Early Slavic Society in Transylvania

Traces of the Transylvanian Slavs' economic and social organization are as scarce as those concerning their ethnic origins. Archaeological finds indicate that the Bulgar settlers included soldiers, salt-miners, and gold-diggers. They probably also recruited Hungarians for the latter tasks; the expanding occupational group of Slavic and Hungarian miners was joined, after 1200, by Germans. In the social system of 12th-century Hungary, where sons took up their father's trade, Transylvanian salt-miners generally worked for the king, although a few of their villages were transferred to the Church. Some time before 1138, the monastery at Dömös received, as a grant from the royal family, thirty salt-miner households (mansio) somewhere in the 'Transylvanian parts' (in {1-367.} ultrasilvanis partibus); these miners were bound to supply an annual 24,000 slabs of salt. They probably worked mines situated along the Maros, for the salt was shipped down that river. In 1075, the monastery of Garamszentbenedek was granted half of the royal salt-tax levied at the point of loading on the Aranyos River, near Torda castle. The list, in the 1138 document, of thirty heads of families includes typically Hungarian names (e.g. Wosas, Besedi, Fuglidi, Boch, Himudi, Satadi, Uza, Eulegen, and Ellu), names of Slavic origin (Kinis, Senin, Sokol, Lesin, Wasil), ethnically neutral Christian names (Martin, Simeon, Isaac), and others of indeterminate origin. These are the earliest known names of ordinary Transylvanians from the Middle Ages, and they seem to indicate that Hungarians and Slavs made up the majority of the region's population.

The same document contains a list of twenty-five salt-shippers from the village of Sahtu. Each year, they transported the aforementioned, huge quantity of salt on two vessels, in six separate shipments, down the Maros River as far as Szombathely, near Arad. From there, transport was probably assured by the carters who worked for the abbot of Dömös. Sahtu is commonly identified with Sajtény, a village that had existed in the Middle Ages near Szombathely (Csanád county); however, there is a greater likelihood that Sahtu is one and the same as Sohtteluk (Sajttelek), a site first documented in 1291, and which in the 14th century was renamed Bencenc, after its new owner. The name Sajt is derived from the word 'só' (salt), and this meaning has been preserved in 'sajtalan', the vernacular variant of 'sótlan' (saltless). The 'telek' in the toponym indicates that the place was a 'terra', i.e. a once-populated, but now deserted site, and the location of Sajttelek — on the banks of the Maros in the Kenyérmező — was more convenient for the shipping of salt than that of Sajtény, near Szombathely, which imposed a long and pointless return journey. The inhabitants of Sajt/Bencenc had Hungarians names, including Haláldi, Maradék, {1-368.} Gyökér, Farkas, Süllő, Vasas, Sima, Nyomorék, Vendég, Ajándék, Bökény. Since none had a clearly Slavic name, it can be surmised that Hungarians predominated among shippers to an even greater extent than among salt-miners.

An equally important (but less well-documented) resource, gold, was generally panned from rivers in this period, and not yet mined. Transylvania also supplied furs to the royal court. The Hungarian ruling elite levied a marten tax, the so-called 'mardurina', from the Slavs who lived in the mountains and forests of Transylvania, Slavonia, and Upper Hungary. As population grew, so did the payment of tax in the form of agricultural products, and hunting became a separate and specialized occupation. The 'daróc', i.e. a hunter who worked on behalf of the king, is evoked by toponyms that are found countrywide, and notably in the Transylvanian counties of Szolnok-Doboka, Küküllő, Kolozs, and Hunyad. In the document dated 1138, the Dömös monastery was also granted 'men in the Transylvanian parts' who were bound to supply each year 20 marten-skins, 100 leather belts, one bearskin, and one bison horn. There were probably Slavs as well as Hungarians among these hunters; the word 'daróc' is of southern Slavic origin and means a 'skinner' of wild animals. Transylvania remained Hungary's richest preserve of big game throughout the Middle Ages. The largest prey were the aurochs, which became extinct in the 12th century, and the bison, which lasted until the 18th century; today, Transylvania's mountains shelter the last remaining Carpathian bears.

The importance of hunting in Transylvania is confirmed by early historical sources, and it indicates that the Slavic regions were sparsely populated. That, in turn, makes it unlikely that the transfer of Slavic expertise in agriculture and crafts to the Hungarians occurred in Transylvania. The Hungarian vocabulary is rich in Slavic words having to do with agriculture — e.g. 'rozs' (rye), 'zab' (oats), 'repce' (rapeseed), 'széna' (hay), 'szalma' (straw), 'kasza' {1-369.} (scythe), 'kazal' (rick), 'pajta' (barn) — and with crafts — e.g. 'osztováta' (loom), 'eszterga' (lathe), 'kovács' (blacksmith) and 'gerencsér' (potter). This linguistic influence reflects the tangible transfer of Slavic techniques to the Hungarians, but Transylvania could hardly have been at the forefront of the process.

Yet it would be wrong to assume that at the time of the conquest, the Transylvanian Slavs were but residual settlers totally lacking in organization. The Bulgars' military and economic structures no doubt came under Hungarian control and were transformed, but the Slavs had their own local, social organization, and this did not disappear. A Slavic settlement, or group of settlements, was headed by a 'kenéz' (from the Slavic 'kniaz'), a common figure in the Slavic world. Numerous Hungarian toponyms, such as Kinizs, Kanizsa, Kenese, preserve the memory of this type of social organization, and Kinis even figures as a personal name in the above-mentioned Transylvanian document of 1138. In his 'woeful chronicle' of the Mongol invasion, Master Rogerius refers to Transylvanian village leaders as 'canesii', i.e. 'kenéz' (cnez) — further evidence that at the time of the onslaught, Transylvanian Slavs still preserved their traditional village communities and mother tongue.

The traces of the Transylvanian Slavs' social and economic structure reflect the conditions that prevailed in the Hungarian Monarchy. However, by this time, a large proportion of the Slavs — and particularly those living in the Szamos' watershed — had been assimilated, first by the Hungarians, then by the Romanians. The decrease in the number of Slavic toponyms is but one reflection of this process. Another likely, and more important consequence was the absorption into the Hungarian ruling class of the Slavs' élites — the leaders of a Slavic population that has been identified archaeologically as the Szilágynagyfalu-Szamosfalva group, and which — in contrast to the subjugated Slavs of southern Transylvania — enjoyed an alliance of equals with the Avars and had even adopted {1-370.} Avar costume. As will be seen later, toponyms and written sources alike attest that the Hungarian elite in 10th-century Transylvania sported not only Turkic, but also Slavic names. The obvious conclusion is that they intermarried with Slavs, and the latter were not necessarily Russians from abroad. One is reminded of Anonymus' account of the events following the death of Gelou: 'The inhabitants of the land [...] freely made peace, chose Tétény as leader [and] took an oath of allegiance to him near the place known as Esküllő' (chap. 27). This is the only place in the chronicle where indigenous people offer the hand of peace, participate in an election, and take an oath. Salan's people, the Slovenes of Nyitra, and the inhabitants of 'Roman' Pannonia were all 'subjugated' (subiugaverunt) by the Hungarians, who took hostages and put them to work building forts. There is only one episode in the chronicle that bears some similarity to this one: Ménmarót, the chieftain from Bihar, feels compelled to offer his daughter's hand, and thereby his succession, to Árpád's son (chap. 51); in their war against Ménmarót, the Hungarians are joined 'voluntarily and with peaceful intent' by the Székelys, who are considered by Anonymus to be Attila's people (chap. 50). All these events occur in Transylvania. It would be rash to assume that Anonymus had culled from 13th century legend the notion that the indigenous leaders in eastern Hungary had benefited from preferential treatment at the time of the conquest; on the other hand, it is equally unlikely that his attribution of privileged status to Ménmarót, Gelou, and the Székelys, and of subjection to Hungary's other indigenous people was purely arbitrary. Perhaps he had simply projected back the exceptional autonomy enjoyed in his day by Transylvania's Székelys and Saxons. He may well have heard something about the autonomy of Transylvania's 'Blaks', though he could hardly link this with the Romanians of the Szamos region, for the latter had not yet appeared on the scene.