A Peasant Society Awaiting Change

Social tensions were induced as much by bad harvests as by the fact that, from the 1820s to the 1840s, such setbacks were not aggravated by devastating epidemics and famine. Earlier, many people would be driven into penury while a few would enrich themselves through speculative trading. (Typically, it was commonly believed, as late as the 1840s, that the crises early in the century were responsible for the increased economic stratification of villagers and for {3-23.} the much-criticized displays of 'luxury;' by way of example, affluent peasants in the Szászföld had taken to 'addressing each other as "Sir".')[12]12. St. L. Roth, 'Der Geldmangel und die Verarmung in Siebenbürgen besonders unter den Sachsen,' in Gesammelte Schriften und Briefe IV, ed. by O. Folberth (Berlin, 1970), p. 386. But as soon as these crises passed, the institutional, legal, and economic conditions governing productive work would once again become the main determinants of social differentiation and secure status.

The circumstances of the freeholder peasants and lower nobility, who constituted a third of the taxpaying population, were more favourable than those of 'urbarial peasants,' and better even than those of the border guards, who may have been tax-exempt but were burdened with military service. Over time, there was a diminution in the economic gap between urbarial serfs and cotters, as well as between the free peasants (i.e., 'citizen peasants' in the Szászföld) and the 'noble peasants' (including Székely lófős and infantrymen), boyars from Fogaras, and petty nobles who owned a single plot and could be found all over the country except in the Szászföld). Within the several economic strata of society, groups came to be differentiated mainly by their legal status. Even the most ardent champion of the nobility had to admit that 'there are thousands of nobles who live in circumstances more miserable than those of a peasant,' and that some of them 'barely survive on an onion.'[13]13. Beszédtár: Záratékul az 1841/2-ik országgyűlési Jegyzőkönyvhöz III, ed. by K. Hajnik (Kolozsvár), p. 106. Political journalists focused on the indigent and idle, but arrogant nobleman as well as on the prosperous and diligent serf to illustrate socio-economic changes that were gradually undermining the feudal structure.

It is indicative of prevailing economic conditions that a Székely lófő, or a petty noble from the Nyárad River region, who owned six oxen were rated as well-to-do. According to contemporary estimates that were based on these criteria, a typical village in the Székelyföld would have four or five families that had preserved 'their old economic status' and 'enjoyed a lifestyle commensurate to their values and desires.'[14]14. E. Jakab, 'Telepítésügy.' In the world of freeholders and smallholders, notions of well-being and poverty were conditioned by {3-24.} social mores and deeply rooted in the history of their region. This was the main factor in the differentiation of the historic regions. Most freeholders in the Szászföld disposed of a property larger than the national average for small estates, and consisting of the most fertile land. Meanwhile, the majority of freemen and petty nobles in the Székelyföld had to defend their autonomy on progressively smaller plots of mediocre land, and the same could be said of their Romanian counterparts in Fogaras, Hunyad, and Kővár (see table 8).

Table 8: The number of taxpayer families in each territory in 1847

Type of family
The counties, the Partium
and the Fogaras area
Hungarian free
royal towns
Lower nobility
Tax-paying bourgeoisie
Free peasants and freemen
Socage serfs and cottars

Although personal liberty offered no protection against the fragmentation of landed property, it did allow people to pursue their economic interests, and it was therefore both a coveted privilege and a motivating force. By guaranteeing the right to return home, it made itinerant labour more attractive. Thus, in Aranyosszék, 'young Székelys who grew up on tiny estates would fan out across the country to make a better living, and most of them would return only after they had amassed some cash.'[15]15. Report of the provincial commissioner, László Barcsay, in OL, GP, 1846: 2623.

{3-25.} However, when exemption from feudal burdens was combined with sufficient landed property, 'many landowners could only wonder at nobles who, having no serfs, did their own harvest and obtained a higher yield from a smaller plot.'[16]16. J. Horváth, Bírálat és némely ragasztvány az iker Magyarhon nemzeti 1837-k évi Trattner és Károlyi kalendáriumára (Kolozsvár, 1837), p. 97. A chronicler of Doboka County reported that once they have surpassed the serfs in affluence, 'Vlach nobles are industrious, scorn ostentation, and maintain simple households; typically, they speak proudly of their wealth, and they are beginning to relinquish many of their ethnic peculiarities.'[17]17. Hodor, Doboka vármegye, p. 499.

The visible success of petty nobles only increased the discontent of urbarial serfs and their wish for a better fate. The same observation tended to reconcile poor 'noble peasants' to their status and lead them to seek improvement within the framework of the feudal system.

At a time when the creation of a bourgeois society acquired political salience, Transylvania's social dynamics were marked by a common desire to advance to the next level of a peasant-noble society whose strata were interlocked yet distinct (and, naturally, somewhat idealized). Serfs demanded from their masters a 'reasonable' reduction of workload, but their deepest aspiration was to become border guards, and thus 'break out' of their status. Communities whose members' ancestors were freeholders wanted to recover that freedom by obtaining the rank and legal status of a town. When a border guard's family became aware that its ancestors had been noble freeholders (either Székely or boyar), it would seek to retrieve those privileges shorn of the burden of military service. The taxpaying lower gentry wanted legal equality with the wealthy nobility, who were exempt from taxation. Romanian freeholders in the Szászföld wished to join their Saxon neighbours in governing the village. The demands for social advancement re-mained within the feudal context, but they strained the capacity and endangered the survival of that system.

{3-26.} What economic processes deepened the diverse tensions that threatened to erupt? And what factors reduced the tensions that prevailed in the daily struggle for survival?

In the Szászföld, where the tithe was the only feudal service, the oft-cited gap between Saxon peasant and Romanian shepherd was gradually disappearing. Owing to transhumance, a regional division of labour became more marked, but within each region, the lifestyle of prosperous Romanians farmers came to resemble that of the Saxons; they had brick houses with several rooms and adopted similar dress. What is more, the sons of affluent sheep owners began to appear at the Vienna Polytechnic. However, while transhumance had accentuated the mutual dependence of Saxon craftsmen and Romanian shepherds, the discontent remained chronic in villages where Saxons exploited their legal status to impose limits on sheep-farming by Romanians and thereby preserve access to pastures for their draft animals.

The ethnic and social division of labour is reflected in aggregate statistics. In Nagysinkszék, for example, the Saxons' and Romanians' share of livestock did not change from the early 1800s and 1848, despite the fact that the Romanians had become far more numerous (see table 9). The Saxons mostly engaged in farming, and the Romanians in sheep breeding. In 1846, Saxon lands amounted to 0.57 hectares (one cadastral acre) per capita, compared to 0.38 hectare (0.66 cadastral acre) for the Romanians; on the other hand, there was one sheep for every three Romanians, and one for every six Saxons. In Medgyes szék, leaving out urban areas, the ratio was one sheep per three taxpaying Saxon families, and two per Romanian family; and 1.7–2.3 hectares (3–4 cadastral acres) per Saxon, compared to slightly over one hectare (two cadastral acres) per Romanian. The economic doldrums left its mark in popular consciousness; in a book, published in the 1840s, on the shortage of money and general impoverishment, Stephan Ludwig Roth anticipated that the Romanians could better their lot only at the expense of the Saxons.


Table 9: Distribution of the cultivated areas and the livestock
among the Saxon and Rumanian inhabitants of Nagysinkszék in 1713 and 1848

Population and assessable properties




* In the inventory of assessable properties Rumanians and Gipsies are treated together. Gipsies constituting 11% of the population had hardly any assessable land. At most, families had some animals.
Number of families
Number of population
Horse and cattle
Sheep and goat
Arable land (köböl)
Medow, hay-field (cart)
Grape (bucket)

{3-28.} Contemporary observers exaggerated not only the threat of famine but also the implications of growing socioeconomic differentiation. The large number of landless people began to be noted in scholarly treatises. In fact, peasants who had neither land nor livestock — the forerunners of an agrarian proletariat — still represented but a small fraction of the rural population, particularly if one excludes the physically handicapped and the beggars, whose number is suggested by the observation that 'each group of three hundred people had to feed one beggar.'[18]18. Kőváry, Erdélyország statisztikája, p. 214.

Although Gypsies predominated among the landless people who were available for seasonal work, these were only part of a highly differentiated Gypsy population. Indeed, the very name Gypsy bore different connotations, depending on the region. Many had left behind the nomadic way of life and the negative image attached to it: these included well-respected village blacksmiths and town musicians, the treasury's gold-washers, and the 'new peasants' or 'new Hungarians' who farmed much like urbarial serfs and were so named by the monarch or local authorities in order facilitate their integration. In keeping with contemporary romanticism, itinerant Gypsies were often praised for being 'faithful to their nationality' and 'preserving their sacred mother tongue.'[19]19. S. Sükösd, A hazaszeretet három parancsokban (Nagyenyed, 1846), p. 18. On the other hand, there was much prejudiced opposition to their integration. József Demeter, chief magistrate of Sepsiszentgyörgy and delegate to the diet, evoked this problem in the 1840s. Noting that 'it would be most unjust to discriminate between Transylvanian Gypsies and earth's other peoples,' he called for a law that would prohibit nomadic migration and confirm that 'Gypsies had the same status as other people.' He situated the 'wretched day-labourers' between the integrated Gypsies 'who led a normal life' and the nomadic Gypsies.[20]20. A. Miskolczy, 'Demeter József cigányügyi operátuma,' in Lymbus I: Források Magyarország régebbi történetéhez (forthcoming). In exchange for their cheap labour, the Gypsies received the (illegal) patronage of landowners and county officials and, depending on the season, could still pursue a semi-nomadic existence. These concessions reflected their exploited status, and {3-29.} also a degree of mutual dependence, for if their rather modest demands were not met, the Gypsies were always ready to put their huts to the torch and move away.

Due to the difficult conditions that prevailed in Transylvanian agriculture, and to the weaknesses (to be noted later) in the corvée system, serfs and itinerant labourers had to be hired for viticulture and often also for harvesting. At harvest time, farmers in the Szászföld would welcome the large number of Székelys looking for work, scythe and sickle in hand. But, as yet, neither population growth nor social differentiation generated great masses of destitute people in this agrarian society. It was said that 'most people in Transylvania own some land.'[21]21. Horváth, Bírálat és némely ragasztvány, p. 94. Indeed, some 'doctrinaire' visitors from western Europe found this excessive, judging that the 'absolute egalitarianism' in the distribution of property had induced a rigid 'equilibrium' that condemned the country to economic stagnation.[22]22. D'Haussez, Alpes et Danube II, pp. 288-89.

In fact, the freedom to cultivate land offered no guarantee of eventual ownership. In the 1830s and 1840s, consideration began to be given to the prospect and modalities of moving from a feudal to a more modern form of property relations, but only with regard to land held in socage, and then on the basis of compensating the land-owner for foregone services. Of those who were in this state of feudal dependence, 10 to 15 percent (according to 1847 tax census, 22,000 people) were cotters on seigniorial farms or contractual serfs. These people, known collectively as 'curialists,' paid minimal government taxes (if, indeed they were registered) and compensated the landowner with labour and produce for the right to cultivate his inalienable 'allodial' lands. Their status was secure, but if feudal relations were abolished, they would find themselves both independent and landless.

The reform of serfdom in the Székelyföld was even more problematical. Although Székely serfs were entered on the tax roll in that capacity, one line of jurisprudence held that by virtue of {3-30.} the special 'character' of the Székelyföld, all the land (except for those granted by the sovereign) was allodial. If this principle was confirmed, over four-fifths of urbarial serfs who paid government taxes would come to be treated as 'curialists.' Thus, whether they realized it or not, the serfs had to preserve their status in order to have a chance at obtaining landed property.

Bearing in mind these uncertainties, it can be roughly estimated that around half of the population consisted of urbarial serfs and cotters (legally united into one category pursuant to the reforms of Joseph II). According to the most plausible estimate, in the counties and the Partium, their ploughland and meadows added up to some 900,000 hectares (1.6 million cadastral acres), or 40–45 percent of these types of land. This was twice the amount of land owned by the tax-exempt nobility; the remaining ploughland and meadows, some 740,000 hectares (1.3 million cadastral acres), were in the hands of freeholders, border guards, and, in a far smaller proportion, of burghers.

The prescriptions of the urbarial law of 1847 are commonly cited to depict the stratification of serf society. Thus the size of the plots required to provide a living for a serf family was set, in the case of the most fertile land, at 2.3–5.7 hectares (4–10 cadastral acres) of ploughland and 1.1–2.2 hectares (2–4 cadastral acres) of meadow, and, in less fertile areas, at 4–8 hectares (7–14 cadastral acres) of ploughland and 2.3–3.4 hectares (4–6 cadastral acres) of meadow. These figures probably reflect the actual state of affairs. When serfdom was wound up in the 1850s and 1860s, the average size of a serf's plot found to be 4.6–5.1 hectares (8–9 cadastral acres). In Hungary proper, the average plot was half again as large, and the socage burden was considerably lighter (by as much as 50 percent, some estimate). The average figures covered greater variation in Hungary — where only a minority owned ploughland — than in Transylvania. In contrast to Transylvania, Hungarian agriculture was developing dynamically and generating exports.

{3-31.} Count Domokos Teleki, a liberal and known to be a good farmer, estimated that a family of five could achieve financial security with three hectares (five cadastral acres) of arable land, 1.7 hectares (three cadastral acres) of meadow, four head of draught cattle, one or two milk cows, two or three head of young cattle, and (as a token of self-sufficiency) eight to ten sheep. It may be reasonably assumed that a family possessed of such assets would pay something over eight silver forints in taxes. Yet if one applies these benchmarks, it appears that, in 1848, less than two percent (2,800 families) of the 150,000 families of urbarial serfs and cotters (2,800 families) would have had to pay taxes in excess of eight forints — to be sure, in a culture where, as will be seen, tax evasion was rife. In sum, while the peasantry's middle stratum was large and its poorest, lower stratum rather small, the top stratum of wealthy peasants was very small, and certainly no larger than the number of aristocrats and of nobles who owned medium-sized estates.

The changes that occurred between 1750 and 1850 in agriculture, animal husbandry, and the social structure of the peasantry can be well illustrated by data concerning a few villages of Radnót domain, in the Mezőség. There, the custom was to redistribute inherited land; as the number of families grew, so did the number of subdivided plots. If this practice failed to inhibit the creation of large families, it was partly thanks to the ploughland gained at the expense of meadow; the amount of ploughland evolved in inverse proportion to the number of livestock. There was no other way of feeding a growing population. Cows increasingly supplanted oxen as draught animals. Scarcely ten percent of the households could afford as many as six draught animals; yet, according to the tax census of 1750, the local soil conditions required six oxen for ploughing, and at that time, at least 25 percent of the farmers disposed of that many animals. The signs therefore pointed to slow development and eventual impoverishment. Another sign was the shift in {3-32.} emphasis from animal husbandry to farming, although the livestock trade remained the most important source of cash for peasants; as late as the 1850s, observers would deplore that the peasants paid more attention to animal husbandry than to the cultivation of land. (Noble middle-rank landowners had earlier 'convinced themselves that Jews who had settled in Kackó' to distil and market brandy were responsible for the peasantry's deepening misery, but they later came to the conclusion that the problem was rooted in poor methods of cattle-breeding.[23]23. Draft petition of Juliánna Sombory and Mihály Ketzeli to the Gubernium, OL, Family Archives, Hatfaludy család, Box 1, I, 3/a.) The distribution of livestock is an important indicator of social differentiation, and the signs of progressive impoverishment are clear: from the 1750s, when the stock of animals was distributed rather evenly, to a century later, when a large proportion of peasants had but a few animals. Meanwhile, a growing differentiation in the size of plots threatened to aggravate tensions in rural society.

In some villages, the serfs were distributed among as many as six landowners, and they commonly had to provide a wide range of services to the same master. Nevertheless, the bonds of solidarity between villagers were strong. A landlord wishing to expand his allodium or to obtain additional services could anticipate collective resistance on the part of the villagers. He also had to contend with the possibility that his serfs would exercise their right to move and leave him for another landlord.

Many landowners tried to shelter their serfs from taxation, and this factor helped to attenuate tensions. Sándor Újfalvy was representative of middle-level landowners who applied modern farming methods; exploiting his connections, he succeeded for decades in excluding from the tax roll serfs who had not been registered in 1817, and he also arranged for births and deaths to be left unrecorded in Church censuses. Contemporary observers noted — correctly, it seems — that in many localities, between a third and a half of eligible land was not accounted for in the tax registers. There is also evidence that in the urbarial registration of 1820, {3-33.} many serfs, fearing tax increases, declared only around two-thirds of their landed property. To be sure, in some places, mainly where the landowner had defined property lines, the serfs demanded precise measurement in chains, claiming that they did not know the size of their land allotment; they believed that, even though land taxes might rise, their service obligations would be reduced, as was often promised by urbarial registrars. Yet there is every indication that failure to report taxable land and to conduct accurate surveys was a practice that helped to preserve the stability of feudal society; it reflected a common interest between landowner and serf and attenuated the potential for conflict.

Reality was probably embellished in the conclusion that 'every serf could find his protector in the person of his landlord or steward,'[24]24. Report of János Szőcs, chief justice of Erzsébetváros, on the registration of land tax to the Gubernium (1863), OL, Abszolutizmuskori Levéltár, Visszaállított Erdélyi Udvari Kancellária, Általános iratok. Acclusa, Box 261. but the practice tended to forge in the villages a certain solidarity vis-à-vis the government. At times, the peasants forcefully occupied allodial lands, and at other times, they refused to pay taxes, but the instances hardly ever coincided. Tax avoidance became an quasi-sacred ritual in demonstrating the cohesion of villagers, and contemporary liberal politicians regarded the tax system as a school for corruption. When registrars made notes of changes at the end of the year, the village elders gave false information under oath. Often, such violations of Christian ethics were palliated by superstition. Before delivering his oath (the formula prescribed for Romanians encompassed God, the sun, salt, and the Holy Church), a man would blow into his fur cap to conceal his soul; 'after the false oath, he would breathe in his unsullied soul.'[25]25. J. Ponori Thewrewk, Honbarát (Pozsony, 1834), p. 106. The villages' common determination to minimize the tax burden prevailed even if, after the completion of the tax rolls, community leaders imposed a levy on the less affluent peasants. Observers also noted that when, following a report of fraudulent practices, the authorities managed to impose the full tax, villages tended to sink into moral as well as financial bankruptcy. Village solidarity could have dramatic consequences. At Siklód, an informer who had even {3-34.} denounced the Gubernium to Metternich was cornered in the village hall; the villagers 'thronged in until the weight of their bodies crushed him to death.'[26]26. J. Pálffy, Magyarországi és erdélyi urak I, ed. by A. T. Szabó (Kolozsvár, 1939), p. 44. The deed was done without a word, and the villagers remained silent during the investigation.

In this rural society, morality and ethics, both individual and collective, were based on religion and superstition. The peasants' view of the world was coloured by magical beliefs, as illustrated above in the case of perjury. According to contemporary observers, most peasants were both profoundly religious and superstitious, although there were occasional complaints in the Romanian press that this belief system masked a certain indifference toward the Church and that people tried to avoid attending religious services. When, after the devastating famine of 1817, Sándor Újfalvy managed to make his estate prosperous again, he erected a splendid new church and sponsored the education of a 'clever lad' who was eventually ordained; he sheltered his Romanian serfs from taxes, but 'neither his gentle nor his more forceful efforts' succeeded in making them attend church services.[27]27. Mezőkövesdi Újfalvy Sándor emlékiratai, ed. by F. Gyalui (Kolozsvár, 1941), p. 199. It is not clear whether this behaviour signified resistance to the landlord and higher authority, or a loss of interest, induced by the landlord's humane treatment, in religious values. And it is not recorded whether the peasants' indifference extended to religious fasts and feasts as well.

Religious holidays played an important part in the management of manpower. The Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic religions required a hundred holiday observances from Romanians, forty days more than held by other denominations. Romanian serfs did not work on their plots on holidays, fearing that this would offend the saints and bring down some catastrophe on their land and families. Apart from the cases where the serfs were hired to do wage labour, 'many noble landowners and priests would fully exploit this circumstance.' The priest might 'absolve a serf who, in return for a couple of drinks, would work in a team for him.'[28]28. S. Brassai, 'Népnevelés és még valami,' Vasárnapi Újság, 3 October 1847, no. 698. Alternatively, if the socage work was scheduled only for the following {3-35.} week, the landowner might simply persuade the priest 'to lie to his parishioners' and, in exchange for brandy, 'his wheat would be harvested.'[29]29. E. Jakab, 'Oláhügy,' Erdélyi Hiradó, 6 September 1846, no. 176. The peasant believed that if he did work on his master's fields, it would be that land, and not his plot, which the offended saint would strike with drought or hail.

The villages' real holidays were marked by both rebelliousness and resignation. At Whitsun, in the Romanian villages of Doboka and Belső-Szolnok counties, young people would choose a king, a palatine, a lord lieutenant, and magistrates, who mimicked a village tribunal and condemned sinners, thus turning their world's hierarchy on its head. In the real order of things, the village magistrate was regarded as a puppet of the landowners and the government. Independent-minded people would try to avoid assuming this office, and those who were compelled to accept lived in fear that their home would be put to the torch. The Whitsun playacting may also have reflected a certain generational conflict, but such conflict remained latent. When, in 1849, people in the Érc Mountains took advantage of the revolutionary situation to elect new village officials, they first had to consult the elders, some of whom were over a hundred years old. By virtue of their long experience, the elders helped to sustain hope through the lean years. Age and family status helped to legitimate ambitions and dreams. Fathers had the legal right to beat their son, or force him to enlist; but if the son was conscripted, it was also the father's role to protest against what was generally considered to be a catastrophe for the family. The ideal village would have been based and modelled on the autonomous family unit. There may have been some deeper significance in the fact that at the end of the year, villagers feasted together on the 'Christmas pig' that had been fattened at common expense.

Village solidarity was an outgrowth of the prevailing system of production, and thus it prevailed over a diversity of local conflicts of interest. Compared to more advanced techniques of crop-rotation, the alternating three-course system seemed to be wasteful of {3-36.} precious land, for it left a third of the arable land fallow; in the alternating two-course system that prevailed in mountainous and other, climatically-disadvantages areas, half the land lay fallow. Thus, as late as the 1850s, some 40 percent of arable land was left fallow. To be sure, the fallow land could be used for grazing livestock. Farms encompassing but a few hectares were divided into dozens of strip-holdings to ensure that everyone would gain land of similar quality; this practice was hardly suited to the development of modern agriculture, but it provided security. When hail ravaged the strip-holdings in one section, the others could still be harvested. In this way, the farming system offered greater assurance of subsistence, but only up to a certain level of population, for neither the number of livestock nor the amount of cultivated land could be expanded at the other's expense. This type of farming committed villagers to respect common rules. Proximate plots and strip-holdings had to be planted with grain that could be harvested at the same time in order to avoid damaging crops when animals were grazed on the stubble.

This uniform farming system was the foundation on which individuals were integrated into a community. The village community tried to impose sanctions on those who broke the rules. Individuals enjoyed the protection of the community, but, according to contemporary observers, there was little scope for personal initiative (apart from occasional bullying). The community could only engage in soil-improvement if it managed to persuade every farmer to participate. One social problem that became more common in the 1840s involved the growing number of peasants who compensated for the inadequate size of their plot by grazing more and more animals on the common pasture. In many localities, these people would incite attacks on farmers who wanted to keep such grazing proportional to a peasant's ploughland. And since these people had the most to lose from change, they were often the ringleaders in confrontations with landowners and the county authorities.

{3-37.} Felvinc, the 'town' of the free Székelys, stood out with an orderliness that was both archaic and almost modern, and it offers a clear illustration of the complexities of change. In the Székely system of communal property, the land was redistributed at sixteen-year intervals, on the basis of each peasant's stock of draught animals; this, observed a French visitor, was the realisation 'of an absurd utopian dream.'[30]30. N. M. de Locmaria, Souvenirs des voyages de Monseigneur le Duc Bordeaux I (Paris, 1846), p. 134. However, by the 1810s, people began to demand definitive distribution, on the grounds that the system discouraged effective farming. (Since people showed little inclination to fertilize the fields, the communities tried to make the practice compulsory.) Over time, people who feared that they might run short of draught animals, and lose out in the next reallocation of land, also became partisans of final redistribution. These pressures ultimately brought fruit, and led to lengthy preparations. Still, in 1848, the Gubernium had to threaten military intervention before claimants could obtain their allotment from the communal land.

To be sure, there was some scope for development even within the constraints of the three-course rotation system. The Saxons, for instance, produced more draught animals with their superior methods of animal husbandry and used ploughs that cut deeper furrows. In the Székelyföld, some inventive craftsmen produced reversible ploughs that were better adapted to the quality and lay of the land. In certain mountain districts, and notably at Zaránd, which by the 1750s stood out for its orderliness, peasants were driven to put fallow land under cultivation, and this in a manner that anticipated crop rotation. More orchards came to be planted in certain districts of the frontier zone. This came about partly because of public education programs, and partly because people wishing to obtain a marriage license were required to plant a few fruit trees (although it was not uncommon for orchards to change hands just for this purpose). After the mid-1700s, potatoes progressively won acceptance, primarily in mountain areas, as a much-needed dietary alternative to corn. The expansion of viticulture also had a major impact on the rural economy; an English visitor, William Paget, {3-38.} reported that ten percent of the population earned its living from wine production. The compilers of the Greek Orthodox demographic statistics attributed the increase in the number of marriages in 1832 to good grape yields.

Only those smallholders who lived in the hinterland of the larger Saxon and Hungarian towns tried their hand at the novel practice of horticulture and the cultivation of market vegetables, such as carrots, which were grown along the bend of the Nyárad River at Marosvásárhely. Horticulture was also taken up by people in the suburbs of Kolozsvár, and particularly those, at Hóstát, who farmed in the style proper to the Hungarian Great Plain; one reason for this choice was that most of the nearby fields cultivated in three-course rotation were now owned by wealthy burghers, who rode around in carriages drawn by six bell-bedecked and tasselled oxen. The authorities' attempts to modernize agriculture proved most successful in the towns' hinterland. The Nagyszeben council, for example, decided as early as 1838 to impose the stabling of animals and as well as crop rotation, and, in 1848, it ignored the inevitable protests and ruled that proximate fallow land had to be put under cultivation.

Indeed, the only escape from agricultural stagnation was the extension of cultivation to fallow land. However, as was emphasized in the press and numerous petitions to government, this measure required a simultaneous shift from grazing to stabling animals; fodder had to be planted, and natural fertilizer had to collected to improve the soil. The breaking of fallow land paved the way for crop-rotation, a form of cultivation that was free of a collectivity's constraints. A precondition of its introduction, which was slow and progressive, was the abolition of the feudal system. First, all arable land had to be divided up between landowners and peasants; then, the much-criticized system of 'common farming' had to be wound up.

{3-39.} The change threatened to bring severe dislocations in both economy and society. The breaking of fallow land would limit the scope for grazing, precipitating a crisis in animal husbandry and the entire agricultural sector. In the words of a contemporary journalist, 'the agonies of giving birth are once again upon us.'[31]31. 'Rövid pillantás földművelési rendszerünkre,' Vasárnapi Újság, 26 November 1843, no. 499.

In short, the feudal system was both threatened and sustained by the hope of advancement within the system itself; by traditional agriculture that may have exhausted its capacity for development but offered a measure of security; and by a complex web of interests that transcended social differences. Only radical reforms, social, economic, as well as political, could open the way to modernization.

In the Szászföld, where freeholders were the pillars of the agrarian society, the promise of change lay in the campaigns, launched from the towns, for economic reform. The impact was felt far and wide; peasants in the Székelyföld and the counties girded to engage in market-oriented production. To be sure, the feudal structure of politics and society did not favour the Saxons' attempts at reform; the intellectuals who clustered around various poles of political power understood that the dismantling of that structure would greatly facilitate the task of the enterprising Saxons. Historically, such change normally depended on the presence of a powerful middle class. In Transylvania, for want of the latter, the task had to be taken on by members of the nobility.