The 'Tót' Slavs of Transylvania

Judging from river-names and archaeological finds, at the time of the Hungarian Conquest, a population that spoke a Slavic language and had a Slavic material culture could be found where the mountains met the plains and in most other regions of Transylvania. By that time, three great Slavic language-groups had emerged — the eastern (Russian), western (Polish, Czech-Moravian, Wendish-Sorbian), and the southern (Bulgar, Serbo-Croatian, Slovene). Hungarian settlers encountered all of the linguistically-differentiated Slav groups, except for the Serbs, who still lived in {1-358.} isolation from the Hungarians, and the Elbe Slavs. The Hungarians called these people by their own names, and in accordance with their current political status: Orosz (Russian), Lengyel (Pole), Cseh (Czech), Marót (Moravian), Nándor or Lándor (Onogundur Turkic names for Bulgaro-Slavs), and Horvát (Croat). Such names figure among the 10th–13th century toponyms in several regions of Hungary (e.g. Orosz, Oroszi), where they identify the presence among the Hungarians of a residual ethnic settlement.

This type of place-name, indicating the scattered creation of Slav settlements soon after the arrival of the Hungarians, is less common in Transylvania than in the rest of Hungary: there is a village in the Szamos region called (Páncél)cseh, while along the Maros, two villages are called Nándor, and two others bear the name Oroszi. These five Slavic settlements are of such early origin that by the time the Romanians arrived, their inhabitants had become assimilated to the Hungarians. This is clearly indicated by the fact that, in Romanian, the two places bearing the name Oroszi are called Urisiu and Orăsîia, while Páncélcseh is called Panticeu; thus the Hungarian names were adapted, without regard for their original meaning, into toponyms that have no Romanian meaning. Normally, when Romanian settlers encountered Russian or Czech communities, they devised a toponym that designated the ethnic group (e.g. Rusul, Ruşii), but evidently they found no community that was overtly Slavic in these villages. The case of the two villages called Nándor is even more instructive. In Old Hungarian, the word 'Nándor' signified 'Bulgar', but it fell into disuse, probably soon after 1000 AD), when the Bulgar realm fell under Byzantine rule. The word survived only in place-names. The two Transylvanian settlements are located in a region which, according to archaeological and historical sources, had been under Bulgar rule around the year 900. The Hungarian name of the two villages may have indicated residual Bulgar settlements, or, alternatively, communities established by Bulgars who had fled Byzantine occupation. {1-359.} Evidently, the inhabitants no longer spoke Bulgaro-Slavic when the Romanians came to call these villages Nandru and Nandra; there is no word akin to 'nándor' in the Romanian language, and if the newcomers had wanted to evoke Slavs, they would have used the word 'şchiau', which is derived from the Balkan-Latin 'sclavus'.

In earlier times, the Romanian word 'şchiau' probably designated all southern Slavs, but today, the toponym Şchei, borne by many villages in Wallachia and Moldavia, refers exclusively to Bulgars. Around the middle of the 13th century, when Bulgar power waned and most Balkan Romanians fell under Serbian rule, Romanians living north of the Danube began to use the word 'Sîrb'(= Serb) in reference to all Balkan Slavs. Only two Transylvanian toponyms approximate the Romanian name 'Şchei'. One is Şchei (Hungarian name: Bolgárszeg), a suburb of Brassó, where the name probably evokes Bulgar, or simply Slavic merchants. The other is Şteiu (Stejvaspatak) in Hunyad county. The derivation of that toponym is revealed by the mention of Zkey in a medieval document: having lost its original, ethnic significance, the name evolved into a form that has no inherent meaning. Beginning in the mid-13th century, Transylvanian Romanians followed suit in calling Slavs 'Sîrb'; thus Tótfalu (see below for the Hungarian use of 'Tót'), a village in Hunyad county mentioned in documents as far back as 1484, came to be called Sîrbi by the Romanians.

In short, toponymic and archaeological evidence indicates the presence of Slavs in Transylvania. But where were their settlements, and were they present in large numbers at the time of the Hungarian Conquest? The time-frame of the most relevant archaeological sites is some four centuries, and there are only twelve of them, a tiny number from which to draw conclusions concerning such a vast area. The sites do indicate that prior to the arrival of the Hungarians, the main concentrations of Slav settlement were in the {1-360.} Nagy-Szamos valley, along the middle reaches of the Maros, and along the upper reaches of the Olt (including the vicinity of the Kis-Küküllő and Nagy-Küküllő rivers). They also serve to distinguish three cultures: the first, in the north, was probably of eastern Slav origin; the second, in the southwest, was a culture of uncertain origin, marked by a primitive economy, and belonging to a mixed population that included Avars; the third culture, in the centre, consisted of a few Bulgar communities that were established rather late and appear to have been well-organized. As noted earlier, the Transylvanian Slavs adopted and passed on only a few ancient river-names; Abrud and Ompoly, both in the economically-important goldmining region, as well as Szamos, Maros, and Olt, the three major waterways. The land that they settled was almost deserted, and they gave Slavic names only to mountain streams. The written sources that date from, or before the 13th century corroborate these highly general observations but offer no additional information concerning the Slavs in Transylvania. The only source of further enlightenment is a toponymic analysis that reaches beyond river-names to encompass place-names.

Apart from the five localities noted earlier, there is only one place-name that may be linked to the presence of Slavs before the 13th century: Nagytóti, in Hunyad county. The name is of an early type. Moreover, the Romanians who settled there in the 13th century could not have encountered Slavic-speakers, for otherwise they would have probably named the place 'Şchei' or 'Sîrbi' (as in the case of Tótfalu) and not converted the Hungarian name into the Romanian Toltia. The toponym 'Tóti' contains the word which Hungarians generally applied to Slavs. To be sure, in the Middle Ages the Hungarians referred to Slavonia as Tótország (country of the 'Tóts'), but at the time of the Conquest, they already called all the Slavs living within their frontiers 'Tót'. The word is probably derived from the German 'teut', meaning 'people', and it may have been the Gepids' assumed name, for they retained it after they {1-361.} became Slavicized. This hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that the latest reference in historical sources to the Gepids indicates that in the 9th century, they lived in the region between the Drava and the Sava, the very land which came to be called 'Tótország'. Although the continuity of Gepid burial sites in Transylvania extends no further than the 7th century, they survived as assimilated Slavs to witness the Hungarian Conquest, and perhaps they continued to refer to themselves as 'Tóts'.

There is every indication that the Transylvanian Hungarians used the word 'Tót' to refer to the non-Bulgar Slavs in their region. The fact that in all of Transylvania there is only one place called Tóti, in the peripheral Hunyad county, indicates that there was no scattered immigration of 'Tóts' into the region's interior over the three centuries following the Conquest. Since the names of neighbouring Slavic peoples can be found in local toponyms (e.g. Nándor, Oroszi), it is likely that the Slavs native to Transylvania were known as 'Tóts'. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that localities came to be named Tótfalu, Tótháza, and Tóttelek as late as the 13th and 14th centuries. The Romanians sometimes adapted these names, producing Totfalău, Tothaza, and Totelec. In other instances, they substituted either Sîrbi, which generally denoted 'Slav' (examples are found, as noted, in Hunyad county, and also beyond Transylvania's borders, in Bihar, Szatmár, and Szilágy counties), or Tăuţi (in the case of Tótfalud, in Alsó-Fehér county, and of Tótfalu in Kolozs county); the toponym Tăuţi was derived from 'tăut', a Hungarian loan-word in the Romanian language, and one that came to serve as a personal name in both Transylvania and Moldavia.

The use of 'Tót' to denote Slavs in general lingered on in Transylvania through the 13th century, and possible as late as the 14th or 15th centuries; only later did it come to mean exclusively Slovak. The 'Tót' toponyms do not contradict this observation, for there lived scattered groups of indigenous Slavs under Hungarian {1-362.} rule, and the collective term was handy for naming their settlements. What is more surprising is that the Transylvanian Slavs, whose presence is attested to by archaeological, toponymic, and historic sources, did not spread out to create new settlements that might have borne names like Tóti and Tótfalu. The likely explanations are that their number at the time of the Hungarian conquest was very small, and that they were rapidly assimilated. Of the 2056 place-names found in documents dating before 1400, some 102 (5 percent) are of Slavic origin, and a further eighteen indicate Slavic inhabitants; but it cannot be ascertained in every case whether the village had existed before the Hungarian conquest or had appeared much later, perhaps only a few decades before its first citation in a document.

There are, however, a few linguistic features and historical indices that throw some light on the problem. A certain nasal speech sound, which disappeared in the 10th century from the language of the Carpathian Basin's Slavs, has been preserved to this day in five toponyms: Gerend and Dombró (situated between the Maros and the Aranyos), as well as Gambuc, Csongva and Dombó (between the Maros and the Kis-Küküllő). Thus the Slavs must have been present in the area between the Aranyos and the Kis-Küküllő at the time of the Hungarian conquest; yet these same Slavs were among the first to become assimilated to the Hungarians, for when Romanians settled in the region during the 14th century, they invariably adapted Hungarian versions of the Slavic toponyms (including the above-noted five, as well as Torockó, Polyán, Mohács, Lóna, Lekence, Herepe, Pacalka, Akna (2), Zsitve, and Bázna). Thus the early, Slavic population of this region can be identified with those who lived under Avar and Bulgar rule and left archaeological traces.

There is no reliable evidence to indicate what language was spoken by these Slavs, or by their ancestors, who settled in the area before the Bulgar conquest, i.e. prior to 800. One clue is the name {1-363.} of a locality north of the Aranyos River, in the Mezőség: Szelicse, which cannot come from Bulgarian, for then it would have been Szelistye. Since there is a total absence of Slavic traces in a broad swath between Szelicse and the Aranyos, it is likely that the northern boundary of the Bulgars' domain followed the same course. The five Slavic villages whose names retain the nasal lie along this swath, but it is likely that the Slavs living to the north of Szelicse belonged to a different cultural and linguistic group.

The Slavic population in the Szamos watershed must have been even sparser than in the rest of Transylvania, for the pre-1400 documents reveal only 38 toponyms of Slavic origin. Most of these are in the northern, mountainous region, where one also finds Slavic river-names. However, there is nothing to indicate when these settlements were founded; the only certainty is that Slavs lived in the region prior to the settlement of Germans in the late 12th century around Radna and Beszterce, for these new arrivals adapted Slavic toponyms, and called Beszterce, Radna, and the river Lekence, Bistritz, Rodna, and Lechnitz respectively. The present form of the Slavic place names in Romanian are of little help for almost all of them were adopted from Hungarian (Sălicea, two places called Gîrbău and two called Lona, Dorna, Ielciu, Cernuc, Zalha, Şimişna, Jeica, Lechinţa, Jelna, Luşca, Tărpiu, Năsăud, Vălcău, Băbiu, Călian, Pălatca, Sumurduc, Năoiu, and perhaps also Prislop, Rebra, Iurca, Lozna, Calna, Bistriţa, and Rodna, though the last two might have been borrowed from German). Only two place names, Stoiana and Rogna, were adapted directly from the Slavic. Interestingly enough, the Romanian names of three localities, Ardeova, Nearşova, and Vlaha, were obviously adapted from the Slavic variants of the Hungarian toponyms Erdőfalva, Nyárszó, and Oláhfenes. These villages (along with five others whose names reflect the same phenomenon) lie in a perennially Hungarian-inhabited district near Kolozsvár. What is even more remarkable is that in the case of Erdőfalva and Nyárszó, the Slavs arrived after the {1-364.} Hungarians, adapted the Hungarian toponyms, and then passed them on to even later arrivals, the Romanians. The third name, Oláhfenes, is clearly of Slavic origin, and although 'Oláh' means Vlach, the Romanians adapted the toponym without translating it. Since this village was first mentioned (along with its Roman Catholic church) as Oláhfenes in 1332, and since it was always inhabited by Hungarians, the possibility arises that 'Oláh' in its name refers not to Romanians but to another neo-Latin ethnic group, and that its original Hungarian name may have been Olaszfenes (cf. Olaszliszka, Olasztelek).

In light of the foregoing, great caution must be exercised in dating the Slavs' settlement in the region, for toponymic hints of their presence in the mid-1100s can be found only in the German settlement areas around Beszterce and Radna. It must be borne in mind that there were probably fewer Slavs (and thus Slavic toponyms) north of the Maros and the Aranyos at the time of the Hungarian conquest than the number suggested by the pre-1400 documents; and that a large proportion of the latter number immigrated — as did Romanians — into a Transylvania depopulated by the devastating Mongol invasion of 1241-42. There is no doubt that this new wave of Slavic immigration consisted of Russians. The latter must have settled down amidst Hungarians, Germans, and Romanians, for their localities bore Hungarian, Hungarian- Romanian, or, in one case, Hungarian-Romanian-German names: Oroszfája — Orosfaia in Kolozs county (1297); Szeretfalva — Sărătel — Reussen (1296), Oroszfalu — Rusu (1305), and Oroszmező — Rusu (1315) in Beszterce-Naszód county; and Oroszfalu — Ruşii (1319) in Marostorda county. The Russian immigration probably touched the Kolozsvár district, giving rise to the three villages noted earlier; it reached as far the southern borderlands of Transylvania, where the relevant toponyms include, in Nagyküküllő county, Kund — Cund — Reussdorf (1332); in Szeben county, Szerdahely — Mercurea — Reussmarkt (1290), Rosszcsőr — {1-365.} Ruşciori — Reussdörflein (1380), and Rusz — Ruşi — Reussen (1424); and, in Hunyad county, Oroszfalu — Ruseşti (1367) and Oroszfalu — Ruşi (1453).

Toponymic investigation reveals a radically different ethnic mix in the mountains between the Maros and the Aranyos, and south of the Nagy-Küküllő. Some 51, or fully half of all the Slavic place-names noted in the pre-1400 documents are found in this area, which accounts for around one third of Transylvania. In terms of the Slav-Hungarian nexus, the Székelyföld stands out, for all eighteen place-names of Slavic origin were converted to Romanian via the Hungarian version, whereas to the west of the Székelyföld, only three (Bábolna, Doborka, Pród) followed this pattern, the remaining thirty being adapted straight from the Slavic original. The northern borderline of the region, where cohabited large numbers of Romanians, Slavs, and — judging from the toponyms — Germans and Hungarians as well, stretches from Szolcsva, on the Aranyos, through Orbó and Gyulafehérvár/Bălgrad (to the north of the Maros) and Sztrázsa, Drassó, Zalatna, Lemnek, and Ugra (to the south of the Maros and Nagy-Küküllő), then turns sharply southward to end at Törcsvár (Bran). The toponyms reveal little about the beginning and duration of this cohabitation beyond the fact that when the Germans arrived in the 12th century, they made direct contact with the Slavs; the name of Szeben, the locality that would become the principal German centre, was derived from the Slavic-named Zibin stream. The relatively close relationship between Slavs and the Romanians is attested by the fact that in the case of localities with Hungarian as well as Slavic names, the Romanians generally adapted the Slavic variant (e.g. [Gyula]fehérvár — Bălgrad, Őregyház — Straja). The Romanian choice of a Slavic name for Gyulafehérvár suggests, however, that when this Transylvanian capital was founded, upon Roman ruins, in the 10th century, the Slavs may have been present, but the Romanians were not; otherwise, the Romanian name of Gyulafehérvár would have been Cetatea Albă.

{1-366.} The linguistic identity of southern Transylvania's Slavic communities — apart from a few pockets of Russian settlement — cannot be ascertained. The ending, 'inci/inţi', that was attached to some Hungarian toponyms in the late Middle Ages (as in Bokaj — Băcăinţi, Lozsád — Jeledinţi, Piski — Pischinţi, and similar names in the Banat and Oltenia)) led some to suspect the presence of southern Slavs; but this Slavic suffix also occurs in northern Moldavia, where it can only be of Russian derivation. As noted, since the words 'Tót' (in Hungarian), and 'Sîrb' as well as 'Tăut' (in Romanian), were applied in the 14th and 15th centuries to all Slavs, they do not serve to identify specific ethnic groups. Thus the only certainty is that there were Bulgaro-Slavic elements, and later some Russians, among the numerous Slavs of southern Transylvania in the Middle Ages. This Slavic population retained its language at least until the mid-1200s, may have replenished its numbers through immigration after the Mongol invasion, and became assimilated — partly into Hungarian, but mainly into the Romanian culture — only towards the end of the Middle Ages.