What is the origin of the name Transylvania?

Interesting question on Quora, and I decided to dive deeper into the answer. Turns out that Transylvania has a colorful and confusing history.

Transylvania is a historical and geographical region in the south-eastern Carpathian region with an eventful history. In antiquity the area was located was the political center of the Dacian Kingdom. In 106 AD, it was conquered by the Roman Empire under Trajan and incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Dacia. After the withdrawal of Roman troops under Emperor Aurelian in 272 AD, the region was a transit and settlement area for various ethnic groups and tribal associations fleeing from the encroaching Huns in the East until the 11th century. Goths, Huns, Gepids, Avars, Bulgars, Slavs and others appeared here in succession. The Gepid graves from Apahida are a well-known example of the archaeology of the Migration Period.

The Romanians who settled here took the name Transsilvania, which means “beyond the woods”, from Middle Latin. From around 895, the Hungarians settled in the Carpathian Basin as part of their land conquest and called the area Erdély, earlier Erdeuelu or Erdőelü, which has the same meaning.

The name of the region in German is Siebenbürgen. The origin of the German name remains disputed, but it is assumed that it can be traced back to seven towns — Hermannstadt, Kronstadt, Bistritz, Schäßburg, Mühlbach, Broos and Klausenburg — founded after about 1147 by Transylvanian Saxons brought in to secure the borders against invasions from the East and to stimulate the economy. The term „Saxon“ probably comes from the Latin stereotype of the Saxon period for western (predominantly German) settlers. The last major wave of immigration from southwest Germany to Transylvania took place between 1845 and 1848, when between 1500 and 1800 citizens emigrated from various communities in the Kingdom of Württemberg.

In medieval Transylvania there were generally only representations of the individual nations, the estates. These represented the interests of the Hungarian nobles, the Transylvanian Saxons, the Szeklers and initially also the Romanians. In 1437, however, the Unio Trium Nationum was proclaimed as part of the defense against the Turks, which affirmed the alliance and sole political authority of the estates of the Hungarian nobles, the Saxons and the Szeklers, thus excluding the Romanians.

The Romanians, on the other hand, were excluded from political and social life: After 1437, they no longer had any representation or right to a say. Under constitutional law, they were merely tolerated until the 19th century and were deliberately marginalized, e.g. they were not allowed to settle in German towns or buy houses there.

The Hungarian army was crushed by

at the Battle of Mohács on August 29, 1526, ushering in two centuries of constant threat to the country. The Turkish invasion of Hungary (1526-1686) devastated central Hungary in particular. More than a hundred thousand prisoners were deported to the Ottoman Empire.

Hungary finally broke up into three parts. The largest part of Hungary came under Turkish rule, with the unconquered territories either coming under Habsburg rule (including western Upper Hungary or Royal Hungary) or being separated from Hungary and placed under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire as the subordinate Principality of Transylvania (Hungarian: Erdélyi Fejedelemség) in 1541.

Until the end of the 17th century, Transylvania remained a vassal state of the High Porte. Although this meant freedom in terms of internal politics, it meant Turkish control in terms of foreign policy. Despite Turkish suzerainty, Transylvania remained a Christian land in which not a single mosque was ever built.

After the victory over the Ottomans at the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, Transylvania tried in vain to defend itself against the growing influence of Austria. Habsburg rule was established in stages. The Peace of Sathmar in 1711 finally established Austrian control over the whole of Hungary and Transylvania.

By a decree of Maria Theresa dated November 2, 1775, Transylvania became largely autonomous and was governed by its own princes according to its own laws. From 1733, the ethnic group known as the Transylvanian Landler was settled in southern Transylvania. They were forcibly deported to Transylvania under Charles VI and Maria Theresa. As the Protestant faith was forbidden in Catholic Austrian hereditary lands, they were banished to the easternmost corner of the Habsburg Empire.

The Romanians now made up the majority of the population of Transylvania. They did not have any political rights. After the great peasant uprising of 1784, the Romanians once again asked Leopold II for admission as the fourth state-bearing „Natio“ of Transylvania (alongside the Hungarian nobility, the Szeklers and the Transylvanian Saxons) and also for further-reaching political recognition. However, these demands were denied to them by the three other nations in parliament.

The 1859 ascendancy of Alexandru Ioan Cuza as prince of both Moldavia and Wallachia under the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire united for the first time an identifiably Romanian nation under a single ruler. Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, Romania was recognized as an independent state by the Treaty of Berlin, 1878 and acquired Dobruja, although it was forced to surrender southern Bessarabia (Budjak) to Russia. Transylvanian Romanians united with the Kingdom of Romania in 1918, as did Bessarabia. War with the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919 resulted in the occupation of Budapest by Romanian troops.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Romania received the territories of Transylvania and other territories from Hungary, as well as Bessarabia (Eastern Moldavia) and Bukovina. In the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary renounced all the claims of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy over Transylvania in favor of Romania. The union of Romania with Bukovina was ratified in 1919 in the Treaty of Saint Germain, and Romania in 1920 was more than twice the size it had been in 1914. The last territorial change during this period came in 1923, when a few border settlements were exchanged between Romania and Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

This expansion aroused enmity from several of its neighbors, including Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, and especially Hungary. Transylvania had significant Hungarian and German populations who were accustomed to being in power. Both groups were effectively excluded from politics as the postwar regime passed an edict stating that all personnel employed by the state had to speak Romanian. The new state was also a highly centralized one, so it was unlikely that the Hungarian or German minorities would exercise political influence without personal connections in the government in Bucharest.

The Romanian expression Romania Mare (literal translation „Great Romania“, but more commonly rendered in English: „Greater Romania“) generally refers to the Romanian state in the interwar period, and by extension, to the territory Romania covered at the time. Romania achieved at that time its greatest territorial extent (almost 300,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi)[19]). At the 1930 census, there were over 18 million inhabitants in Romania. But „Greater Romania“ did not survive World War II.

In 1944, Romania was occupied by the Soviet Army and the Red Army took part in the expulsion of up to 70,000 Transylvanian Saxons from Romania that was initiated in January 1945 to the Soviet Union. The expellees were gradually allowed to return to Romania between late 1945 and 1949, though it is estimated that up to 10,000 perished during the expulsion or while in the Soviet Union.

Unlike Bulgaria, Romania had few cultural and historical ties with Russia, and had actually waged war on the Soviet Union. As a result, Soviet occupation weighted heavier on the Romanian people. The Republica Socialistă România, RSR (Socialist Republic of Romania) was formed under Soviet control, and In the 1960s and 1970s, Nicolae Ceaușescu became General Secretary of the Communist Party (1965). After a while, there were clear signs of public discontent, such as riots and an angry mob throwing rocks at Ceaușescu’s helicopter while it made a flight to Transylvania in October 1981.

By 1988, with perestroika and glasnost policies in effect in the Soviet Union and China undergoing economic reforms, Romania’s Stalinist sociopolitical system began to look increasingly out-of-place. Public protests turned violent, and Ceaușescu soon fled by helicopter, but he and his wife Elena were quickly captured and tried by a drumhead court-martial, convicted after an hour and a half, and executed by firing squad moments after the verdict and sentence were announced on 25 December.


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