The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Transylvania (Romanian: Transilvania or Ardeal, Hungarian: Erdély, German: Siebenbürgen, Serbian: Transilvanija, Turkish: Erdel, Slovak: Sedmohradsko or Transylvania, Polish: Siedmiogród) is a historic region that forms the western and the central parts of Romania.



Map of Romania with Transylvania in yellow
Map of Romania with Transylvania in yellow

Transylvania comprises the regions of Maramureş, Banat, Crişana and Ardeal (proper Transylvania). Constituting the center and western parts of Romania, it borders Ukraine in the north, Hungary in the west, and Serbia in south-west. A high plateau inside the Carpathian mountain ranges, Transylvania's relief sweetens towards Pannonian plain.

The Transylvanian plateau, 300 to 500 metres (1,000-1,600 feet) high, is drained by the Mureş river, the Someş river, Criş rivers, Olt river and other tributaries of the Danube. Cluj-Napoca is the chief city; other major urban centers are Timişoara, Braşov, Oradea, Sibiu and Târgu-Mureş.


Economically one of the most advanced regions of Romania, Transylvania is rich in mineral resources, notably lignite, iron, lead, manganese, gold, copper, natural gas, salt, and sulfur. There are large iron and steel, chemical, and textile industries. Stock raising, agriculture, wine production, and fruit growing are important occupations. Timber is another valuable resource.

Transylvania accounts for around 35% of Romania's GDP, and has a GDP per capita (PPP) of around $8,500, around 7,5% higher than the Romanian average.


According to the census in 2002, the province has a population of 7,221,733 persons, with a large Romanian majority. In addition, sizable Hungarian (1,415,718), Roma and German communities live in Transylvania.


Main article: Etymology of Transylvania

First referred in a Latin language document as "Ultra siluam" in 1075, meaning "beyond the forest", was later changed to "Transylvania", which has the same meaning.

The German name, Siebenbürgen means "seven cities", after the Transylvanian Saxons cities in this region. The Romanian name "Ardeal" and the Hungarian name "Erdély" have uncertain origin, see Etymology of Transylvania


Ancient History: Transylvania as the heartland of the Dacian state

Dacian Kingdom, during the rule of Burebista, 82 BC
Dacian Kingdom, during the rule of Burebista, 82 BC

Herodotus gives acount of the Agathyrsi, which were living during 5th century BC in Transylvania.

A kingdom of Dacia was in existence at least as early as the beginning of the 2nd century BC under a king, Oroles . Under Burebista (Boerebista), the greatest king of Dacia and a contemporary of Julius Caesar, the Dacian kingdom reached its maximum extent. The area now constituting Transylvania was the political center of Dacia.

The Dacians are often mentioned under Augustus, according to whom they were compelled to recognize Roman supremacy. However they were by no means subdued, and in later times seized every opportunity of crossing the frozen Danube during the winter and ravaging the Roman cities in the province of Moesia.

The Dacians built several important fortified cities, among them Sarmisegetusa, the capital of late Dacia (today Hunedoara, (Romania).

From A.D. 85 to 89, the Dacians were engaged in several wars with the Romans, during the reign of Decebalus. After two severe reverses, the Romans gained a signal advantage, but were obliged to make peace owing to the defeat of Domitian by the Marcomanni. As a result, the Dacians were really left independent, as is shown by the fact that the Roman emperor agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Dacians, in order to maintain peace in the region.

To put an end to this disgraceful arrangement, Trajan decided to conquer Dacia, thus gaining control over the Dacian goldmines of Transylvania. The result of his first campaign (101-102) was the siege of the Dacian capital Sarmizegetusa and the occupation of a part of the country. Decebalus was left as a client king under a Roman protectorate. Three years later, Decebalus destroyed the Roman troops in Dacia, and the Romans were forced to send reinforcements. The second campaign (105-106) achieved the suicide of Decebalus, and the conquest of the territory that was to form the Roman province Dacia Traiana. The history of the war is given in Dio Cassius, but the best commentary upon it is the famous Column of Trajan in Rome.

Early Middle Ages: From Dacia to the Great Migrations

In 271, the Roman Emperor Aurelian evacuated the imperial administration, and the province was subsequently ruled by the Goths until they were in turn subdued by a branch of the Huns in 376. The Huns, under the leadership of Attila, established a base in the Carpathian Basin which lasted through to Attila's death in 453.

The history of Transylvania during the early Middle Ages is difficult to ascertain due to the scarcity of reliable written or archeological evidence. Hence there are conflicting theories about this period.

After the disintegration of Attila's military conquests, Transylvania was ruled by the remnants of various confederates (Alans, Longobards, Rukhs-As ) of Attila's Huns, and the Gepids. No major power was able to exert control over the region for any great length of time, until the Avars, who came from Scythia, established their military leadership. The Avar Khanate was, however, crushed by the Bulgars under Khan Krum at the beginning of the 9th century and Transylvania, along with eastern Panonia, was incorporated into the First Bulgarian Empire.

At the very end of the 9th Century seven Magyar (Hungarian) tribes, under the leadership of Árpád, are believed to have conquered the Carpathian Basin, including (by 934 A.D) Transylvania, although some recent research suggests that the Bulgars retained at least nominal control of parts of the Carpathian Basin until around 1000 A.D. A particular Hungarian-speaking community, the Szeklers (székelyek in Hungarian), may have entered Transylvania during this period. An alternative theory is that they were later brought into the area to act as border guards. Certainly by the 12th Century, the valleys in the east and southeast of Transylvania had been settled by the Szeklers.

There are two different theories, concerning whether or not Romanians were present in Transylvania at the time of the great migrations. For more about this debate, see: Origin of Romanians.

Late Middle Ages: Transylvania as part of the Kingdom of Hungary

According to the Gesta Hungarorum, a chronicle dating from 12th century, the local states of Gelou, Glad, and Menumorout (Men Maroth) of Biharia were subdued by the Magyars in Transylvania during the 10th century.

In 953 the gyula of Transylvania was baptised in Constantinople and on his return to Transylvania he built the first church in the region. He also brought with him a Greek missionary monk, Hierotheus, who was ordained Bishop of Turkia (the Byzantine name for Hungary) by Patriarch Theophylactus. Strong trading links were established between Transylvania and the Byzantine Empire which also helped to propagate Christianity. In 978 Vatican missionaries established a church in a fort at the site of the present-day city of Oradea. In 1000, Vajk (Voicu in Romanian) swore allegiance to Rome, and became King Stephen I of Hungary, adopting Catholicism as the state's religion. Stephen's maternal uncle Gyula, the ruler of Transylvania, antagonised the new king by giving refuge to his opponents. Gyula also maintained control of the economically important Transylvanian salt mines. In 1003, Stephen led an army into Transylvania and Gyula surrendered without a fight. This made possible the organisation of the Transylvanian Catholic episcopacy which was finished in 1009 when the bishop of Ostia as the legate of the Pope paid a visit to Stephen and they approved the division of the dioceses and their boundaries. The authority of the Kings of Hungary over Transylvania was consolidated in the 11th and 12th centuries.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the areas in the south and northeast were settled by German colonists called (then and now) Saxons. Siebenbürgen, the German name for Transylvania, derives from the seven principal fortified towns founded there by the Saxons. The German influence became more marked when, early in the 13th century, King Andrew II of Hungary called on the Teutonic Knights to protect Transylvania from the Cumans, who were followed (1241) by the Mongol invaders. The Cumans converted to Catholicism, and after they were defeated by the Mongols they look for refuge in Transylvania; Erzsebet, a Cumanian princess, married Stephen V of Hungary in 1254.

The administration of Transylvania was in the hands of a voivod, who by the mid-13th century controlled the whole region. After the suppression (1437) of a peasant revolt (the "Bobâlna revolt"), the political system was based on Unio Trium Natiorum (The Unity of the Three Nations), in which the ethnic Romanians were implicitly excluded. Society was divided into three privileged nations, the Magyars, the Szeklers, and the Saxons. These nations, however, corresponded more to social and religious rather than strictly ethnic divisions. Although the nonprivileged class of serfs consisted mostly of Romanians, it also included people of Saxon, Szekler, and Magyar origin. On the other hand, a few ethnic Romanians succeeded in entering the ranks of the nobility, after converting to Catholicism.

A key figure to emerge in Transylvania in the first half of the 15th Century was John Hunyadi (Ioan Corvin de Hunedoara in Romanian), who was of Romanian origin. Son of Voicu (Vajk), a Vlach Knyaz, Hunyadi was awarded numerous estates and a seat in the royal council for his services to Sigismund, King of Hungary. After supporting the candidature of Ladislaus III of Poland to the throne of Hungary, he was rewarded in 1440 with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and the voivodship of Transylvania. His subsequent military exploits against the Ottomans brought him further status as governor of Hungary, from 1446, and papal recognition as Prince of Transylvania (1448).

Transylvania as an independent principate

When the main Hungarian army and King Louis II Jagiello were slain by the Ottomans in the Battle of Mohács (1526), John Zapolya, governor of Transylvania, took advantage of his military strength and put himself at the head of the nationalist Hungarian party, which opposed the succession of Ferdinand of Austria (later Emperor Ferdinand I) to the Hungarian throne. As John I he was elected king of Hungary, while another party recognized Ferdinand. In the ensuing struggle Zapolya received the support of Sultan Sulayman I, who after Zapolya's death (1540) overran central Hungary on the pretext of protecting Zapolya's son, John II. Hungary was now divided into three sections: West Hungary, under Austrian rule; central Hungary, under Turkish rule; and semi-independent Transylvania, where Austrian and Turkish influences vied for supremacy for nearly two centuries.

The Báthory family, which came to power on the death (1571) of John II, ruled Transylvania as princes under the Turks, and briefly under Hapsburg suzerainty, until 1602. The latter period of their rule saw a four-sided conflict in Transylvania involving the Austrians, the Turks and the Romanian prince Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul in Romanian), Voivod of Wallachia.

Michael the Brave
Michael the Brave

Michael the Brave gained control of Transylvania in 1599, after the battle of Selimbar in which he defeated Andrew Báthory's army. In May 1600 he also gained control of Moldavia, uniting for the first time the three principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, which were all largely inhabited by Romanians. But the Romanian union did not last long, as Michael the Brave was assassinated by Walloon mercenaries under the command of Habsburg General Giorgio Basta in August 1601. The latter finally subdued Transylvania in 1604, and initiated a reign of terror in which he was authorised to Germanize and Catholicize the principality and appropriate the land of noblemen.

In 1604-1606, the Calvinist magnate and Lord of Bihar county Stephen Bocskai led a successful rebellion against Austrian rule. Bocskai was elected prince of Transylvania on the 5 April 1603, and prince of Hungary two month later. The two main achievement of Bockai's brief reign (he died on the 29 December 1606) were the peace of Vienna (June 23, 1606) and the truce of Zsitvatorok (November 1606). By the peace of Vienna, Bocskai obtained religious liberty and political autonomy, the restoration of all confiscated estates, the repeal of all unrighteous judgments and a complete retrospective amnesty for all the Hungarians in Royal Hungary, besides his own recognition as independent sovereign prince of an enlarged Transylvania. Almost equally important was the twenty years truce of Zsitvatorok, negotiated by Bocskay between the emperor and the sultan.

Under Bocskai's successors - especially Gabriel Bethlen and George I Rákóczi - Transylvania had its golden age. Gabriel Bethlen, who reigned from 1613 to 1629, perpetually thwarted all the efforts of the emperor to oppress or circumvent his subjects, and won some reputation abroad by championing the Protestant cause. Three times he waged war on the emperor, twice he was proclaimed king of Hungary and by the peace of Nikolsburg (Dec. 31, 1621) he obtained for the Protestants a confirmation of the treaty of Vienna, and for himself seven additional counties in northern Hungary. Bethlen's successor, George I Rákóczi, was equally successful. His principal achievement was the peace of Linz (Sept. 16, 1645), the last political triumph of Hungarian Protestantism, in which the emperor was forced to confirm once more the articles of the peace of Vienna. Gabriel Bethlen and George I Rákóczi also did much for education and culture, and their era has justly been called the golden era of Transylvania. They lavished money on the embellishment of their capital, Alba Iulia (Gyulafehervár), which became the main bulwark of Protestantism in Eastern Europe. During their reign Transylvania was also one of the very few European countries where Roman Catholics, Calvinists, Lutherans, and Unitarians lived in mutual tolerance. Orthodox Romanians, however, were denied equal rights. Despite the efforts of Inochentie Micu-Klein , a Romanian Greek Catholic bishop, the nation status promised to those Romanians who converted to Catholicism was also not granted.

Austrian Rule and the Austro-Hungarian Empire

After the defeat of the Ottomans by the Austrians at Vienna in 1683, the Habsburgs gradually began to impose their rule on the formerly autonomous Transylvania. Apart from strengthening the central government and administration, the Habsburgs also promoted the Roman Catholic Church, both as a uniting force and also as an instrument to reduce the influence of the protestant nobility and weaken the estates by creating a conflict between protestant and catholic elements. In addition, they tried to persuade Orthodox clergymen to join the Uniate (Greek Catholic) Church, which retained Orthodox rituals and customs but accepted four key points of Catholic doctrine and acknowledged papal authority. In 1699 and 1701, Emperor Leopold I decreed Transylvania's Orthodox Church to be one with the Roman Catholic Church. Many, but not all, priests converted although it was not clear to them what was the difference between the two denominations.

From 1711, Austrian control over Transylvania was consolidated, and the princes of Transylvania were replaced by Austrian governors. The proclamation (1765) of Transylvania as a grand principality was a mere formality. The pressure of Austrian bureaucratic rule gradually eroded the traditional independence of Transylvania. In 1791 the Romanians petitioned Emperor Leopold II for recognition as the fourth "nation" of Transylvania and for religious equality, but the Transylvanian Diet rejected their demands, restoring the Romanians to their old status.

In early 1848, the Hungarian Diet seized the opportunity presented by the revolution to enact a comprehensive legislative program of reforms, referred to as the April Laws, which also included provision for the union of Transylvania and Hungary. The Romanians of Transylvania initially welcomed the revolution believing that they would benefit from the liberal reforms. However, their position changed due to the opposition of Transylvanian nobles to reforms such as emancipation of the serfs, and the failure of the Hungarian revolutionary leaders to recognise Romanian national interests. A Romanian national assembly at Blaj in the middle of May, produced its own revolutionary program calling for proportionate representation of Romanians in the Transylvanian Diet and an end to ethnic oppression. The Saxons were worried from the start about the idea of union with Hungary, fearing the loss of their traditional privileges. When the Transylvanian Diet met on 29 May the vote for union was pushed through despite the objection of many Saxon deputies. On June 10, the Emperor sanctioned the union vote of the Diet. Military executions, the arrest of revolutionary leaders and other activities which followed the union, hardened the position of the Saxons. In September 1848, another Romanian assembly in Blaj denounced union with Hungary and called for an armed rising in Transylvania. Warfare erupted in November with both Romanian and Saxon troops, under Austrian command, battling the Hungarians led by Polish General Józef Zachariasz Bem. Within four months, Bem had ousted the Austrians from Transylvania. However, in June 1849, tsar Nicholas I of Russia responded to an appeal from Emperor Franz Joseph and sent Russian troops into Transylvania. After initial successes against the Russians, Bem's army was defeated decisively at the Battles of Timisoara on 9 August. The surrender of the Hungarians followed.

After quashing the revolution, Austria imposed a repressive regime on Hungary and ruled Transylvania directly through a military governor. German again became the official language. Austria abolished the Union of Three Nations and granted citizenship to the Romanians. Although the former serfs were given land by the Austrian authorities, it was often barely sufficient for subsistence living. Their poor conditions obliged many Romanian families to cross into Wallachia and Moldavia searching for better lives.

However, in the compromise (Ausgleich) of 1867, which established the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the special status of Transylvania ended and it became a province under Hungarian control.

Transylvania as part of Romania

Although King Ferdinand I of Romania was a Hohenzollern, Romania refused to join the Central Powers and stayed neutral when the First World War began. In 1916 Romania joined the Triple Entente by signing the Military Convention with the Entente, which recognised Romania's rights over Transylvania. As a consequence of the Convention, Romania declared war against the Central Powers on 27 August 1916, and crossed the Carpathians into Transylvania, thus forcing the Central Powers to fight on yet another front. A German-Bulgarian counter offensive began the following month in Dobrudja and in the Carpathians, driving the Romanian army back into Romania by mid-October and eventually leading to the capture of Bucharest. The exit of Russia from the war in March 1918 (Treaty of Brest-Litovsk) left Romania alone in the Eastern Europe, and a Peace Treaty between Romania and Germany was negociated in May 1918. However, the resulting Treaty of Bucharest never completed ratification in Romania and was denounced in October 1918 by the Romanian government, which then re-entered the war on the Allied side. The Romanian Army advanced to the Mures river in Transylvania.

By mid-1918 the Central Powers were losing the war, and the Austro-Hungarian empire had begun to disintegrate. The nations living inside Austria-Hungary proclaimed their independence from the empire during September and October 1918. The leaders of Transylvania's National Party met and drafted a resolution invoking the right of self-determination (Woodrow Wilson's 14 points) of Transylvania's Romanian people, and proclaimed the unification of Transylvania with Romania. In November, the Romanian National Central Council, which represented all the Romanians of Transylvania, notified the Budapest government that it had assumed control of twenty-three Transylvanian counties and parts of three others. A mass assembly on 1st of December 1918 in Alba Iulia passed a resolution calling for unification of all Romanians in a single state. The National Council of the Germans from Transylvania aproved the Proclamation, and so did the Council of the Schwabs from Banat.

In December 1918 the Romanian army was stationed behind the river Mures in Transylvania, but crossed the demarcation zone and advanced up to Cluj and then up to Sighetul Marmatiei, after making a request to the Powers of Versailles, on the grounds of protecting the Romanians from Transylvania. In February 1919, the escalating violence in the area - Bolshevik elements were making efforts to spread the "Bolshevik Revolution" - led to the creation of a Neutral Zone between Romania and Hungary.

The Prime Minister of the newly proclaimed independent Republic of Hungary resigned in March 1919, refusing to officially recognize the Treaty of Versailles which placed Transylvania under the sovereignty of Romania. When the Communist Party of Hungary, led by Béla Kun, came to power in March 1919 it proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic and after promised that Hungary would regain the lands that were under its control during the Austria-Hungary Empire, it decided to attack Czechoslovakia and Romania. The Hungarian Army began the offensive in Transylvania in April 1919 along the Somes, Cris and Mures rivers. A Romanian counter-offensive pushed forward to reach - and halted on - the Tisza river in May. A new Hungarian offensive in July penetrated 60 km into Romanian lines, before a further Romanian counter-offensive led to the occupation of the hungarian capital Budapest in August, putting an end to the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The Romanian Army withdrew from Hungary between October 1919 and March 1920.

The Treaty of Versailles, formally signed in June 1919, recognised the sovereignty of Romania over Transylvania. The Treaties of St. Germain (1919) and Trianon (signed on June 1920) further elaborated the status of Transylvania and defined the new border between the states of Hungary and Romania. King Ferdinand I of Romania and Queen Maria of Romania were crowned at Alba Iulia in the year 1922.

In August 1940, during the Second World War, Romania ceded the northern part of Transylvania to Hungary, that Hitler awarded to the latter by the second Vienna Award (Vienna Arbitration Award or Vienna Diktat). The Treaty of Paris (1947) at the end of the Second World War rendered the Vienna Award void, and the territory of northern Transylvania returned to Romania. The post-WWII borders with Hungary, agreed on at the Treaty of Paris were identical with those set out in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

Coat of Arms of Transylvania

The Coat of Arms of Transylvania has three parts:

  • a lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) with the Sun and the Moon on a blue background
  • a red band
  • seven red towers on a yellow background

The Coat of Arms of Transylvania is also part of the Coat of Arms of Romania.

See also

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