Research Update – Nationality before Nationalism: Ethnic Politics, Geopolitics, and Sustainability of the Magyar Kingdom in the East

by George Andrei
Faculty Mentor: Nicholas Breyfogle

Panoramic from Citadel ruins (Râșnov Fortress, Brașov County). Photo by George Andrei

This honors-thesis project examines the migration and settlement of the Saxon “nationality” in the province of Transylvania within the Hungarian Kingdom from 1191 to 1400 (from just before the Mongol invasions (1241) to the middle of the Late Medieval Period). It attempts to understand the political and inter-ethnic effects of Saxon settlement in the context of the political, military, and social integration of Carpathian Transylvania into Hungary. The project analyzes how the Hungarian Kingdom utilized these relocated Saxons as an empire-building tool, allowing the Hungarian Kingdom to expand its empire. It also analyzes early governmental centralization efforts in Central- Eastern Europe by the Hungarian Kingdom. The differential utilization of different ethnicities became a significant topic at this time because religious differences between the Catholic Hungarian kings and the Orthodox Romanians played a part in the larger struggle for the dominance of Catholicism in Europe.

City wall of Sibiu (Sibiu County). Photo by George Andrei

This summer, I took an archival research trip to Sibiu, Romania, one of the first major administrative centers of the Transylvanian Saxons. Upon arrival to Sibiu, I met Prof. Dana Dogaru, professor of German at the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and an expert on the Transylvanian Saxons, who agreed to help with my research.

My time in the archives was limited by a combination of national holidays and protests which delayed access to the archival materials until nearly the end of my trip; however, I spent several days in the archives and got what materials I could.  Luckily, I discovered that many of the documents have been digitized. Prof. Dogaru assisted me in learning how to read the centuries old, handwritten Saxon script. The time spent in the archives, though it was short, was incredibly useful, and now I have access to scanned original sources which I can (slowly) read.

While waiting for the archives to reopen following the unexpected closure, Prof. Dogaru allowed me to examine and photograph analytical works from her personal collection.  I also visited sites important to the Saxon settlement – such as Slimnic, Biertan, and Sighișoara – and collected texts from local historians to get a local view of events.  Some of the books I purchased include:

  • Geneza orașelor medievale în Transilvania (The Genesis of Medieval Cities in Transilvania) by Paul Niedermaier
  • Die Ansiedlung der Siebenbürger Sachsen (The Settlement of the Transylvanian Saxons) by Thomas Nägler
  • Hermannstadt (Sibiu) by Harald Roth

Fortified Church at Biertan (Sibiu County). Photo by George Andrei

Upon return to the United States, I collected additional materials from OSU’s outstanding library and Inter-Library Loan Services, and shifted my focus from gathering to analyzing.  I still have quite a bit to go.  I have been able to find, online, four volumes of published primary sources gathered by Saxons in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, titled Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen.  They are divided into volumes based on the dates of the documents (going back almost a millennium) and attest to Saxon presences and colonization.

My thesis will explore Saxon colonization, the Mongol crisis (first Mongol invasion), rebuilding, the Second Mongol invasion (which took place in 1285 and was repelled), internal struggles, and the lasting impact of these events.

 

George Andrei with his faculty mentor, Nicholas Breyfogle, at the Fall Undergraduate Research Forum – Photo by Theodora Dragostinova

Skills Gained

There are two skills that I believe I have gained that will be invaluable to my future aspirations: (1) the ability to read hand-written medieval documents in the script of the Saxons and (2) the research method that I had constructed for myself.

The handwriting of the Saxon notaries, of course, varied greatly, but there were many patterns and symbols that one can only learn in-person with a professional. I am very thankful that Prof. Dogaru took time out of her busy schedule to come with me to the archive and instruct me in the script. Without her assistance, I would have been completely lost, for while the German was similar to modern German, the letter fonts and symbology were radically different. Very importantly, I know how to access scanned documents through the archive’s website.

The research method that I have come up with is more than just reading the sources. I have come up with a way of indexing the materials that I read and wish to use, noting content, page numbers, and personal comments/thought process at the time of reading and analysis. This enabled me to make connections between texts, both secondary and primary.

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