The Establishment of the Frontier Guard;
The Siculicidium

The frontier guard was set up in the Székely lands, the Fogaras region, Hunyad County, and part of the Királyföld. In the Székelyföld, there was some constitutional basis for the measure, for the obligation of the Székelys to perform military service had been re-affirmed in the Diploma Leopoldinum. In the case of the Romanian border-guard regiments, the authorities dispensed with such legal justification. In any case, the frontier guard was not based on the traditional model of military service that, at one time, earned privileges for the Székelys. It was, instead, a late variant of the settled military force that had replaced mercenaries in these less-developed regions of Europe; a similar force had been established much earlier in Hungary.

In April 1762, the queen appointed Buccow royal commissioner, assigning him full powers organize the frontier guard. The operation was launched simultaneously in the Romanian-inhabited Naszód district and in the Székelyföld. The people of Naszód had {2-605.} long harboured a grievance against the authorities in Beszterce, for the latter treated them as villeins, whereas they demanded the same rights as those enjoyed by Saxons. Buccow now promised them their freedom if they enlisted, and there was initially a surge of volunteers. The latter also adhered to the Uniate Church, a precondition of service in this region's frontier guard.

In exchange for participating in the frontier guard, the Székelys wanted their old privileges restored as well as guarantees that they would be treated in accordance with their traditional laws and not be required to serve outside Transylvania. Recruitment in the Székely lands proceeded partly on a voluntary basis, partly by recourse to force. In early September 1762, a protest movement erupted in Udvarhelyszék. People avoided the recruiters or openly refused to sign up, first in a series of villages, then in the district seat of Udvarhely and other privileged localities (the two Oláhfalus and Zetelaka); to a man, the Bardócszék refused to comply. Buccow sped to Udvarhely, whereupon the district's population gathered in fields near Szombatfalva. When recruiting officers insulted some villagers, the confrontation threatened to take a violent turn, and Buccow left Udvarhely without having accomplished his task. Although he liberally resorted to punitive measures (troops were dispatched to round up the ringleaders and threaten the district seat), Udvarhely still refused to comply.

In Gyergyószék and Csíkszék, where Buccow also paid visits in October 1672, the results were slightly more favourable but still fell short of his expectations. When the people of Gyergyószék were summoned to sign up, they complemented their earlier demands, for the restoration of privileges and guarantees against service abroad, with a request that their units be led by Székely officers; they also demanded to see the royal decree setting up the frontier guard. Wearying of the tug-of-war, the Székelys burst into Buccow's residence, and when the general had their spokesmen arrested, only the intervention of the royal chief magistrate, János {2-606.} Bornemissza, saved him from being beaten to death by the angry mob. In the end, only a handful of Székelys signed up for the frontier guard. At Csíkszereda, Buccow remained in the safety of the castle while negotiations were conducted with earlier volunteers on the terms of their engagement. Their demands were the same as those voiced in Gyergyó, and the general finally ruled that they should surrender their arms where they had originally signed up. However, the Székelys who chose to leave the frontier guard returned only part of their equipment; they held on to their rifles, arguing that this was compensation for the loss of weapons when they had been disarmed after 1711. Similarly, in the Háromszék, the majority of earlier volunteers refused to take the oath, and were ordered by Buccow to surrender their arms until such time as they were ready to comply.

All this was only one aspect of the bellum omnium contra omnes that materialized in the Székelyföld as a consequence of the frontier guard initiative. The local officials and other nobles protested repeatedly against the abuses perpetrated by Austrian officers. Meanwhile, in some localities, Székelys who had signed up turned against the nobles and ransacked their homes. When the general assembly of Csíkszék convened in January 1763 at Várdotfalva, it found itself surrounded by armed dissidents who demanded the repayment of the taxes they had paid over the preceding twenty-four years, as well as of their contribution to the construction of barracks and other public works. Refused assistance by Csíkszereda's military commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Carato, the szék officials felt compelled to give guarantees that the demands would be met. However, emboldened by their new weaponry, the frontier guards began to attack weaponless individuals and even entire villages. Ominously, some of the new frontier guards stopped cultivating their land; after selling their cattle, they bought horses and squandered the rest of the proceeds. Dénes Bánffy, a leading Transylvanian aristocrat, observed in a letter to István Halmágyi {2-607.} that these people would be driven to extreme action by their poverty. Tensions arose not only between landowning nobles and free Székelys who joined the border guard, but also between the former and those of their villeins who wished to join up; at times, organizing officers unilaterally freed villeins to recruit them into the frontier guard. Free Székelys who did not enlist found themselves exposed to the officers' demands for onerous services as well as to threats from the new border guards, and, in the first half of 1763, a growing number of them chose to leave for Moldavia. Similarly acute problems emerged in the Naszód district, where many Romanians rebelled against the forceful attempts to make them join the Uniate Church.

Taking stock of the difficulties, that government tried to find a more realistic approach to the organization of the frontier guard. On 6 January 1763, the queen decreed that recruitment should be limited to volunteers. At the end of the month, a joint civil-military commission, headed by a Székely aristocrat, General Antal Kálnoki, was dispatched by Buccow to calm the tempers in Csík and Háromszék. They did achieve some success in Csík, if only thanks to an impressive show of arms. In the meantime, the imperial government relieved Buccow of his organizing task.

Lieutenant-General Baron József Siskovics arrived in March to continue the work. Siskovics managed to make the military commander's position virtually untenable; adopting a facade of impartiality, he attributed the fiasco to the negative influence of the nobility and some local officials, to the forcible methods of recruitment, and to the fact that Transylvanian aristocrats had not been invited to participate in the task of recruitment. He failed to obtain the dismissal of Buccow as commander-in-chief, but in early May the latter was recalled to Vienna, and the queen entrusted the further organization of the frontier guard to Siskovics and two prominent councillors on the Gubernium, János Lázár and Miklós Bethlen.

{2-608.} Their task remained daunting, for additional, problems arose in the summer of 1763, when free Székelys from several széks began to organize, and there was talk in Udvarhelyszék of convening a national assembly of Székelys. Once again, Vienna had to intervene. On 8 October 1763, Maria Theresa issued a patent outlining the legal status of the frontier guards. They would be paid wages; their tax obligation was to be reduced by a third in peacetime, and fully suspended in wartime; and their public service would be essentially limited to road construction. A few days later, the queen allowed Buccow to return to his post in Transylvania with the provision that, at least provisionally, he should not involve himself with the organization of the border guard. In these circumstances, success became a matter of prestige for the Siskovics committee. When, in December 1763, the committee travelled to Csík, much of the male population signified its refusal to be recruited by seeking shelter in the woods. Siskovics and his associates held talks with the organizing committee and requested assistance from Udvarhelyszék as well as Háromszék. Some help was dispatched from the latter district, and the Siskovics committee disposed of a sizeable military force, but soldiers reported that of the several thousand rebels, half disposed of rifles, and the rest of axes and clubs.

As the sun began to rise on 7 January 1764, Lieutenant-Colonel Carato acted on Siskovics's orders to launch an attack on the rebel camp at Mádéfalva. Although it encountered no armed resistance, the attacking force, numbering some 1300 men and disposing of two field-guns, mowed down several hundred of the rebels. This Siculicidium (murder of Székelys) broke the back of the opposition not only in Csík, but in Háromszék as well, for people from the latter district had been treated with exceptional brutality at Mádéfalva by Carato's men. Within ten weeks, the Székely frontier guard had been set up. The Romanian frontier guard was established in less violent fashion, but, at least in the Naszód district, not without bloodshed.

{2-609.} Over time, the status of Székely and Romanian frontier guards would diverge. The reason lay less in the circumstances of their induction than in the varying socio-cultural impact of the border guard organization. This new institution threatened the autonomy of Székely villages and rights formerly enjoyed by border guards. The high command of the frontier guard could interfere in the selection of local magistrates; the guards needed their officers' consent to marry, and they were forbidden to dance, smoke a pipe, and assist at funeral ceremonies. The officers interfered with agriculture and obstructed education in the border zone. To be sure, the village communities resisted, and many of the new regulations were not enforced by local officials.

The organization of the Romanian frontier guard generated fewer complaints. There were instances when Hungarian petty nobles, notably in Hunyad County, were compelled to sign up, or when (as in Sinka) boyars who refused to enlist were deprived of home and property. But events subsequent took a different course, for the establishment of the frontier guard induced significant progress in the education of Transylvanian Romanians. Latin–German schools were founded at the regimental bases in Naszód and Orlát, and some schooling was provided for each company of the Second Romanian Frontier-Guard regiment. The institution even helped to disseminate the Romanians' nation-building notions of historical continuity. Antonio Cosimelli, captain in the Second Romanian regiment, was reportedly moved by these notions as well as by Joseph II's exclamation Salva Romuli parva nepos to give a name to four Romanian localities. The flag of his regiment bore the slogan Virtus romana rediviva.