Unio Trium Nationum
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Unio Trium Nationum (Latin for "Union of the Three Nations") was a pact of mutual aid codified in 1438 by three Estates of Transylvania: the (largely Hungarian) nobility, the Saxon (German) burghers, and the free military Székelys. The union was directed against the peasantry, many of whom were Romanian Orthodox Christians, as a reaction to a widespread peasant rebellion.
Medieval administrative structure in Transylvania
In medieval times, Transylvania was organised into two types of territorial units:
- The Noble Counties (Comitates) were ruled by feudal landlords. Here, the majority of population were Hungarian and Romanian serfs.
- In other regions called "Seats", the free Székely and Saxon nations lived without feudal landlords and had the royal privilege to have local authority and self-government.
Events leading to the Union
With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, one of the first major Ottoman military campaigns against Transylvanian parts of the Kingdom of Hungary was organised in 1421. The invading forces entered the region from Wallachia. The Saxons and Székelys living in the border area tried to defend themselves, but were heavily outnumbered by the intruders. King Sigismund was not able to react promptly because he had recently inherited the Bohemian throne and was involved there in the Hussite Wars. Also, Transylvanian Diets had not been organized for decades and there was no forum to coordinate defence preparations of the three nations. Left alone, the Saxon Burzenland and the Székely Seat of Háromszék, both in the border region, were ravaged. Sigismund reacted to the attack only years later, leading a series of military campaigns against the Ottomans in Wallachia. The Ottomans, allied with the Wallachian Voivode, returned in 1432 and Southern Transylvania suffered serious damages again.
In the same period, nobles and church authorities in Central Transylvania were concerned about protesting and revolting serfs. Hungarian and Romanian peasants were dissatisfied with their oppressed status, the high taxes and restrictions to their free movement. Scattered peasant protests turned into a serious revolt in 1437, when peasants and petty nobles defeated the troops of their feudal landlords. The Budai Nagy Antal Revolt was triggered by an attempt by the Bishop of Transylvania to collect unpaid taxes. Although the revolt was led by a Hungarian petty noble – Antal Nagy de Buda - it was a coalition of various elements of Transylvanian society: Hungarian and Romanian serfs, also the burghers of Kolozsvár (Klausenburg, Cluj), and some petty nobles. After the successful battle the Treaty of Kolozsmonostor was reached with the nobles, allowing the serfs greater freedom and lower taxes. In this agreement, one of the peasant leaders, Pál Vajdaházi, was called vexilifer Universitatis regnicolarum Hungarorum et Valachorum huius principatus Hungariae (Standard-bearer of the Union of Hungarian and Romanian inhabitants of this province of Hungary). Consequently, it is possible that the peasant rebels called themselves as the Estate of Hungarians and Romanians (Universitas Hungarorum et Valachorum).
Brotherly Union (Union of Kápolna)
In this situation, the Transylvanian Diet was still not called together by the voivode and the nobles initiated a meeting of the three nations. After almost half a century, the estates now had the opportunity to discuss about Transylvanian issues. On this occasion, nobles set up an alliance with Székelys and Saxons who were still afraid of possible Ottoman incursions. The alliance of mutual aid, signed in Kápolna (present-day Căpâlna), was called „Fraterna Unio” (Brotherly Union), and was designed to protect the parties both from peasant revolts and from Ottoman attacks. The existence of the "Brotherly Union" helped the feudal landlords to be able to re-negotiate and partly modify the terms of the previous agreement with the peasants, the alliance, however, did not organise any serious military operations until the end of 1437. When, however, King Sigismund died in December 1437, the alliance attacked and crushed the peasant army.
Founding of the Union of Three Nations
After the successful campaign, the alliance of Nobles, Székelys and Saxons was reinforced in the agreement called "Unio Trium Nationum" (Union of three Nations) on February 2, 1438. Similarly to the Brotherly Union, the co-operation was aimed at providing mutual aid against peasant revolts and Ottoman military campaigns. The Union ensured that the (Hungarian and Romanian) serfs continued to be excluded from the political and social life of Transylvania, although they made up the majority of the population in the Noble Counties (Comitates). The alliance of the three privileged estates continued to be effective for many centuries and provided the framework of internal politics in Transylvania. After the 18th century, when the danger of Ottoman or Tatar attacks was over, the Union became an alliance of the three estates to protect their feudal privileges from those members of society who were not represented in the Transylvanian Diet. In the 19th century, the term "three nations" became charged with ethnic considerations, because Romanians were mostly peasants and were consequently excluded from Transylvanian politics.
In 1711, the Bulgarians of Alvinc and Déva (led by church leader Balázs Marinovics) and the Armenians also claimed the privileges of a fourth and fifth natio, but their demands were not met with the elevation of their communities to that privileged status.
- László Fosztó: Ritual Revitalisation After Socialism: Community, Personhood, and Conversion among Roma in a Transylvanian Village, Halle-Wittenberg, 2007 
- Trócsányi, Zs. (1985). "The legal status of the Bulgarian colonies of Transylvania (1690-1848)". Etudes historiques hongroises.
- Magyarország történeti kronológiája, MTA Történettudományi Intézet (Historical Chronology of Hungary, Hungarian Academy of Sciences), 1981 (Hungarian)
- Erdély története, MTA Történettudományi Intézet (History of Transylvania, Hungarian Academy of Sciences), 1986 (Hungarian)