Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight

In Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight I tell the story of the very first attempt to conquer Transylvania led by Hungarian tribes (Magyars).

This is the third post in my series on Transylvania, living and understanding the history of this Romanian historical province. During the last year I read extensively on the subject as part of my research for an upcoming historical novel set in Medieval Transylvania.

Join me and let’s dive into the turbulent waters of the Balkan history since this area from the southeastern Europe was often the subject of imperial greed and national goals.

Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight  - On the Hungarian Conquest of Transylvania

Many said, few believed, yet they all came to see for themselves, and to take with both hands when the legend proved true… many said that the gold found in the Carpathian Mountains bordering Transylvania, as well as the salt and the iron found here underfoot, in the Carpathian Basin, were the best gold, the strongest iron, and the whitest salt there was.

If you read Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia and Transylvania during the Roman Dacia and until 4th century AD, you will definitely want to find out:

First, what happened in Transylvania between the 4th and the 9th century?

Starting with the end of the 3rd century the Carpathian-Danubian space has witnessed an intense process of migrations. First were the German tribes, the Goths (235 – 376). They soon disappeared south of Danube, chased away by Huns and Mongolian horsemen, (375 – 454), living from predatory expeditions and soon disappearing too, like a quick fire, after being defeated.

Then the Slavs arrived, people that were more sedentary, less predatory, between the 7th and the 9th century, choosing to settle in the valleys and the planes of Dacia (mostly Moldavia in east and Muntenia at the north of Danube), while the remainder of the Dacian population still occupied the forested hills and the mountains, living as farmers and shepherds – in an attempt to hide, as Christians, from the pagan tribes.

But they did mingled, eventually, and truth is that the Slavonic language influenced the Latin language spoken by the Romanians. Although the Slavs learned Latin too, but speaking it with a heavier accent that, in turn, seemed to have been adopted by the Romanian population. And we can hear it today, as Romanian is pronounced different compared to the other Romance languages such as French, Italian, Sardinian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Provenҫal, Rhaeto -Romanic (and let’s remember the lost Dalmatian too).

Romanian words of Dacian origin relate to household, body parts and animals:

“The high number of Latin terms in agriculture, animal husbandry and the shepherds’ life prove that, besides the shepherds who drove their flocks throughout Romania’s territories, contributing by their movement to standardizing the language, there were also sedentary Romanians employed in farming and stock breeding”

Sextil Pușcariu, Limba română

Abur (steam), argea (among other, a room below ground level where weaving tools were kept), baci (head shepherd), balaur (dragon), balegă (cow dung), baltă (swamp), barză (stork), brad (fir-tree), brânză (cheese), brâu (man’s wide belt), bucurie (joy), buză (lip), căciulă (hat), căpușă (sheep tick), cătun (hamlet), ceafă  (nap of one’s neck), cioară (crow), cioc (beak), ciuf (tuft), a ciupi (to pinch), copac (tree), copil (child), curpen (tendril), cursă (trap), fărâmă   (bit), fluier (whistle), gard (fence), gata (ready), ghimpe (torn), ghionoaie (wood-pecker or which), gresie (whetstone), groapă (pit), grumaz (neck),  jumătate (half), mal (river’s bank), mazăre (pea) măgură (hilock), mărar (dill), mânz (colt), moș (old man), mugur (bud), murg (dark – about horses), năpârcă (adder), noian (heap),  pârâu (brook), pupăză (hoopoe), searbăd  (tasteless), a  scăpăra (to sparkle), scrum (ashes), sâmbure (kernel), spuză (hot ashes), sterp (barren), strung (sheep-pen), șale (back near lumbar area), șopârlă (lizard), țap (billy-goat), țarc (fold),  țeapă (stake), urdă (whey cheese), vatră (hearth), viezure (badger),  zăr (whey),  zgardă (dog-collar).

I. I. Rusu, Elemente autohtone în limba română – Romanian words of Dacian origin
Romanian words of Dacian origin: Romanian words of Dacian origin: this is a shepherd (baci), wearing a mustache above his upper lip (buză), a hat (căciulă), a wide belt (brâu). here are trees (copaci) between him and his hamlet (cătun), a brook (pârâu) too. His sheep will give milk for good cheese (brânză), whey-cheese (urdă) too. His clever dog probably doesn't ned a collar (zgardă) and it brings the man great joy (bucurie).
Romanian words of Dacian origin: this is a shepherd (baci), wearing a mustache above his upper lip (buză), a hat (căciulă), a wide belt (brâu). here are trees (copaci) between him and his hamlet (cătun), a brook (pârâu) too. His sheep will give milk for good cheese (brânză), whey-cheese (urdă) too. His clever dog probably doesn’t ned a collar (zgardă) and it brings the man great joy (bucurie).

The origin of the Romanians is to be found in the “Getae who had once ruled Dacia and the Romans commanded by Flacus”

Johannes Honterus, 16th century Transylvanian Saxon, renaissance humanist, Protestant reformer, theologian

When Slavs immigrated into the Dacian territory they did not give new names to places, but adopted their Daco-Roman names already in use, something that was only possible if there was a Daco-Roman  population to tell them those names: Alutus became Olt, Maryssus became Mureș, Samus is Someș, Ordessos is Argeș, Pyretos-Porata became Prut.

Next, between the 8th century when the Avars visited and the 10th century when the Magyars came forward, the Bulgarian Tsar had time to extend his authority north of Danube, over a part of our lands, Muntenia and Transylvania. Much later more neighboring tribes visited, as well as the Székely and the Saxons (German migrants) in Transylvania, culminating with the Tatars in 1241.

Why would a neighboring tribe invade another land? For the promise of a better life, abundance of food and resources. A greener pasture. Although one must admit that their visit gave economy and social relations a boost,

Again, the wealth of resources found in the Southern Carpathians and Transylvania, salt, copper, iron and gold, becomes the reason of intense trade as well as foreign interest in this old territory of today’s Romania. The salt was a rare commodity in these regions and was essential for the nomadic herders, thus trade flourished along the Danube and its tributaries. And through trade, various cultures influenced one another.

The word român was first ever recorded in Romanian in The Book Palia de la Orăștie, 1581, the first Romanian translation of the Old Testament.

When the Hungarians (Magyars) arrived in Transylvania

The Hungarians (Magyars, how they call themselves), are people of Fino-Ugric descent who traveled from the Ural Mountains along Volga, then south west and settled in the Pannonic  plain in the dusk of the first millennium.

Thus, it is written (by Anonymous) in Gesta Hungarorum, The Deeds of the Hungarians (a 12th century manuscript with a previous 11th century version), that Tuhutum (or Tétény) was one of the Seven Magyar Chieftains that lived with their clans along the Ural Mountains during the 9th – 10th centuries, around year 934. Tuhutum did not live to become chieftain based on his fighting skills alone, but through good planning and a cunning mind too.

Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight, On the Hungarian Conquest of Transylvania
Kinda Old, Corvin Castle and a Story

One day Tuhutum heard of a rich land, called the Land Beyond the Forest, or Transylvania. And he felt his money pouch suddenly too light for his liking. And the more he thought about the riches they said that Transylvania owned, the more he felt his mouth water.

Perhaps he was a visionary too – and some might argue my reasoning. For he saw greener pastures where his people could live a better life. A land with enough iron for strong weapons, with forests filled with game and valleys drenched in sweet rivers, rich in fish. A land where a local population of not really warriors, but herders established within transhumance already lived. A land where life was good and promising.

Had Tuhutum’s mind worked like this? None can tell for sure, but we can presume. For the decision he made changed the lives of two nations, for ever.

Except that one thing stood in his way. More precise, three people: Gelou, Glad and Menumorut.

Gelou was the brave Vlach (ruler of Transylvania) – as mentioned in Gesta Hungarorum. Glad ruled over Banat (today south-west of Romania and part of Serbia).
Menumorut ruled in the west, the lands between the rivers Mureș, Someș and Tisza .
Oh, and the fact that the land he wanted so much was not his. Yet.

Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight – Tuhutum thought.

First, what was a Vlach? Where did the word came from and what does it mean?

Etymology of the term Vlach

A Vlach, from Proto-Germanic walhaz, is a Romance-speaker person or group of people, a speaker of a Latin language.

The first proto-Germanic word known to be used with this connotation was walhiska during Roman Iron Age, when on a bracteat (disc made of gold and engraved) was written in runic alphabet walhakurne, “Roman/Gallic grain” (gold coin).

The first proto-Germanic word known to be used with this connotation was walhiska during Roman Iron Age, when on a bracteat (disc made of gold and engraved) was written in runic alphabet walhakurne, "Roman/Gallic grain" (gold coin).
The first proto-Germanic word known to be used with this connotation was walhiska during Roman Iron Age, when on a bracteat (disc made of gold and engraved) was written in runic alphabet walhakurne, “Roman/Gallic grain” (gold coin).

The prefix walh– / walha-/ later wala– is important as it means foreign.
In the Frankish Table of Nations compiled in 520 there is a mention of a the Walagothi or Ualagothi people, the Romance-speaking Goths, probably the Visigoths of Spain.

Later, a Walhaz (in proto-Germanic) became the name a Celtic tribe neighboring the Germanic people and known to Romans as Volcae (after a northern legend). By extension, Walhōz was applied to any southern neighbors of the Germanic people – who by then were all Romanised. German speakers soon used the term Walhōz to name any Celt or Romanised tribe.

Walh– and walhisk from Old High German (750 – 1050) became Walch and welsch in Middle High German (1050 – 1350), and Welsche in Early New High German (1350 – 1650) and Swiss German as the exonym (external name for a group of people) for Romance speakers.

Before 7th century, in Central and Eastern Europe Walhs was used in Proto-Slavonic (volxъ) to describe the Romance people, although the first source of Walhs usage comes from an 11th century writing by a Byzantine historian, George Kedrenos.

From the Slavs, Walhs was passed on to Hungarians, becoming Oláh when referring to Romanian Vlachs and Olasz when referring to Italians. From Hungarians and Romanians it sipped into the Ottoman Empire, the Turks using Ulahlar (to denote native Balkan Christian due to the cultural link between Christianity and Roman culture), to the Polish people (Włoch), while the Byzantines used Βλάχοι, Vláhi.
In Serbia the term Vlach (Serbian Vlah, plural Vlasi) is used to refer to any Romanian speakers.

From 1222 we have the first written document (signed by Andrew II of Hungary) mentioning the Romanians in Transylvania and referring to the land where they lived as Vlach lands (“Terra Blacorum“). It was the Făgăraș Region.
All these forms refer to the same group of people, Latin speaking people of the Balkans, living north and south of Danube – and later also to shepherd, as this was the occupation of many of the Vlachs of Central and Eastern Europe.

Hungarian conquest of Transylvania - Romanian territory IX - XIII centuries. We can see in the middle the Dutchy (Voievodatul) of Gelou / Gyula. Left is  Dutchy of Menumorut and below it is Dutchy of Glad / Aftum.
Romanian territory IX – XIII centuries. We can see in the middle the Dutchy (Voievodatul) of Gelou / Gyula. Left is Dutchy of Menumorut and below it is Dutchy of Glad / Aftum. And complete left of Tisa River is Regatul Ungariei (Kingdom of Hungary). We can also see all the little dutchies that today form Romania: Timisului, Craiovei, Iasilor, Maramuresului, Banatul, Baragan, etc – all the way to Danube in the south, Prut in the east, close to Tisa in north west.

The Hungarian tribes under Tuhutum attack Vlach Gelou’s Transylvania

So Tuhutum sighed, and sighed some more, and thought of the easiest way to gain this rich land. Wish I May, Wish I Might…

First he sent a spy, a sly and clever man by the name of Ogmand, his most trusted man for their minds worked the same, to steal into that land of riches, like a fox would, and observe its people, their habits and trades, and mostly check if the land’s fertility is just as everyone said it was. Then return and report, and advise – will it be possible? Will it be easy for Tuhutum to gain ownership of this land? For Tuhutum wished for fame and riches.

Not long after, Ogmand returned in quick gallop and told Tuhutum that he felt like a wolf among lambs, for as far as human eyes could see the earth was fertile, fed by the sweetest of rivers, naming quite a few of them for they shone with the gold that mingled with sand through their riverbeds. He said next that the gold found here was of the purest kind, that salt is abundant too, as is the water from the wells.

When Tuhutum inquired of the people living in Transylvania, Ogmand said that they are of the worst kind, the Blachi (medieval Latin term for Vlach) and the Slavs, for they only know agriculture and forestry, trade and mining, but nothing of war.

“és azon föld lakosai az egész világon a leghitványabb emberek, mivel oláhok és szlávok, s mivel íjjon és nyilon kívül más fegyverük nincs, és hogy vezérük Gelou
sem igen bátor és nincsenek körötte jó vitézek, hogy ellene mernének állni a magyarok merész-“

“and the inhabitants of that land are the worst people in the world, Olahs and Slavs, because except for the bow and arrow they do not have no other weapon and that their leader is Gelou, nor is he very brave, and there are no good knights around him, that they would dare to oppose the bold”

Gesta Hungarorum

And then he added that they, the Olahs, have the poorest of weapons, even those kept for hunting, bows and arrows only and so is their leader, Duke Gelou, who does not own a great personal army nor is his army strong, especially after the continuous attacks of the neighboring tribes of Cumans and Pechenegs.

‘Can I take them?’ thundered Tuhutum and his eyes shone at the thought, life flooding in his cheeks, his mouth watering, thinking to himself ‘Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight.’
‘An easy catch. They will not know how to fight you,’ said Ogmand with a bow.

On hearing about the richness of the Land Beyond the Forest, of its pure gold and abundant salt mines, this white gold his people craved (for cattle and for preserving the meats), and what easy a pray would be for him to take it all, and even from the mouth of his own man, Tuhutum rubbed his hands. Choosing to desert the other two Hungarian warlords, Zobolsu and Thosu, who were already fighting the Dutchy of Menumorout, Tuhutum sent ambassadors to sigh at the ears of Duke Arpad (the Arpads were the ruling dynasty of the Principality of Hungary in the 9th and 10th centuries and of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1000 to 1301), and to ask permission for him to march with his mighty troops beyond the forest, to Transylvania, and attack Gelou and its people.

Attack, not take over the land. And his request for attack was soon granted permission.

Word soon reached Gelou of invaders coming his way and perhaps of other Magyar troops having conquered the land of Menumorut, to the west. And Gelou gathered his army and rode as fast as the wind to the west border of his intra-Carpathian Duchy, to stop the Hungarian invaders. But Tuhutum had divided his army and sent one part upstream, to cross the Almaş water and surprise Gelou. The two troops indeed met and fought near Almaș and then Gelou was killed on the banks of the Căpuș River, while retreating to his Liteni Fortress on Someș, where only vultures dared.
(Some sources mention Fortress Dăbâca as being Gelou’s stronghold).

wish own Transylvania Hungarian, Gelou-Liteni
Gelou’s Liteni fortress, Cluj county, Transylvania, X century. Photo by Andrea Polereczky, public domain

Eventually Tuhutum’s wish came true and he became the ruler the Land Beyond the Forest, Transylvanian, a title he kept for himself as well as for his sons and their son’s sons.

This is how by the end of the early Middle Ages Transylvania had known a prosperous cultural diversity on a strong Dacian-Roman foundation, still assimilating newcomers. Now it was the Hungarian’s turn to explore its rich and prosperous land.

Over eighty voievods ruled Transylvania after Tuhutum until 1441 when Iancu de Hunedoara took over (aka John Hunyadi, perhaps the first Transylvanian ruler of Romanian origin after Gelou), and forty more till 1599 when Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) “unified” for the first time Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia. Around year 1000, when St. Stephen I become Prince of Hungarian, Transylvania is annexed to the Hungarian Kingdom.

Sextil Pușcariu noted that a number of Latin words from Daco-Romanian were preserved exclusively in Western Transylvania, Apuseni mountains, as regionalisms, this supporting the idea that here, in Transylvania, lived one of the main groups of the Daco-Roman population: ai (garlic), păcurar (shepherd), nea (snow),  june (youth),  pedestru (pedestrian).

The Hungarian conquest of Transylvania started as a small migration of tribes in search of a greener pasture (perhaps pushed by the Bulgar-Pecheneg coalition), while exploiting local conflicts and slowly strengthening their position in the Intra-Carpathian region, Transylvania, and to its west through military raids, gradually establishing a Christian Hungarian monarchy.

Also to read (coming soon): Romanian Transylvania, It’s Origin and Etymology

Sources for Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight:

Brie, Mircea, A Social History of Romanian Space. From the Beginning of Dacian state until
the rise of Modernity

Giurescu, Constantin C., The Making of the Romanian People and Language
Hanners, Melodie, The History of the Romanian Language
Niculescu, Alexandru. Outline History of the Romanian Language
Rusu, I.I., Elemente autohtone în limba română
Internet Archive, A magyar honfoglalás mondáiGesta Hungarorum
Pușcariu, Sextil,  Limba română

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