{1-406.} Royal Counties in Transylvania

Once he had extended his rule to Transylvania, King St. Stephen formed royal counties — coinciding with deaconries — in the region between the Nagy-Szamos and Maros rivers. South of the Maros, the former domain of the gyula Prokuj became a royal estate. The 14th-century version of the 'Old Gesta'[8]8. (SRH I, 316) relates that after taking the gyula captive, King St. Stephen 'put in charge his great-grandfather (proavus) Zoltán, who became the inheritor of those Transylvanian territories, and thus came to be known simply as Zoltán Erdőelvi (Erdeelui) [i.e Zoltán of Erdély = Transylvania]. He was a very old man who had survived into the time of the sainted king and wanted to rule over prosperous peoples.' His name was given to a fortification called Zoltángyepűje as well as to two villages called Zoltán, in the Olt bend. Initially, this territory constituted a huge 'Fehér' ('white') province, administered by a voivode generally selected from among the lords in the king's entourage. Sources from 1111 and 1113 identify this governor as Mercurius princeps ultrasilvanus, and the reference in 1097 to a Mercurio comes Bellegratae probably indicates the same titleholder, which means that he was also count of Fehérvár (Belgrade). The title voivode (voivoda in Latin) appears in documents only at the end of the 12th century; earlier sources, dating from 1177 and 1183, refer to the ispán (count) of Fehérvár. There are two subsequent references (in 1200 and 1201) to the voivode being also the count of Fehérvár; thereafter, only the title 'voivode' appears. Not infrequently, one man was the count of several counties; thus, in 1214, the voivode Gyula, of the Kán clan, was also the count of Szolnok county. However, this does not signify that Transylvania had been unified in terms of administration. For instance, in 1201, Gyula was both voivode and count of Fehérvár, but a certain Marton served as count of Szolnok, and records show that again, in 1220, different persons held offices of voivode and count of Szolnok. When, in {1-407.} 1227, King Andrew II put his son (later King Béla IV) in charge of Transylvania, with the title of 'junior king', the whole of Szolnok county (which extended as far as the Tisza and included a northern strip of Transylvania) was excluded from Béla's remit; Andrew's charters always included the count of Szolnok, and those of Béla, the voivode of Transylvania.

For a time, documentary listings of high offices included the counts of Doboka (1164) and Kolozs (1177, 1183, 1201), who were mentioned each time in conjunction with the voivode and the count of Fehérvár; then the counts were subordinated to the voivode, and the title disappeared from these lists. Torda, mainly because of its location, was the first county to come under the direct authority of the voivode; although there is a mention of its castle as early as 1075, its count (perhaps only by accidental omission) is never noted in royal charters. In contrast, until the early 13th century, the counts of Doboka and Kolozs were considered equal in rank to the voivode, who also governed the county of Fehérvár. All of Transylvania was finally brought under the voivode's rule in 1263, when he acquired responsibility for the county of Szolnok. Thereafter, the counts of Transylvania's seven counties — including the newly-created counties of Küküllő (its castle was first mentioned in 1177, and its count in 1214), Hunyad, and Belső-Szolnok (carved out of Szolnok county) — were subordinate to the voivode.

Thus the authority of the voivode, who originally governed southern Transylvania, was extended north of the Maros only in the 13th century. This was because the harmonization of the two legal systems — that of the clans whose ancestors had been the original settlers, and that of the ruling prince and king — made slow progress in the newly-formed royal counties of northern Transylvania. The notables of the clans north of the Maros took some time to become integrated with the upper stratum of royal officials. First in rank among the latter were certain court officials, notably the count palatine (udvarispán, comes palatii), court judge (udvarbíró, comes or {1-408.} iudex curiae), and lord chief treasurer (tárnokmester, magister tavernicorum), and the counts. Next came the 'castle warriors' (várjobbágyok, iobagiones castri), responsible for the military and economic administration of the county castles; they included castellans (várnagy, castellani), judicial deputies of the counts (udvarbíra, comites curiae), and the commanders of platoons and companies (decurionatus, centurionatus). At the bottom of this scale was a large number of royal servants, mostly indigenous Slavs, with a sprinkling of Hungarians: the court stewards (udvarnok, udvornici) and the agricultural and maintenance workers around the castle (várnép, castrenses, civiles). The latter were bound to their jobs, unlike the immigrant 'guests' (vendég, hospites) who began to arrive in Hungary in the 12th century; they performed similar economic functions, but benefited from some privileges. On private estates, there lived a category of agricultural workers (known in Hungarian as 'ín') who used the master's implements and were virtually his slaves. In the course of the 12th century, most of them acquired the status of libertinus: though still bound to their master, they farmed for themselves.

The royal counties were administrative districts where all the inhabitants — descendants of original settlers and newcomers, free landowners and servants — came under the judicial and military authority of the count or the voivode. The counts were entitled to one third of the revenue generated by the people attached to the castles; although, particularly outside Transylvania, many counts also had private estates, the 'count's third' was their main source of income. Only royal residences lay beyond the count's authority; they were administered separately, and the king disposed freely of the staff and revenues. In Transylvania, as in the rest of Hungary, there were royal estates and residences reserved for the king and queen. There are few traces of such properties in Transylvania, for early documents are scarce, and the estates were subsequently given away or became the property of privileged settlers. The {1-409.} queen's onetime estates include, south of the Maros, (Magyar)lapád (granted by Queen Gizella to the Abbot of Bakonybél) and the neighbouring Asszonynépe (given away in 1177); as well as (Sajó) udvarhely, which was also given away, and (Székely)udvarhely, which became the main centre of the Székelys.

The soldiers, craftsmen, and ploughmen of the royal and castle estates came not only from the ranks of the Hungarian clans that had agreed to serve the king or from among the indigenous Slavs; settlers were brought in by the central government from other regions of Hungary. Selected on the basis of his loyalty and reliability, the typical settler was a Hungarian who, after the establishment of the monarchy and the disintegration of the tribal system, had sought his fortune in the service of the king. King St. Stephen employed these remnants of ancient tribes on royal estates and in counties throughout the country, which is how fragments of the Jenő and Keszi tribes ended up in Transylvania's Szamos valley, and how groups from the Megyer tribe settled on the right bank of the Maros; the evidence lies in the three places, noted earlier, that were named after the tribes. No doubt many other settlements were founded in this fashion, but their names are not as indicative, for the sense of tribal identity had mostly disappeared by that time. To concentrate the settlements and induce a more intensive pattern of production, King St. Stephen decreed that groups of ten villages or fewer must erect a church. At the end of the 11th century, King Ladislas (who, like Stephen, attained sainthood) forbade villagers to move far from their church and, wanting to put an end to pagan burials, ordered that all funerals be conducted next to the church.

The property structure and public administration in Transylvania were adapted to Hungarian practice. The early 13th-century record of ordeals by fire in Várad discloses a wealth of information about the organization of Transylvania's counties and the social structure. It reveals that, slowly but surely, Transylvania was moving into the mainstream of Hungarian development. Since {1-410.} the population of the regions that had not been occupied by Hungarian clans included many Slavs, it is likely that at first, other ethnic groups account for a considerable proportion of the new county society, high and low. However, as a growing number of free Hungarians entered the king's service, the Hungarians came to enjoy a numerical superiority. The names of 'castle warrior' (várjobbágy) and castle servant (várszolga) found in 13th-century documents indicate that most of them were Hungarians. Clan notables who rallied to the king became integrated with the older monarchist elite, and, by the 13th century, the term nemes ('noble') was applied to all freeholders, regardless of whether they had inherited property from the original settlers or acquired it by royal grant.

However, a rather different situation emerged south of the Maros and Aranyos rivers. The county-type structure, governed by a voivode, was established only along the lower reaches of the Küküllő rivers and around the Maros at Gyulafehérvár, giving rise eventually to the counties of Fehér, Hunyad, and Küküllő. There are no toponyms that indicate the settlement of tribal soldiers, and only a few evoke castle people (Bocsár = pohárnok ['cup-bearer'], Haró = szakács ['cook']). Most of Transylvania's Slavs came to be concentrated in this region during the rule of the gyulas. It was here, as well as in a region northeast of the original clans' settlements and also inhabited, though more sparsely, by Slavs, that big landowners from other parts of Hungary began to acquire estates in the early 13th century. By then, the royal county structure in Hungary was disintegrating, the counties' land was being parcelled out, and the waves of this transformation touched Transylvania as well. Estates were granted primarily to aristocrats who had come from Hungary to assume high offices in Transylvania. The earliest known royal grant is that of King Béla III to an ancestor of the Wass and Aczél families. When Mihály, a member of the Kacsics family from Upper Hungary, served as a voivode in Transylvania (1209–12), he and his brother Simon (a bán, and in 1215 a voivode) {1-411.} received a large grant of land in eastern Kolozs county. Owing to ban Simon's disloyalty, some of this property was transferred in 1228 to Dénes, of the Tomaj clan (chief treasurer, then voivode in 1233–34), who became the founder of his family's Transylvanian, Bánffy branch. It is likely that Gyula, a member of the Transdanubian Kán clan, also received his estate on the Küküllő during his tenure as voivode (1201 and 1214). However, before 1300, Transylvania's voivodes were not able to consolidate their personal power, for their terms of office lasted no more than one to four years. Benedek, son of Korlát, became voivode in 1202, handed the office to someone else in 1206, then served as voivode again between 1207 and 1209. Between 1212 and 1226, the post changed hands every year. To be sure, this pattern allowed a fair number of Hungarian families to acquire estates in Transylvania. The count Kökényes, whose family, the Kökényes-Radnót, were of French origin, had been a landowner in Nógrád county, and some time before 1228 he acquired a large estate at Teke, near that of the Kacsics family. The Becse-Gergely, Ákos and Hermány clans moved to Transylvania in the second half of the 13th century. The first of these owned estates along the Nagy-Szamos and Küküllő rivers; their descendants include Bethlen, Apafi, and Somkeréki Erdélyi families, all of which would play a major role in the history of Transylvania. The Ákos clan's Thoroczkai branch owned properties in Torda county, and its Illyei and Folti branches in Hunyad county, on the right bank of the Maros; near the latter lay the estates of the Hermány clan, which later broke up into a number of families belonging to the lesser nobility. In the 14th century, one of the Hermány clan's branches, the Lackfi, rose to be one of the country's most prestigious families, and for decades they played a dominant role in Transylvania.

It is striking that all of these early estates were peripheral, situated at the foot of forested mountain ranges. It appears that the king settled these aristocrats in the more sparsely-populated regions {1-412.} of Transylvania so that they would take over the tasks of the royal counts. The new landowners rose to this challenge, if only out of self-interest, and their promotion of settlement resulted in the creation of numerous villages. They had probably brought along some people from their estates in other parts of Hungary to settle in the manorial seats and valley villages, but they also invited German, Romanian, and Russian immigrants to populate lands that were left deserted after the Mongol invasion.

Toponyms of an early Hungarian type attest, along with the admittedly sparse documentary sources, that by the middle of the 13th century, the royal and private estates in Transylvania formed a block of predominantly Hungarian ethnic settlement. There were, within this block, patches of German and Slavic settlement, of earlier and later origin, as well as areas of beech and pine forests that lacked undergrowth for grazing animals. In the Middle Ages, the northern boundary of Hungarian settlement was marked by the valleys of the Nagy-Szamos and Szamos rivers; it remains a linguistic boundary to this day; the town of Dés and the salt-mine at Désakna are noted in documents dating from the early 13th century. In the east, Hungarian settlements must have reached the Sajó valley by the end of the 12th century, for the Hungarian village Sajószent-andrás is noted in a charter dating from the reign of Béla III (1172–1196). Farther to the southeast, where the Maros emerges from the highlands, lie Vécs castle and the nearby villages of Lövér and Magyaró, which are all mentioned in a document from 1228; the district still marks the northeastern boundary of the Hungarian ethnic presence in Transylvania.

In the southeast, Hungarian settlements extended to the Olt bend by the end of the 12th century; the evidence lies in village names mentioned in early 13th-century documents (e.g. Halmágy, Sáros, Báránykút, Hévíz, Sárkány, and Barót). The original Hungarian names of today's Szászváros and Szászsebes, in the southwest, were mentioned in 1224, but by that time Hungarian settlements {1-413.} had extended well into the Sztrigy valley, at the centre of the later Hunyad county. The western boundary of Hungarian settlement ran along the line of beech forests; the villages of Gyalu and Esküllő, which lie near these forests in the northwest, are mentioned by Anonymus. There are references in 1206 to Magyarigen — a village on the right bank of the Maros that by then had a Saxon population but which, judging from its name, must have been previously inhabited by Hungarians — and, in 1219, to Hungarian villages around Miriszló. The land encompassed by these boundaries accounts for almost all of Transylvania — apart from the peripheral forested areas that were and remain sparsely populated — and, until the middle of the 12th century, it was inhabited by an integrated community of Hungarians as well as some Slavs who were on the brink of full assimilation.

By 1200, Hungarian settlements could be found in all districts other than the forested areas, and it is safe to say that the origin of most villages in today's Transylvania can be traced back at least to the 13th century. A few examples should suffice. Asszonynépe and the surrounding hamlets — Magyarbénye, Kisakna, Vadverem (originally Szokmánd), Magyarlapád, Fugad, Háporton, and Oláhtor-dos — in today's Alsó-Fehér county already existed in 1177. A document dating from 1206 lists seven neighbouring villages, bearing German or Hungarian names, in the Szászföld: Voldorf (Kozdfő), Lebnek, Kóbor, Felmér, Sáros, Réten, and Báránykút. The same seven villages are found today, with no new settlement between them. Thus the pattern of settlement in these districts acquired a lasting shape by the end of the 12th century. A few similar cases could be cited, but the sources are very sparse, for the registration of property in Hungary began only around the end of the 12th century. In any case, it is safe to assume that the density of settlement revealed in the above examples was replicated in nearby districts.

If, under the voivode's authority, the core of the early Fehér county was situated at the mouth of the Küküllő River, how did {1-414.} Hungarian settlements reach as far as the Olt River, and how did Germans come to settle along the middle reaches of the Küküllő? The answer to these questions must await an examination of the military frontier region, which was separate and distinct from the county system, as well as of the pattern of settlement of the Székelys, Saxons, and Romanians in Transylvania.