The Cumanian Country and the Province of Severin

Until 1263, the history of the Hátszeg region was interwoven with that of the Cumanian Country (Kunország, Cumania) and Severin Province (Szörényi bánság). Hungarians and Bulgars had been vying for possession of Nándorfehérvár and Barancs since the beginning of the century. This conflict intensified when, following {1-435.} the expulsion of the Teutonic Knights, King Andrew II put his son Béla in charge of Transylvania, with the title of 'junior king'. Prince Béla's first priority was to sever the alliance between the Cumanians and the Bulgaro-Romanian, Asenid dynasty. The opportunity came with a sudden turn in the Cumanians' political fortunes. After uniting the Mongol tribes, Genghis Khan had launched a series of military campaigns comparable only to those of the Huns; within twenty years, he acquired an immense empire stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Volga River. In 1223, Genghis threw his main army against the Cumanians and their Russian allies. After defeating them in a great battle at the Kalka River, he extended his rule to the Dnieper. When the Mongols withdrew their army to deal with a crisis on the China front, their forward positions were relocated on the Volga. The Cumanians, however, anticipated that their fearful enemy would soon resume its westward advance. Since they could not count on the Russian princes, who were mired in internecine quarrels, the Cumanians turned to Christian Europe and sought the support of Eastern Europe's mightiest ruler, the King of Hungary.

For years, Dominican monks from Hungary had been trying to convert the Cumanians, who were encamped on the left bank of the Danube, west of the Szeret River. The Cumanian tribes' ruling prince, Bars (Barsz), used the monks as intermediaries to offer his conversion to Róbert, the archbishop of Esztergom and head of the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church, as well as his submission to Prince Béla. Both the French-born archbishop and his close friend, Prince Béla, were tireless champions of a Church that was reaching the apogee of its power. In 1227, having obtained the Pope's permission to organize a Cumanian Catholic Church, Róbert joined Béla and two other French-born prelates, Bertalan, the bishop of Pécs, and Rajnald, the bishop of Transylvania, for a ceremonial meeting in Transylvania with Prince Bars. The latter, together with his family and retinue, formally espoused the Christian faith, and {1-436.} placed his country and people under the suzerainty of the King of Hungary.

The superior of the Dominicans in Hungary, Teodorik, was named bishop of the new Cumanian diocese; his episcopal seat was located at Milko, a small town beyond the Carpathians, across from Háromszék county. Prince Béla visited Cumania, which was already annexed to Hungary (and referred to as terra sua in the Papal charter), to supervise its reorganization. Hungarians, Székelys, and Saxons in quest of land began to migrate eastward over the Carpathians and settle among Cumania's Slav farmers and Cumanian as well as Romanian shepherds. Contemporary documents and surviving toponyms attest to the establishment of numerous Hungarian villages and Saxon-Hungarian market towns in the region's river valleys. Moldavia's 'Csángó' people, who were said not long ago to number close to 100,000, are the descendants of these and later Hungarian settlers.

The Asenid ruler of Bulgaria construed the Cumanians' abrogation of alliance and submission to Hungary as a declaration of war. Indeed, Prince Béla intended to attack the Bulgars. In 1230, the Hungarians laid siege to Vidin, but they were beaten back, and the Székely count was captured by the enemy. It is probably after this event that Béla, seeing the need for a bridgehead, converted a part of Cumania lying west of the Olt (today's Oltenia) into the Province of Severin (Szörényi bánság). The bán — the title of governors appointed by the king in Croatia and other southern provinces of Hungary — had his castle seat at Szörényvár (today's Turnu Severin); the first documented reference to this official dates from 1233. According to a Papal document from 1234, the population of Cumania included Romanians, who were ministered by Greek Orthodox bishops, as well as the later Hungarian and Saxon settlers. The ethnic mix in Severin was probably similar; in any case, its population must have grown rapidly, for in 1238 King Béla asked the Pope to appoint a bishop to the province.

{1-437.} Although the Mongol invasion of 1241 dealt a severe blow to Severin's development, it is likely that conditions prior to that date were similar to those outlined in a charter from 1247, granting the province to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. With regard to Severin, the grant included the districts (kenézség) of cnez János and cnez Farkas, but not that of the voivode Litvoj, which the king left in Romanian hands (quam Olacis relinquimus prout iidem hactenus tenuerant). The knights were also granted the rest of the earlier Kun Country, the part lying beyond the Olt and the Transylvanian mountains, again with the exception of a Romanian district, governed by the voivode Seneslaus (excepta terra Szeneslai woiavode Olacorum). Half of the royal taxes generated by voivode Litvoj's land (terra Lytua) was assigned to the knights — except for the income from the Hátszeg district (misspelt as terra Harszoc in the charter's only surviving, papal copy), which the king kept all for himself. In this way, the Romanian border-guard district of Hátszeg was taken away from voivode Litvoj, and its cnezes were subordinated to the Hátszeg castellan. On the other hand, Litvoj won a greater degree of autonomy in his remaining domain, which in the second half of the 13th century came to be known as 'Litva's Land' (terra Lytua). (Similary, Dobrudja was named after its Bulgar governor, Dobrotich, and Bessarabia after its conqueror, Basarab, the voivode of Wallachia.) Some time around 1272, Litvoj renounced fealty to King Ladislas IV the Cumanian ('Kun László'), who dispatched a punitive force led by György Sóvári. Litvoj was killed, and his brother Bărbat had to pay a heavy ransom to be released from captivity. There is no trace after this date of Romanian voivodes in the province of Severin. The onetime 'Litva's Land' may have lain somewhere along the upper reaches of the Zsil River. The name of Vîlcea county, in the Zsil valley, could indicate the land of the cnez Farkas (farkas, Hungarian for wolf > the Slavic vlk > Vîlcea). The land of cnez János may have lain farther south along the Zsil, around present-day Craiova, for {1-438.} that toponym evokes a (Hungarian) royal possession. It is unclear whether the domain of voivode Seneslaus, like that of Litvoj, had extended into Transylvania, potentially in the Fogaras area. If so, then Seneslaus would have suffered the same fate as Litvoj: in 1247, he would have lost his foothold in Transylvania and received a voivodeship south of the Carpathians, perhaps the same one mentioned in connection with a campaign led by György Sóvári in 1272 against a certain Dorman and his Bulgar allies. Dorman was presumably a precursor of Basarab, who, at the beginning of the 14th century, took Wallachia out of the Hungarian Kingdom.

The charter of 1247 refers to military service by the Romanians of Severin Province and the Cumanian Country (cum apparatu suo bellico). Their contribution to the royal treasury must have been an animal tax, which is mentioned in sources from 1256, 1262, and 1293; the latter specifies that the rate was one-fiftieth of their sheep (quinquagesima ovium).

The route, immediately to the west of Severin Province, that led from the Temes River region to the Danube's Iron Gates, was probably also part of the second line of defence on the Southern Carpathian border; and this line would have consisted of castle districts and Romanian cnezes, as in the case of Hátszeg. Until recently, only one of these defensive installations was known, that at Sebes (today's Karánsebes), whose castle and count are mentioned in early 14th-century records. The first reference to a Romanian cnez in the district dates from 1319 (Bach kenezius), and to a Romanian place-name, from 1337; the latter, Căprior — Kaprevár, is the very first recorded Romanian toponym in Hungary, including Transylvania.

In a recently-found document, dating from 1350, Pósa Szeri, the count of Krassó and Sebes, certifies that Juga's son Lupcsin (Lupchyn), otherwise known as the voivode János, had laid claim on the basis of inheritance (predecessorum suorum ... possessiones hereditarie) to certain properties being held by others in the Sebes {1-439.} district, notably at Tövis and Gyepű, and had presented a charter from King Béla to back up his claim; the count complied with the request.[15]15. Györffy, 'Adatok', p. 12. The location of Gyepű (today's Gyepesfalu), near Karánsebes, coincides with a site referred to in another source as Mutnokpataka — unoccupied land that was granted in 1352 to Juga and Bogdán, sons of István Mutnoki, 'with all the rights enjoyed by cnezes who own free villages in the Sebes district'. There is no doubt that the two sources refer to the same family. Since the Mutnokis are subsequently mentioned as belonging to the nobility, their career must have followed a pattern similar to those of noble cnezes in the Hátszeg district. Sebes and seven other castles in Krassó county enjoyed the same degree of autonomy as the cnez's seat near Hátszeg. Although the first source to offer details of the king's terms for this autonomy dates from 1457, references are found as early as 1376 to 'the old and approved (antiqua et approbata) law pertaining to the Vlach districts'. The charter from King Béla IV referred to in the document above (the original is lost) gives an indication of the scope of this 'old law'; it suggests both that the voivode Lupcsin had a status similar to that of the Hátszeg district's voivode Litvoj, and that, like in Hátszeg, the office of voivode in Sebes had disappeared by the 14th century. The example of Hátszeg makes it likely that Sebes castle and its Romanian voivode district date back to the time of Béla IV, but confirmation depends on the discovery of additional documentary evidence.

The foregoing description of conditions in Transylvania's southern border regions is based largely on documents relating to the settlement of Saxons in the mid-1100s and to that of the Teutonic Knights in 1211, and on inferences, drawn from these documents, regarding earlier times. Although the Vlach-Romanian ethnic group appears in these documents no earlier than 1210, there is a strong likelihood that it had been present for some time. After all, the first documented references to Saxons, Székelys, and Pechenegs are found in the very same sources (dating from 1190 in {1-440.} the case of the Saxons), yet it is known that these groups were already present in Transylvania at least as early as the middle of the 12th century. Thus it is entirely possible that there were Vlach- Romanians in the region at the same time as these groups, and perhaps even earlier; and the reorganization of the border zone may well have imposed changes in their own organization and area of settlement, just as happened to the other groups.

In sum, it appears more than likely that around 1200, there lived along both sides of the Southern Carpathians Romanian border guards, who were administered by ethnic Romanian voivodes and cnezes. They lived alongside Székelys, Pechenegs, and Saxons, sometimes sharing land with the latter, but organized independently under the supervision of counts appointed by the king of Hungary. There are no documentary sources to indicate the exact date when the Romanian border guard districts were established, and when Romanians began to settle on the Transylvanian side of the Southern Carpathians. The answer to these questions can only be inferred from the Romanians' interaction with the other ethnic groups.

Their association with the Pechenegs in Transylvania probably came about through Hungarian mediation, for Transylvanian Romanians called the Pechenegs 'Beşineu', a term borrowed from Hungarian, whereas the Romanians of Wallachia used a term of Slavic derivation, 'Pečeneg'. A part of the Pecheneg people migrated to Hungary some time after 950; another part moved in the 11th century to the Byzantine empire, which at that time extended to the Danube. South of the Danube, the Pechenegs lived in a Slavic environment; in 1147, they served as mercenaries of Byzantium when the Crusaders fought their way across the Bulgarian plain. The Wallachian Romanians may have learnt the Pechenegs' Slavic name from remnants of this group, or from those who remained north of the Danube. The coexistence of Pechenegs and Romanians in Transylvania probably dates from after 1150. As noted, sources {1-441.} refer to Székelys, Pechenegs, and Romanians fighting side by side in the first half of the 13th century; but of the three, only Pechenegs and Székelys are mentioned in Hungarian as well as Czech accounts of the battles at Olsava (1116) and on the Leitha River (1146). (However, in the latter case, it is possible that the Székelys and Pechenegs in question came not from Transylvania, but from western Hungary.) The Slavic, Hungarian, German, and Turkic toponyms that were adapted by the Romanians (and thus antedate the arrival of the latter in the Southern Carpathian region) also points to the conclusion that the local Vlach-Romanians were organized into border guard villages sometime between 1150 and 1200.