{3-554.} Religious Denominations and Nationalities

Transylvania had a diversity of religious denominations that was rare in Europe. Many factors contributed to this: demographic processes, policies of settlement, religious tolerance, and the political exploitation of divisions among religions, as well as a contradictory mixture of openness to change and of conservatism that varied by social class and ethnic origin. Modernization in the late 19th century did not attenuate the significance of religious affiliation, which remained for most people a key determinant of moral, political, and cultural values, and of demographic behaviour as well.

The Greek Orthodox church was the largest, and it predominated in southern Transylvania (see table 22). It came under the authority of the Nagyszeben archiepiscopacy, which in 1864 had been detached from that of Karlóca. The Uniate (Greek Catholic) church had almost as many members, most of them Romanians living in northern Transylvania. The four former 'established religions' — Roman Catholic, Calvinist (Reformed), Lutheran (Evangelical), and Unitarian — were the preserve of Hungarians and Saxons. Most Saxons belonged to the Lutheran Church; among Hungarians, the majority (including Székelys) were Calvinist, and a large minority Roman Catholic, while a small minority remained fiercely attached to the Unitarian faith. Members of the Jewish faith, who numbered fewer than 12,000 in 1850, were concentrated in the proximate towns of Arad, Temesvár, and Nagyvárad; in 1869, they accounted for 11.34 percent of the population in Arad, and 22.43 percent in Nagyvárad. By 1910, their numbers had grown to approximate that of the Unitarians. The Székelys of a few villages, notably Bözödújfalu, adhered to the proscribed Sabbatarian sect, which long ago had split off from the Unitarians and was now moving closer to Judaism; some of them felt obliged to profess allegiance to one of the recognized churches as well.


Table 22: Distribution of the population of Transylvania according to denominations, 1850–1910

Denomination 1850** First column: with the Partium, Second column: the area after 1876 (legal population) 1880 1900 1910 1850** First column: with the Partium, Second column: the area after 1876 (legal population) 1880 1900 1910
Persons %
Ruman Catholic 219536 211622 263816 331199 375325 10.6 11.37 12.7 13.3 14.0
Greek Catholic 664154 543530 575866 691896 749404 32.2 29.20 27.5 28.0 28.0
Orthodox 621852 600474 662936 748928 792864 30.2 32.26 31.8 30.3 29.6
Evangelical 196356 195956 199551 222346 229028 9.5 10.53 9.6 9.0 8.6
Calvinist 298136 252342 296395 364704 399312 14.5 13.56 14.2 14.7 14.9
Unitarian 45112 45098 55068 64494 67749 2.2 2.42 2.6 2.6 2.5
Izraelitic 15606 11692 29993 53065 64074 0.8 0.63 1.4 2.1 2.4
Other 893 893 423 366 611 0.04 0.05 0.2 0.0 0.0

Source: M. Stat. Évkönyv. Új Folyam Vol. 9 (1902); Vol. 19 (1911); M. Stat. Közlemények. Új sorazat Vol. 5 (1907); OL, F 551.

{3-556.} In terms of religious affiliation, towns tended to be distinguished from their hinterland. In 1900, Catholics accounted for 13.3 percent of Transylvania's population, but their proportion of the urban population stood at 25.9 percent. The overall and urban proportion of Calvinists was 14.7 and 23.4 percent; of Lutherans, 9 and 16.1 percent; of the Unitarians, 2.6 and 2.4 percent; and of Jews, 2.1 and 6.3 percent. The predominantly rural base of the Orthodox and Uniates is revealed in their corresponding proportions: 30.3 percent overall and 15 percent urban for the former, 28 and 11.6 percent for the latter. Urbanization and population growth had affected the evolution of this pattern over the preceding thirty years: In the towns, the proportion of Catholics had fallen by a fraction of a percent, of the Orthodox by two percentage points, and of Evangelicals by 3.2 percentage points.

The rate of population growth varied slightly by denomination. Between 1851–1857, natural increase among Lutherans fell to 1.2 per thousand; the rates in the case of Unitarians was 6.6, of Calvinists 7.1, of Roman Catholics 9.1, of Uniates 5.7, and of Greek Orthodox 6.8 per thousand. This differentiated pattern changed little over time. Between 1870 and 1880, when birth rates were low, the absolute number of Lutherans (and, in a few counties, of Greek Orthodox) fell. Throughout the period, Catholics and Calvinists registered a natural increase that was exceeded only by the small Jewish group, while the Orthodox had the lowest rate of increase. At the time of the last prewar census, in 1910, the birth rate among Catholics was 11.6 per thousand, among Calvinists 12.7, among Greek Catholics 12.2, among Lutherans 9.8, and among Greek Orthodox only 8.1 per thousand. In the region, only one group had a lower birth rate — the Catholic Swabian peasants of the Banat.

The barriers separating the denominations were substantial but not impenetrable. At the end of the century, mixed marriages occurred at the rate of 2,000–3,000 a year, over 10 percent of all marital unions. Mainly because of the more relaxed attitude of the {3-557.} Protestant churches, Transylvania had a high divorce rate even before the end of the century, when civil weddings were introduced; in 1890–91, the rate was 24.1 per thousand of population, three times the national average. Most mixed-faith marriages — as well as divorces — involved members of the same nationality, and thus were particularly common between Catholics and Calvinists. Among the other faiths, Unitarians — perhaps because of their small number — were the most open in this respect, and Jews — for obvious historical reasons — the most resistant. The barriers were all the more solid when denomination coincided with ethnicity. In 1900, Hungarians accounted for 90 percent of all Roman Catholics, 97 percent of Calvinists, and 98 percent of Unitarians; in contrast, they made up only 10 percent of Lutherans, 3.3 percent of Uniates, and 1.5 percent of the Greek Orthodox. The Jews, whose numbers were growing, generally became assimilated without changing religion. The proportion of people of the Jewish faith who regarded themselves as Hungarian rose from 44.73 percent in 1880 to 55.6 percent in 1895, and to 64 percent in 1900; this trend indicated that most of them were choosing to become culturally assimilated into the Hungarian nationality.

The social and economic changes that came about over a period of fifty years left their mark on the nationalities but did not cause significant alteration in their numerical proportions. The 1850 census (which remains to be fully analyzed) was competently conducted, but its data on denomination and nationality cannot be regarded as wholly reliable. According to the original enumeration, there were 535,844 Hungarians in Transylvania, or 26 percent of the population. The published figure, after technical correction by the Statistical Office in Vienna, was 585,342, representing 28.2 percent of the population, may be considered as more realistic, but still at the low end of the range of probability. The 1869 census offers no new data, for the authorities, out of politically-inspired caution, left out the question on nationality status; a statistician, Károly {3-558.} Keleti, estimated that the Hungarians accounted for 31 percent of the population, Romanians for 58 percent, and Saxons for 11 percent. From 1880 onwards, the decennial censuses regularly surveyed status by mother tongue (and not by nationality). The resulting data was obviously not free of bias, but the Statistical Office aimed at accuracy, and, in the censuses of 1900 and 1910, it took particular care to avoid distortions that might inflate the proportion of Hungarians.

The three major ethnic groups continued to grow in number throughout this period, although in the case of Saxons the increase was minimal after the turn of the century (see table 23). In Transylvania, as well as in the Habsburg monarchy taken as a whole, Hungarians registered the most rapid rate of increase. Over the last thirty years of the period, their number rose by 287,740, or 45.63 percent, so that in 1910 they accounted for over 34 percent of Transylvania's population. The main cause was a natural increase greater than that of other ethnic groups; as noted, the birth rate was lower in regions where Saxons and Romanians predominated, and the small increase in the number of Orthodox adherents mirrors the slower growth of the Romanian population. According to demographic data on individual nationalities, produced from the end of the century onwards, the natural increase of Romanians was about half that of the Hungarians until a few years before World War I, when the gap began to narrow. (The natural increase of Romanians living in Hungary — including Transylvania — was 5.8 percent between 1896 and 1900, and 10 percent between 1909 and 1912.) Moreover, the pattern of emigration from Hungary's eastern regions varied by nationality: there were far more Romanians than Hungarians among the emigrants. According to official reports, 130,000 Romanians left the country between 1899 and 1913, and, on the eve of World War I, the Romanians had almost caught up to the Slovaks and the Germans in the number of emigrants.


Table 23: Distribution of the population of Transylvania according to mother-tongue, 1850–1910

Population 1850** First column: with the Partium, Second column: the area after 1876 (legal population) 1880 1900 1910 1850** First column: with the Partium, Second column: the area after 1876 (legal population) 1880 1900 1910
population (number) civil population (number) total population (number) total population (number) %
Hungarian 585342 488927 630477 806406 909003 28.23 26.11 30.25 32.82 34.20
German 219374 192204 211748 229889 231403 10.58 10.27 10.16 9.36 8.71
Rumanian 1202050 1091208 1184883 1389303 1464211 57,97 58,28 56,85 56,55 55,08
Slovak 1092 2209 2341 0,05 0,09 0,09
Armenian 7879 7372 3450 0.38 0.39 0.17
Jew/Yiddish 6220 11760 0.30 0.63
Gipsy 52665 77201 48064 2.54 4.12 2.31
Other 207 3765 4334 29031 51201 0.01 0.20 0.21 1.18 1.93
Total 2073737 1872437 2084048 2456838 2658159 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00

Source: M. Stat. Közlemények. Új sorozat Vol. 64 (Budapest, 1920); OL, F 551.

{3-560.} Assimilation contributed in some small measure to the increase in the number of Transylvania's Hungarians. The Jews, who on the eve of World War I accounted for 2.4 percent of Transylvania's population, tended to become Magyarized, much as they did in proximate towns such as Máramarossziget and Nagyvárad. The Armenians, together with a few thousand Czechs, Poles, Italians who had come to Transylvania in the period of rapid industrialization, also became assimilated into the Hungarian community.

Linguistic and cultural assimilation, a general demographic and social phenomenon, became an important political issue as well in the age of nationalism. Transylvania's ethnic diversity spurred each nationality to preserve and, if possible, to expand its numbers. Looking back almost a hundred years later, one can safely conclude that the Saxons and Romanians were largely impervious to assimilation. At the turn of the century, a certain ethnic erosion did occur beyond the main Romanian language districts (as it did even before the Compromise on their immediate periphery), mainly in the counties of Szabolcs, Békés, Csanád, and Csongrád. The Romanian population of the Székelyföld, in Csík and Gyergyó counties, increased in number, although the rate was no doubt reduced by Magyarization. The Romanians made more significant advances in the counties of Fogaras, Beszterce-Naszód, and Torda-Aranyos; by the turn of the century, they formed the majority in Küküllő County. Most Romanians lived in large, closed communities, with their own churches, and with a social structure different from that of the Saxons and Hungarians, all of which limited the possibility of assimilation. Marriages between people of different ethnic background were rare; they became more common after the turn of the century, but only to the extent of a few hundred per year.

Transylvania's towns had a decidedly Hungarian character, or at least a high proportion of Hungarian inhabitants, and growing urbanization only encouraged contemporary observers to refer to {3-561.} them as 'the foundries of Magyarization.' Over 90 percent of Kolozsvár's inhabitants spoke Hungarian, and the same proportion obtained in the smaller town of Felvinc; 80 percent spoke Hungarian in Dés, Torda, and Szászrégen, and even the isolated, small town of Abrudbánya had a Hungarian-speaking majority. In towns, Magyarization was the dominant, but not exclusive, trend. Between 1880 and 1890, the proportion of Hungarian-speakers in Déva rose from 37.5 percent to 46.9 percent, and in Gyulafehérvár from 35.3 percent to 42.6 percent; at the same time, the proportion in Nagyenyed fell from 77.5 percent to 71 percent, and in Szilágysomlyó from 83.1 percent to 80.5 percent.

In so far as assimilation was a consequence of modernization and industrialization, its impact was palpable mainly in urban areas (see table 24). A policy of magyarization, notably through the Hungarian school system, could only be effective in places where the process of assimilation was already under way. The vast majority of people who lived in rural areas were scarcely touched by assimilative efforts, and the state in those days did not exercise the omnipotence that might have endangered the cultural identity of ethnic groups living in cohesive communities. They were protected by a multi-level system of devolved autonomy. The loss to the Romanian nationality through assimilation in all of Hungary is generally estimated to be no more than 100,000 between 1850 and 1910. Of Hungary's Romanians, 5.71 percent (137,000) spoke Hungarian in 1880; by 1914, the proportion had increased to 12.54 percent (370,000). More Romanians spoke Hungarian in Transylvania than in the Banat, where the proportion in 1890 was a low 3.41 percent. In absolute terms, before the turn of the century, there were half again as many Hungarians who spoke Romanian as Romanians who spoke Hungarian. Among Saxons, knowledge of both Hungarian and Romanian was widespread.


Table 24: Distribution of the population of towns and villages according to mother-tongue, 1880–1910

Year Type 1000 people % 1000 people % 1000 people % 1000 people % 1000 people %
1880 city dwellers 104 48,6 51 23,8 51 23,8 8 3,8 214 100,0
village dwellers 526 28,1 1134 60,6 161 8,7 49 2,6 1870 100,0
total 630 30,2 1185 56,9 212 10,2 57 2,7 2084 100,0
1890 city dwellers 123 51,9 57 24,0 50 21,1 7 3,0 237 100,0
village dwellers 575 28,6 1220 60,6 168 8,3 51 2,5 2014 100,0
total 698 31,0 1277 56,7 218 9,7 58 2,6 2251 100,0
1900 city dwellers 167 55,7 72 24,0 56 18,7 5 1,6 300 100,0
village dwellers 648 29,8 1325 60,9 177 8,1 27 1,2 2177 100,0
total 815 32,9 1397 56,4 233 9,4 32 1,3 2477 100,0
1910 city dwellers 204 59,0 80 23,1 56 16,2 6 1,7 346 100,0
village dwellers 714 30,6 1392 59,7 178 7,6 48 2,1 2332 100,0
total 918 34,3 1472 55,0 234 8,7 54 2,0 2678 100,0

Note: In the case of those who were not able to speak yet in 1880 native language was not stated. Their number was divided betwee the native languages proportionally.

Source: M. Stat. Közlemények. Új sorozat Vol. 27 p. 104. M. Stat. Közlemények. Új sorozat Vol 42.

{3-563.} The profoundly multinational character of historic Transylvania was reflected in the fact that during the fifty years of the dual monarchy, the spread of Hungarian as the second language remained limited. In 1880, 5.7 percent of the non-Hungarian population, or 109,190 people, claimed to have a knowledge of the Hungarian language; the proportion rose to 11 percent (183,508) in 1900, and to 15.2 percent (266,863) in 1910. These figures reveal the reality of a bygone era, one in which millions of people could conduct their lives without speaking the state's official language.