István Draskóczy

 Minorities in Hungary during the Árpádian Age

  "Guests and settlers bring such profit that they rightly stand in the sixth place of royal dignitaries. ... Seeing that these guests come from various regions and provinces, bringing with them various tongues and customs, various inventions and weapons, all of which enrich the country, enhance the magnificence of the court and discourage foreigners from arrogance. A country with but one tongue and one custom is weak and frail. Therefore I command thee, my son, to act benevolently towards settlers, to hold them in esteem that they live more willingly with thee than elsewhere. If thou wouldst destroy what I have built or scatter what I have gathered together, ‘twould doubtless be to thy country's detriment."[1]

       These oft-quoted sentences come from the Admonitions of King St. Stephen addressed to his son Emerich. Although the text itself has been preserved in a 15th century codex, the words are believed to be those of the first Hungarian king and it is widely held that they were known to his contemporaries, as well as in later periods of medieval Hungary.

       The words of the Admonitions are borne out by the organization of the medieval Hungarian state. In his efforts to strengthen western Christianity and to create a ‘modern' state, King St. Stephen could hardly have acted or thought otherwise. He could only expect assistance in this work from western hospites, knights and priests, for only they could enhance the magnificence of his court. Only with their help could be sure that foreigners would not scorn his country and his court. The above-quoted text of the Admonitions indicates that the first Hungarian king had these persons in mind when he passed on his wisdom to his son.

       At the same time, not only nobles and high-ranking persons, but peasants, craftsmen, merchants and simple knights were also welcomed. Eastern settlers were also welcomed, not only the people arriving from the west. It seems likely that King St. Stephen also had them in mind when voicing his thoughts.

       Hungary was a rather large country compared to its population. It had about half a million inhabitants around 1000, a number which grew to 1.1-1.2 million by 1200 and to around 1.6 million by 1300. At the time of King Sigismund's death in 1437, the country's population numbered some 3 million and this remained more or less the same until the late 15th century (2.9-3.3 million). The population density was around 1.5 people per square kilometre, increasing to around 10 people per square kilometre, a figure that was well below the European average. One important priority of royal policy throughout the Middle Ages was the attraction of as many settlers as possible.

       The general circumstances in western Europe after 1000 favoured the settlement policy of the rulers of the House of Árpád. The overpopulated European regions were unable to support their population and settlers set out in every direction, especially towards eastern Europe. Under King Stephen and his successors, the Hungarian state proved attractive to settlers from other lands since they could live in security and the country abounded in natural resources. Obviously, the country would only have proven attractive to these settlers if they could be certain that they would be allowed to live according their own customs and if royal administration kept its interference in their affairs to a minimum. The Árpádian rulers respected the customs of all nations insofar as these did not clash with the Catholic faith (and it must here also be noted that they did not coerce conversions to Christianity).

       These settlers are often mentioned in 11th century Hungarian legislation. They were called hospites, guests. Two legends of King Stephen mention that the men who had attacked the Petchenegs were hanged in retribution. According to the legend written by Hartvik sometime in the early 11th century, "he [the king] wanted his country to be a haven to every guest." Hungarians were sometimes also called hospites when as they moved from one place within the country to another. Still, the quoted example concerns genuine foreign settlers.

        The immigrants from western Europe enjoyed various privileges. The charters issued by King Andrew II repeatedly mention that the king must strive to preserve the integrity of the freedom of his guests since they bring honour to the crown and profit to the country. Each person must be judged according to his own law. This would imply that these hospes communities could act as arbitrators in their own affairs, could live according to their own laws and that smaller matters were taken before judges whom they had elected from among themselves.

       During the Árpádian Age, foreigners predominantly settled on royal land, mostly because the greater part of the estates was in royal ownership. This would imply that the hospites benefited directly from royal policy.

       Nobody was particularly surprised if somebody did not speak Hungarian or was not a Christian. The Magyar tribes of the Conquest period also included groups that spoke a Turkic tongue. Arriving to the Carpathian Basin, they found Slavic peoples and remnants of the Avars who had settled here earlier. The captives and slaves from the raiding expeditions also swelled the ranks of the ‘foreigners'.

       The settlers can be grouped according to whether they came from the east, the south or the west. Let us first briefly review the easterners.

       The historical record shows that a variety of eastern population groups had settled and had lived in Hungary during the Árpádian Age. We know of a Muslim merchant from Hungary who had been active in Prague in 965. The Ishmaelites formed another group, together with the Káliz whose ancestors originated from Khwarezm (now in Uzbekistan). They were excellent archers and merchants, and many leading officials of the financial administration were chosen from among their ranks. Their settlements lay along the major commercial routes. The late 11th century laws attempted to interfere with or regulate the lives of the Muslim peoples of Hungary from a religious point of view. These laws stated that they were required to build a Christian church in their villages, their communities were to be broken up and they themselves were to be disperse throughout the country and that they were forbidden to marry among themselves. However, 12th century Arab travellers describe flourishing Muslim communities, suggesting that these laws were not enforced too strictly since the Hungarian kings needed these communities. In the 13th century King Andrew II entrusted the administration of the royal revenues to the Ishmaelites. This policy clashed with the interests of the Church and the king was firmly admonished not to employ Jewish and Ishmaelite officers of the chamber. The fate of this population was sealed by the Mongolian invasion of 1241. There is little evidence for this population group from later times.

       The first Petcheneg groups settled in the Carpathian Basin in the later 10th century. Additional groups arrived in successive waves. They were settled in various parts of the country: some were assigned to guard the borders, others were given land in the country's interior. According to the 1224 charter of privilege issued to the Petchenegs of Árpás in Győr county, they could administer their own affairs and their chief judge was the Palatine. In consequence of the emerging social stratification, they were increasingly less willing to fulfil their military duties: their high-ranking leaders sought to acquire nobility, and at the same time they strove to tried to drive the commoners into seigneurial dependence.

       Jews had probably arrived together with the Magyar tribes of the Conquest period. The synod of Szabolcs, held in the late 11th century, forbade Jews to marry Christians, to keep Christian servants or to work on Christian holy days. King Coloman decreed that if a Jew and a Christian have business dealings with each other, they must commit the details to writing. Jews were encouraged to settle only in episcopal sees.

       These restrictive measures were rarely observed and Jews lived under far more agreeable circumstances than their western European brethren since they enjoyed the protection of the king. Leading officials of the financial administration came from their ranks. Most sovereigns also encouraged the Jews to settle in towns. In the early 14th century the Jewish and non-Jewish townsmen of Körmend joined forces to litigate against a noble.

       King Béla IV hoped to settle their status when he granted them certain privileges in 1251. This charter practically echoes the text of another privilege issued by Prince Frederick II of Austria.

       In day-to-day life, the Jews of Hungary enjoyed far greater freedom that what the charter would imply and thus they seldom had to quote this charter. Their situation deteriorated in the later 14th century. In 1360 King Louis the Great expelled them from Hungary, although he did not confiscate their possessions, and they were allowed to return a decade later. Following this event, the Jews of Hungary often appealed to their charter of privilege that was confirmed by King Sigismund in 1436. The Jewish prefects or judges are known by name from the late 14th century. There is documentary evidence on the Jews from thirty-six towns, twelve of which were free royal towns. Their number is estimated between 3500 and 4000. Most Jews lived in Buda, and the Buda community was by far the most influential and distinguished.

       The Jews were obliged to pay tax to the sovereign, in exchange for which they enjoyed royal protection. They were allowed to live according to their own customs and to practice their religion, and their own rabbis judged their disputes. In the case of litigation between Christians and Jews, they could appeal to the Jewish prefect, a post usually held by the Palatine or the Master of the Treasury in the earlier 15th century. By the later 15th century, lawsuits between Jews and Christian were judged by the Buda castellan.

       Around 1467 the sovereign organized the Jewish prefecture. The prefect of the Jews was chosen from among the members of the Mendel family on a hereditary basis. The prefect's tasks included the collection of the royal tax and they could also imprison members of their community. King Wladislas II granted them the right to appoint the Chief Rabbi of Hungary. They protected their co-religionists and represented the Jewish community before the king.

       Anti-Jewish violence flared up, even if less frequently than in other regions of Europe. In 1446 a mob attacked the synagogue and the Jewish houses in Pozsony.[2] The situation of the Jews took a turn for the worse after the death of King Matthias. The years 1490, 1494, 1496 and 1525 mark atrocities committed against the Jews. They were usually protected by the armed soldiers of the sovereign. The royal protection explains the appearance of Austrian Jews in 1420 and the settlement of Spanish Jews at the close of the century.

       Another eastern population, the Cumanians arrived in the 13th century. They spoke a Turkic tongue, while the Jazygians, settling with them, spoke an Iranian dialect. Smaller Jazygians groups from northern Bulgarian also arrived in the later 14th century.

       The Cumanians arrived in the Carpathian Basin fleeing the advance of the Mongolians. When their king was murdered in 1241, they left the country. King Béla IV called them back and settled them in the Great Hungarian Plain that had been devastated by the Mongolians. This new population was pagan and had a predominantly nomadic economy-their lifeways differed radically from the Hungarians' and clashes between the two populations were the order of the day.

       In 1279 they were compelled to convert to Christianity. However, the Cumanians insisted that they be allowed to wear their traditional costume and to retain their traditional hair and beard style since this expressed the Cumanian nobles' wish to live according to their own customs. They were allowed to live by their own laws, and their chief judge became the Palatine (as evidenced by the written sources from 1270). Their own judges administered justice in their own affairs.

       There was an almost constant influx of western settlers from the very moment of the foundation of the Hungarian state. Their early presence is indicated by thirty-five villages called Németi (‘Germanic') and eight villages called Olaszi (‘Italic'). They were settled throughout the country according to where they were needed most. Most of these western European settlers came from Germany and Italy (although in the Árpádian Age ‘Italian' was also used to designate Walloons), but many arrived from neighbouring countries, from Bohemia and Poland. Most of them were skilled agriculturalist, but their ranks also included merchants. They mostly settled in the emerging towns.

       There is also documentary evidence for the organized immigration on a larger scale. Walloons and the Flemish, the ancestors of the Transylvanian Saxons, came from the Rhine and Mosel region and settled in Transylvania. Germans had already arrived earlier, and later German settlers too increased their ranks.

       In 1224 King Andrew II granted privileges to the Saxons living between Szászváros and Barót,[3] promising never to bestow their possessions on anyone else, allowing them to live as one nation and granting them a common seal. They were allowed to elect their own judges and priests. They were taxed jointly and they also performed military duties jointly. A Hungarian noble with the title of ispán[4] of Szeben[5] was appointed to govern them and he also dispensed justice in important matters. Saxons had also settled in the Barcaság area of Transylvania, as well as in the Medgyes and Beszterce region, but these privileges did not apply to them. The leaders of the Saxon communities who also performed a military function were called geréb. The Germans living in the counties eventually found themselves reduced to tenant peasants.

       Germans were also to be found in other areas of the medieval Hungarian kingdom: settlers from Austria settled in present-day Burgenland and in the area north of Pozsony from the 13th century. Two hundred years later they formed the majority population in this region.

       Similarly to their Transylvanian brethren, the German inhabitants-also called Saxons-of the Szepesség area[6] too enjoyed a special legal standing. The first settlers arrived in the 12th century, and more settlers arrived in the 13-14th centuries. Some became tenant peasants on a nobleman's estate, others earned their living as miners. By far the most fortunate were the inhabitants of the forty-three settlements to whom King Stephen V granted various privileges in 1271. Their legal customs shows numerous similarities with the German legislation of Saxony. The capital of this region was Lőcse[7] from the 13th century.

       The Mongolian invasion of 1241 devastated the country and decimated the population. It is hardly surprising, then, that in granting hospes privileges the kings always mentioned the need to increase their numbers. "The glory of the kings is increased by the multitude of peoples", according to the notary of King Béla IV. The 14-15th century rulers of Hungary showed a great measure of understanding towards foreign settlers.

       At the same time, the social and economic changes of the 13th century favoured the settlement of new immigrants. Flourishing trade and mining activity called for individuals with expertise in these matters. The country's mineral resources, trade and urbanization attracted foreign merchants and craftsmen. German settlers arrived to the mining towns of Upper Hungary (Selmecbánya, Besztercebánya, Körmöcbánya, as well as Igló and Gölnicbánya in the Szepesség area[8]) at around this time.

       The settlement of the newcomers was entrusted to entrepreneurs-called soltész-in Upper Hungary. The settlers were granted various privileges, while the soltész was given a tax-free plot of land, he could retain a certain portion of the tax and in many cases he also acted as the judge. They were also allowed to build mills and taverns. Seeing that these privileges were granted in perpetuum (the landlord could, at the most, buy it from him), it is understandable why the risky business of settling new immigrants seemed a lucrative enterprise.

       The number of villages in Upper Hungary rose spectacularly in the wake of the entrepreneurs' activity. The local Slav population-the ancestors of the present-day Slovaks-who had settled here well before the Conquest period, were continually infused with new blood by settlers from Bohemia and Poland. Beside these Slavs, German-speaking peasants also came in substantial numbers.

       Between 1347 and 1350 a bubonic plague swept through Europe. In western and southern Europe the population decreased dramatically to one-half or even one-third of the former number. Land was again freely available and there was no need to seek out new lands. Many villages had been abandoned, their inhabitants migrating to more prosperous areas in the hope of a better life. It is therefore understandable that the constant flow of immigrants from the west during the Árpádian Age and under the early Angevin rulers became a mere trickle and the only new arrivals were miners and urban craftsmen, who came predominantly from the Low Countries. The importance of eastern and southern immigrants increased.

       Ruthenian pastoralist professing the Greek Orthodox faith first appeared on the high Carpathian pastures in the 14th century. The population of the northeastern areas of the Carpathian Basin was a slow process, and the high mountains in Ung and Zemplén counties were notoriously infected with robbers. The number of Ruthenian villages increased during the 15th century.

       The first Romanians who, similarly to the Ruthenians, were also pastoralists and also followed the Greek Orthodox faith, arrived from the Balkan peninsula in the later 12th century. They were settled as border guards in the southern Carpathians. They were-in principle-only allowed to settle on royal land and could only live elsewhere after they had been granted a royal licence to do so. However, owing to the conditions described above, they were usually welcomed on church estates and by other landowners in the later 13th century and little importance was attached to whether they actually possessed a royal grant for settlement. Even so, it would appear that very few of them grazed their sheep on the noble landowners' lands. In 1293 King Andrew III intended to gather the Romanians of Transylvania and to settle them on the royal land between the two Székes streams (a total of twenty-six villages sprang up on this territory in the Middle Ages). His plan was doomed to failure and neither did later monarchs prevent the Romanians from seeking out landowners of their own choice and settling on their lands.

       The Romanians lived in the mountains separating Transylvania from Hungary, in the southern Carpathians and in the Máramaros region. Owing to their mobile, pastoralist lifeways, their permanent villages emerged somewhat slowly. By the later 14th century many of them had moved to the Hungarian and Saxon villages of the Mezőség owing to the overpopulation of certain areas. This move also involved a change in lifeways, a shift from pastoralism to sedentism and agriculture. In southern Transylvania, on the territory of the Szászvárosszék their number had-together with the Hungarians-swelled to such an extent that the three nations elected the judge royal together. This office was for many generations held by members of the Oláh family, originally immigrants from Wallachia (Miklós Oláh, archbishop of Esztergom, was also a scion of this family). Romanian merchants are also known to have settled in Brassó.[9]

       This shift was not particularly fast. In his chronicle, written sometime in the mid-16th century, Antal Verancsics mentions that the Romanians still grazed their flocks in the woodlands and mountains.

       The situation of the Romanians varied from region to region. We may in general conclude that they were allowed to follow their traditional customs and that there was little interference in their internal affairs. The kenéz and the voevod mediated between them and the landowner and the royal castellan. Best off were the people who lived on royal land. They had their own courts.

       The Romanians of southern Transylvania and southern Hungary enjoyed an advantageous situation since their military strength was needed against the Turks. A privilege granted to the inhabitants of Jófő[10] states that horses and weapons could not be confiscated even as a fine.

       The kenéz and the voevod were granted a certain amount of land that was either not taxed or only a fraction of the customary tax had to be paid. The land was not in their possession, he and his family only had use of the land that remained royal property.

       In exchange for this land the kenéz performed military duties, administered the affairs of his village and carried out the instructions of the king. Since he was entitled to a share or-in some cases - the entire tax levied on the community, he regarded the Romanian subjects as his tenant peasants and hardly felt any community with them. Still, this did not make him a noble.

       As a result of the military service, many kenéz were granted nobility. The newly ennobled thus became members of the Hungarian noble estate. They were not required to relinquish either their mother tongue, or their religion.

       The ethnic makeup of the southern regions of the Hungarian Kingdom changed as a result of the constant Turkish attacks in the 15th century. The few Serbs living in the area were joined by their brethren fleeing the Turkish advance. The Croatians living south of the Drave moved northward. The constant raids on these area decimated the Hungarians living in this area.

       Between 1479 and 1483, a total of 200 thousand Serbians were resettled from across the border by Pál Kinizsi. Northern Serbia became depopulated, while the southern areas of the Temes region and a part of the Szerémség became southern Slavic. Serbian refugees also settled in Transylvania, Transdanubia and the Bácska region, although in these areas they remained an insignificant minority.

       The settlement of the Serbs in Hungary was greatly facilitated by the fact that the despots held extensive estates in Hungary. Southern Slavs were settled in the Debrecen area and on the Világosvár estates.

       The town of Keve, inhabited by Serbians, lay east of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade), on the Hungarian section of the Danube. In 1444 its inhabitants abandoned the town owing to the incessant Turkish raids and founded a new town, Ráckeve.

       In 1459 the Turks occupied Serbia. The grandsons of the Serbian despot György Brankovics fled to Hungary. King Matthias donated them land and conferred on them the title despot for which they were required to guard the border.

       The despots' court resembled their traditional one in Serbia. They resurrected the traditional dignitaries and their everyday life was conducted according to the Orthodox tradition. They preserved the memory and-more importantly-the legal continuity of the former Serbian state. A Greek Catholic monastery was founded in Fruska Gora. The Serbians took their share of the fight against the Turks, providing the light cavalry of the border fortresses and the Danubian fleet.

       Although a report by the Papal envoy mentions that there were many Gypsies living in Hungary, their number does not appear to have been too high. The envoy was probably deceived by their mobile, nomadic lifeways. Gypsies were treated differently in various regions. Some enjoyed royal protection: for example Tamás Bolgár and his followers who were engaged in the manufacture of bullets and other military equipment received a safe-conduct from King Wladislas II in 1496, enabling them travel freely throughout the country.

       Other Gypsies participated in the erection of the fortifications of Nagyszeben[11] and they were exempted from paying taxes in exchange. The Gypsies living in the Fogaras region of Transylvania were worse off since the Romanian boér-a social group resembling the kenéz-practically treated them as slaves.

       Other smaller groups included the Italians who in the 14-15th century came to Hungary seeking good business opportunities. Italians could be found in most European countries at this time. In 1402 the Italian colony in Buda supported the pretender Ladislaus of Naples against Sigismund and many of them were later imprisoned in retribution. German entrepreneurs seized this opportunity to install themselves as officers of various chambers.

       Italians could be found in other social groups as well. Most famous among the Italians settling in Hungary was Pipo de Ozora who rose to become King Sigismund's general, councillor and count of the salt chamber. From the 1430s Italian priests played a major role in transplanting Humanism and Renaissance to Hungary. Italians were present in all royal courts of Europe. King Matthias' court historians, Galeotto Marzio, Ransano and Bonfini, were Italians. After the king's marriage to Beatrix of Naples, even more Italians enjoyed the hospitality of the Hungarian court.

       Still, very few Italians actually settled permanently in Hungary, although a few examples can be quoted of Italians who were eventually assimilated by Hungarian burghers. Their descendants became Hungarian nobles.

       Although the greater part of the population was Hungarian, their ratio within the ethnic makeup decreased owing to the successive waves of foreign settlers and the devastation of southern Hungary. The above overview nonetheless clearly shows that travellers to medieval Hungary found a colourful motley of peoples who spoke a variety of languages. This fact rarely escaped them, even if they were not particularly surprised. One of the Italian humanists residing in King Matthias' court was more surprised by the unity of the Hungarian language-namely, that nobles and peasants used the same expressions and phrases and could understand each other.

       Hungarians and non-Hungarians could be found in every social group. Some three to four languages were spoken in the counties of Upper Hungary and Transylvania. German, Slovakian and Hungarian were equally spoken in the mining towns along the Garam, and one could still get by with Hungarian in Turóc and Liptó counties during the 14th century. The lesser nobility of these counties were, similarly to the neighbouring region, gradually absorbed by the Slovak population, and the German population also tended to assimilate to the Slovaks.

       Other counties were characterized by the survival of different population groups. Many villages of Sáros county were inhabited by Ruthenians and Hungarians. The ratio of Germans in the villages and market towns of this county is estimated around 15 per cent in the 15th century, although they obviously formed the majority in Bártfa, Eperjes and Kisszeben.[12] At the same time, about one-quarter of the population in Eperjes spoke Hungarian.

       The presence of peoples with different cultures and different tongues in the same region invariably led to various forms of interaction. It is only natural that minority groups gradually adopted the majority language. It has already been mentioned that the Hungarian nobles gradually became Slovak speakers, even though the social gap between them and their tenant peasants was considerable. The Walloons of the Szepesség and the Saxon lands in Transylvania were assimilated by the Germans by the 14th century.

       Assimilation nonetheless proved a complex process, depending on various economic and social factors. There is no good explanation for why some communities retained their ethnic identity, while others did not. It would appear that if a population formed an enclave-such as the Walloons in the Eger valley-they usually preserved their ethnic identity and tongue in spite of the alien environment. Scattered throughout the Great Hungarian Plain, the Germans were assimilated by the Hungarians. I shall attempt to illustrate the complexity of this issue with a few examples.

       It has been repeatedly suggested that the monarchs of the Árpádian Age pursued an assimilationist policy until the 13th century. True enough, the newcomers' settlements were scattered throughout the country. However, this practice was not motivated by an assimilationist policy, but rather by the force of necessity. The above overview clearly shows that they strove to create a legal situation in which the foreigners could live in peace and security, suggesting that assimilation was far from their mind.

       The idea of assimilation could hardly have occurred to them since several tongues were spoken at the royal court itself. The royal household included countless foreigners and it was these foreigners who introduced the new cultural currents to Hungary. The ancestors of the major kindreds of the Árpádian Age too had arrived in different periods: the Hont and Pázmán knights were already present under King Stephen, while the ancestors of the Héder kindred arrived in the mid-12th century. The entourage of the queen included Aragonian nobles in the late 12th and early 13th century. The 14th-15th century royal courts too were filled with foreigners. Germans, Italians, Czechs and others lived at Sigismund's court.

       Foreign travellers usually noted that the towns of Hungary-i.e. the settlements that they compared to their own hometowns-were inhabited by Germans. This rather sweeping opinion is a slight exaggeration, although it must in all fairness be admitted that most burghers were indeed of German stock.

       There can be no doubt about the German nature of Pozsony and Sopron in Hungary's western borderland, of Lőcse[13] in Upper Hungary and of the towns in the Saxon lands of Transylvania, although Brassó also had a sizeable Hungarian and Romanian population. At Buda and Kolozsvár[14] the Germans accounted for about one-half of the population. Vác had a German quarter, and Germans also settled in Nagymaros and Pécs. The burghers of Nagyszombat, Eperjes and Kassa[15] also included Hungarians and Slovaks beside the Germans.

       Although Nagyszombat, Kassa and Eperjes were surrounded by Slovakian and Hungarian villages-as well as the occasional German village-, the overwhelming majority spoke German, even though the new burghers of these towns usually came from these villages. A 16th century burghers' register from Kassa reveals that some of the inhabitants had indeed moved to the town from the neighbouring villages and market towns. Still, many of these settlements, such as Gönc and Szepsi, had a predominantly German population at this time. Beside the newcomers from the surrounding area, many burghers from the Lowlands also settled in the town.

       Kassa is a most instructive example. Hungarian towns were part of the sphere of interest of southern German capital. Merchants from the Lowlands travelled often to Hungary (as did Hungarian merchants to the Lowlands), and quite a few burghers from Nuremberg, Augsburg and Vienna settled in Buda. A burgher of Buda, whether Hungarian or not, enjoyed certain privileges such as an exemption from paying duties on their goods. He could also sell his merchandise freely. These strong economic ties ensured that German was always spoken in the major Hungarian towns.

       Cultural contacts also played an important role. Most of the university students came from the towns. Hungarians primarily attended the Vienna and the Krakow university (Krakow had a sizeable German population at this time). Many students of the Vienna university came from the Saxon lands in Transylvania. The student years were used for forging various ties that later often formed the basis of prosperous and fruitful enterprises. The apprentices' years as journeymen too contributed to the spread of German culture.

        In consequence of the economic ties the German nature of Buda became more apparent in the later 15th century. Pest, lying on the opposite side of the Danube, underwent a rapid development after 1458 and it is not mere chance that many Germans bought houses in this town.

       Legislation played an important role in medieval life. The town, the burgher's community was an independent legal entity. Non-Hungarian burghers often had different laws and/or privileges that forged them into a separate community and separated them from their environment. The Cumanians have already been mentioned in the above, but one may also quote the Romanian districts of Hunyad county and the Temes area, where the population preserved its mother tongue, customs and religion.

       Legislation also played an important role in that the Saxons of Transylvania retained their ethnic identity until the 20th century (even if this community was not particularly uniform as regards language usage). It has already been mentioned that the 1224 privilege only affected one specific group of Saxons. In 1324 the king abolished the Szeben ispánság and created eight administrative districts, called szék. Separate privileges regulated the communities in the Medgyes area, the Bárcaság area around Brassó and the Beszterce area. The Turkish threat, the constant attacks on their privileges eventually prompted the Saxons to take a joint stand. Their efforts in this respect coincided with the intentions of the royal power. The authority of the Szekler ispán was abolished in the Brassó district in the 15th century. After 1460 the judge royal was no longer appointed by the king, but was elected by the Saxons. King Matthias found it easier to levy the extraordinary tax if this tax was divided and collected among themselves. As a result the Saxons began to regard themselves as a single autonomous entity. The Transylvanian Saxon natio was born in 1486, with the monarch's confirmation of the 1224 privileges. The Hungarians and Romanians living in the Saxon lands could only enjoy the benefits of this legal community if they were admitted into this community. The separation of the Saxons was palpable by the late Middle Ages: the German tenant peasants-such as the German speaking peasants in Nagyszeben, Brassó, Beszterce and other settlements-and Kolozsvár were excluded from the Saxon nation. Kolozsvár was excluded because it was not mentioned in the privilege granted by King Matthias. Although the inhabitants of these towns took their lawsuits to Nagyszeben, the decisions in these litigations were based on their own laws. The laws of Kolozsvár were not wholly identical with those of the Transylvanian Saxons.

       Identities in legal position promoted assimilation. The greater part of the settlers' villages established during the 14th century in Upper Hungary were regarded as having a German status and following the German law, even though their inhabitants included Slavs. Enjoying an identical legal status, the two ethnic groups gradually blended and adopted the Slavic tongue that was spoken by the majority population in this region. It must nonetheless be borne in mind that this Slovakization was not the rule throughout this region.

       Religion also played an important role in the preservation of an ethnic identity. Jews who converted to Christianity became either German or Hungarian. The fate of the Muslims of the Árpádian Age is very instructive. Their Hungarianization began as early as the 12th century, even though there was a continuous ‘ethnic replenishment' from the Volga region. They first began shaving their faces and wearing Hungarian costumes and, later, they also began using Hungarian words. They were also more lax in observing their religion than their brethren in the Near East or Africa. Still, the fact that they adhered to their religion ensured that they preserved their identity. This ethnic group was eventually scattered by the Mongolian invasion.

       The survival of the Romanians was in part ensured by their high numbers and their relatively compact settlement areas, as well as by their Orthodox faith. Some of the ennobled Romanians converted to the Catholic faith and eventually became Hungarians, while others retained their traditional faith and ethnic identity and supported the Orthodox Church.

       The ecclesiastic administration of the Transylvanian Saxons was based on the deanery system: the priests of a given diocese elected their own deans who was vested with the authority to decide minor issues. The priests convened each year to discuss their affairs. This deanery system also included the villages and oppida inhabited by Saxon serfs that neighboured on the Saxon lands. This ecclesiastic administrative system thus linked the German tenant peasants with the privileged Saxons.

       Relations between Germans and non-Germans were often troubled. In Buda, for example, only individuals whose four grandparents were German could be elected as a member of the council or a judge after 1402. Only two Hungarians were elected to sit in the town council. The Hungarian merchants and craftsmen were dissatisfied with this situation and in 1439 they finally managed to achieve that one-half of the councillors be Hungarian, and that the post of the judge be held alternately by members of the two nations. The same system was adopted in Kolozsvár from 1458.

       Elsewhere, as in Nagyszombat, it proved impossible to break the hegemony of the German leadership. The council of Körmöcbánya was in 1453 and 1518 requested to allow Hungarians and Slovaks to settle in the town.

       In 1439 the national assembly advised György Brankovics to appoint Hungarians, rather than Serbs, to administer his Hungarian estates. In the late 15th century the Slavonian estates complained that János Corvin had appointed Hungarians (i.e. persons from Hungary) to various posts.

       A closer look at the above quoted examples reveals that the complaints were not directed against people who spoke a different language. The German burghers simply wanted to exclude their potential competitors. Hungarians too had estates in Slavonia, and the local nobles had no complaints whatsoever against them since they were regarded as ‘locals'.

       For the average Hungarian noble the adjective ‘Hungarian' also meant a noble in Hungary, although he found it natural that the majority of the serfs were also Hungarian. A noble essentially believed that all nobles should enjoy the same privileges, irrespective of what tongue they spoke. In terms of legal status they all belonged to the same social layer and were members of the Hungarian nation.

       If a Serbian noble acquired estates in Hungary, he became a member of the Hungarian nobles' nation. He was entitled to a place in the royal council of the Jagellonian period to the same extent as a Hungarian or Slovak speaking noble.      

       The fact that the foreign settlers were not treated with hostility can in part be explained by the passage of the Admonitions. To which we may add that the average landowner's interests too made them tolerant towards these foreign settlers. They could only hope for revenues from their devastated estates if they managed to attract industrious and hard-working people to work there and they therefore welcomed Serbians, Croatians, Romanians and other peoples. They even accepted the Orthodox faith of these settlers.


[1]        In hospitibus et adventitiis viris tanta inest utilitas, ut digne sexto in regalis dignitatis loco possit haberi. ... Sicut enim ex diversis partibus et provinciis veniunt hospites, ita diversas linquas et consuetudines, diversaque documenta et arma secum ducunt, quae omnia regna ornant et magnificant aulam, et perterritant exterorum arrogantiam. Nam unius lingue uniusque moris regnum inbecille et fragile est. Propterea iubeo te fili mi, ut bona voluntate illos nutrias et honeste teneas, ut tecum libentius degant quam alicubi habitant. Si enim tu destruere, quod ego edificavi, aut dissipare quod congregavi studueris, sine dubio maximum detrimentum tuum patietur regnum.

[2]        Bratislava/Pressburg in Slovakia.

[3]        Orǎştie/Broos and Baraolt in Transylvania, Romania.

[4]        The ispán, called comes in Latin sources, was the royal officer in charge of one of the counties, or of a royal forest or a border district. He was also the collector of revenues in his district and judge of the free and unfree men in the county.

[5]        Sibiu/Hermannstadt in Transylvania, Romania.

[6]        Spiš/die Zips in Slovakia.

[7]        Levoča/Leutschau in Slovakia.

[8]        Banská Štiavnica/Schemnitz, Banská Bystrica/Neusohl, Kremnica/Kremnitz, Spišská Nová Ves/Neudorf, Gelnica/Gölnitz in Slovakia.

[9]        Braşov/Kronstadt in Transylvania, Romania.

[10]       Dobra in Transylvania, Romania.

[11]       Sibiu/Hermannstadt in Transylvania, Romania.

[12]       Bardejov/Bartfeldt, Prešov/Preschau, Sabinov/Zeben in Slovakia.

[13]       Levoča/Leutschau in Slovakia.

[14]       Cluj-Napoca/Klausenburg in Transylvania, Romania.

[15]       Trnava/Tyrnau, Kosice/Kaschau, Prešov/Preschau in Slovakia.