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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Saxons from Transylvania

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(click here for the Romanian version)

I have always been interested in the history of ethnic minorities from Romania. One of the most important among them is the German minority (or rather it was: after 1989 the major part of them moved to Germany, after several centuries of existence on the Romanian lands) .

There have been several distinct German ethnic groups in Romania. The Saxons (die Sachsen, Saşii) came to Transylvania and settled in its Southern and North-Eastern parts, the Swabians (die Schwaben, Şvabii) came to Banat, the Bohemians (Pemii, with a totally different origin than the  Swabians) also settled in Banat, let's add to them the German communities from Bukovina, Dobruja, and the South of Bessarabia.

About the Bessarabian Germans and their villages I've already written on this blog, the Dobrujan Germans have had a similar history, the Bukovina Germans  settled there after the Habsburgs annexed that region. The Banat Bohemians  came from Sudetenland or Styria, as far as I know, and their dialect sounds more or less like the German spoken in Vienna. Speaking about Banat Bohemians, we should note that there is also a Czech community in Banat, beside the German Bohemians - both are known as Bohemians (Pemi - by the way, Man sagt, die schönsten Deutsch ist in Prag gesprochen, und die schönsten Tchechish in Wien - They say the nicest German is spoken in Prague, and the nicest Czech in Vienna - t'could be true).

It is interesting that the Banat Swabians didn't take the name from their land of origin. They came from various regions of Germany, very few from Swabia. What happened was that they gathered in the Swabian city of Ulm, where they were registered and embarked on the Danube for Banat, since their name. Some of them had come even from Alsace/Lorraine, and that explains the existence of a few Swabian villages in Banat with inhabitants speaking German while having French names.

As for the Transylvanian Saxons, they are not Saxons, either. They actually came from the Western part of Germany (Franconia, Rhine valley, even Alsace/Lorraine, even Luxembourg), and seemingly their dialect is close to the language spoken in Luxembourg, to the extent that a Saxon from Romania and a Luxembourger can understand each other. Anyway it is not close at all to the Saxon dialect (I mean the Saxon dialect from Germany). There are several hypothesizes about them being named Saxons without being Saxons. One hypothesis is that in the 12th-13th centuries the documents delivered by the Hungarian royal chancellery were naming all Germans altogether Saxons. There are also other hypothesizes.

There are important distinctions between Transylvanian Saxons and Banat Swabians. The Saxons came in the 11th-12th centuries, while the Swabians came much later, in the 18th century. The Saxons came here as Roman-Catholics, meanwhile they passed to Lutheranism, while the Swabians came and remained Roman-Catholics. Also their dialects are clearly different.

These Saxons (or rather so-called Saxons) built from the very beginning a number of fortified burgs in Transylvania. Which of them were the very first burgs it's again a matter of discussion: the common knowledge says there were seven such burgs in all. Then their number got bigger (beside the fact that each Saxon settlement, smaller or bigger, had at least the church fortified - I will come later to this). Anyway, the German name for Transylvania is Siebenbürgen: Seven Burgs. From German, the name passed then to Polish, Siedmiogród, and further to Ucrainaian, Семигород.

Saxon peasants from around Hermannstadt
(Sächsische Bauern aus der Umgebung von Hermannstadt)
cca. 1900
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Let's see now the names of these first burgs. The Saxons settled firstly in the Southern part of Transylvania and founded there the burgs of Mediasch (Mediaş, 1142 - with the surrounding region of Weinland, Ţara Târnavelor), Mühlbach (Sebeş, 1150 - surrounded by the region of Unterwald, Sub Pădure) , Hermannstadt (Sibiu, 1160 - surrounded by Altland, Ţara Oltului, neighboring Waldland, Podişul Hârtibaciului), Schäßburg (Sighişoara, 1178 - also in the region of Weinland), Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca, 1178), Reußmarkt (Miercurea Sibiului, 1198 - in the region of Zekeschgebiet, Ţara Secaşelor), and Broos (Orăştie, 1200).

Then the Saxons settled also in the North-Eastern part of Transylvania where they founded Bistritz (Bistriţa) în 1206 - in the region of Nösnerland (Ţara Năsăudului), and Sächsisch Regen (Reghin - in the Reener Ländchen, Ţinutul Reghinului), firstly mentioned in 1228. Kronstadt (Braşov) followed, again in the South (in the region of Burzenland, Ţara Bârsei), în 1208.

Saxon woman from Honigberg (Hărman), near Kronstadt
(Sächsische Bäuerin aus Honigberg)
beginning of 20th century
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As I indicated for each of these burgs the German and the Romanian names, it would be fair to give here also the names in the patois spoken by Transylvanian Saxons.

Mediash is in Saxon dialect Medwesch, Mühlbach is Melnbach, Schäßburg is Schäsbrich, Klausenburg is Kleusenburch, Reußmarkt is Reismuert, Broos is Bros, Bistritz is Nîsner-Bistritz, Sächsisch Regen is Reen, Kronstadt is Krűnen, and the village of Honigberg is Huntschprich. And there are other two hundred or so Saxon small towns and villages, all with their fortified churches, sometimes with superb wooden organs inside these churches - each one with a German and a Romanian name, along with the name in Saxon parlance. As for Hermannstadt, it has the same name in Saxon, it seems.

Okay, that's all for the time being. I'll come back later to this topic.

(German and Nordic Literature)



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