considered positive. Century-old ethnographic stereotypes influenced the description of their physical features, temperament, and habits. In its desire to emulate more ancient and authoritative authors, such as Herodotus and Ptolemy, Ammianus’ digression resembles a display of erudition rather than a report of new information about Persian society. Although he seems well aware of the complexity and vastness of the Persian Empire, which is considered a patchwork of diverse peoples and disparate environments, Ammianus does not make any clear distinction among the subjects of the King of Kings when he lists the alleged virtues and vices of the Persians.51 Among their many moral flaws, he mentions their unrestrained lust (which explains why they have numerous concubines and as many wives as they can support), their effeminate posture, their vanity, and their cruelty. Ammianus’ remarks on king Sapor II (309–79) are everything but flattering: he is greedy, quick-tempered, rough, pompous, treacherous, and dishonest. Yet, Persians do not know pederasty, and they do not engage in obscene behavior, such as urinating in public. They are also extremely frugal when it comes to food and particularly disciplined on the battlefield.52

In other words, Ammianus stresses the Persians’ otherness, emphasizing their effeminacy, their licentiousness, and their cruelty, all typical traits of eastern barbarians according to Greco-Roman ethnography,53 but he also recognizes some praiseworthy aspects of their way of life, distancing himself in a few instances from the older historical tradition.54 To conclude, although the Persians share some characteristics with other barbarians and are often depicted in negative terms, they are a unique interlocutor for the Romans, an alius orbis55 representing another, although not equal, civilization. The judgment that shines through the pages of the Res Gestae seems to contradict the entry on the Tabula Peutingeriana, which puts the Persians unambiguously in the realm of the barbaricum.

However, the unusual connection of the Persians with the “troglodytes” appears less strange if one broadens the scope of the primary sources taken into consideration. While Ammianus attributes barbaric habits to Persians but never explicitly calls them barbarians, other Late Antique sources do define them as such. For example, a register of provincial, urban, and ethnic names dating to 314, the so-called Laterculus Veronensis,56 does not imply any difference between Persians and other barbaric groups. The ethnonym Persae is included in a list of gentes barbarae who spread under the authority of Roman emperors.57 For the author of this catalogue, there is no substantial difference between Persians and other barbaric groups, like Saxons, Vandals, and Goths.

One can recognize the same reasoning in a certain number of inscriptions dedicated to the emperor Julian and found in the eastern part of the empire.58 These inscriptions praise the emperor for his military, civic, and religious policies. Julian is celebrated as liberator orbis Romani, as restaurator templorum, and as recreator curiarum et rei publicae. Regarding Julian’s success over external enemies, the inscriptions contain the cognomina devictarum gentium Alamannicus, Francicus, Germanicus, and Sarmaticus.59 In a few cases, the emperor is hailed with more comprehensive victory titles, such as debellator omnium barbararum gentium, extinctor barbarorum or νικητὴς παντὸς ἔθνους βαρβαρικοῦ.60 In texts from the eastern provinces, the term barbari would likely indicate primarily the Persians, who represented the major threat in the area.61 This seems to be the most logical conclusion concerning at least two inscriptions from the Roman province of Phoenicia,62 where the text presents both cognomina, referring to individual groups of western barbarians, and the generic title extinctor barbarorum. The cognomina devictarum gentium allude to successes accomplished by Julian at the Rhine frontier in 355–58, while the pompous title extinctor barbarorum reflects the propaganda implemented by Julian and his supporters in the months preceding the Persian campaign.63

Although it does not contain the term barbari, an episode in Ammianus’ account of the Persian campaign represents one of the closest examples to the disparaging entry on the Tabula Peutingeriana. In front of an army that was increasingly demotivated and in need of supplies due to the effective scorched-earth policy of the Persians, Julian ordered some prisoners to be brought before the army and harangued his troops as follows: “Behold what those warlike spirits consider men, little ugly dirty goats; and creatures who, as many events have shown, throw away their arms and take to flight before they can come to blows.”64

The description refers to undernourished and unkempt prisoners, yet it repeats and amplifies negative stereotypes of Persians in general. The animal metaphor serves to highlight their physical repugnance and their cowardice on the battlefield. This tirade reflects the intolerant attitude towards everything that was not Roman, an attitude which formed an integral part of the political discourse supported and spread by Julian and his court.65

Libanius, a teacher of Greek rhetoric in Antioch who was a friend of and advisor to the emperor, was among the most prominent spokespersons of this anti-Persian rhetoric.66 In his orations, Persians are repeatedly and explicitly called barbarians.67 In Embassy to Julian, Libanius ascribes two quintessential barbarian vices to the Persians: the disdain for blood ties and the lack of mercy. Prone to violent outbursts, Persians act like wild beasts, while Julian is a Greek who rules over Greeks, and therefore follows a superior moral code of conduct.68 The Greek-Persian dichotomy follows the opposition human-inhuman. The political ideology supported and spread by Julian and his pagan collaborators tended to stress the Hellenic nature of Roman power.69 As stated more than once by Julian himself, Romans and Greeks belong to the same γένος: the Greeks civilized the Romans and the latter acquired, preserved, and spread the Greek religion and political institutions.70 In the political message of Julian and Libanius, the more the Romans resembled the Greeks, the more the Persians took the role of barbarians par excellence.

Although particularly evident in the works of Julian and his court, this attitude towards the Persians was not exclusive to their political and cultural discourse. Judgments of the Persians went hand in hand with the contemporary political situation. Since the rise of the Sasanian Empire in 224, Romans and Persians were in almost constant conflict.71 Mesopotamia, Syria, and Armenia were the main war zones. In a Roman world which looked on the Persians with renewed apprehension, the narrative of Alexander the Great enjoyed a period of revival. The Latin rendition of the Alexander Romance represents one pivotal example of this new interest in the figure of Alexander.72 This text, whose author is traditionally identified as Julius Valerius Alexander Polemius, consul in 338, contributed greatly to the diffusion and longevity of the myth of Alexander in medieval Europe. The Macedon and his deeds in the East represented a model for any Roman emperor who had to confront the Persian threat. If Julian was the most enthusiastic emulator of Alexander,73 other emperors aspired to follow in his footsteps.74 These are the premises on which a text known as the Itinerarium Alexandri (the latest possible date of which is 345) rests.75 Dedicated to Constantius II, this work exploits the myth of Alexander for contemporary political exigencies. Alexander’s expedition is presented both as an archetype and as an omen for the emperor, who had just started his campaign against the Persians. Significantly, the revival of the Alexander narrative also finds expression on the Tabula Peutingeriana. References to Alexander’s deeds play a central role in the map’s portrayal of the eastern lands. The campaigns of the Macedonian king are evoked through the numerous cities that bear his name (founded during or after Alexander’s reign),76 the mention of the Indian elephants,77 and especially two isolated symbols (the “altars of Alexander”), which, marking the limits of Alexander’s expeditions, define the edges of the inhabited world.78 Thus, it appears that the Alexander narrative enjoyed a period of renewed interest in Late Antiquity, a phenomenon that could be interpreted as closely linked to the contemporary political climate. The account of Alexander’s Persian campaign provided a story in which the Persians played the role of the main antagonist, who eventually succumbs, and thus the narrative served to reassure a Roman public worried about the aggressive Sasanian policy.

In light of the above, it is now possible to contextualize the entry TROGODITI PERSI on the Tabula Peutingeriana, which at first glance appears so bizarre. Contrary to the more nuanced judgment of influential historians, such as Ammianus and Procopius, the imperial discourse, influenced by the renewed popularity of the Alexander narrative, described the Persians in clear-cut negative terms. The Tabula Peutingeriana, or at least its last version, appears as the product of Roman imperial ideology. With Italy covering one-third of the map and Rome located in its center,79 the map represents the ecumene seen through the lens of Roman geography and political discourse. Moreover, the myth of Alexander, which offers a particularly disparaging image of the Persians, evidently informs the depiction of the East on the Tabula. To conclude, although the Tabula Peutingeriana represents the only instance in which the Persians are described as “troglodytes,” this legend can be interpreted as an extreme example of Late Antique anti-Persian rhetoric, which, fuelled by the political tensions at the time, repeated and adjusted themes of Alexander’s narrative and perpetuated the most derogatory stereotypes of the Persians.

The Case of the Persians Part II – South Arabia

The basis of the analysis in this article on South Arabia in the tenth century is the writings of al-Ḥasan b. Aḥmad b. Yaˁqūb al-Hamdānī (280–334 AH/894–945), a distinguished scholar, poet, and public figure. As one of Yemen’s minority groups, the Persians offer an example of al-Hamdānī’s adaptation of ethnic terminology, analyzed in consideration of its historical and ethnographic context. Applying ethnonyms in order to differentiate social categories is a universal strategy of othering. In the case of the Yemeni author, it becomes obvious that these strategies can only be understood in relation to simultaneous selfing processes, that they are primarily local, and that they are always contextual. An understanding of othering as the construction of an imagined other through the differentiation of this other from the self (often in a pejorative way) reveals a close link between this strategy and the concept of ethnicity itself, since processes of ethnic differentiation are generally based on constructions of precisely these kinds of dichotomies. The following terminological examination will clarify this.

Al-Hamdānī applies different ethnonyms to Persians in his writings: al-abnāˀ, al-furs, and al-ˁajam. Their etymological meaning and the context in which they are used in the sources are the basis of interpretation regarding the social implications of the terms and the author’s discursive strategies. Processes of selfing and othering concerning South Arabians and Persians are significantly shaped by tribal ideologies in al-Hamdānī’s account. However, his use of the different terms is fluid and cannot be clearly categorized. In spite of sectarian conflicts and continuous power struggles, particularly in the ninth and tenth centuries80 (when al-Hamdānī was writing), there is a remarkable element of continuity, most clearly expressed in the consistent use over long periods of time of tribal names and toponyms, which resist political ruptures and changes.81 This element of continuity must not be ignored in the study of tribal identities and social environments in the Yemeni highlands. The case of the Yemeni Persians further supports the argument. For many centuries, their main area of settlement remained the city of Sanaa and the surrounding region, and their most characteristic ethnonym al-abnāˀ appears consistently in the sources for about 600 years between the sixth and twelfth centuries.82

This main term for Persians (and also the term used most by al-Hamdānī), al-abnāˀ (“the sons”) in the abridged or abnāˀ al-furs (“the sons of the Persians”) in the complete form, clearly refers to the descendants of Persians, who came to Yemen at the end of the sixth century, when it fell under Sasanian rule.83 They were not regarded as “real Persians,” since they were born in Yemen and often had Yemeni mothers.84 Hence, the significance of the term is deeply rooted in the Yemeni local context and history. Al-Hamdānī mentions al-abnāˀ several times, particularly in his Kitāb ifat jazīrat al-ˁarab (Geography of the Arabian Peninsula).85 Among them were prominent personalities, individual inhabitants of towns or villages, and larger groups of the population. The designation al-abnāˀ creates a terminological relation to the tribal population of Yemen. It has the same meaning as banū (“sons”), which is a term for members of a tribal group and can be part of the tribal name. Hence, the two terms abnāˀ and banū are equivalent designations with regard to meaning, yet they are distinct markers of social groups, which is highly interesting from the perspective of an analysis of the constructions of identity and interethnic relations. Both terms are part of group designations which imply kinship references. Through banū a connection to genealogy is expressed, which marks an important factor of tribal identities. However, not every tribal group shares such an identity-establishing genealogical record or is composed of a mixture of different genealogical backgrounds. Yet the addition of banū to the tribal name conveys the impression of having one shared genealogy.86

Al-furs appears either as additional part in the construction with abnāˀ, e.g. abnāˀ al-furs, or can otherwise be applied as an ethnonym by itself. Al-Hamdānī used al-furs partly synonymously with al-abnāˀ for people of Persian descent. The following example is a passage on Persians from the mining city of al-Raḍrāḍ, who came under attack and had to flee the town. It shows that al-furs is the term applied to descendants of Sasanian Persians but also of Persians who came to Yemen in later periods (under the Umayyads and the Abbasids). It seems they worked in the mine and therefore were called furs al-maˁdin (“Persians of the mine”). Some of them had a background in Sanaa, including houses [manāzil] and estates [iyāˁ], to which they could return. Furthermore, those who returned to Sanaa are identified by names, which all contain banū, followed by a Persian word as the first syllable,87 and the same ending syllable [ōye], which was very common to Persian names even if probably pronounced differently88:


When Muḥammad b. Yuˁfir was killed and these qabāˀil89 fell into distress because of that, some of them acted unjustly against its inhabitants, killed among them and ransacked them. Who remained flew, and they were dispersed in the bilād [country]. A qawm [body of men/women] of them went to Ṣanˁāˀ who had a footing there from times of old and dwelling houses and property. Its inhabitants were all from al-Furs [the Persians], from those who came there during the jāhiliyya [pre-Islamic times], in the days of the Banū Umayya [Umayyads] and the Banū al-ˁAbbās [Abbasids]. They were called Furs al-maˁdin [Persians of the mine]. Who is in Ṣanˁāˀ of them are Banū Sardōye, Banū Mihrōye, Banū Zanjōye, Banū Bardōye, and Banū Jandōye.90

Al-furs is also a general designation for Persians beyond the Yemeni context, which refers to a territory, namely the bilād fāris (“Persia”). Fāris, “Persia,” was used in Achaemenid (559-330 BCE) and Sasanian (224-651 CE) times and designated both the Persians as an ethnic group and their homeland. In early Arabic sources, the term fārs/fāris was applied both in the narrow sense to the Persian province of Fars and in a wider sense to the whole Persian territory. As an ethnonym for Persians, al-furs was much more common than fāris.91 Al-furs can be opposed to other ethnonyms, such as al-ˁarab (“the Arabs”) or al-rūm (“the Byzantines”). Having the qualities of a typical ethnonym, al-furs cannot be combined with these alternative categories, since, when used in the same context, they are mutually exclusive.92 It is used in this sense by al-Hamdānī, for example in listings of people or lands, but since the focus of his writing is South Arabia, such lists are only marginal and little explanation of them is provided. One corresponding example is a passage from the Kitāb al-Jawharatayn al-ˁaīqatayn al-māˀiˁatayn min al-afrāˀ wa-l-bayāˀ (The Book on the Two Noble Metals Gold and Silver) on the mining business in Yemen:The merchants from among the Iraqis [al-ˁirāqīyīn], Persians [al-furs], Syrians [ash-shaˀmīyīn], and Egyptians [al-miṣrīyīn] carried away the silver of Yemen at that time, and they gained through it significant profit.”93 Here, Persians are listed with other agents active in the mining business. In this context, al-furs is in line with the other foreign categories, and there is no indication of any closer relation to Yemen. On the contrary, there is some sign of a tie to the foreign lands to which the silver was “carried away” by the merchants.

Another designation that can be applied to Persians is al-ˁajam (pl. aˁājim). Al-Hamdānī mentions it more rarely than al-abnāˀ and al-furs. Where it appears in the text, it is sometimes not clear whether it actually refers to Persians or to non-Arabs. This ambivalence is caused by the historical use of the term. ˁAjam has its etymological root in ˁujma, “impure speech,” and is opposed to faāa, “highly eloquent, clear speech.” Even pre-Islamic poetry drew a distinction between al-ˁarab and al-ˁajam. In the context of the Islamic conquests, it was used in order to distinguish between “Arabized” populations and “pure” or “real” Arabs.94 The etymology and semantic evolution of this collective term are comparable to those of the Greek term βάρβαροι, and it was primarily associated with the neighboring Persians. The affective value attributed to the word was at times inspired by claims of Arab superiority due to their more civilized and refined culture.95 In Yemen of the tenth century, al-ˁajam could have functioned as general designation for non-Arabs, could have meant non-Arabic speakers, or could have been an ethnic designation for Persians. Al-Hamdānī, for example, writes about abnāˀ aˁjam,96 which can be translated as “offspring of non-Arab descent” or “offspring of Persian descent.” In later sources, such as Ibn al-Mujāwir’s Taˀrīkh al-Mustabir, al-ˁajam was explicitly used for Persians. The Shuˁūbīya movement in the time of the ‘Abbasids97 questioned Arab superiority and strove to revalue the role of the aˁājim, which mostly but not exclusively meant the Persians. Fostered by these developments, ˁajam as the initially pejorative identification of others by Arabs became a neutral term of ethnic differentiation. With its novel quality of an ethnic group designation for Persians, it was eventually used as self-ascription.98 Moreover, the term could also be used to denote a territory, i.e. bilād al-aˁājim (“non-Arab lands”).99 Thus, ˁajam in its various forms is the most unspecific of the terms in question. It stresses distinctiveness without qualifying or defining it. It can be assumed that the Yemeni readers were able to discern, at least in some matters, whether al-ˁajam meant Persians or non-Arabs, but al-Hamdānī’s intention in using this term might have been less to identify the other and more to evoke a sense of it.

In order to explore ethnonyms for Persians in South Arabia in a later medieval period, this case study draws on Ibn al-Mujāwirs Taˀrīkh al-Mustabir (The Historiography of the Sharp-Sighted), a travelogue from the early thirteenth century. The author, to all appearances a native of Khorasan, Persia and native Persian-speaker, visited South Arabia at least three times between 1220 and 1230. He shows great interest in the history and topography of the Arabian Peninsula, but mainly focuses on the topic of trade and commerce, which leads to the assumption that he was most likely a businessman himself.100 In a copious style, he combines his own observations and those of informants and transmitters with an abundance of storytelling, including local myths and legends as well as Quranic themes and his own dreams, creating a rich mix of genres. Thus, the analysis of ethnonyms in this source focuses on their roles and meanings in these different narrative units and also their etymology and historical context.

In Taˀrīkh al-Mustabir, the abovementioned terms al-furs and al-ˁajam are used synonymously and are equally eligible to designate people of Persian origin or descent, meaning either Persians who came to Yemen from Persia or their Yemeni offspring. It is clear that the term ˁajam refers to no other ethnicity than Persian. ˁAjam as used by Ibn al-Mujāwir has no negative connotation whatsoever and bears no reference to its Greek/Arabian etymology of “impure speech.” The author even uses the term al-ˁAjamīya to refer to the Persian language when quoting a Persian saying given by his contemporary Yemeni Persian-speakers. Although furs and ˁajam are used interchangeably, the term ˁajam is used slightly more often in the text. When in opposition to other typical ethnonyms, especially ˁarab, the term ˁajam is preferred, maybe because of its phonetic similarities or because al-ˁarab wa-l-ˁajam had been coined as a pair of opposites since pre-Islamic times. The following quotation shows how ˁajam qualifies as a term that clearly designates Persians as an ethnic group in distinction to others:


They are a people descended from Ham, son of Noah – peace be upon him. Moreover they are not Arabs [ˁarab], Persians [ˁajam], Indians [hind], Abyssinians [ḥabash], Turks [turk] nor Nabateans [nabaṭ], but they have a language all of their own which is used [only] among themselves.101

In this passage, the author recounts one of his dreams about a mystic valley and its inhabitants near the city of Medina. In this case, it is obvious that “Persian” serves as an ethnic category that is dissociated from any distinct historical timeframe.

Whenever the frequently used phrase “it was built by the Persians” or its variation, “a construction of the Persians,” is used, the question arises how an approximate historical period can be determined. Ibn al-Mujāwir provides his readership with a hodological rather than a chronologically organized narrative, meaning that he structures his writing according to the stops on his itinerary (towns, cities, historical sites). He shows a pronounced tendency to attribute the erection of impressive building structures such as fortifications and mosques and even the founding of whole towns to the Persians, whether these edifices or settlements still existed, were in ruins, or were gone altogether. Flipping this causality around, he interprets the remains of constructions as indications of Persian presence in major cities and various other towns in earlier history. If at all, he gives only vague time specifications, e.g. “when the Pharaonic rule came to an end,” “in the days of the Persians,” and “under Persian rule.” One can either try to reconstruct at least a tentative timeframe from the context and compare it with other historical records to determine whether the building in question was or could have been of Persian making, or one can use additional information given on the building materials, location (e.g. the center or the periphery of the town), and other architectural features to determine Persian workmanship.102 Particularly in the case of Aden, it seems most likely that expressions like “the days of the Persians” refer to the period of Sasanian rule in the sixth century. Roxani Margariti notes that “Al-Marzūqī103 conveys the tradition that Aden always came under the jurisdiction of Yemen’s rulers.”104 On some occasions, Ibn al-Mujāwir supports his statements by saying that the information was revealed to him in a dream, hence it was a divinely inspired vision (manām or ruˀ), which can be understood as strong proof.105 A legend like that of Alexander the Great, a mythical figure who also appears in the Quran, might also serve as evidence. In spite of the fact or, perhaps, precisely because of the fact that such narratives defy clear historical substantiation, they attain a strong effect. The following may serve as a prime example:


When Dhū l-Qarnayn [Alexander the Great] released the sea from Jabal Bāb al-Mandab and it flowed out, all the area around Aden dried up. […] When the Persian rulers [mulūk al-ˁajam] took over Aden they saw this exposed area and were afraid for the town, that someone coming to conquer might lay siege to it. Then they made an opening on the side near to Jabal ˁImrān and released the sea over it. The sea poured forth, descending until it drowned the whole exposed area around Aden. Aden became an island. […] The new-made sea was called Buḥayrat al-Aˁājim and was known by their name for all times.106

Here, the plural form aˁājim is part of the hydronym buayrat al-aˁājim. Ibn al-Mujāwir never uses the word aˁājim as a term to designate the Persians. It occurs only twice in the text, the second time in a piece of Arabic poetry which he quotes. Mulūk al-ˁajam might refer to the Sasanian rulers, but the fact that this story connects to the legend of Dhū l-Qarnayn creates a certain level of ambiguity. Such ambiguities are characteristic of Ibn al-Mujāwir’s writing and do not necessarily undermine the author’s discourse. If anything, they create narrative tension and draw more attention to what seems to be the author’s intention, namely to point out the momentousness of Persian influence in medieval Yemen.

One group of Persians which is datable and clearly distinguishable from other Persians throughout the text are al-furs min ahl Sīrāf, “the Persians of the people of Siraf.” The ancient city of Siraf, situated on the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf, was a seaport and early Islamic trade center. In 997, it was left in ruins by an earthquake which lasted for seven days. The people of Siraf, whose merchants had already been traveling back and forth to the Red Sea, then immigrated to the coastal regions in the area.107 Ibn al-Mujāwir introduces the ahl Sīrāf early in his account when dealing with the history of the seaport Jeddah.108 A group of contemporary Yemeni Persians tells him the story of their Sirafi ancestors who fortified the city by enclosing it with a massive wall. They then dug a huge moat around it so that the seawater would pour into it and run around the town until it flowed back into the sea. Thus the city of Jeddah resembled an island amidst the sea. The incredible number of a thousand reservoirs, built to guarantee a secure supply of drinking water, adds a fantastic element to the story. After approximately 80 years of prosperous community life, the Persians were forced out of Jeddah by the Arabs, and they immigrated to other islands and coastal cities in the region yet again.

Another tale which features the ahl Sīrāf speaks to their pride and wealth as merchants.109 The same story appears in Ibn al-Baṭṭūṭa’s Rila, who visited Aden about a hundred years later, probably around 1330.110 In Ibn al-Mujāwir’s account the protagonists are the Sirafi Persians. Two slave-boys of two Sirafi merchants are sent to the market to bid for fish. The slaves start bidding for the only fish available until the price exceeds 1,000 Dinars and one of them buys it. When he brings home the fish, his master is so pleased with him that he sets him free and provides him with 1,000 Dinars sustenance. The other slave who returns to his master empty-handed is severely punished. In Ibn Baṭṭūṭa’s version the fish is a ram, but the masters who send their slave-boys are not associated with any particular ethnic group, but rather with the social group of Adeni traders in general.111

As to the etymology of the name Aden, Ibn al-Mujāwir states that it was derived from the word maˁdin, more specifically from maˁdin al-adīd, “the iron mine,” and that it was called ākhuri sangīn “an empty, or rather, stony cratch” by the Persians.112 This is clearly a reference to the Persian mining activities in Yemen and a further example of how the author uses different tools to point out the strong impact of Persian presence in medieval Yemen.

Despite the different etymologies of al-furs, al-ˁajam and al-abnāˀ, and although there are some tendencies in al-Hamdānī’s texts, which at first glance suggest preferences for one or the other term depending on the context, these South Arabian sources from the tenth century show that no clear-cut distinctions between the three terms can be made. The range between al-abnāˀ, al-furs, and al-ˁajam varies in terms of their othering potential. The relatedness of the terms abnāˀ and banū can be interpreted as minor differentiation and could even be read as a strategy of selfing, e.g. al-abnāˀ refers to the Yemeni Persians, understood as part of the author’s own society, in contrast to al-furs, which refers to the Persian Persians, not understood as part of Yemeni society. Of course, the differentiation between abnāˀ and banū, or Persians and Yemeni tribesmen respectively, continues. Otherwise the ethnonym would not make sense. Consequently, the three ethnonyms for Persians in Yemen, which al-Hamdānī uses, combine different levels of selfing and othering. Yet the flexibility of how they are used underlines the fluid character of ethnic categorizations in medieval South Arabia. Genealogy and descent were major factors of tribal belonging and ethnic naming, as the case of the abnāˀ shows. What becomes evident is that in the case of the abnāˀ, the construction of identity for the (Arab) self and the (Persian) other follows patterns of tribal belonging and genealogical descent. The abnāˀ are addressed as sons/offspring of an ancestral group or referential figure, like Yemeni tribesmen, but this ancestral reference is an ethnic other: the furs (abnāˀ al-furs). In al-Hamdānī’s writings, ˁajam and its variant forms bear, according to its etymology, the highest othering potential. Yet the affective dimension of the term gradually lost its meaning of “impurity” in its practical applications over time. Also, the term became increasingly limited to designating something or someone as “Persian,” rather than referring to a non-Arab or non-Arabic other. Ibn al-Mujāwir, in all probability a native Persian and an author of the early thirteenth century, also uses the terms furs and ˁajam to designate Persians in the Yemeni context, and a third term which refers to a certain group of immigrants, al-furs min ahl Sīrāf. Furs and ˁajam are used synonymously and are predominantly to be understood as ethnic terms which identify people of Persian descent. Both furs and ˁajam convey no additional information as to social status or the historicity of a group, unless they are combined with other compounds which indicate either rulership or geographical origin, e.g. mulūk al-ˁajam or al-furs min ahl Sīrāf. Ibn al-Mujāwir’s writing is characterized by fluid transitions between the historical report, mythical narratives, fantastic stories, and genuine observations, a style that creates ambiguity, which can be interpreted as part of the author’s narrative strategy. The text consistently highlights the Persians’ presence in South Arabia, and building structures serve as the main indicator in the emerging discourse of Persian self-authentication. The ethnonyms al- furs, al-ˁajam and (al-furs min) ahl Sīrāf are all suitable to praise the outstanding accomplishments of Persians and thereby portray them as an ethnic group who is more advanced in comparison to others. Thus, all three terms have the same selfing potential. This is also where it becomes most evident that over time the term ˁajam not only lost its original pejorative meaning, but eventually acquired a positive affective value, being used as a Persian self-ascription.


This comparative study shows that ethnonyms function as conceptual tools, which authors can strategically use in their narratives. Drawing on Latin, Greek, and Arabic source material, we presented the particular case of the Persians as an illustration that ethnonyms are dynamic and adaptable, that they shape processes of selfing and othering, and that they support ideologies and political agendas. Ethnonyms and, more generally, ethnic terminology can serve to accentuate or reduce the hiatus between the self and the other. The case study shows that constructions of Persians as the other in interethnic relations varied greatly over the course of time.

The legends that refer to the Persians on the Tabula Peutingeriana are a mixture of erudite citations, ill-informed guesses, and ethnographic commonplaces. While Late Antique Greek and Latin authors have conveyed a nuanced view of the Persians and their empire, the inscription TROGODITI PERSI on the Tabula represents a vivid example of ethnic polemic in the service of Roman imperial propaganda.

TROGODITI PERSI on the Tabula Peutingeriana portrays the Persians as an extreme opposite to the Roman (self-)understanding of (Roman) “civilization.” Around the time of the advent of Islam, Arabs developed a comparable notion of “non-Arabs” (al-ˁajam or al-aˁājim), from which they marked themselves off. In the case of the Roman map, the point of reference for distinction was the dwelling place and way of life, whereas the Arabs referred to language. For them, Arabic was the divine language, and it was closely linked to the holy script of the Quran, which distinguished the Arabs from all non-Muslims and non-Arabs. Persians were among the first non-Arabic speakers whom the Arabic-speaking Muslims conquered in the seventh century. Until the tenth and thirteenth centuries, ˁajam was more and more closely associated with (and even adapted by) the Persians, and less closely associated with non-Arabs in general, or the inability to speak Arabic properly. In Latin sources, the terminological designations for Persians did not change significantly between Antiquity and the Middle Ages. However, perceptions of the Persae varied between notions of them being “barbarous” in the fullest sense to them being “civilized,” or even similar and comparable to the Romans.

In the South Arabian context of the tenth century, the local term al-abnāˀ created a zone of transition between the Yemeni self and notions of the Persian other. Al-Abnāˀ could be combined or exchanged with the transregional terms al-furs and al-ˁajam to appropriate new meanings. In this interplay of local and transregional ethnonyms, it was possible either to enhance the role of the Persian minority as an integral part of the Yemeni society or to express a stronger sense of its otherness and separation. In the early thirteenth century, the Persian author Ibn al-Mujāwir used the terms al-furs and al-ˁajam to elevate the Persians as a civilization in the context of South Arabian history. A strong element of storytelling, together with references to elements of construction as evidence of civilizational accomplishments, built the framework through which he engaged in a discourse of Persian self-authentication.


The research for this article was funded by a DOC-team-fellowship provided by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. We would like to thank Johann Heiss, Walter Pohl, Stephan Prochazka, Danuta Shanzer, and Ekkehard Weber for their support and advice during the preparation of this article and the preceding research phase.


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1 Odile Kommer is a PhD-candidate and researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Salvatore Liccardo is a PhD-candidate and researcher at the Institute for Medieval Research at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Andrea Nowak is a PhD-candidate and researcher in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Vienna

2 For reasons of readability, “medieval” and “Middle Ages” are used in this article for European and non-European contexts. For South Arabia, this refers to the Islamic period before the Ottoman conquest (ca. seventh–sixteenth century CE. Also for reasons of readability, all references to centuries are understood as centuries in the so-called Common Era).

3 We apply the methodical approaches of distant and regional comparison according to Gingrich, “Comparative Methods.

4 Neuwirth, Introduction, x–xi.

5 Ibid.

6 Müller, ifat jazirat al-ˁarab, 1.

7 Ibid, 29.

8 Szombathy, “Genealogy,” 19f.

9 Smith, Traveller, 119. Löfgren, Tāˀrīkh 1, 95.

10 “the two-horned.“

11 For an introduction to the subject, see Bianchetti, Cataudella, and Gehrke, Brill’s Companion to Ancient Geography. For an overview of diffusion and the accuracy of maps illustrating the Geography of Ptolemy, considered as a compendium of classical scientific geography, see Mittenhuber, Text- und Kartentradition in der Geographie.

12 Dunlop, “al-Balkhī.”

13 Miquel, “Ibn Ḥawqal.”

14 Kramers, Opus geographicum, 19–21.

15 “Dar al-Harb,” The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.

16 Cardona, Nomi propri e nomi di popoli, 12.

17 See Origo Gentis Langobardorum 1; Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum 1.8.

18 See Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 22.15.2; 23.6.13.

19 Margariti, “Ocean of Islands,” especially 203f.

20 Al-Azmeh, “Barbarians,” 3.

21 Smith, Traveller, 269, n2. Seri is an older name for Jibbāli, a South Arabian language. Johnstone, Jibbāli Lexicon, xiff.

22 The expression is borrowed from psychology and applied to Synesius of Cyrene in Maenchen-Helfen, The World of the Huns, 7.

23 See Synesius, On Imperial Rule, 11, 6.

24 Whittaker, “Mental Maps and Frontiers: Seeing like a Roman,” 82.

25 The map was produced in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, probably in Swabia/Alemannia, and its first mention dates back to January 24, 1508, when the German humanist Conrad Celtis decided to bequeath it to the antiquarian and imperial counsellor Conrad Peutinger, hence the name. For a brief recap of the transmission process, see Dalché, “La trasmissione Medievale e Rinascimentale della Tabula Peutingeriana,” 43–53.

26 See Weber, “Zur Datierung der Tabula Peutingeriana,” 113–17. For a dissenting opinion, see Albu, The Medieval Peutinger Map. For the latest overviews of this subject, see Rathmann, “The Tabula Peutingeriana and Antique Cartography,” 335–62; Rathmann, Tabula Peutingeriana, 6–25; Weber, “Die Datierung des antiken,” 229–59.

27 For this and all the other entries, see the website containing the digital material added to Talbert, Rome’s World. In brackets the corresponding location on the map.

28 See Magini, “In viaggio lungo le strade della Tabula Peutingeriana,” 7–15. The Persian road network as represented on the Tabula Peutingeriana was studied at the end of the nineteenth century by Tomaschek, “Zur historiographischen Topographie,” 145–231. Recently on this theme, see Braun, “Untersuchungen zum XI. Segment der Tabula,” 11–32.

29 Cesiphvn (11C1); Ecbatanis Partiorvm (11C1); Persepoliscon Mercivm persarvm (11C2).

30 Chauvot, “Parthes et Perses dans les sources du IVe siècle,” 115–25; Drijvers, “Ammianus Marcellinus’ Image,” 193–206.

31 See Herodian, History 6.2; Cassius Dio, Roman History 80.3.4; Paschoud, Zosime 1.18.1. Ardashir I defeated the last Parthian emperor, Artabanus V, in 224.

32 Another entry, which seems to refer to the Persians, is Are(a)e fines romanorvm (10C2), which arguably marks the Roman–Persian frontier. On this subject, see Weber, “Areae fines Romanorum,” 219–27.

33 E.g. SARMATEVAGI (4A5–5A4); Nigizegetvli (7C3); MEMNOCONES ETHIOPES (7C2–7C3).

34 More than one hundred years ago, Konrad Miller connected this inscription with the ethnonym Elamitae, a name that has an ancient and rich tradition, which is included in the bible, in patristic texts, and in a few medieval maps. Miller, Itineraria Romana: Römische Reisewege an der Hand der Tabula Peutingeriana, 838.

35 From the provincia paraliton (from Greek παράλιος, ία, ον, Eng. “by the sea”), mentioned by the Cosmographer of Ravenna, see Miller, Itineraria Romana, 624; Podossinov, Vostochnaya Evropa, 367.

36 See Miller, Itineraria Romana, 623; Podossinov, Vostochnaya Evropa, 372.

37 See Miller, Itineraria Romana, 612–13.

38 See Rübekeil, Diachrone Studien zur Kontaktzone, 316, 323, 401–11.

39 Like the “Persians of the river,” precise or ill-defined geographical locations could be used in relation to the word natio to specify the origin of an individual. Thus, we find persons defined as natione montanus – CIL XIII, 7684 – or natione transfluminianum – P.Lond. II 229 (S. XXI) = ChLA III 200 = FIRA III 132 = CPL 120 = Jur. Pap. 37. On the latter case, Palme, “Die classis praetoria Misenensis in den Papyri,” 294–96; Ferreira, “El papiro 229 de la British Library,” 93–111. More in general on the interplay between civic, ethnic, and geographical identity, see Mathisen, “Natio, Gens, Provincialis and Civis,” 277–86.

40 The communis opinio places this work between the second half of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century. The standard edition is in Riese, Geographi latini minores, 24–55. Recently, Monda, La Cosmographia di Giulio Onorio. On its meaning as a textbook of Geography, Dalché, “L’enseignement de la géographie dans l’antiquité tardive,” 157–59.

41 On this ethnonym, see J. Desanges, « Fluminenses », Encyclopédie berbère, 19, 2862. More generally on the African section of the Cosmographia see Modéran, Les Maures et l’Afrique romaine, IVe–VIIe s., 37–62.

42 See Leveau, “L’aile II des Thraces,” 172–73. In a second-century funerary inscription found in Lambaesis (next to the modern village of Tazoult in Algeria) – CIL VIII, 2786 = ILS, 2659 – the Mazices are characterized as coming from a mountainous region. See Malone, Legio XX Valeria Victrix, 102–03; Bernard, “Les prétendues invasions maures,” 365–66; Migliorati, Iscrizioni per la ricostruzione, 571. Although this second source is chronologically distant, it seems to attest to the coexistence of two subgroups of the same broader ethnic gens that are distinguished on the basis of their habitat: the Fluminenses, i.e. Mazices living next to a River, and the Mazices of the regio Montensis.

43 Podossinov has drafted a chart which compares some of the ethnonyms present on the Tabula Peutingeriana, the Cosmographia and the Laterculus Veronensis; Podossinov, Vostochnaya Evropa, 103–04.

44 After a very bizarre course, the river is specified as the Ganges. On the depiction of the fluvial system in the eastern lands of the inhabited world, see Schuol, “Indien und die großen Flüsse,” 92–155.

45 On this Roman site, see Oates and Oates, “Ain Sinu: A Roman Frontier Post,” 207–42. More generally on the urban landscape and road network of this region, see Palermo, “Settlement Patterns and Road Network in Upper Mesopotamia,” 123–37.

46 Talbert mentions this detail when he analyses the design of the map, see Talbert, Rome’s World, 100–01.

47 For an overview of the image of the Persians in Late Antique sources, see Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 12–36; Schneider, “Orientalism in Late Antiquity,” 241–78; Drijvers, “Rome and the Sasanid Empire,” 441–54; McDonough, “Were the Sasanians Barbarians?” 55–65; Drijvers, “A Roman Image of the “Barbarian” Sasanians,” 67–76.

48 On Ammianus see Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus Marcellinus, 130–79; Teitler, “Visa vel lecta?,” 216–23; Drijvers, “Ammianus Marcellinus’ Image of Sasanian Society,” 45–69; Wiebke, Das Imperium Romanum und seine Gegenwelten, 86–126; Morley, “Beyond the Digression,” 10–25. On Procopius, see Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, 62–93; Börm, Prokop und die Perser. On Agathias, see Cameron, “Agathias on the Sassanians,” 67–183.

49 For a detailed comment on this digression, see Ferraco, Ammiano geografo (23.6).

50 See A. Chauvot, Opinions romaines face aux Barbares, 386 ff. More generally on Ammianus’ depiction of non-Romans, see Guzmán Armario, “Ammianus adversus externae gentes,” 217–22.

51 After a historical and a geographical account of the Persian Empire, Ammianus describes the good and bad habits of the Persians, see Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 23.6.75–84.

52 Concerning military skills, however, Romans continue to have the edge over Persians, who Ammianus describes as crafty but rather weak in a one-on-one fight, see Res Gestae 23.6.80; 25.1.18. To stress the superiority of the Roman armies over the eastern gentes, an anonymous panegyrist presents the victory of Constantine over fellow Romans as more praiseworthy than Alexander’s Persian campaign, because the Macedon won against “leves Medos et imbelles Syros et Parthorum arma volatica,” see Panegyrici Latini 12 (9), 5–6.

53 For a useful analysis of the different typologies of barbarian, see Dauge, Le Barbare, 466–510.

54 Particularly interesting is its relationship with Herodotus. On one hand, Ammianus repeats the reference to their good manners in executing their physical needs; on the other, he diverges from Herodotus concerning alcohol consumption and pederasty. According to the historian of Halicarnassus, the Persians made important decisions while drunk and learned to practice pederasty from the Greeks. See Herodotus, Historiae 1. 133–35.

55 “Der alius orbis Persien” is the title of the section dedicated to this subject in Wiebke, Das Imperium Romanum und seine Gegenwelten, 2013.

56 For an overview of its content, see Klein, “Laterculus Veronensis,” 1745–46.

57 The heading reads: Gentes barbarae quae pullulaverunt sub imperatoribus.

58 Greek and Latin inscriptions erected during the empire of Julian have been collected and studied by Stefano Conti. See Conti, Die Inschriften Kaiser Julians. These inscriptions constituted part of the imperial discourse, see Conti, “Un aspetto della propaganda imperiale tardo-antica: la titolatura di Giuliano nelle fonti letterarie ed epigrafiche,” 29–44; Benoist, “Identité du Prince et discours impérial: Le cas de Julien,” 109–17. More generally on the topic of inscriptions and imperial ideology in Late Antiquity, see Davenport, “Imperial ideology and commemorative culture,” 45–70.

59 For a commentary on the single inscriptions containing these titles, see Conti, Die Inschriften Kaiser Julians .

60 According to Conti’s register, nr. 17, 18 (extinctor barbarorum); 26, 27 (debellator omnium barbararum gentium); 54 (νικητὴς παντὸς ἔθνους βαρβαρικοῦ).

61 That the eastern frontier was opposing barbaric groups shines through Ulpian’s description of Palmyra as a city “prope barbaras gentes et nationes collocata,” Digest

62 Inscriptions nr. 17 and 18. See Negev, “The Inscription of the Emperor Julian at Ma‘ayan Barukh,” 170–73; Bowersock, Julian the Apostate, 123–24; Dietz, “Kaiser Julian in Phönizien,” 821–22; Eck, “Zur Neulesung der Iulian-Inschrift von Ma’ayan Barukh,” 857–59.

63 Conti suggests dating the inscriptions to the first months of 363. Julian left Antioch for the east on March 5, 363.

64 “En” inquit “quos Martia ista pectora viros existimant, deformes inluvie capellas et taetras, utque crebri docuerunt eventus, antequam manus conferant abiectis armis vertentes semet in fugam,” Res Gestae 24.8.1. On this passage, see Den Boeft, Philological and Historical Commentary, 223–25.

65 On Roman prejudices, especially towards Persians, as highly influenced by Greek ethnography, see L. Cracco Ruggini, “Pregiudizi razziali, ostilità politica e culturale,” 139–42; Rosivach, “The Romans’ View of the Persians,” 1–8; Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 371–80.

66 Specifically on the relationship between Julian and Libanius, see Wiemer, Libanios und Julian.

67 E.g. Libanius, Oratio 15.3; 17, 25–27; 16.9.

68 See ibid.

69 See Rivolta, “Miti letterari e programmi politici,” 525–46; Stenger, “Libanius and the ‘game’ of Hellenism,” 268–92; Caltabiano, “La comunità degli Elleni,” 137–49.

70 See Julian, The Caesars 324a; Hymn to King Helios 153a.

71 The literature on this topic is vast. For detailed overviews of Romano–Persian relations, see Blockley, East Roman Foreign Policy; Winter and Dignas, Rom und das Perserreich. For a collection of ancient sources for this period, see Dodgeon, Greatex, and Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier.

72 Since the Itinerarium Alexandri is to a certain degree based on the Romance, the Latin version of the Romance must have been known by 345.

73 See Smith, “The Casting of Julian the Apostate ‘in the Likeness’ of Alexander the Great,” 44–106.

74 The myth of Alexander played a significant role in Constantine’s imperial propaganda. For numismatic evidence, see Kolb, Herrscherideologie in der Spätantike, 201–04. Moreover, Constantine announced a campaign against the Persians but fell ill before accomplishing it, see Fowden, “The Last Days of Constantine,” 146–70; Fowden, “Constantine and the Peoples of the Eastern Frontier,” 377–98. In his biography of Constantine, similarly to Libanius, Eusebius of Caesarea calls the Persians barbarians; see Life of Constantine 4.56.1.

75 The original title should have been Itinerarium Alexandri Magni Traianique, but the Codex Ambrosianus P 49, the only manuscript that preserves the work, neither contains the last accomplishments of Alexander nor the campaign of Trajan. See Tabacco, Itinerarium Alexandri. For the question of its authorship and the use of this text in political discourse, see Lane Fox, “The Itinerary of Alexander,” 239–52.

76 E.g. Alexandria (11A4); Alexandria Bvcefalos (11B3); Alexandria catisson (9B4); Alexandria troas (8B2).

77 In his locis elephanti nascvntvr (11C4).

78 Ara alexandri (11A3); Hic Alexander Responsvm accepit Vsq(ve) qvo Alexander (11B4–11B5).

79 Since the first few leaves, which correspond to the map’s western edge, are missing, it is impossible to positively identify the centre of the archetype. However, everything points to this conclusion, see Weber, Tabula Peutingeriana, 13; Talbert, “Peutinger’s Roman Map,” 221–30.

80 Smith, “The political history of the Islamic Yemen,” 130ff.

81 Gingrich, “Multiple Histories,” 9; Dresch, Tribes, Government and History, 320ff.

82 Last mentioned, to our knowledge, in ath-Thaqafī, Sīrat al-ˀImām ˀAmad b. Sulaymān.

83 Lewis, “al-Abnāˀ.“

84 Crone, “ˁAbbāsid Abnāˀ,” 2.

85 Müller, ifat jazīrat al-ˁarab.

86 Heiss, Tribale Selbstorganisation und Konfliktregelung, 139.

87 sard = “cold”; mihr = “sun”; zanj = “plaint”/“Blacks”; bard = “(brave) man”; Jand = city in Turkistan (Steingass, Persian-English dictionary).

88 wayh in Persian.

89 Engl. “tribes”

90 Heiss, Johann. Unpublished Translation of Kitāb al-Ǧawharatain al-ˁaīqatain al-māˀiˁatain a-afrāˀ wa ’l-baiāˀ [al-Ḥasan Ibn-Aḥmad al-Hamdānī], by Christopher Toll, 1968 [2014], 144–45.

91 Savant, New Muslims, 8–9.

92 James, “Arab Ethnonyms,” 684–85.

93 Toll, Kitāb al-Ǧawharatain, 148.

94 Gabrieli, “ˁAdjam.”

95 Ibid.

96 Müller, ifat jazīrat al-ˁarab, 88.

97 Enderwitz, “al-Shuˁūbiyya.”

98 Gabrieli, “ˁAdjam.”

99 Toll, Kitāb al-Ǧawharatain, 68.

100 Smith, Traveller, 3.

101 Ibid., 44. Löfgren, Taˀrīkh 1, 16.

102 Roxani Margariti did so in her book Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade: 150 Years in the Life of a Medieval Arabian Port. For two illuminating examples concerning Ibn al-Mujāwir’s claim for Persian workmanship see 51ff. and 99ff.

103 A philologist who died in 421 AH/1030. Pellat, Ch., “al-Marzūqī.”

104 Margariti, Aden, 224–225, n83.

105 Fahd, T., and Daiber, H., “Ruˀyā.”

106 Smith, Traveller, 137; Löfgren, Taˀrīkh 1, 115–16.

107 Whitehouse, Siraf, 2–3.

108 Smith, Traveller, 70ff; Löfgren, Taˀrīkh 1, 42ff.

109 Smith, Traveller, 122; Löfgren, Taˀrīkh 1, 98.

110 Miquel, A., “Ibn Baṭṭūṭa.”

111 Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, Rilat, 252.

112 “i.e. an unprofitable situation,” Steingass, Dictionary, 25; Löfgren, Texte, part 1, 29, n1; Smith, Traveller, 133, n3.


Figure 1. Miller, Die Peutingerische Tafel, Segmentum XI, 3–5.

Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



God Brought the Hungarians: Emigration and Refugee Relief in the Light of Cold War Religion

James P. Niessen

Rutgers University

The ample literature on the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956/57 has focused on its diplomatic and political aspects, mentioning the role of religions and faith-based organizations only in passing. This study seeks to address this lacuna by focusing on religion as an element of the Cold War, a motive for emigration, and an organizing framework for refugee relief. The chronology begins with the end of World War II. Austria, the country of first asylum, and the United States, the dominant financier and resettlement country, are the primary geographic focus. Reflecting the preponderance of Catholics in the Hungarian migrants’ population, special attention is given to Catholic Relief Services, though Jewish aid organizations and the World Council of Churches are not neglected.

Keywords: religion, Hungarian refugees, Catholic Relief Services, World Council of Churches, Camp Kilmer

Current interest in the refugee phenomenon has inspired valuable new research on the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956/57. The crisis was the focus of several panels at the 1956 and Socialism conference in Eger in September 2016, and it was the theme of an issue of the journal Világtörténet published several weeks later.1 Authors have rightly pointed out the role of the Cold War conflict in determining the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution, the flight of 200,000 citizens to Austria and Yugoslavia, and their warm reception and, for the most part, fairly rapid resettlement. There are many worthwhile publications in Hungarian, German, and English about the international and local aspects of this crisis.2

Historians have generally mentioned religious factors only in passing. In this essay, I call attention to several non-government archival collections which few historians have consulted, and I examine the phenomenon of Cold War religion, Hungarian religious identity as a motivating factor in the decision to emigrate, and above all the role of faith-based relief organizations. The chronological frame begins in the immediate postwar period, providing the prehistory of the Hungarian crisis before focusing on the aftermath of the Revolution. The politics and resolution of the crisis were international, but Austria and the United States played unique roles and receive most of my attention. Nearly all the refugees who left Hungary in 1956/57 and earlier came through Austria, where they were granted initial asylum and the opportunity to settle, repatriate, or travel onward. The United States proved the most popular destination of resettlement for both economic and political reasons, and ultimately the United States accepted more refugees than any other country. The United States was also decisive in the financial, political, and organizational resolution of the refugee crisis of 1956/57.

Religious persecution had led to many earlier waves of emigration in the history of Europe. This was especially the case in early modern Europe, and indeed it was fundamental to the establishment of Geneva in Switzerland as the center of international humanitarianism. Three centuries after Geneva provided a home and ecclesiastical center for Calvinist fugitives, it became the birthplace of the Geneva Conventions (1864–1949) for the treatment of non-combatants in wartime, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the League of Nations, and, after World War II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many related agencies.3

Cold War Religion

One of the important memory sites for Hungarian Americans and historians of the refugee crisis of 1956/57 no longer exists today: Camp Kilmer in Piscataway, New Jersey. The closed army camp was reactivated in November 1956 as the central reception center for Hungarian refugees to the U.S., and in five months received more than 32,000 of them. Americans greeted the new arrivals with banners and signs bearing the inscription: Welcome [to America], in English and in Hungarian. A Hungarian in Camp Kilmer explained to Eileen Egan of Catholic Relief Services: “The words mean, in our way of expressing it, ‘God brought you.’ That is ‘Isten Hozta.’ You say this to guests whom you welcome gladly.”4 The Hungarian phrase appears in at least one decidedly unreligious context in American political history: President Bill Clinton employed it as a toast welcoming President Árpád Göncz in 1999, and he claimed it had appeared on streamers welcoming exiled statesman Lajos Kossuth to New York in 1851.5 We do not know the intention behind the use of the Hungarian phrase during the Hungarian crisis, but it will serve here as a gateway into a discussion of the ways in which religion and politics overlapped at the time.

The Chairman of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief, Tracy S. Voorhees, is at the center in both government photos below. In the photo on the right, he is welcoming a refugee ship in Brooklyn, and in the photo on the left he is at Camp Kilmer. The others appear to be exclusively American officials. Voorhees was very attentive to the impact of public image: he wanted the world to see the contrast between humanitarian America, with its peaceful use of the military, and Soviet oppression. The reference to God would have been invisible to most Americans, but it was not lost on the Hungarians (the text in the photo, “Isten hozott,” is the same phrase as the phrase cited above, “Isten Hozta,” but using the informal form of address in Hungarian). God was missing in Communist Hungary’s public discourse, but was prominent in that of contemporary America.

East European Communists persecuted religion both on ideological grounds and in order to eliminate autonomous centers of resistance. This pattern was important for the emerging association in the West of anti-Communism with religious identity. The nexus of the Cold War and religion in the U.S. has attracted the attention of much recent scholarship. Dianne Kirby writes in her contribution to the Cambridge History of Christianity: “The concept of the Cold War as one of history’s great religious wars, a global conflict between the god-fearing and the godless, derives from the fact that ideology, based on and informed by religious beliefs and values, was central in shaping both perceptions of and responses to the USSR.”6 The Jewish conservative Will Herberg argued in his popular 1955 book Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology that American ethnic history had evolved toward a common “framework,” “the American way of life.”7 He went on to claim that this framework might even be seen as a jointly held religion. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1960 that Communism’s threat was stymied “by the historical dynamism of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”8

This was America, where politicians’ declarations of faith still respected the strict separation of churches and state. But what about Europe? Pope Pius XII had been cautious in his stance toward the Third Reich in World War II, arguably because of the dangers posed to the Church in occupied Europe and to the Vatican itself. Communism posed no such existential threat to the Vatican, though in postwar Italy it was a serious political threat. The Pope’s encyclical denouncing contemporary atheism, Anni Sacri (1950), did not name Communism or the Soviet Union, but it left no doubt about the Pope’s view of Soviet religious policy. The emerging Christian Democratic parties, while they grew out of the Catholic political tradition of protecting the weak and favoring a mixed economy, shared the American condemnation of Communism and support for the Atlantic alliance. They generally had the support of religious leaders in these stances.9 The Holy See rejected Communism even more strongly than did West European political leaders. Its decree of July 1949 stated that “Catholics who ‘profess, defend or propagate’ communist doctrine should be excommunicated as apostates.”10

The dominant status of the Catholic Church in Austria was governed by the formally still valid Concordat of 1933, which had been suppressed by the Third Reich and subsequently restored, but not recognized by the Austrian socialists. European governments typically contributed to the financial support of the churches, but rarely interfered in their administrative decisions.11 In the U.S., the homeland of Cold War religion, religious organizations supported themselves solely through private donations.

Religion and the Refugee Relief Agencies

Both in North America and in Western Europe, the churches supported agencies for the care of the disadvantaged members of society that organized hospitals, food assistance, and missionary activity, both at home and abroad. Of greatest impact were the Catholic agencies, the National Catholic Welfare Conference-Catholic Relief Service in the U.S. and Caritas in most European countries. Protestants and Jews had analogous organizations.

These agencies were engaged in refugee relief, and not only in their home countries. Both Hebrew and Christian scripture stipulates that the faithful should practice hospitality and compassion to strangers in their midst. The Book of Exodus recounts an escape from slavery to freedom and asserts: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). The Gospel of Matthew recounts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and Luke recounts Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and concludes with the admonition to “go and do likewise.” The Acts of the Apostles downplay the importance of borders and preach the common humanity of people, regardless of ancestry. Christians and Jews don’t always observe these principles, but the principles inspire their refugee relief activity.12

Jewish mutual aid and Christian missions signaled the entry of the U.S. onto the international humanitarian scene in the late nineteenth century. As the country entered World War I in 1917, its government encouraged the mobilization of religious organizations to meet anticipated humanitarian needs. The massive population movements of World War II created an even greater challenge for armies and a role for non-governmental agencies. The leaders of the advancing Allied forces, especially in the U.S. Army, realized that they needed help. It was natural that they turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross and its national affiliates. The religiously based agencies were more diverse, but the spiritual dimension enabled them not only to raise funds rapidly (at which the Red Cross was very adept), but also to mobilize a broadly based network of agencies and communities for volunteer work. The need and opportunity created a conundrum in American law, however: in view of the separation of church and state, what would be the nature of the collaboration between the government and the religious agencies? The solution was to create on the one hand a federal office to accredit the NGOs (the prevailing term was voluntary agencies) and, on the other, a private organization consisting of these accredited agencies, which would coordinate their work and interface with the government. The private organization, established in 1944, was the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVAFS). A central principle of the ACVAFS was the primacy of service over sectarianism. The Committee on Migration and Refugee Affairs rapidly became the ACVAFS’s most active component.13

European countries faced less of a challenge in coordinating the voluntary agencies because they had a history of financial and political involvement in the churches. Organizations analogous to the ACVAFS arose in all West European countries in the immediate postwar years, and they were themselves coordinated beginning in 1948 by the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies Working for Refugees.14

The chief religiously based agencies that were engaged on behalf of refugees were those of the Catholics, the Jews, the Lutherans, the Quakers, and the World Council of Churches.

The Catholic agencies in most countries bore the name Caritas and operated under the authority of diocesan bishops, but with a national federation for coordination. In the wake of World War II, the American counterpart would soon dwarf each local Caritas in its resources. During the war, it assumed the name War Relief Services-National Catholic Welfare Conference, renamed Catholic Relief Services (CRS-NCWC) in 1955. The CRS established offices in most European countries at the end of the war, both to distribute food and clothing but, increasingly after 1948, also to coordinate resettlement into third countries. A board of American archbishops and bishops met periodically in Washington, DC to oversee the WRS/CRS, and it was encouraged in its work by the Holy See. The coordinator of all of the activities of the CRS in Europe was a Catholic layman and former religious brother from New Jersey, James J. Norris.15

Pope Pius XII promulgated his apostolic constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana [The Exiled Family from Nazareth] in 1952 to affirm the compassionate concern of the Church for migrants, including the practice of appointing missionary priests for migrants of their own nationality. The document placed the newly founded International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in a historical and doctrinal context.16 The ICMC, led for the first ten years of its existence by Norris and based in Geneva, would coordinate aid to migrants by country-based agencies, organize international conferences on the subject, and publish a journal entitled Migration News beginning in 1951.17

Two major agencies and then the newly emerged State of Israel were the principal sources of Jewish relief. The American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) worked largely to aid Jewish communities in place, while the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was older, not as well funded, and focused largely on migrants and resettlement. In light of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the relief work of these agencies relied less on scriptural injunctions than on fundamental solidarity.18 Zionism and resettlement in Israel were less of a concern for these organizations than they were for the Jewish Agency, which was formed in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel and then supported by the new state afterwards.

The World Lutheran Federation (WLF) served to bring together the variants of this denomination, which reflected various organizational and doctrinal solutions in their respective countries. The Evangelisches Hilfswerk was an important Lutheran relief organization for postwar Germany and Austria, where the initial focus of refugee relief was on the eleven million German expellees from the East. The American branch of the WLF serving refugees was the Lutheran Relief Service, LRS.

The humanitarian engagement of the Quakers was of long standing, and organized in the twentieth century as the Friends Relief Service and its American arm, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Reflecting the relatively small membership of this denomination, the AFSC engaged with needy communities of all religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Ecumenical activists inspired the eventual foundation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva in 1948, whose arm for refugee relief was Church World Service. The WCC’s membership included most Protestant and Orthodox churches and often worked closely with the Lutherans and Quakers. Roland Elliott of Church World Service wrote about his encounter with Hungarians at the border with Austria: I have seen the face of Jesus Christ, as His Church is struggling to meet this tragic and heroic situation...we have the privileged responsibility of opening our homes to those who come to the U.S.A.”19 The words of Gaither P. Warfield, the Director of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief, may adequately summarize the thinking of many Protestants. He wrote in 1958 that “Christian charity says that needy people, even panhandlers, are personalities, loved by God and precious in his sight.”20

The Catholic Church was not a member of the WCC, and the anxiety of some Catholic leaders about CWS contact with Catholic migrants helped inspire the establishment of the ICMC. Norris, whose Catholic piety and doctrinal orthodoxy were never in doubt, was quite happy to collaborate with his non-Catholic counterparts. I found no evidence that his clerical superiors in the CRS had a problem with this. Indeed, he had a good working relationship with the Holy See’s Deputy Secretary of State, Msgr. Montini, the later Pope Paul VI.

Two accounts of the refugee work of the CRS and WCC during the 1950s by Edgar H.S. Chandler and Eileen Eagan reveal significant similarities in these organizations’ service to migrants around the world. Chandler, the Director of the WCC’s Refugee Service and President of the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies Working for Refugees in 1959, was an American Congregationalist. In his view, the refugee worker was a sort of missionary, but one with a “soul on fire” to help one’s fellow human in need, anywhere and regardless of nationality and denomination. His 1959 account of the WCC’s refugee work only occasionally mentions the religion of WCC staffers and their clients around the world.21 Egan was a long-time staffer of the CRS. She wrote, “Thomas Merton recalls to us that we will find Christ in the rejected, the refugee ‘for whom there is no room.’ We will only find Christ if we find room for the forsaken ones in our heart.”22 Egan’s book only rarely mentions the WCC, and Chandler’s the CRS. It may be that these groups represented different fundamental attitudes toward social service. In the view of Edward Duff, the Catholic approach was more communitarian, while that of the Protestants was predicated on the faith of the individual.23 By analogy, the Protestant and Orthodox churches organized themselves on an explicitly national basis. The WCC, however, was no less international than the Catholic Church.

According to Allied and Soviet estimates, each bloc was caring for roughly seven million displaced persons (DPs) in September 1945. Repatriation and resettlement of many of these people took place over the course of two years under the auspices of the United Nations, but the task of providing care for migrants in place fell principally on the voluntary organizations. The expulsion of Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary by 1947 increased the unsettled population in occupied Germany again, and again the volunteer organizations were needed. Two new categories of migrants moved westward into Central Europe in 1946–48: Jewish survivors and opponents of the emerging Communist regimes. We will now turn to these groups as they relate to Hungary.

The Hungarian Refugee

The number of non-Jewish DPs from Hungary in the western occupation zones at the end of the war has been estimated at 112,000, of which 16,000 had been repatriated by September 1945.24 118,000 DPs from Hungary were registered in Germany in 1949.25 Many DPs were politically conservative, including adherents of the last wartime Hungarian government. Hungarian Primate Cardinal Mindszenty encouraged émigré priests to provide spiritual care for Hungarians who remained abroad. The Holy See appointed a former military chaplain who had come to Germany with the retreating Hungarians, Zoltán Kótai, as supervisor of pastoral care for Hungarian Catholics in Germany and Austria, and he served in this position in 1946–50. In January 1946, he reported that 109 Hungarian priests were active in Germany and Austria. The Protestant Hungarians also had their émigré clergy, and in greater numbers than the Catholics, whose bishops urged priests to stay with their parishes in Hungary if possible.26

Jewish survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust were also present among the DPs in Germany and Austria. Scandalously, they were often housed alongside their former German and Hungarian persecutors in the camps, but with a lower caloric ration. An American rabbi in the U.S. Army’s chaplain corps, Abraham J. Klausner, was an early witness to these conditions, and an American Protestant scholar named Earl G. Harrison, the U.S. representative on the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, toured the camps with the assistance of the European director of the JDC and wrote a report that was instrumental in rectifying these injustices. 27

A study commissioned by the World Jewish Congress indicated that 165,330 Jews had survived the Holocaust in Hungary and remained there at the end of the war. This figure may not adequately account for changes in borders, migration, and self-identity.28 A wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary during the spring of 1946, more or less tolerated by the police, prompted many survivors to leave Hungary. Financial support from the JDC and World Jewish Congress and the collaboration of the Hungarian National Bank facilitated the resettlement of 15,000 Hungarian Jewish survivors.29 This emigration was part of an international movement and a complex organization known as Brichah, flight, which brought perhaps 250,000 Jews out of Central Europe between 1945 and 1948.30 The total post-Holocaust Jewish emigration from Hungary up to 1956 may have been as high as 50,000. 17,000 Jewish refugees may have gone to Israel and less than half that number to the U.S.31

Aid to Hungary’s religious groups in money and in kind was substantial after the end of the war. The JDC recommenced operation in Hungary at the end of 1944, and it had an office in Budapest from February 1945 until it was forced to close in 1953. The value of support for Hungary during this period is recorded as nearly 50 million USD, prompting a historian to refer to this aid as a “small Marshall Plan for Hungary.”32 The JDC managed to maneuver for years in the complex politics of the anti-Fascist but also increasingly anti-Zionist regime. The CRS was able to open an office in Budapest at the end of 1945, but it had to close it earlier than the JDC, in 1950. Aid to Hungary raised by the American Catholic bishops was small compared to that from the JDC, recorded as 631,600 USD in Hungary in 1947–50.33

The early closure of the CRS office in Budapest reflected the difficult position of the Catholic Church in Hungary, whose combative leader, Cardinal Mindszenty, was arrested in 1949. As was its custom in other countries, the ACVAFS established a committee to coordinate the activity of its member agencies in Hungary, but it only functioned from 1946 to 1948. Its chairman was Henry E. Muller of the Unitarian Service Committee, whose coreligionists constituted one-tenth of one percent of the population according to the 1949 census (Catholics were 70.5 percent, Calvinists 21.9 percent, and Jews 2.7 percent). New agencies joined the committee in 1947, and the agencies’ food and clothing aid reportedly had the support of Prime Minister Lajos Dinnyés, but at its last meeting in June 1948 the members reported that operations in Hungary were becoming increasingly difficult because of the government’s distrust of foreign influence and organizational autonomy.34

The leaders of Hungary’s Christian churches and Jewish community were obliged in 1949–50 to conclude restrictive agreements. Marxist ideology saw no constructive role for religious faith, and the Hungarian regime saw none for clergy or organizations not under its complete control. The nationalization of schools run by the Catholic church removed 4,500 members of religious orders from the classroom. In 1950, 11,000 members of orders were expelled from their residences and 59 orders were abolished.35 Protestant and Jewish schools were also nationalized. Show trials led to the imprisonment of Cardinal Mindszenty, his successor as leader of Hungarian Catholics, Archbishop Grősz, and large numbers of other clergy. Lutheran bishop Lajos Ordass was tried and imprisoned, and Reformed bishops László Ravasz and László Pap were forced out of public life.

Religious order priests whose schools were closed were for the most part deprived of opportunities to serve as priests. Some found placement in the parishes thanks to the support of bishops who were willing to take this risky step, but many left the country illegally. Law XXVI, promulgated in 1950, defined illegal travel abroad as a crime against the state order because it deprived the country of labor and capital and placed the fugitive in the service of imperialist interests and spies.36 More than 70 Jesuits, Cistercians, and Paulines left the country illegally in this period.37 Those accused of assisting illegal emigration were tried and convicted under Law XXVI.

The CRS sponsored the resettlement of hundreds of Catholic clergy from East Central Europe to the U.S. Fr. László Szépe, the coordinator of the priests serving Hungarian refugees in Austria, wrote to the office in New York in 1949: “as our people are gradually emigrating, and a part of them of them is leaving for the United States, some of the clergymen would like to follow them. Would you kindly send me the necessary forms.” The annual report of WRS to its supervisory board for 1951–52 stated that “415 displaced priests from Iron Curtain countries have been brought to US since 1948.”38

Religious congregations in the diaspora were well supplied with new immigrant clergy. For many emigrants, the loss of the homeland, hunger, the uncertainty of life in the DP camps, and then adjustment to a new homeland after resettlement were dispiriting. The Catholic priests’ sense of mission lent purpose and optimism to their segment of the Hungarian emigration.39 In the reports to Hungary’s spy agency, the harmful influence of the “reactionary” clergy on Hungarian emigrants and their hostile attitude toward the socialist order were repeatedly emphasized.40 Religious communities provided an important support network for the recent Hungarian émigrés. To the extent that they had a political orientation, it was indeed decidedly conservative.

International Organizations and Austria in 1956

Three successive agencies of the United Nations coordinated refugee relief on behalf of the international organization beginning in 1943: the United Nations Refugee and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), the International Refugee Organization (IRO), and, beginning in 1951, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Continuing challenges for these organizations included the international dispute about their purpose and the limited funding placed at their disposal. The status of refugee, defined by the Geneva Convention of 1951, prescribed political or religious persecution in one’s home country as a precondition, and thus excluded many emigrants from international protection. The Soviet Union favored repatriation of emigrants, and resettlement was supported increasingly by the West as an alternative, but subject to the willingness of the receiving country. Another international agency in Geneva, which focused on resettlement and excluded members of the Soviet bloc, was the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration (ICEM).

The UNHCR relied upon the Red Cross, ICEM, and the voluntary agencies to compensate for its own limitations. The first High Commissioner, the Dutchman Dr. G. J. van Heuven Goedhart, far from taking a rigidly secular stance, recognized the religious motivation of many voluntary agencies as appropriate and valuable. His address at the international Catholic migration congress organized by the ICMC in the Netherlands in September 1954 followed one by Msgr. Edward E. Swanstrom, the Executive Director of WRS. Applauding the American monsignor’s remarks, Goedhart asserted that “the Christian spirit behind the work is the main impetus, the most important impetus, which will lead us to achieve our goal.41

The goal of refugee relief—resettlement, permanent settlement, or repatriation—was an ongoing challenge for Austria, which received two million refugees after 1945 of whom about 700,000 would eventually remain in Austria.42 Some 114,000 so-called old refugees, 20,000 of them living in camps, remained in Austria on the eve of the Hungarian crisis.43 Some were German expellees for whom the Austrian government took responsibility, while others were non-Germans. Thus the Austrian government, UNHCR, and associated agencies were collaborators of long standing; the UNHCR, ICEM, and the voluntary agencies maintained offices in Vienna, and both the ACVAFS and its Austrian counterpart periodically convened meetings of their affiliated agencies.44 The achievement of Austrian sovereignty by the State Treaty of 1955 increased the government’s ability to address emigrants’ needs by eliminating the division of the country into zones of military occupation and reducing the pressure by the Soviet Union for the repatriation of émigrés. The ruling coalition of the two major parties, ÖVP (the People’s Party, or Christian Democrats) and SPÖ (the Socialists), was united in its support for sovereignty and refugee relief. The ÖVP supplied Austria’s Chancellor, Julius Raab, and Foreign Minister, Leopold Figl, while the SPÖ supplied the Minister of Interior, Oskar Helmer. As we will see, Helmer played a crucial role in the refugee program.

In the spirit of the government coalition, Austria’s Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter on social concerns criticizing both liberal capitalism and Communism and calling for social solidarity and partnership, with the traditional Catholic preference for local over government initiative.45 The bishops’ letter, dated October 16, 1956, was surely in the minds of many Austrian Catholics on the eve of the Hungarian revolution. The Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, Franz König, called upon his SOS Department and Caritas to collect and distribute donations for Hungarians after October 23. Both the Austrian government and the UN General Assembly called for an end to the fighting and the sending of humanitarian aid to the Hungarian people. The leaders of Austrian Caritas and the WCC delivered a major shipment to Győr on October 31, and convoys of Caritas and the Red Cross made it as far as Budapest. Donations of medicine, food, and clothing from governments and private agencies began arriving in Austria and Hungary by land and air. Archbishop König became co-chair of an Österreichisches Nationalkommittee für Ungarn, which coordinated aid “with the participation of all welfare groups, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, public and private.” Fr. Fabian Flynn, the head of the CRS office in Vienna, reportedly led two convoys with ten trucks of supplies to Budapest and personally met Cardinal Mindszenty, but was turned back on a third trip.46 Other religious agencies were similarly engaged.

After the second Soviet intervention on November 4, the aid convoys were no longer able to enter Hungary. There was a new emphasis on refugee relief, which the UN’s General Secretary assigned to the UNHCR. On October 28, when 10,000 refugees had already entered Austria, Oskar Helmer declared that his country would grant asylum to any Hungarian who requested it, without examining individuals’ motives. Fearing much larger numbers would overwhelm Austria, Helmer wired the countries represented in the leadership of the UNHCR and ICEM on November 4 to ask them to pledge donations and accept Hungarians for resettlement.

Religious Agencies Meet the Refugee Crisis in Austria

The UNHCR and ICEM had access to national governments (among which the American government donated more money and material for refugee relief than any other source), but the voluntary societies had the ability to mobilize rapidly and motivate volunteers. As the flow of Hungarians across the largely open Austrian border swelled on 4 November, Helmer called an emergency meeting of König’s committee, and Caritas volunteers began a desperate effort to prepare the former Soviet camp at Traiskirchen. The camp was in terrible shape when the first Hungarians arrived that evening. But many organizations pitched in to get the situation under control. A British Quaker reported:

One sees...all manner of uniforms. A boy scout for instance, suddenly charges up a long flight of stairs; a Catholic priest goes from room to room; a journalist squats on the edge of
somebody’s bed struggling to get a coherent story on to [sic] paper. All have come to help; everybody wants to do something useful, and it is indeed surprising that out of the chaos little miracles of organization do emerge and impossible things do get done.47

Having relatively small communities in the countries of resettlement, the Quakers were given the task of overall coordination of clothing distribution in the camp.

At a higher level, the agency leaders found coordination challenging because of their organizations’ independence, missionary impulse, and the extraordinary emergency they faced and wanted to address without delay. Charles H. Jordan was the JDC’s Director General for Overseas Operations representing the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies. He convened agencies in Vienna on the evening of November 5 in hopes of leaving immediately afterwards for consultations in New York, but decided to delay his departure. The ICEM office reported after talking to him that, “[e]ach voluntary agency evidently wanted its own particular empire protected and there was great difficulty to combine ideas and co-ordinate activities,” and “Jordan was thoroughly disappointed with the outcome of the meeting.” ICEM for its part disapproved of the desire of Caritas and CRS to move Catholic refugees out of the camps and into smaller, private facilities. ICEM objected to this and resolved to consult Norris about it.48

The push by the Austrian government for resettlement, to which ICEM, the UNHCR, and member governments were responding, prompted resistance by the voluntary agencies. Helmer and ICEM preferred to keep the refugees in camps as long as they were in Austria so that they could be registered there and communicate promptly with governments about resettlement opportunities. Caritas for its part claimed that many refugees were deciding in favor of resettlement too hastily, under the pressure of the inhumane and demoralizing conditions in the camps and the recruitment efforts of receiving countries. Traiskirchen, it was reported, could provide places to sleep for only three-fourths of its 4,000 residents, and it lacked electricity and running water. Caritas arranged and helped pay (with support from the government) for thousands of refugees to stay in hotels where they could recover from the shock of their life-changing experience, receive counselling about options for employment, resettlement, or even repatriation (“for no one has the right to deny fugitives their homeland forever”), and decide whether they wanted to travel farther or wait for their relatives.49 The program was called Gastaktion, “because Christ comes as guest in the person of the refugee.” Its originator was the director of Vienna Caritas since 1950, Msgr. Leopold Ungar, and it was reportedly imitated by the Evangelisches Hilfswerk, JDC, and the Knights of Malta, another Catholic aid organization, which all created similar programs.50

In the case of the JDC, more was involved than parallel thinking, let alone imitation. According to the JDC Annual Report,

Because Austria had the greatest difficulty in accommodating refugees—in the beginning the camps even lacked basic necessities—the Austrian Government appealed to the population and to voluntary agencies for help. Jewish refugees also found it difficult to be quartered with some antagonistic elements among the Hungarians and [the] JDC thereupon set up a housing scheme for the placement of 9000 refugees in inns, hotels, furnished rooms and small installations.

This was very expensive, and it was gradually superseded by the establishment of two Austrian camps exclusively for Jewish refugees supported jointly by the Red Cross, the Austrian government, and the JDC.51 The provision of kosher kitchens was one consideration, but not the only one, since Orthodox Jews constituted only a minority of the Hungarian Jews.

The religious agencies gave special, but not exclusive, attention to their coreligionists. There were variations in the religious distribution of the refugees in 1956–57 compared to the data in Hungary’s 1949 census. Two surveys by the Austrian government52 of the Hungarians still present in the country in February and October 1957 found the percentage of Catholics consistent with their percentage in 1949, that of the Protestants lower, and that of the Jews much higher:

1949 census53 February 1, 1957 October 28, 1957

Greek, Roman Catholics

70.5 percent

68.3 percent

70.1 percent

Reformed + Lutherans

27.1 percent

16.1 percent

18.7 percent


2.7 percent

10.2 percent

10.5 percent


Table 1. Religious distribution of Hungarians in Austria

The low percentage of Protestants may be in large part a consequence of the emigrants’ geographic origin. A later analysis of the emigrants by Hungary’s Central Statistical Office provided no religious data, but noted that more than 80 percent of the refugees had a last Hungarian place of residence in Budapest or towns further west, whereas the largest concentration of Protestants was in the east.54 In the case of 365 refugees interviewed by the Columbia University Research Project Hungary (CURPH), whose metadata are searchable online, a preponderance of Catholics and residents of Budapest is observable.55 One may argue, as does András Mink is examining the CURPH findings, that “Western observers...had an obsolete image of an essentially rural and religious Hungarian society and disregarded the urbanization, industrialization and secularization that had been under way [sic] long before the communist takeover.”56 The fact remains that governments and relief agencies, and not only CURPH, attached importance to religious categories.

A modest but significant number of clergy left the country. Of the 365 CURPH interview subjects, seven were identified as Catholic priests.57 Applying the same ratio for the 200,000 56ers would produce a total of 3,836 priests. The leadership of the Jesuits in Hungary voted after the Revolution to send the thirty novices of its province abroad.58 The superior of the Paulines, István Jenő Csellár, had been imprisoned in 1951 for various alleged crimes, including providing assistance for illegal émigrés. Csellár himself joined the exodus after the Revolution, as evidenced by his petition for admission to the U.S. from Austria, along with two other members of his order. He entered the U.S. in July 1957. 59

The percentage of Jewish emigrants was remarkably high relative to their remaining population, which had continued to shrink after 1949 due to legal and illegal emigration. Given the varying criteria for Jewish identity, historians are cautious in their estimates of the number of Jewish 56ers, ranging from 15,000 to 30,000, from one-fifth to one-third of the members of the Jewish population of Hungary who had remained on the eve of the revolution. Jewish survivors in Hungary were understandably anxious about the possibility of an anti-Semitic upsurge, and this, more than the actual incidents during the revolution, may explain the Jewish exodus.60 Fully two-thirds (8117) of the Hungarian citizens granted permission to emigrate legally in the first five months of 1957 emigrated to Israel.61

A high percentage of all the emigrants chose the United States as their desired destination, between 45 percent and 53 percent in the two Austrian surveys.62 More émigrés ended up settling in the U.S. than in any other country, but there were many who, hoping in vain for an American visa, refused to go elsewhere and became demoralized and in some cases suicidal.

The U.S. was as eager as other countries to expedite resettlement, as was urgently demanded by the Austrians, but it faced certain legal limitations unknown to other receiving countries. A provision in the Refugee Relief Act stated that an entry visa required an assurance that the traveler would not become a public charge, and during the period of greatest urgency the voluntary agencies were granted responsibility for assurances based on a quota for their coreligionists. Pierce Gerety, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of State for refugee affairs, told an emergency meeting of the ACVAFS in November: “The Austrian government wants these people out as quickly as possible.” The committee’s chair, Msgr. Swanstrom, and other agency representatives expressed concern about pressure for rapid action, especially because they did not want to be the ones to decide who would get visas to enter the U.S.63 It was apparently this peculiarity in American procedures that prompted an agreement between the CRS and ICMC according to which the CRS would focus its immigration counseling on movements to the U.S., whereas the ICMC and Caritas would “counsel schemes both inside and outside Europe.”64 Fr. Flynn wrote New York from the Vienna office of the CRS describing the pressure he was under, but he also reported improvement:

Of the thousands of Hungarian Refugees who have already gone to the United States under the emergency and sponsored by CRS I doubt that more than 200 were really thoroughly interviewed. We simply were not given the time [by the Embassy] to do this… Now, as I said before, and thank God, we can act in a more orderly and sensible manner.65

The CRS staff in Austria, bolstered by colleagues from neighboring countries and volunteers, numbered 225 in locations around the country. The head of the Salzburg office of the CRS reported that the work was “a nightmare of improvisation” and “not entirely free from confusion,” but succeeded thanks to dedication and collaboration with the many other agencies and organizations.66

James Norris wrote that the sudden Hungarian exodus has constituted the biggest movement of Catholic refugees. Yet Catholic organizations have not been alone in coping with the problem.”67 The ICMC’s Migration News understandably focused on the Catholic organizations, and indeed they had far more staff working directly with the Hungarian refugees than the other religious agencies. A coordinating committee for government, intergovernmental, and voluntary agencies working on the Hungarian refugee crisis met in Geneva seventeen times between 13 November 1956 and 21 October 1957. The minutes reveal strong engagement not only by the CRS and ICMC, but also by Charles Jordan, representing the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies Working for Refugees and the JDC, Edgar Chandler, and various representatives of the UNHCR, ICEM, Red Cross, U.S. Escapee Program, CARE, AFSC, and various smaller agencies.68

Recurrent topics in the coordinating committee included the current status of refugee flow into and out of Hungary, the management of the camps by the Red Cross or the Austrian government, and the supply of food and clothing. Both the Catholic agencies and those with fewer staff on the ground in Austria distributed materials collected through their own fundraising efforts as well as those supplied by U.S. government surplus and USEP funds. Within the ACVAFS New York office, the Committee on Migration and Refugee Affairs focused on the movement of people, whereas a separate Ad Hoc Committee on Hungary was dedicated to the supply of material within both Austria and Hungary.69 The Vienna council of the ACVAFS may have met less frequently (there are relatively few minutes in the ACVAFS archives) because it was so busy actually working with the refugees. One topic documented in the records is the division of proceeds from a fundraising effort on behalf of Hungarian youth. One such breakdown was 56 percent for CRS, 21 percent for the Lutheran World Federation/World Council of Churches, 11 percent for AJDC, and 2 percent each for the Brethren Service Commission, the Hungarian Refugee Service, the International Social Service, the World Ort Union, and the YMCA/YWCA.70

Care for the several thousand unaccompanied youth was an increasingly common topic in the committee meetings, especially as the number of Hungarian refugees waned in 1957. The worldwide interest in adopting refugee orphans far outstripped their actual number. The UNHCR, Austrian and Hungarian governments, and the voluntary agencies were all engaged in a discussion about the options for repatriation, resettlement, or settlement in Austria. Many voluntary agencies helped establish group homes and schools for Hungarian young people who resettled in Germany or stayed in Austria.71

Hungarian intelligence analysis of intercepted mail72 reported frequent contacts between the refugees and the clergy in the camps and resettlement communities. Allegations of anti-Communist agitation in these encounters, recruitment into intelligence services, or dissemination of propaganda seem to have been exaggerations. The religious component of these encounters presumed concern for the individual traveler and how he or she might deal with the available choices with the help of a kind word and ready ear, perhaps also with sacraments or prayer. In their committee reports, the WCC and the Catholic agencies emphasized that they had staff who spoke Hungarian and sought out the refugees. On November 23, 1956, Pope Pius named Bishop Stephan László, administrator of the Burgenland province (where most of the refugees entered Austria) and a speaker of Hungarian, as Apostolic Visitor for the Catholic Hungarian refugees in Austria. In this position, László had authority over all Hungarian priests arriving in Austria as refugees and the responsibility of ensuring that priests with knowledge of Hungarian attend to the refugees wherever they were. László published a bulletin in German and another in Hungarian for clergy working with the refugees.73

In the United States, the religious agencies and clergy detailed to Camp Kilmer participated in the processing of refugees, performed religious services, and held weddings. The fifteen members of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief in Washington, DC included CRS Director Msgr. Edward Swanson, Charles P. Taft (one of the founders of the WCC), and ACVAFS Chairman Moses A. Leavitt of the JDC. Four of the seven voluntary agencies represented at Camp Kilmer were religious in character: the CRS, CWS, HIAS, and LRS. Camp Kilmer’s operating manual states:

the NCWC often assigns groups of refugees to a given Diocese, which is in turn expected to work out the actual sponsorships locally within the parishes. In all instances, the Sponsoring
Agency is the organization to which the United States Government and the Hungarians look for the finalizing of the resettlement plan, as well as the maintenance of contact.74

Many refugees left the camp in response to invitations from relatives or employers without waiting for religious sponsorship. In all, 32,000 refugees passed through Camp Kilmer before it closed in April, 1957. The religious agencies and at least one Hungarian American organization criticized the decision to channel refugees through Camp Kilmer.75 On 13 November 1956, the CRS invited diocesan resettlement directors to notify the central office if they were ready to receive Hungarians in large quantities, encouraging them to write: “send us a planeload.” A follow-up circular issued on 3 December stated: “We have had dozens of requests for planeloads of refugees for specific cities... We have agreed that all refugees would come to Camp Kilmer where we would group them for transportation to specific destinations.”

According to the Resettlement Newsletter of the CRS, twelve dioceses did receive planeloads, carrying 75-100 people at a time.76 Two Hungarian priests organized the reception of the planeload that landed in Chicago on 13 December and apparently supplied the front page headline in the Chicago Daily Sun-Times: “Isten Hozta a Szabadság Országabá [sic] (Translation from Hungarian: God Brought You to Freedom’s Country.”77 Another paper reported: “A Hungarian refugee broke into a warm smile” at the sight of the headline.78


The history of the reception of Hungarian refugees after the 1956 Revolution has generally been recounted as an impressive success story. The refugees in general were highly educated, and they brought with them youthful ambition. They benefitted from growing economies in the host countries, thus it might seem that they were predestined for success in their new lives. We can ascribe the warm welcome they received in part to the Cold War heroization of freedom fighters and victims of Communist repression. This study suggests that the religious or spiritual message in this welcome must also be considered. Voluntary agencies, their donors, and volunteers were not immune to the political milieu, but they were also motivated by their particular, and indeed widely shared, humanitarian mission.

The collaboration between the bureaucrats and the voluntary agencies was largely successful, despite their at times diverging missions. The resolutely upbeat tone of American government relief managers was at odds with the occasionally tense exchanges between the American officials and voluntary agency representatives. In contrast to the positive note in the promotional materials of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief, its chair, Tracy Voorhees, regretted the American decision to phase out large-scale refugee relief in the spring of 1957 in response to declining support for the program in Congress. Fr. Flynn, the director of the CRS office in Vienna, spoke to a meeting of Catholic resettlement directors in New York on February 19, 1957. He painted an alarming picture of overcrowding in Austrian camps, and he lamented the flagging support for the refugees among politicians.79 The demoralizing waits endured by refugees still stranded in the Austrian camps and cases of unemployment in countries of resettlement prompted some refugees to return to Hungary. Voluntary repatriation reached over 20,000 by 1960.80

The ACVAFS published a report in April 1958 that noted various purported shortcomings in the reception of Hungarian refugees, from the federal government’s preference for routing refugees through Camp Kilmer to inadequate attention to humanitarian considerations and inequitable, inconsistent criteria applied in the selection of candidates for resettlement.81 Fr. Flynn had called in his 19 February address for the U.S. government and the UNHCR to act more responsibly. This would indeed occur in the coming years, as both took on a larger share of the initiative and expense of refugee relief. The relative impact of the voluntary agencies would consequently decline, although they continue to exert some influence to the present day.82


Archival Sources

AANY Archives of the Ardiocese of New York, Yonkers. Cardinal Spellman Papers

ABTL Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára, Budapest, Hungary

AJDC American Jewish Distribution Committee, New York, online archives at


CMS Center for Migration Studies, New York

CZW Caritas Zentrale Wien, Austria. Binder of reports on the Hungarian Crisis

DAE Diözesanarchiv Eisenstadt, Austria. Nachlass Bischof László

DAW Diözesanarchiv Wien, Austria

IOM International Organization for Migration, Geneva, Switzerland. Library Archives.

Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, Records

SCUA Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University,

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American Council of Voluntary Societies for Foreign Service, Papers

UNOG Archives of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. United Nations High

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1 1956 és a szocializmus; Világtörténet 6 (38), no. 3 (2016). A study by me was published in both forums.

2 Ibolya Murber’s fine recent study begins with a good survey of Hungarian and Austrian scholarship: Murber, “Az 1956-os magyar menekültek,” 123–28. For American scholarship, see my “A befogadás kulturája” and “Hungarian Refugees of 1956” and Pastor’s “The American Reception.”

3 Geneva was the most important of several cities where I conducted research for this study. I would like to express thanks to the following staff who provided valuable assistance: Heather Faulkner at the UNHCR, Kerstin Lau at the International Organization for Migration, and Barbara Sartore at the International Catholic Migration Commission in Geneva; Johann Weißensteiner at the Diözesanarchiv Wien and Walther Pröglhöf at Caritas der Erzdiözese Wien [Caritas Zentrale Wien] in Vienna; Agnes Maleschits at the Diözesanarchiv Eisenstadt in Eisenstadt; Éva Sz. Kovács at the Állambiztonsági Történeti Levéltára in Budapest; Mary Brown of the Center for Migration Studies in New York, Kate Feighery of the Archives of the Archdiocese of New York in Yonkers, and Albert C. King of Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University. Fellow historians Gusztáv Kecskés, András Nagy, Tamás Stark, and Éva Petrás as well as my anonymous referees were generous with advice but should be absolved of any responsibility for my errors. I’m also grateful to the Rutgers University Libraries for granting a brief research leave that enabled me to prepare this study in the middle of a busy academic year.

4 Egan, For Whom there is No Room, 236.

5 “Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring President Árpád Göncz of Hungary, June 8, 1999,” in Public Papers of the United States Presidents, William J. Clinton; the streamers welcoming Kossuth in New York are recounted in László, Napló-töredék, 141—with some ambiguity as to whether the inscription was in Hungarian.

6 Kirby, “The Cold War,” 285.

7 Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, 88.

8 Kirby, “The Churches and Christianity in Cold War Europe,” 196.

9 Kirby, “The Cold War,” 301–03.

10 Luxmoore and Babiuch, The Vatican and the Red Flag, 65.

11 On Austria: Köchler, “Das Verhältnis von Religion und Politik.”

12 Hollenbach, “Religion and Forced Migration,” 447–51. All scriptural passages in this paragraph appear as cited by Hollenbach.

13 Reiss, ACVAFS: Four Monographs; Nichols, The Uneasy Alliance. Reiss was a long-time staffer of the ACVAFS who was very involved in its refugee and migration committee. The records of the ACVAFS are preserved and available for research in Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Nichols is one of the few historians who has consulted them.

14 Holborn, Refugees: A Problem of Our Time, 542; Kupke, “James J. Norris,” 241.

15 Kupke, “James J. Norris.

16 Tessarolo, ed., Exsul Familia.

17 This journal is not identical with the later Migration News, published at the University of California at Davis since 1994.

18 In his account of the JDC’s work during the Hungarian crisis, Theodore Feder, its director for Austria, wrote: “The story of the American Joint Distribution Committee is not necessarily a story of religion…its primary purpose is to serve the needs, physical as well as spiritual, of distressed and persecuted Jews in all parts of the world.” Feder, “Ecclesiastical Care of Hungarian Refugees: Jewish Refugees,” 131.

19 Nichols, The Uneasy Alliance, 90. The letter to CWS officials is dated December 12, 1957 by Nichols, but based on context appears to have been written a year earlier.

20 Warfield, “Is the Good Samaritan Outmoded?,” cited in Chiba, “The Role of the Protestant Church,” 22.

21 Egan, For Whom there is No Room; Chandler, The High Tower of Refuge.

22 Egan, For Whom there is No Room, 370.

23 Duff, appendix “The ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ Emphases,” in The Social Thought of the World Council of Churches, 309–20.

24 Dunai, “Élet a galutban,” 60.

25 Borbándi, A magyar emigráció életrajza, 53.

26 Ibid., 24.

27 Bauer, Flight and Rescue: Brichah, 57–62; 76–81.

28 The figure is examined by Tamás Stark in Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust, 88–95.

29 Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, v2: 1849-től a jelenkorig, 880.

30 Bauer, Flight and Rescue: Brichah, 320.

31 Stark, Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust, 149, 160, 166–67.

32 Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, 917.

33 AANY. Table: “Funds Distributed to War Relief Services—N.C.W.C. from Bishops’ Relief Campaign February 1, 1947 to October 31, 1950,” in War Relief Services Interim Report, Summary of General Report, War Relief Services-NCWC. November 14, 1950. Folder 18: War Relief Services Interim Report, 1950–1957.

34 SCUA. Box 62: Councils Abroad; Box 127: Country Committees, folder: Hungary.

35 The data are taken from A magyar katolikusok szenvedései 1944–1989.

36 Horváth et al., eds., Iratok az igazságszolgáltatás történetéhez, v1, 300–01; v4, 317–19.

37 Bánkuti, Jezsuiták a diktatúrában, 54–64.

38 AANY. Report to the Board of Trustees, War Relief Services, 1 October 1951 to 30 September 1952. p12. Collection Number 023.002. Catholic Relief Services Collection. Box 1, Folders 5, 9: Catholic Committee for Refugees, Annual Reports; Folder 24: Report to the Board of Trustees, War Relief Services

39 Dreisziger, Church and Society in Hungary and in the Hungarian; Borbándi, 28

40 ABTL. 3.2.5. 0-8-2001/42, “Szabadságharcosok”: reports on Hungarian émigré communities in 1950; 4.1. A-3177, “Összefoglaló jelentés az egyházi emigrációról”: insights from intercepted émigré and clerical mail, 1959.

41 van Heuven Goedhart, “Address,” 19.

42 “Flüchtlingsland Österreich.”

43 Report of the UNHCR, 17 January 1957, cited by Kecskés, “Bevezetés,” 26.

44 The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der freiwilligen Hilfsorganisationen is alluded to in the records of the ACVAFS, but I could not locate its records in any Austrian repository.

45 Rusch, ed. Der Sozialhirtenbrief der österreichischen Bischöfe.

46 Wycislo, “Escape to America,” 326–27. Msgr. Wycislo was the deputy director of CRS. The reader may justly be skeptical about the details of his narrative, since he writes with some exaggeration: “It is conservatively estimated that 85% of the approximately 140,000 Hungarian escapees are Roman Catholics.” 332. A report on Flynn’s later promotion includes his biography: “Priest Who Aided Freedom Fighters Named CRS-NCWC Director of Information,” NCWC News Service, November 16, 1961. CMS, NCWC Department of Immigration—General Correspondence. Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems—Catholic Relief Services. Box 10. Folder: Catholic Relief Services-NCWC, Diocesan Resettlement Committees

47 Eileen Taylor, “Life in Traiskirchen,” in an AFSC newsletter dated December 1956. In SCUA. Box 82, folder: Hungarian Revolution 1956: Agencies, relief programs.

48 IOM. A.R. Driver, Chief, Department of Operations, “Notes on Austrian Position,” November 5–6, in International Organization for Migration, Library Archives. Binder: C.I.M. Hungarian Refugees SIT-00-049. Béla Rásky has argued that the voluntary agencies’ collaboration was undermined by their “subtle competitive relationship.” “‘Flüchtlinge haben auch auch Pflichten.’”

49 CZW. “Sinn der Flüchtlingsaktion der Karitas” speaks of 3,000 Hungarians hosted, while “Die Ungarnhilfe der Caritas,” apparently written later, speaks of 7,000. The compilation by Caritas in 2006, “50 Jahr Ungarnkrise,” states that 6098 had been housed by the Caritas Gastaktion by January 1957.

50 CZW. “Caritas der Erzdiözese Wien. Caritas-Verband,” Vienna, December 12, 1956.

51 AJDC. Joint Distribution Committee, 1957 Annual Report, 4.

52 Kern, Österreich: Offene Grenze der Menschlichkeit, 78. The original compilation for 1 February is in “Sozialstatistische Mitteilung,” UNOG. Fonds 11 Series 1 Box 304: Statistics—Hungarian refugees.

53 Central Statistical Office, 1949. évi népszámlalás, Pt 2, 12.

54 “KSH felmérése az 1956-os disszidálásról, 177; maps for the distribution of the Lutherans and Reformed in 1920, in Balogh and Gergely, Egyházak az újkori Magyarországon 1790–1992, 262–63.

55 Hungarian Refugee Interviews from 1957–1958.

56 Mink, “Columbia University Research Project Hungary,” 13.

57 Hungarian Refugee Interviews from 1957–1958. One of the seven answered affirmatively as to whether he was an “active fighter in 1956.” “No. 478” was a 28 year-old Franciscan monk.

58 Bánkuti, Jezsuiták a diktatúrában, 173.

59 CMS. CMS 023b. United States Catholic Conference. Bureau of Immigration. Records. Series VII: Clergy. Box 145, folder 4423.

60 Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, 1032–40; Stark, Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust, 168; AJDC. Joint Distribution Committee, 1957 Annual Report, 3.

61 “KSH,” 177.

62 Kern, Österreich: Offene Grenze der Menschlichkeit, 80.

63 SCUA. Box 69: Displaced Persons and Refugees. Folder: Migration and Refugee Problems, Committee on. Minutes. Meeting of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Problems, November 9, 1956.

64 UNOG. Victor Beermann [head of the UNHCR office in Vienna) to the UNHCR office in Geneva, December 3, 1956. Fonds 11 Series 1. Box 105. 4/45 HUN International Catholic Migration Commission-Assistance to Hungarian Refugees.

65 CMS. Flynn to Msgr. Emil N. Kamora, Executive Director, The Catholic Committee for Refugees, NY. 1/7/57. In Center for Migration Studies. O24. NCWC—Department of Immigration—New York Office and NCWC Catholic Committee for Refugee. Records. General Correspondence. Box 9/31, Folder: Hungarian Children. Children’s Division.

66 Boyle, “N.C.W.C.-Austria and the Hungarian Refugees,” 17–19.

67 Norris, “Hungarian Refugee Emergency,” 2–3.

68 The minutes of the seventeen meetings are reproduced in Hungarian translation (from the English original) in Kecskés, Egy globális humanitárius akció hétköznapjai.

69 The minutes for five meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee on Hungary are online at AJDC.

70 SCUA. Minutes for the meeting of 16 May 1957, in Box 61. Councils Abroad—AUSTRIA—Hungarian Refugee Relief 1956–57.

71 Nagy, Magyar középiskolák Ausztriában 1956 után; Cserháti, “A katolikus egyház szerepe az 1956-os magyar fiatalok beilleszkedésében Németországban.”

72 ABTL. 4.1. A-3177, “Összefoglaló jelentés az egyházi emigracióról.”

73 DAE. The archives contain one issue (issue 2) of the German bulletin Mitteilungen des apostolischen Administrators für die seelsorgerliche der ungarischen Flüchtlinge and none of the Hungarian bulletin Egyházi értesítő. The German bulletin indicates he requested reports from the Hungarian refugee priests, but I’m unable to locate these reports, nor do there seem to be copies of either bulletin in the Austrian or Hungarian National Libraries. Selected documents and accounts of pastoral work among the refugees are published in Gáal, ed., 1956 und das Burgenland.

74 Manual of Policies and Procedures. The passage cited is from E-8, “Functions and Responsibilities of the Sponsoring Agencies.”

75 On the government’s view of Camp Kilmer and its critics, see Niessen, “Hungarian Refugees of 1956,” 129.

76 CMS 023b. Bureau of Immigration, Box 153. Folder 4857. Hungarians, pt. 2 and folder 4858. Hungarians, pt. 3.

77 Chicago Daily Sun-Times, December 13, 1956, p 1. The Hungarian version (and the English translation) that the paper included in the headline were correct, with only one error in the Hungarian diacritics.

78 Gilstrap, “Chicago Welcomes Hungarian Refugees,” Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 1956, 6.

79 “Refugee Centers Scored by Priest: Return to Hungary Seen if ‘Indecent’ Overcrowding in Austria Continues,” New York Times February 20, 1957, 12.

80 Niessen, “Hungarian Refugees of 1956,” 131–33; Porter, Benevolent Empire, 135–52.

81 Report of Fact Finding Committee of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Problems, April 21, 1958; SCUA Box 69, folder Migration and Refugee Problems, Committee on, and Box 82, folder Fact Finding Committee: Minutes-Memos-Reports-Correspondence 1956–58.

82 Porter, “Epilogue,” in Benevolent Empire, 205–19; Loescher, The UNHCR and World Politics, especially “The Emerging Independence of the UNHCR under Auguste Lindt,” 81–104.


Figure 1. U.S. Army Official Photographs from 1956 preserved in the National Archives and Records Administration. In the public domain; from the 1956 refugee collection of the Blinken OSA Archivum. Accessed October 5, 2017. http://www.refugees1956.org/2017/01/21/1956-hungarian-refugees-in-the-us-photo-gallery/.


Figure 2. Fr. László Szépe to the Catholic Committee for Refugees in New York, 1949, with an appeal for assistance for Hungarian refugees in Austria from Caritas Hungarica in Austria. Source: Center for Migration Studies. 024. NCWC—Department of Immigration—New York Office and NCWC Catholic Committee for Refugees. Records. General Correspondence. Box 21/31. Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.


Figure 3. “Send us a planeload”: The 21 December 1956 issue of the CRS’s Resettlement Newsletter depicts planeloads of people arriving in Detroit and Chicago. CMS 023b. Bureau of Immigration, Box 153. Folder 4857. Hungarians, pt. 2. Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.