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Citizens, tenant peasants and guests in fourteenth-century Alba Iulia

Due to the caprices of history, Alba Iulia’s archives have preserved little information concerning the inhabitants of Alba Iulia in the Middle Ages. For this reason, there is a disproportionate amount known about the Bishop of Transylvania and the clergy of the cathedral chapter compared to the people of the city. Given the scarcity of information about the inhabitants of the city, we must make use of the few sources available in order to glimpse life beyond the churchyard.

The inhabitants of Alba Iulia appear extremely seldom in written historical sources. In 1278, in the donation charter issued by King Ladislas IV, the Cuman of Hungary, for the Bishopric of Transylvania, it is stated that the royal land Alba, which lies adjacent to the cathedral church, had become deserted, although before the Saxons attacked the bishopric in 1277 it had been inhabited by royal guests. The guests of the king had arrived at Alba Iulia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with waves of foreign immigrants, usually of western stock, such as the Saxons, Flemish and Walloons. From 1278, the urban community fell under the jurisdiction of the bishop, and for this reason it never acquired the commercial privileges and advantages granted by the king to royal cities.

Fourteenth-century documents present various categories of city inhabitants: tenant peasants (iobagiones), guests (hospites) and citizens (cives). The city’s development policy aimed at increasing the population by attracting tenant peasants from the countryside. In the fourteenth century, the tenants could leave a domain after having paid all their agreed obligations to their landlords. It is possible that many of those who moved into cities continued to practice agriculture. The guests and citizens may have consisted of various craftsmen whose products and services were in demand locally. These two categories may have included wealthier citizens and perhaps even the lay servants of the bishop. The mayor and the jurors of the city were recruited from among them, as indicated in records from the turn of the fourteenth century.

It is from the time of Bishop Dominic (1357-1368) that we learn the most about these administrative measures to increase the number of inhabitants, especially tenant peasants, of Alba Iulia. In 1357, the bishop publicised in the local markets that all owners of plots which had no constructions had to build dwellings and other buildings over the next three years. Those unable to fulfil this order were obligated to sell their plots to buyers capable of erecting houses. Three years later, in 1360, we know that the bishop assigned to a few elder citizens (cives seniores) and capable guests (potiores hospites civitatis) the task of assessing the value of a plot which remained without any buildings. The owner of the plot had died and his heir could not be contacted. The neighbours of the plot were Hanko, brother of Tych, and Nicholas, son of Gachal. The value of the plot was estimated at three silver marks (the weight of the mark used in Transylvania was ca. 207 grams). The bishop donated the plot to a tenant peasant called Ladislas, son of Lawrence, on the condition that he pay three silver marks to the heir as compensation. However, the bishop granted Ladislas complete property rights over the buildings that he planned to erect.

In 1363, we learn not only about the moving of tenant peasants into the city, but also about the settlement of craftsmen and even servants. In reward for services provided by his tailor, Gregory, the bishop gave him a courtyard plot consisting of two tenant peasant plots, located on a small street adjacent to Vințu Street. The first plot had taken over by the bishop from the tenant peasant Peter, son of Bartal, for a debt of three barrels of honey. (Such a quantity of honey could have been used for producing mead, a beverage much appreciated during the Middle Ages.) Peter’s plot was located near the plots of two other tenant peasants, namely John, son of Nicholas, son of Farkas, and Nicholas, son of Thomas. The position of the plots and the origin of the properties reveal other significant details of the situation regarding real estate in the city. The second half of the courtyard plot had belonged to Michael, son of Peter, called Fyche, who was found guilty of theft and other evil deeds and was condemned to forfeiture of property. His plot was first donated to Master Stephen, son of John, the castellan of the Rock of St Michael (Tăuți) Castle. The bishop had subsequently redeemed this plot from the castellan and rewarded his tailor, Gregory, with it. In 1363, the bishop confirmed the donation to Gregory’s widow, who had married Thomas the Red, a guest of Alba Iulia (hospes de civitate Albensi).

In the same year, a citizen (civis Albensis) known as Peter called Chankar, left half a courtyard plot and six yokes of vineyard to the Holy Virgin Monastery of Alba Iulia in his will. In his turn, the prior of the monastery ceded these properties to the bishop, who was considered the rightful lord of such goods, a fact which proves the careful control exercised by the bishop over real estate in the city.

Four decades later, we learn about an incident which set several guests of the city against a cleric of the cathedral. The guests had demolished a mill with two millstones on Ampoi River, in the eastern part of the city. The mill had belonged to the Altar of St Apostle Andrew of the Cathedral. On 31 May 1400, an agreement for ending the dispute was signed before the cathedral chapter. The laymen were represented by Mayor Gregory, Anton Porkolab, George Aurifaber and Thomas called Zoldus, while other guests included Anton called Zewres, Thomas Zykes, Matthias, son of Hermann, and Thomas, son of Martin, son of Briccius. The latter guests were declared guilty of destroying the altar’s mill and changing the course of the River Ampoi, and also over an agreement regarding the meadow of Turul. Some of the guests’ names, formed from nicknames, betray their professions. Aurifaber was a goldsmith. Zoldus referred to a paid soldier, who could have been employed in the guard of the city or of the bishop. Zewres is a Hungarian word denoting the profession of a furrier.

These fragments of history help reconstruct some sequences from the life of the inhabitants of the city, their professions and occupations, their properties, street names and the relationships of citizens, guests and tenant peasants with the bishop, clergy and monks of Alba Iulia. (C. P.-G.)