{1-429.} The 'Land of the Romanians'

It will be remembered that Anonymus had linked the 'Blak', i.e. Romanian people of the Bulgar-Romanian empire with the 'Blaks' who, according to him, lived in Northern Transylvania. The earliest relevant documents date from the first third of the 13th century, and originate in the Hungarian and papal chancelleries: they make reference to terra Blacorum, a land, or rather forest (silva), in the southern Carpathians inhabited by Romanians. However, there are no written sources to indicate when the Romanians first appeared in Transylvania.

The broader debate over the theory of 'Daco-Roman continuity' — which affirms the uninterrupted presence, dating back to Antiquity, of a Romanized ethnic group in Transylvania — is beyond the scope of this work. As noted earlier, there is no historical, archaeological, or toponymic evidence to indicate that Romanians lived in Transylvania before the early 13th century. On the other hand, various written sources from 976 onwards mention Romanians, either as migratory shepherds or as soldiers recruited into units of the Byzantine army in Thessaly and the Balkan mountains; in 1094, Romanians (Vlachs) guided Pecheneg raiders through those mountains' passes into Byzantine territory. Numerous Serbian documents, dating from the end of the 12th century, mention Romanian shepherds in the mountainous region between the Drina and Morava rivers. Although, in modern times, Romanians no longer lived there, nor in the mountains of western Bulgaria, both regions have numerous toponyms attesting to their presence in the Middle Ages. Without proving that Romanians migrated northward into the Carpathians, these traces indicate that they were mainly seasonal shepherds, spending summers on mountain pastures and winters in the river valleys or on the coast. Transhumance did not exclude ancillary farming activity, and there are in fact traces of terraced cultivation on the higher slopes of {1-430.} Transylvanian mountains. The Romanian and Albanian languages, which are probably of common origin, preserve words that evoke this way of life.

However, seasonal shepherding would have been practised only on the mountains' eastern and southern slopes, which benefit from sunshine, and it is therefore not plausible that the Romanians, ancestral pastures lay farther north, in Transylvania. As a Romanian historian observed, 'the transhumance of sheep from the south bank of the Danube or from the Carpathians to Transylvania was never mentioned; this would have been unnatural, for there are no suitable pastures on the northern and western, Transylvanian slopes of the mountains. A southern shepherd would not dream of driving his flock into Transylvania, a land poorly-endowed with pastures.'[12]12. P.P. Panaitescu, Introducere la istoria culturii româneşti (Bucharest, 1969), p. 146. On the other hand, Romanian shepherds who migrated seasonally to the Danube may well have lived on the southern slopes of the South Carpathian range after the emergence of the Romanian people; this is particularly likely after 800, when the Bulgars conquered southern Transylvania, for their supervision of the area between the southern Carpathians and the Danube (today's Wallachia) made transhumance from mountain to river more secure. After Bulgaria came under Byzantine rule (ca. 1000), Wallachia would serve as a peripheral pastureland for the Pechenegs, and later for the Cumanians. The Byzantine outposts around the Danube Delta and the Danube Bend could not provide security for the Romanian shepherds or for the Slavs' forested region of the plains; these people had to accommodate themselves to the nomadic newcomers. For the sake of mutual security, the Pechenegs and Cumanians worked out a modus vivendi (sources give no details) with the Romanian shepherds. After 1185, when the Cumanians helped to form a Bulgar-Romanian czardom, this relationship was formalized in an alliance. The leaders (cnezes) of the Romanians in Wallachia — drawing in part on their experience in the Byzantine army — proceeded to organize their people over a {1-431.} growing area. Shepherds' settlements, known as katuns, were grouped into broader administrative units (kenézség) led by the kenéz. At first, the latter combined soldiering and shepherding, but over time they turned into a closed caste of professional soldiers, a pre-feudal elite similar to that of barbarian tribes. In all likelihood, the Romanian border guard units that were settled in Transylvania's frontier zone along with the Székelys and Pechenegs came from this élite.

The first authentic document concerning this region reveals that the Romanians enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy: according to a property register dating from Benedek's voivodeship (1202–1209), a piece of land — situated between the Olt River, the Eger and Árpás streams, and the mountains — was transferred by King Andrew II from the ownership of Romanians (exempta de Blaccis) to that of the Cistercian monastery at Kerc. That Romanians had property rights, subject to alteration by the king, is also indicated in the Andreanum, which granted Saxons free use of a forest belonging to the Romanians and Pechenegs (silvam Blacorum et Bissenorum). A royal charter, long believed to originate from King Andrew II in 1222, granted the Teutonic Knights in the Barcaság exemption from duty when they travelled through the lands of the Székelys and Romanians (per terram Siculorum aut per terram Blacorum). Although it turns out that the document was forged in 1231, in Rome, by Hermann von Salza, the head of the Teutonic Knights (who by then had been expelled from the Barcaság), there is no reason to question this particular information: the Romanians, like the Székelys, had their own 'land' as well as the right to impose customs duty.

Since 'Barca's land' (Barca földje), the territory granted to the Teutonic Knights in 1211, encompassed the later-named districts of Sárkány and Törcs, it is likely that eastern boundary of the 'land of Blaks' ran from the Királykő to a point on the Olt between Fogaras and Sárkány. The line of the western boundary is more difficult to {1-432.} establish. The 'forest of the Romanians and Pechenegs' mentioned in the Andreanum must have been located somewhere southeast of Nagyszeben, in the vicinity of Beşineu Mountain and Talmács castle, for those toponyms commemorate the Pechenegs mentioned in a document dating from 1250: in 1211, the count of Szeben had led a force of Saxons, Romanians, Székelys, and Pechenegs (associatis sibi Saxonibus, Olacis, Siculis et Bissenis) to do battle in Bulgaria. There are also later references to the coexistence of the Pechenegs, Romanians, and Székelys. When, in 1260, the Bohemian king Ottokar II recorded his victory over the Hungarian king, he noted that latter's 'inhuman men' included not only Cumanians, Hungarians, and sundry Slavs, but also Székelys, Romanians, and Pechenegs (innumeram multitudinem ... Siculorum quoque et Valachorum, Bezzenninorum). If, as it appears, the toponyms Beschenbach — Besimbák — Beşinbav are derived from Pecheneg, then these people could also be found on the 'Blak land' of the Fogaras region. It is likely that an early and cohesive community of Pechenegs had lived near the Olt bend, around southern tributaries whose names — Barca, Brassó, Tömös, Tatrang, and Zajzon — betray a Turkic origin; these streams had their source in the passes through which the Cumanians would invade from Wallachia. On the other hand, the occurrence of the toponym Besenyő in the Székelyföld and farther north probably owes to scattered Pecheneg settlements.

It will be remembered that the king had moved Pecheneg guards out of the Barcaság — perhaps to the Szeben district — in order to make room in 1211 for the Teutonic Knights, who were expected to strengthen the defence of the border. Thus when, in 1231, the leader of the Teutonic Knights requested duty-free transit through the land of the Romanians and Székelys, he must have had in mind, in the east, the Székelys of Sepsi, who had been moved there in 1224 from Szászsebes, and, in the west, the Romanians who shared with Pechenegs a forest near Fogaras and Szeben. By {1-433.} that time, it is likely that most of the Pechenegs were settled alongside Romanians around Talmács; in the same area where later, in the second half of the 13th century, three castles were raised to protect the Szászföld — Talmács (at the Vöröstorony pass), Salgó (near present-day Orlát < Váralatt), and Pétervár (near Szászcsór).

The Fogaras Alps were impassable between the Vöröstorony and Törcsvár passes, and thus sheltered the region known as the 'Oláhföld' ('Vlach land'; it must have been named after a monastery, for a document from 1252 refers to terra Olacorum de Kyrch); the first castle in this region, at Fogaras, was raised in the 15th century. However, west of the Olt River, the Szászföld was vulnerable to attackers moving north along the Lator and Zsil valleys, hence the building of the above-noted castles. The earliest documents that mention Romanian villages near these castles date from the 14th century; they are initially referred to simply as 'Vlach villages' (oláh falvak), and then by triple — German, Hungarian, and Romanian — names. However, there is every reason to believe that Romanians (as well as Pechenegs) lived there as early as the beginning of the 13th century, and with the same purpose as in 1383: to guard the mountain frontier from Talmács to Oláhnagyfalu (today's Szelistye), near Orlát (assumserunt ipsi Walachi custodiam alpibus ab Tolmacz usque ad magnam villam Walachicalem).

Contemporary sources, and inferences from later ones, point to the existence around 1200 of a 'Blak land' in the mountains near Fogaras and Szászváros, i.e. of an administrative district of Romanian border guards. It is more difficult to ascertain the defensive structure of the Maros valley and the Sztrigy Basin, which were the most vulnerable parts of Transylvania's southern border region, for they could be attacked both from the south, through the Vulkán Pass, and, in the west, from the Temes valley and through the Vaskapu (Iron Gates). It is not known when Hunyad county was established; sources dating from 1276 indicate the existence of two administrative districts, the comitatus of Hunyad and that of {1-434.} Hátszeg, and as late as 1399, a separate castellan (várnagy) ruled over each part of the territory. When, in 1409, the castle at Hunyad became, along with its dependencies, the property of the Hunyadi family, Hátszeg remained a separate district, though one that came under the jurisdiction of the same nobiliary court as Hunyad county (1480: sedes iudiciaria universorum nobilium comitatus de Hunyad et de Haczak).[13]13. Dezső Csánki, Magyarország történelmi földrajza a Hunyadiak korában, vol. V (Budapest, 1913), p. 45. The pre-1400 documents relating to the Romanians in Transylvania and the rest of eastern Hungary have been collected in Documenta historiam Valachorum in Hungaria illustrantia, ed. by A.F. Nagy and L. Makkai (Budapest, 1941); quotations from this source are not footnoted but can be located by the date.

The defence of the southern border was assured principally by the castle of Hátszeg and its district, which was inhabited in the era of the royal castle system — perhaps as early as the 11th century — by royal hunters known as daróc. The first mention of Romanians dates from 1263, when King Stephen the Younger bestowed upon one of his loyal nobles a piece of daróc land that encompassed three villages (later to form part of the Magyarbrettye estate); by excluding from this grant the lands belonging to the cnez Dragun and cnez Kodoch (exceptis terris ... kenasiis), the king acknowledged the property rights of these two, presumably Romanian, officials.[14]14. György Györffy, 'Adatok a románok XIII. századi történetéhez és a román állam kezdeteihez,' Történelmi Szemle (1964), p. 7. The latter's property, together with the rest of the Oláhbrettye estate, both in the immediate vicinity of Hátszeg castle, are mentioned in the 15th century as belonging to the Pogány family, who were descendants of a Romanian cnez. In the 14th century, judicial affairs in the Hátszeg district were dealt by the cnez assizes (kenézi szék), chaired by the Hátszeg castellan; after the cnezes were ennobled, their court merged with the nobiliary court of Hunyad county.