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Transylvania

From the Latin, "beyond the forest," Transylvania is located in present-day Romania. It is called Erdély in Hungarian (the name origins probably from the word for forest), German-speakers also sometimes refer to this area as Siebenbürgen, and Polish similarly as Siedmiogród which means Seven Towns. Although known primarily to English-speakers as the home of Dracula and vampires, Transylvania, particularly the southern parts of it, has a rich and varied history.

Archaeological evidence points to constant settlement in Transylvania from at least the Stone Age. There is evidence of several influxes of peoples from different areas between then and the Bronze Age. Several of these peoples were probably related to, or at least influenced by, the Thracians. It is possible that the inhabitants of Transylvania in the 6th century BC were the Agathyrsae[?], referred to by Herodotus in his accounts of the Scythian Wars[?] of King Darius.

During the Roman Empire, Transylvania was part of the province of Dacia. By that time, the inhabitants were a combination of Dacians or Getae and roman setllers. Although it had often provided a base for fairly successful campaigns against invading Germanic peoples, it was abandoned in 271, when the Emperor Aurelian withdrew his troops to the better-defensible Danube limes, leaving behind a synthetic Daco-Roman culture.

Rome had left Transylvania under the nominal control of the Visigoths, who were able to drive back encroaching Vandals, Gepids, and Sarmatians. The onslaught of the Huns under Attila loosened the Visigothic hold on the area. Between the 5th and the 9th centuries, Transylvania fell in turn to the Huns, the Gepids and, finally, the Avars. At the same time, especially from the 7th century on, Transylvania saw a constant and peaceful influx of Slavic immigrants who mixed with the romanic natives. This influx eventually led to a culture named by authors proto-Romanians by the 9th century, when the Avars were driven back beyond the boundaries of Carolingian Europe.

It can be argued that the history of modern Transylvania began with the Battle of Lechfeld. At the end of the 9th century, much of Europe, especially the Eastern Carolingian kingdoms, was plagued by Magyar invasions. The Magyars were defeated by the Emperor Otto I the Great at Lechfeld in 955. The Magyar leader Géza converted to Christianity and began to convert his people and build a Christian Hungarian state. His son, Vajk, succeeded him in 997. With his wife Gisela, daughter of Henry II of Bavaria, he continued his father's mission of converting his people and founding religious houses and churches, while preventing the encroachment of Byzantium. In 1001, the Emperor granted him the crown as Hungary's first King, Stephen of Hungary. Although nominally under the rule of the Emperor, Hungary remained virtually independent.

The Magyars extended the borders of Transylvania eastwards after defending local Romanian warlords such as Gelu[?] (Gellou dux Blachorum), Glad[?] or Menumorut[?], and continued settlement there, not only by the Magyars themselves, but also by the Szekelys, who were probably of Turkish origin. The crown encouraged this settlement for the simple reason that settled, cultivated land was beneficial to the crown because it was economically profitable and more easily defended. The Hungarian crown encouraged settlers from outside the kingdom over the next two hundred years. Not only were these settlers allowed to keep their own languages and customs (Stephen is said to have told his son that a diverse population made the land richer), but they were granted personal freedom, freedom of movement, and the possibility of advancement—rights that many of the settlers did not have in their own (often Imperial) homelands. These rights were subscribed in the Golden Bull of 1222 by King Andrew II of Hungary.

They were, however, not allowed to keep their religion. All references to the pagan religions of the people were ordered burned and destroyed so that the people would convert more quickly to Christianity. Only tiny fragments of the old religion remain—the rovás (runic) writing system, and a few scattered legends and terminology.

There is some historical argument over the origins of the so-called "Siebenbürger Saxons." Because some of the names in Siebenbürgen are similar to place names in the lower Rhein valley and Saxony, there have been many claims that these settlers originally came from there. However, arguments against this include the fact that many of these place names are derivatives of personal names. As such, they may equally have been taken from the names of leading settlers. The first appearance of the word "Saxon" in court records dates to the 13th century. From that point on, all German settlers in the area were referred to as Saxons, and all were given the same rights and privileges that were accorded one group of Saxon miners. Moreover, these rights may have been extended to non-German speakers who were willing to work as miners. The term "Saxon" thus eventually came to denote more a legal standing than an ethnic origin. It is estimated that in all, at its highest point, membership in this group reached as many as about 2600 persons.

Other specific Germanic groups were also invited into Transylvania. In 1211, shortly before the marriage of Princess Elisabeth to Ludwig, heir to the "county" (Ger. Grafschaft) of Thuringia, the Teutonic Knights (whose leader was himself a Thuringian noble) were invited into Transylvania to defend the southeastern borders of the Hungarian kingdom. They built a fortress there, dedicated to the Virgin. Their presence drew many of the German settlers to the area around this Marienburg. The Teutonic Knights were expelled from Hungary in 1225, but the German settlers who had moved to "Siebenbürgen" remained.

Increasing trade with the west, especially with the rising Hanse port cities, influenced Hungary's legal system. At the same time, the growing threat of the Ottoman Turks increased the need for a populace that would continue to support the monarchy. The Siebenbürger Saxons were not only granted their own legal status, but also given representation in the assembly. It should be noted that many people of German heritage were not included in this special legal and social class. Those who worked the lands of others, be they "Hungarians" or "Saxons" were often unfree and accorded few, if any legal privileges. These rights were recognized by the Habsburgs for the short time that they held sway over Transylavania before the Ottoman invasions.

With the absorption of Transylvania into the Ottoman Empire, the rights of the Siebenbürger Saxons increased. Under the Ottomans, Transylvania became an autonomous principality. It maintained an assembly made up of Hungarian nobles, free Szekler farmers (who had also received special rights in return for defending the borders), and Saxons, without the participation of the orthodox Romanians. The Assembly held a veto, and the three groups managed to ensure the rights of all the groups at the expense of none. It was only in the mid-16th century that we first see the roots of a "nationalist" Siebenbürger Saxon movement. When the Habsburg Empire began to push its claim to the area, the Saxons began to claim a tie to their German roots in the hope that they would achieve ascendancy over their compatriots and aid against the Ottoman. Over about a fifty year period, the Siebenbürger Saxons pushed through legislation that made German the primary language in the seven towns. They became Protestants, while the Szekler and Hungarians remained Catholic. They drew up new governing laws that combined Roman law and common law, and had them approved by the King of Poland. While the new society focused towards the German, to the extent that wealthy Saxons sent their children to German universities, it also was one of the first "nations" to legislate religious tolerance for all Christians, no matter their confession.

In the 17th century, the Habsburgs regained control of Transylvania. Staunch Catholics, the Habsburgs supported the a Counter-Reformation throughout their empire. Religious tensions between the now-Protestant Saxons and their Habsburg rulers were sometimes overcome by the conversion of leading Saxons back to Catholicism, while Transylvania became a place to which the Habsburgs could exile recalcitrant Protestants. A rise in the population of native Romanians and a tenser relationship with the Hungarian nobles only increased in the rise of a Saxon pseudo-state. Although this state can only trace its existence back to the 16th century, it has provided grist for nationalist mill that continues until today.

A popular assembly on December 1, 1918 proclaimed Transylvania's union with Romania. The union was ratified on January 11, 1919, and officially recognized by the Treaty of Trianon (June 4, 1920).

See also: Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania


Transylvania was an attempt in the 1770s by the Transylvania Company[?] to found a new colony by buying land from Native Americans. Their first settlement was Boonesboro[?] in 1775. It was named after Daniel Boone, who had built a small fort there under orders from the Transylvania Company[?]. The colony's borders ran between the Tennessee River[?] and the Ohio River. Transylvania had its own governor and legislature until 1776 when Virginia declared the region the County of Kentucky. Since Boonseboro was within the Virginia wilderness claim, Congress refused to grant Transylvania separate status. Virginia compensated the speculators with a gift of 200,000 acres.

Transylvania University[?] is located in Lexington, Kentucky.



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