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Transylvanian Saxons

THE TRANSYLVANIAN SAXONS IN 1848 The Germans of Transylvania, commonly called the Saxons, settled in the 12th and 13th centuries between Orastie and Brasov in the southeast and in the northeast around Bistrita. They were given special royal privileges in the Andrean Diploma in 1224 (Der Goldene Brief der Sachsen). In 1848, the Fundus Regius territory of the Saxons contained 271 villages, boroughs and towns populated by 275,000 inhabitants (172,000 Saxons and 203,000 Romanians) ruled by an autonomous territorial-administrative entity called the Universitas Saxonum, with its political, administrative and religious center at Sibiu (Hermannstadt).

The majority of Saxons in the Fundus Regius were freemen, though a number of Saxon serf villages existed in Tirnave. Some 40,000 Romanian serfs also existed in the region, who had to pay rent in kind and also give 100 days of forced labor a year. In the towns of Sibiu, Brasov, Bistrita, Medias, Sebes, Orastie, and elsewhere, a new bourgeois stratum and intelligentsia developed prior to 1848, which began to adhere to liberal views and question the corporatist medieval system (Zünfte).

The patriciate and Saxon civil servants tended to defend Habsburg absolutism and the Uniotrium nationum (1437) the Magyars, Szeklers, and Saxons which was its basis. The Saxons were represented in the diet and in the gubernium of Transylvania, as well as in the Aulic office (Cancelarie aulica) from Vienna and in the Treasury of Sibiu. The Sibiu Universitas maintained their privileges; the Siebenbürger Bote was their principal published voice.

The reform element had its most powerful nucleus in Brasov, centered round the Siebenbürger Wochenblatt edited by Johann Gott. Its other spokesmen included intellectuals and teachers, such as Stephen Ludwig Roth, J. Fr. Geltch, Anton Kurtz, Martin Schnell, Max Moltke, J. Marlin, Daniel Roth, G.D. Teusch, Jakob Ranicher. Their program of modernization aimed at the abolition of the privilege, reformation of adminstration and justice, the abolition of guilds, and establishment of civil liberties and rights. Joining in the critique of Metternichian absolutism and the noble regime were various cultural and school institutions, such as the Verein für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde (1840) and law faculty of Sibiu (1844).

News of the events from Vienna and Pest was received with hostility and anxiety by the authorities in Sibiu and with hope and expectation by refomers in Brasov and among the ordinary population. The abolition of censorship and the institution of freedom of press and assembly gave birth to an unpreceeded political activity in the regions inhabited by Transylvanian Saxons. Apprehension over the possible accession of the Romanian population to the status of a political nation on the one hand and reaction to the efforts of Magyar liberals to unite Transylvania with Hungary on the other had a moderating effect on Saxon reform and at the same time strengthened their attachment to the Habsburg court.

As in the Magyar comitats, in March and April 1848, the Saxon zones witnessed peasant risings. The streets of Saxon towns were assailed by crowds of the poor people and those from lower social strata. A virtual pamphlet war was unleashed among the Saxons. Eventually, the leadership of the Universitas asked the Gubernium and the Commander of Imperial troops, General Puchner, to intervene with arms against the rebels. And, at the end of March, the Universitas decided to organize a Saxon national guards for the defence of property and order. On the other hand, on April 3, it formally recognized the political and civil equality of the Romanians with the Saxons. This was designed to avoid radical solutions, not necessarily to be implemented.

The Saxons faced a dilemma. Though many recognized the legitimacy of Romanian aspirations in Transylvania, they also feared for their future as a national-confessional entity in a modern, centralized, national state. Some, such as Daniel Roth and Stephan Ludwig Roth supported national liberation for all. Daniel Roth's Von der Union und nebenbei ein Wort über eine mögliche Daco- romänische Monarchie unter österreichische Krone (May 1848), elaborated after intense discussions with the Romanian and Saxon intellectuals, was typical of the radical position. It argued that the future of Dacia (i.e., the regions of Transylvania, Moldavia, and Muntenia) belonged neither to the Hungarian nor to the German nations but to its most numerous people, the Romanians. This new Dacia would also be a guarantee that the language and nationality of the German population in the intra-Carpathian zone would be preserved, especially from aggressive Magyar liberal nationalists, who wanted to dissolve all other nations into a unitary and Hungarian national state.

The Saxons came to see the union of Transylvania with Hungary as the key, a Magyar programmatic step which both Saxon reformers and the Universitas rejected. They also feared the spectre of violent battle in Transylvania as a result. The Saxon Universitas adopted in Sibiu on April 25, 1848, an ample memoir attacking the union idea, which they sent to the emperor.

The Romanian national assembly at Blaj (May 15-17, 1848), which produced the Romanian revolutionary program, had deeply and favorably influenced the Saxons. Stephan Ludwig Roth, who was present on the Field of Liberty in Blaj, eulogized the event, and the Saxon press began to support recognition of the Romanian cause. A May 18th meeting of Saxon regional delegates met in Sibiu, declared against the union, and sent the emperor another anti-unionist message. One of their arguments was that the opposition to union (Romanian and Saxon) constituted 71% of the Transylvanian population, while support for it (Hungarian and Szekler) was only 26%.

The Transylvanian Diet was hastily-convoked for May 29. Its purpose was to produce the union by any means. The Saxons considered not even attending, but under pressure all but two centers chose delegates. In the end, only fourteen of the twenty-two delegates nominated took part in the diet. The Saxon delegates from Brasov, who supported union, managed to muster nine of the fourteen to vote for union, but this still constituted a minority of the Saxons.

Both by the political leadership of the Saxons and the general Saxon population repudiated the unionist diet. Meetings of protest against the union proposal and against the deputies who had voted for it were held in June throughout the Saxon districts except Brasov. The Saxon comes Franz Salmen violently attacked the unionist deputies (especially Carl Gross, Elias Roth and G. Daniel Teusch) as going beyond their mandates and the leadership of the Universitas ordered its delegation in Vienna to intervene at the Habsburg court.

This action was to no avail. On June 10, the emperor sanctioned the union vote of the Diet. The Saxon leadership was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, categorical rejection of the union might preclude reconciliation with the Magyars along with a guarantee of Saxon administrative autonomy, preserving of the German language, and maintenance of their cultural-religious institutions. On the other hand, hopes for a modus vivendi with the inflexible Hungarian nationalist regime seemed unlikely. The forced recruiting, the military executions in the villages, the arresting of revolutionary leaders, and the like, which followed the union, further radicalized the Saxons and moved them closer to the Romanians. The negotiations began with the Romanian National Committee (June 9) for a defensive alliance.

The Saxons started organizing and training guards units in the villages and towns and obtaining munitions for them. The youth were organized into a Jugendbund led by Stephan Ludwig Roth and the student Theodor Fabini (August 13). A Romanian-Saxon conference was held in Sibiu on September 6 which reaffirmed the illegality of the union and the authority of Hungarian legislation in Transylvania. Two memoirs were sent to Vienna that same month, announcing the decision of the Saxons to defend themselves against the Magyars and requesting protection from the emperor.

The Third Romanian assembly in Blaj in September, 1848, now called for an armed rising in Transylvania. A committee was set up composed of six Romanians (led by Simion Barnutiu) and three Saxons (C. Müller, P. Lange, Stephan Ludwig Roth) to organize the armed resistence. A Saxon Jäger battalion was added to the Romanian forces that began to form. General Puchner declared a state of war and took over the leadership of the anti-Magyar forces gathering in Transylvania.

In the violent battle which devastated Transylvania for the next ten months (November 1848-August 1849) the Saxons fought together with the Romanians under the imperial flag for the defence of the autonomy and liberties which were contested by the Hungarian government. The Saxons acted both under their own command and along with Romanians in the line regiments. In the first part of the war, they were able to disarm a number of Hungarian and Szekler military units and to stop Magyar raids led by General Bem. Present in violent fights in the Reghin-Bistrita region, Sibiu-Slimnic, Simeria and Sighisoara, the Saxons suffered hundreds of casualties and registered immense losses in towns and villages (plundered, burned, de-populated). Stephan Ludwig Roth was among those executed by the Magyars, while the philo-Hungarian C. Gross committed suicide.

The experience of the revolution profoundly marked the Saxon community in Transylvania. From a priviledged group in society, it had been transformed by Magyar national policy into a minority whose traditional rights were on the verge of disappearing forever. For the next century and a half, Saxon policy would continue to waver between the pressure of trying to get along with the dominant national group (Magyars before 1918; Romanians thereafter) and the demands of awakening German national sentiment.
Teodor Pavel


Fr. Teutsch, Geschichte de Siebenbürger Sachsen, 3 vols. (Sibiu, 1910).

Silviu Dragomir, Studii si document privitoare la revolutia romanilor din Transilvania in anii 1848-1849, 4 vols (Cluj-Sibiu, 1944-1946).

Carol Göllner, Die Siebenbürger Sachsen in den Revolutionsjahren 1848-1849 (Bucuresti, 1967).

Cornelia Bodea, 1848 la Romani, 2 vols (Bucurest, 1982).

_______. The Romanians' struggle for unification--1834-1849 [Translated by Liliana Teodoreanu] Imprint Bucharest, Pub. House of the Academy of the Socialist Republic of Romania, 1970

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