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Posmuș/Paszmos/Paßbusch: A People’s History


-106: Dacia

There are no records indicating a settlement in Posmuș during antiquity. However, there is some evidence of Dacian-era habitation in the broader area around Posmuș. Specifically, in Șieuț, several kilometers from Posmuș, archeologists found evidence of Dacian-era pottery in a Roman fortification, with some sources indicating Scythian artifacts. Dacian pottery is also quite widespread in areas around Bistrița, alongside neolithic era artifacts. 

106-271: The Roman Empire

There are no records indicating a settlement in Posmuș during the Roman era, either. However, there is hard archeological evidence that the current site of Posmuș was within close range of the fortifications lining the Northern border of the Roman Empire’s Dacia province (Limes Dacicus). Indeed, within the boundaries of the Bistrita-Năsăud county the Romans built five border fortresses and round towers, with each tower overlooking a palisade and defensive ditch structures. Most are still visible and are adequately mapped out by the Bistrița County Museum. The closest Roman outpost was in Orheiu Bistriței, 4 hours by foot from Posmuș and Șieuț. Remnants of a tower, complete with a palisade fence and defensive ditch can be seen a little over an hour by foot away from the village. In 271 the Roman Empire abandoned the Limes Dacicus and pulled its military and administration out of North Dacia, gradually falling back south of the Danube, in the province of Moesia. The territory subsequently fell into the hands of the Goths.

3rd-11th century: The Early Middle Ages

Archeological records are lacking for the situation of this area for the period spanning from the 3rd to the 11th centuries. It is only from broader agreed-upon history that we know that this part of North Transylvania changed hands from the Hunnic Empire (4th-5th centuries) to the Gepid Kingdom (5th-6th centuries) and the Avar Khaganate (6th-9th centuries). Following the Slav conquest in the 9th century, the area eventually became part of the rule of Hungarian chieftains in the late 9th century. King Stephen I of Hungary united the chieftains’ territories under a single Hungarian crown in 1002, setting early medieval Hungary as the border of Latin Christendom. The fact that the name Posmuș originates in Slavic may lead one to speculate that an earlier Slav-speaking community had existed here.


11th-13th century: The High Middle Ages 

Hungarian rule over Transylvania (the name is on Hungarian records since 1075) was heavily contested by several warlords, with the Cuman ones representing the gravest threat. Eventually, however, the Hungarian state prevailed and instituted a functional administration. Faced with devastating raids, in the 12th and 13th centuries (the Mongol raid of 1241 was a gruesome mayhem), the Hungarian monarchy invited German-speaking settlers from the Rhine and Luxembourg, mainly, to ringfence the kingdom’s eastern borders with their fortified villages. The arrival of the Saxons coincided with the first written coverage of the area around Posmuș. Thus, the earliest Saxon settlement closest to Posmuș was in Bistrița (Nösen), in 1206 (hence the term Nösnerland for the German-speaking parts around Bistrița). Unfortunately for the Saxon settlers, Posmuș was not on state (king’s) lands, which would have afforded them a favourable status (free people status and autonomous administrative mandates granted directly by the king), but on feudal lands, which made them vulnerable to the power of the local lord.  Posmuș is dated to 1319 as a donation of Hungarian king Carol I (Robert of Anjou) to one Simon de Kacsik. Saxon history emphasises that after the first few decades as hosts of the local lords, the Saxons who had the misfortune to not be on the crown’s lands, such as those of Posmuș, gradually fell into serfdom with the local Transylvanian lords, a category that was heavily Hungarian but also incorporated Saxon and Romanian chieftains. The Transylvanian variant of European serfdom was one that showed serfdom in its gravest form—that of personal servitude, in which the peasant was bound both to the lord and the soil. Over time, serfdom severely imperiled the Posmuș Saxons’ social and economic development relative to the free Saxons on the crown lands north and south of Bistrița. 


14th-16 century: The Late Middle Ages 

During this period Posmuș became part of the golden age of the medieval Transylvanian economy. Yet from an ordinary peasant’s perspective, the benefits of this Transylvanian prosperity were less obvious. When the Ottomans occupied the Balkans and Asia Minor, a rerouting of international trade began to favour the Transylvanian economy. This geopolitical event together with the consolidation of stabler states in Wallachia and Moldavia brought unprecedented business opportunities to the Transylvanian Saxons, who benefitted the most from their pre-existing specialisation in textile and metalworking manufacturing alongside advanced construction skills. Indeed, it was during this period that Saxon cities acquired a notable size, with Bistritzer Saxon guilds, for example, experiencing a boom from trade with Moldova in particular. Consequently, the Saxons’ representatives mobilised their capital to elevate the status of the Saxon elite vis-a-vis the traditional dominance of Hungarian nobility. This period of trade-based prosperity was lengthened by the Ottomans’ victory over the Hungarian Kingdom in 1526, which ushered 150 years of Transylvanian near-independence, granted by the Ottomans in exchange for tributary collaboration. Unfortunately, these centuries of prosperity came with structural injustices: following the failed Transylvanian peasant rebellion led by Szekler cavalry captain Dózsa György, the political alliance of Saxon burghers, Magyar aristocracy, and Szekler leaders reaffirmed the serfdom of most Transylvanian peasants and locked them to the feudal lord they had been tied to. It is important to emphasise that this political hegemony belonged to the elite and not to the Saxon and Hungarian-speaking communities of Transylvania as such. Although most serfs were Romanian speakers subject to double exclusion due to their Orthodox faith being considered heretical in medieval Hungarian law, large masses of Hungarian peasants and, to a lesser extent, of Saxon peasants were serfs as well, with Ruthenians, Serbians, Bulgarians, and Cumans also mentioned in this condition. The Saxon and Romanian serfs of Posmuș illustrate precisely this multi-ethnic exclusion. During the late medieval period, most of the Roma of Transylvania had the status of royal serfs, living in extremely marginalised conditions on estates and towns. A smaller number were slaves, a condition that prevailed in the Wallachian and Moldavian possessions of Transylvania. Unfortunately, specific information about the lives of the ordinary people of Posmus is missing during this period as well.



Post-medieval period: 17-18th centuries

Devastating warfare and disease wreaked havoc with the areas in and around Bistrița in the 17th century. In 1602 Habsburg imperial mercenaries laid a long siege to Bistrița and plundered neighbouring areas. The Szekler defenders held the city, but faced with the plague the Saxons agreed to a heavy fee in exchange for the Habsburg mercenaries leaving. The plague epidemic, which killed a third of the town’s population, effectively devastated the city’s skill base. In 1671 Tartar and Ottoman raiders struck the area again, extracting, yet again, heavy taxes as the price of peace. Yet by the end of the century the Habsburgs prevailed against the Ottomans, moving Transylvania into a vast empire that made these parts have their capital in Vienna until 1868. As a result, the social structure of the territory around Posmuș came under the hammer of a modernising empire. The expansion of Vienna’s mighty and centralised fiscal machine, legal modernization, and military reorganisation challenged the alliance of Magyar aristocracy and Saxon merchant classes in particular. Thus, the creation in 1697 of the Uniate Church for Romanians enabled a Catholic centralising monarchy in Vienna to create a better educated and structured opposition to the privileged groups. Threatened with imperial taxation of the lands recently recovered from the Ottomans,  a part of the Hungarian aristocracy organised an ultimately failed war of independence against the Habsburgs during Rákóczi's War of Independence (1703–1711), whose definitive battles took place in North Transylvania, with the two sides marshalling broad international contingents, from Danish to Serbian soldiers. As the 18th century wore on, military reforms turned the overwhelmingly Romanian and Uniate area of the Someș Valley, not far north Posmuș area, into a vast emancipated community serving in the Austrian army, improving housing and labour productivity standards by making use of Austrian expertise, and advancing its educational institutions that in turn helped create an educated elite who made claims to access to state bureaucracy. The same status was granted to the Szekler mountain farmers not far West of the Teleki estate in Posmuș. Outside these areas inhabited by independent farmers turned into imperial soldiers, serfs such as the ones in Posmuș watched the reforms of Emperor Joseph II with emotion as these reforms entailed taxing the lords and weakening their control over the labour of Transylvania’s economy, most of which was performed by Romanians and to some extent by Hungarians. However, the reforms’ rescission as a result of aristocratic resistance led to the reproduction of medieval social organisation in this part of Transylvania. In 1783 the Vienna court ordered the end of slavery in the empire but also the repression of the cultural identity of the Roma people in Transylvania, with the latter initiative not being strongly enforced, however. The relatively expensive redecoration of the Posmuș Saxon church suggests that at least the Saxon community used professional skills outside of agriculture to escape the feudal economy and prosper.

The modern era (from the 19th century onwards)

The era of stability following the Napoleonic wars largely conserved the Transylvanian political economy. It was a period of stagnation under the weight of poor fiscal revenues (the result of tax-exempt landlords), slow urbanisation, little credit, and derelict infrastructure. Capital accumulation by peasants remained inhabited by surviving feudal institutions, with the Saxon farmers and Romanian shepherds supplying the largely Saxon towns and soldier peasants in the border regiments of the empire as the sole beneficiaries of this age of modernization in Europe. Time stood still in places like Posmuș, indeed. When the 1848 Hungarian Revolution erupted, it brought liberal social reforms (the abolition of serfdom being the main one) but also a tragic civil war in Transylvania, pitting Hungarian revolutionaries against imperial troops enjoying the support of Romanians and Saxons. The civil war had a social component as well, with aristocratic estates devastated by serfs in many cases, including in Posmuș, where the Teleki castle was extensively destroyed, leading the Telekis to abandon it for several decades. After the defeat of the revolution, the empire abolished serfdom and introduced other liberal reforms. In Posmuș, both Romanians and Saxons became free peasants yet benefitted from uneven resources when trying to make the most of their new status: while the Saxon peasants used their access to the professional training schemes of the Saxon craftspeople in the Bistrița area and used training in construction and carpentry in particular to bolster their incomes and land, the Romanian peasants remained land-poor and therefore dependent on the Teleki estate. This situation endured through the economic boom that followed the return of Transylvania to Hungarian authority in 1867, with the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a period that coincided with strong economic development as well as with episodes of political tension between Hungarian and  Romanian nationalism that climaxed during World War One and the contested integration of Transylvania into the Romanian state between 1918 and 1920. The 1921 land reform only marginally improved the situation, despite the fact that the Teleki estate was extensively reduced through land redistribution legislation that set much more unfavourable terms for the Hungarian aristocracy than it did for the Romanian aristocracy in the old Romanian Kingdom. For the Saxons, life under the interbellum Romanian state came with increasing exposure to Germany’s political projects in Eastern Europe and the expansion of national socialism. The evacuation by the Wehrmacht of all the Saxons in North Transylvania in October 1944 tragically terminated seven centuries of Saxon presence in Posmuș, with the few Saxon returnees eventually leaving the village during the 1970s, after years in which the remaining Saxon community in Transylvania faced extensive repression, including dispossession and deportation in the Soviet Union. After World War Two, the nationalisation of the Teleki estate and the imprisonment of the last Teleki heir by the communist regime was part of the broader closing story of nearly a millennium of Hungarian aristocratic life in Transylvania. After decades of communist collective farming during which the Teleki castle was used as the headquarters and storage facility of a state-owned farm, today the Posmuș community finds itself in a market economy in which the Romanian and Roma villagers eke out a living from a combination of subsistence farming, farm labour in agribusiness, industrial employment in neighbouring towns as well as international labour migration. As for the Saxons, their memory remains tragically stretched between local nationalism and what a historian once called “philogermanism without Germans.”

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