History of Transylvania. Volume I. from the Beginnings to 1606

By Hutchins, Keith | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 2002 | Go to article overview

History of Transylvania. Volume I. from the Beginnings to 1606


Hutchins, Keith, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Laszlo Makkai and Andris Mocsy, eds. History of Transylvania. Volume 1. From the Beginnings to 1606. Atlantic Studies on Society in Change. No. 106. Eastern European Monographs, No. DLXXXI. Boulder, CO: Joint publication with the Hungarian Research Institute of Canada, a Research Ancilliary of the University of Toronto. Social Science Monographs, Atlantic Research and Publications, Inc. Highland Lakes, NJ. Distributed by Columbia University Press, 2001. xvi, 890. Maps. Bibliographical Notes. Abbreviations. Biographies. Name Index. Place Index. Cloth.

The translation into English of the massive three-volume Er(Mll, tortenete, published by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1986, provides scholars and others who are not fluent in Hungarian with an important body of information. It may also rekindle the polemics that followed publication of the original edition, inasmuch as it treats numerous controversial issues, particularly those involving Romanians, from perspectives long maintained by Hungarian historiography.

The first volume, under review here, covers the period from prehistory to the so-called Long War between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, at the end of which the former recognized the existence of the Principality of Transylvania. Political developments and international relations occupy a privileged place, but the authors have also accorded socio-economic and cultural history ample space. Whether it is the organization of agriculture, the formation of social classes, the role of the Roman Catholic Church, the influence of the Protestant Reformation, or literary works and styles of architecture, the reader will find enlightening discussions.

Several major themes recur throughout the volume. Especially interesting is the account of when and where the peoples who were to form Transylvanian society over the long term settled. The author of this section, Laszlo Makkai, examines the theories and the evidence relating to the coming of the Hungarians, disentangles the controversies regarding the origins of the Szekelys, and elucidates the colonization and social composition of the Saxons.

The thorniest settlement issue of all has to do with the origins of the Romanians and the time of their arrival in Transylvania. The matter has divided the majority of Hungarian and Romanian historians for over two centuries as history, archaeology, and language were used to bolster political claims to Transylvania. Makkai assembles the evidence to prove that no Romanians were living in Transylvania before about 1200 and that they moved north of the Carpathians only in the thirteenth and later centuries in response to political and demographic changes in the region. Noteworthy among the events he cites are the Mongol Invasion of 1241, the Black Death in the fourteenth century, and wars in the sixteenth century, which reduced the Hungarian and Szekely population and made Romanian labour attractive to landowners.

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