Demographic Changes

There are no statistical sources that would allow a precise enumeration of Transylvania's population around 1711. Hungarian scholars in the early 1900s estimated that in 1700, prior to the losses due to Rákóczi's War of Independence, the population stood at 500,000, but more recent estimates put it in the plausible range of 800,000–865,000. Even these figures can reflect only a momentary level, for in the period under consideration, and particularly in the first forty years, there was considerable demographic fluctuation in Transylvania. An official survey, dating from 1751, indicates that of the 186 ethnic Romanians at Újegyházszék, only 85 were born there; the majority of the latter were only the second generation to live in the village, and some were temporarily in domestic or other service elsewhere. Most of the migration was local, with people moving from one village to another within the szék; the rest came from other Saxon districts, from counties bordering on the Királyföld, and from the northern border district of Kővár, as well as from Wallachia and Moldavia.

The counties experienced a similar pattern of internal migration. In the first half of the century, between 15 and 35 percent of the heads of villein households migrated away from Transylvania's vast crown estates. This phenomenon was scarcely novel; in the period of principality, no fewer than 165 laws had been enacted seeking the return of villeins. Migration became even more common in the changed circumstances of the early 1700s, and opinions {2-523.} differ on its causes. Contemporary Romanian historians attribute this migration to great restlessness (o mare nestabilitate) or to the expulsion of villeins from their plots. The latter argument is wholly implausible: at the time, landowners were in need of manpower, not of uncultivated land. The principal factors behind this 'great restlessness' were, first, the lifestyle of stock-breeders, who were readier to move than ploughmen, and second, the attraction of alternative sites, both domestic and foreign. Migrants were drawn to homesteads deserted by other migrants and to villages depopulated by warfare. There were other factors that induced migration, both within Transylvania and beyond. When the diet met in January–February 1714, it noted (in Law XV) that during the preparation of tax rolls, many villeins had fled from their homes to avoid registration, and that those who were registered in their new homes might well flee back to their previous place of residence. But the estates acknowledged that migration was also motivated by the excessively heavy services that landowners demanded from their villeins and cotters. These, then, were the main causes of internal migration.

In the case of emigration and immigration, additional factors came into play. The majority of immigrants originated in Wallachia and Moldavia, while a smaller number came — or, for the most part, came back — from Hungary (including the Banat, which was then under separate administration). There has been much debate about the scale of immigration from the two Romanian principalities. Benedek Jancsó estimated that 500,000 Romanians arrived in Hungary and Transylvania, while Zoltán Dávid put their number at 350,000–400,000; these estimates will be evaluated further on. Historians attribute this movement mainly to the new burdens imposed on peasants in the period that Wallachia and Moldavia were ruled by Phanariotes (Greeks from Constantinople), and the attraction of a safer and more developed Transylvania.

Although emigration to Hungary had a major impact on the size and ethnic pattern of Transylvania's population in the 18th century, {2-524.} there are no estimates of its scale, nor of the scale of emigration to Wallachia and Moldavia. The war against the Turks and Rákóczi's campaigns had depopulated the Hungarian Great Plain, and landowners in that region tried to lure Transylvanian villeins to their often deserted estates by promising to exempt them for several years from taxes and service obligations. It is likely that over a hundred thousand villeins and cotters left Transylvania, where taxes and service obligations were heavier, and the land less fertile, for this promised land. Emigration began right after the Peace of Szatmár. The country's provisional government, the Deputatio, informed the chancellery in November 1712 that 'share-croppers are already fleeing, and in such number that many villages in border areas stand virtually deserted'.[1]1. EK: AG 1712, p. 80. Another report, delivered in December, indicated the causes of this emigration: 'As soon as the first tax was imposed, masses of people began to move, leaving many villages depopulated [...] Villages endowed with special privileges and protection in the districts of Jenő, Világosvár, and Várad draw away our people; and although His Majesty has graciously agreed to repatriate them, we are unable to trace the emigrants, who are swallowed up by those great deserted spaces.'[2]2. Ibid., p. 137. Such complaints would recur for decades. In autumn 1718, some Transylvanian landowners who also had property across the border proposed to transport villeins to Hungary in some 200 wagons, under military escort. In 1722, the Gubernium twice reported to the monarch that Transylvanian villeins transplanted to the Banat and the counties of Bihar, Zaránd, and Arad had not been allowed to return home. In 1724, the diet noted that the king's instructions concerning the repatriation of villeins who fled to Hungary had not been followed. The protest proved fruitless, and so did the appeals forwarded in 1725 by the Gubernium, the chancellery, and the estates. A cattle plague in 1726 gave added impetus to emigration; many peasants drove their stock over the border, and did not return. The most commonly cited cause, notably in 1727 and 1731, was the promise of {2-525.} exemptions for new settlers in Hungary. In early 1734, fears were voiced in Hunyad County that if the rate of emigration continued to rise through the spring, many villages would end up deserted. The wave of emigration rolled on until the mid-1750s. In 1751, it was reported that a great many people had emigrated from the northern district of Kolozs County to Hungary; in several villages, the best seven or eight farmers decided to leave, presumably to escape increased taxes. The protests from Transylvanian authorities ceased only after 1756.

There are no aggregate statistics about emigration from Transylvania to Hungary, but some fragmentary data may serve as an indication. Records show that, in 1724, some 900 heads of villein households had fled from Kraszna County. In 1730–31, 898 families left the Kővár district for Hungary. Across the border, in Bihar County, there remained forty taxable households after the war, but by 1736 their number had risen to a hundred.

To be sure, Hungary was not the only destination, but the scarcity of official reports, along with the few numbers cited, indicate that comparatively few people emigrated to Wallachia and Moldavia. In 1739, Wallachia's ruler offered new settlers a three-year exemption from tax and service obligations. This raised fears at the chancellery that in addition to the ongoing emigration to Hungary and the Banat, many people would be tempted to move to the Romanian principalities. In the early summer of 1746, some 450 people left their homes in the northern part of the Mezőség to try their luck in Moldavia, but many returned in disappointment: the expected exemption from service obligations was only of a year's duration, taxes were heavy, the region had been struck by drought, and others had preceded them on the vast pastures they had hoped to find unoccupied. Over the same century, some Transylvanian craftsmen — a few hundred families in all — emigrated to Wallachia.

{2-526.} There was also movement in the opposite direction, from Hungary and the Banat to Transylvania, but the number of immigrants — including those who were returning home — was far smaller than that of emigrants. Only rarely did Hungarian authorities seek to recover villeins who had fled to Transylvania. The only relevant statistics date from 1717, when one report spoke of 409, and another of 101 villeins who had come over from the Banat; many of the names listed (such as Heczegán and Klopotiván) indicated a Transylvanian origin, and hence people who had actually returned home.

The net effect of emigration and immigration can only be estimated. Romanian scholars have provided some assessments of the movement between Transylvania, on the one hand, and the two principalities. A census, conducted in 1733 in the Brassó district, and generally considered less than accurate, found 2,307 Romanian householders, including priests; the figure for 1761 was 4,891. In Szebenszék, between 1698 and 1721, the number of Saxons grew by 1.33 percent, and that of Romanians by 2.85 percent; between 1721 and 1762, the Romanian population increased by 6.45 percent, indicating a higher level of immigration. Although Zoltán Dávid's estimates seem to err on the high side, it is clear that immigrants outnumbered emigrants with respect to Wallachia and Moldavia. On the other hand, the scale of emigration from Transylvania to Hungary seems to have been seriously underestimated in the past.

This overview of immigration and emigration allows for some assessment of the ethnic composition of Transylvania's population in the early 1700s. In Benedek Jancsó's estimation, there were 150,000 Hungarians, 100,000 Saxons, and 250,000 Romanians in Transylvania at the beginning of the 18th century. István Szabó also puts the number of Romanians at 250,000, but he estimates that, in the 1710s, Transylvania's total population stood at around 800,000; thus, bearing in mind the growth in the number of Romanians in the {2-527.} first 10–15 years of the century, they must have accounted for some 30 percent of the population. This hypothesis is consistent with an official estimate, dating from 1712–13, according to which 34 percent of Transylvania's inhabitants were Romanians, 47 percent Hungarians, and 19 percent Saxons. Later population figures also tend to support this estimate, although the number of Romanians may have been rounded up to allow for the more 'elusive' shepherds among them. If the Romanians accounted in 1712–13 for 34 percent of the population, that proportion translates into some 60,500 families, or around 262,500 individuals. The Romanian church census of 1733 enumerated 85,500 heads of household, and another 3,000 are said to have been omitted. Petru Dobra's contemporary estimate, of 80,000 Romanian families around 1740, may be more realistic. Thus, between 1712–13 and 1740, the number of Romanian families grew by some 20,000, or 33 percent. That seems like a realistic estimate, and indicates only a small surplus of Romanian immigrants over emigrants, especially if one bears in mind that there were some Romanians among the emigrants to Hungary, and even more among those going to the Banat.

The surplus of Romanian immigrants over emigrants must have been larger between 1740 and 1760–62. József Benkő estimated that, in 1761, there were 542,243 Romanians in Transylvania; if one adopts, as above, the ratio of 4.5 persons per family, this indicates 121,500 families, or an increase of over 50 percent in twenty years; and, as argued in the case of the Brassó district and the Szebenszék, this must reflect a high level of immigration. Benkő's figures are accepted by Benedek Jancsó, but they probably underestimate both the number of Romanians and the total population, which he sets at 938,923. A more recent estimate, by the Hungarian scholar István Bakács, puts the population of Transylvania at 1,291,795 in 1767; a plausible figure in light of the fact that the population was approaching 1,5 million during the reign of Joseph II. The church census of 1760–62 registered 151,816 {2-528.} Romanian families; Zoltán I. Tóth translates this into 759,000 individuals, whereas the 4.5:1 ratio would give around 721,000. Research so far indicates that the proportion of Romanians in Transylvania's population rose from 34 percent in 1712–13 to 60 percent around 1760.

It appears, then, that immigration from Wallachia and Moldavia was comparatively light between 1711 and 1740, then mushroomed over the next twenty years. This was only one of the factors that led to a change in the ethnic balance. The other was emigration to the eastern part of the Great Plain, where most of the settlers from Transylvania were ethnic Hungarian villeins. The changes in the ethnic composition of the Great Plain's population support this conclusion. The demographic void left by the anti-Turk war and Rákóczi's insurrection was filled by Hungarians (as well as by the independent and organized settlement of Slovaks and Germans), and most of the Hungarians who settled in the eastern part of the Great Plain came from Transylvania. It is this exodus, more than epidemics or the Tartar raid in 1717, that led to the de-population, in the first half of the 18th century, of seventeen parishes belonging to the Calvinist deaconry of the széks. Between 1711 and 1770, there was scarcely any increase in the number of Hungarians in Transylvania. This group numbered approximately 376,000 in 1712–13. In 1767, the combined number of Hungarians and Saxons was around 516,700, or 40 percent of Transylvania's population; since, by Teutsch's conservative estimate, there were 125,000 Saxons in 1765, it appears that there were around 391,000 Hungarians at the time in Transylvania. Only a high level of emigration can explain why, over fifty years, the number of Hungarians increased by no more than 15,000. In 1712-13, the Saxons' number was estimated at 152,000; either this estimate was too high, or the Saxons were particularly hard hit by the epidemics that recurred between 1711 and 1771.

{2-529.} There is no data regarding the damage done by the epidemics of 1712, 1741, 1742 (plague), 1758 (pleurisy), 1765 (smallpox), 1767 (smallpox and laryngitis), and 1770–71 (plague). According to the Gubernium's assessment, the plague that raged in 1717–20 touched 18,000 families, or some 81,000 persons, thus around 10 percent of the population. Southeastern Transylvania was the hardest hit: reports of epidemics, including those for which no statistics survive, are most numerous in that region. In Csíkszék, the plague killed 10,748 people out of a population of 25,656. The proportion of victims in the Brassó district was even greater: estimates of the dead range from 17,458 and 18,450, and only some 15,800 survived. The smallpox epidemic of 1723 is known to have claimed the lives of some 700–800 children in the towns. The epidemic, of unknown nature, that struck in 1732 killed an average of 4–6 persons per village.

The great plague of 1730–40 claimed fewer lives — 36,000, according to the 1740 diet — than the one that struck 20 years earlier, but southeastern Transylvania must have been once again the hardest hit. Between October 1737 and April 1738, 111 people died in Zernyest, and 70 in Feketehalom. The region also suffered disproportionately from the 1756–57 plague, which claimed 4,144 lives in the Brassó district (including 1468 in Brassó's northern suburbs and 820 in Zernyest). The epidemics spared neither the Romanians of the Királyföld, nor the Székelyföld; and while the Saxons may have suffered comparatively more victims, the epidemics did little to alter the ethnic composition of Transylvania's population.

The government's settlement programs and the spontaneous immigration of craftsmen had a certain impact on demographic change in Transylvania between 1711 and 1770. The official en-couragement of settlement was less systematic than in Hungary and, particularly, in the Banat. The districts most affected by emigration were generally repopulated as a consequence of spontaneous {2-530.} settlement. The first official efforts at settlement were motivated by religious factors. The Habsburg central government wished to get the remaining Protestants out of the crown's hereditary provinces in Austria, and since it momentarily accepted the legitimacy of Protestantism in Transylvania, it found it expedient to resettle Austrian Protestants among that country's staunchly Lutheran Saxons. The first people to be resettled, in 1734, were poor and middle peasants as well as a few craftsmen from the Salzkammergut; there were no merchants, intellectuals, or nobles among them. The Saxons' political leaders were initially apprehensive that these settlers would turn their hatred of the Habsburgs against their new neighbours; there was also an unwarranted concern that the newcomers would turn out to be penniless beggars. But when the Austrians finally reached the Királyföld after a long and harrowing journey, the Saxons showed great solidarity with their deported coreligionists, giving them food and helping them to find accommodation. There soon arrived another group, from Carinthia, and it found a similar welcome.

The first wave of resettlement ended in 1736. Between 1744 and 1749, some 583 people — a roughly equal number of peasants and craftsmen — were resettled from Badendurlach and Hanau to Szászsebes. A much larger-scale resettlement took place between 1752 and 1756, when the official motive was no longer the displaced persons' attachment to Protestantism, but rather the 'danger' they represented for the state; they were variously qualified as pertinax, seductor, periculosus, Verführer, and erzgefährlich. Most of them came from Upper Austria, and a minority from Carinthia and Styria. Zacharias von Seeberg, the royal commissioner charged with reforming the administration and finances in the Saxon Királyföld, gave them such a rough reception that they wanted to return home; it took much persuasion by the local clergy, as well as the application of military force, to overcome their discontent. They had a far harder time settling in than those who had preceded them {2-531.} in the 1730s. The last group to be resettled, in 1770, came from Breisgau, Alsace, and Hanau. In the aggregate, some 4000 people were resettled in this fashion in Transylvania; of these, three larger groups, numbering around 1200 in all, settled at Kistorony, Kereszténysziget, and Nagyapold. To distinguish them from the Saxons, the new settlers were called Ländler.

The Viennese government tried to effect a smaller-scale resettlement at the time of the Seven Years' War. In keeping with a mercantilist notion of promoting population growth, Baron Nicolaus Buccow proposed to settle 2,000 disabled soldiers in Transylvania, where there was, in his opinion, a surplus of women. A further plan called for the resettlement in Transylvania of former transport troops and Prussian prisoners of war. The Saxons' representative in Vienna, Samuel Bruckenthal, made estimates of the demand for different types of craftsmen, and the matter even came up for discussion in the Transylvanian diet. In the event, all this planning brought meagre results, for most of the resettled prisoners of war escaped back home.

There was, independently of the resettlement programs, a continuous and spontaneous immigration of craftsmen, mainly from the hereditary provinces, but also from Germany and elsewhere. Among them were people who had initially come to work on major military construction projects, and demobilized soldiers who saw better opportunity in Transylvania for practising their various crafts. Other immigrants included Austrian and German master builders and sculptors, and some of whom would win fame for the artistic quality of their work. This, then, was the demographic base of Transylvania's economy.