Who were the Székelys?

Székely people (sometimes referred to as Szeklers in English) in the 16-17th century and today were struggling with the same problem: to regain their rights.

The Székely people are ancient Hungarians, living in Transylvania in Székelyföld (Szeklerland), now Romania. They even had autonomy during the socialism between 1950-1968. There live about one million people of them on a land that is bigger than Kosovo. It means that almost every ninth or tenth Hungarian in the word is a Székely. Just like my wife whose family was deported from their homeland in the 1930s – they were given an hour to pack their belongings.

The Székely question is a touchy one and ignoring it just makes things worse. Fortunately, there are more than a few Romanian friends of mine who think the Székelys are not a threat but rather an asset in Romania. Indeed, just like German Saxons, the Székelys are contributing a lot to their present country’s heritage and just like to the Hungarian nation. Hopefully, their problems can be solved in the 21st century, unlike in the 16th or 17th centuries.


 

The Székely people consider themselves “the most ancient Hungarians”, the remnants of Attila, the Hun, who had left them behind in Transylvania, according to their legends.
Indeed, in the early Hungarian chronicles, it is written that the “home taker” Chief Arpád found the Székely people there when he arrived with his “Magyar” (=Hungarian) tribes in Transylvania. The Székelys greeted him with great joy, as a kinsman would.

Later, the Székelys served as border-guards, mainly in Transylvania but many of them were settled all over the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom. Without the Székely soldiers, it would have been difficult to block the attacks of eastern nomadic tribes: the Cumans, the Peschneghs (Besenyő) and the Oguz, not to mention the Mongolians. Their warfare was quite similar to the ancient Hungarian horse-archers so they were rather effective against the eastern assaulters. Moreover, they could give a small army to the king against the Ottomans until the end of the 18th century.


 

As for the Transylvanian Principality in the 16th-17th century, the Székely nation was counted in the traditional alliance of the “three nations” (Hungarian noblemen, Saxons, and Székely guardsmen) and however huge centralized power the Prince of Transylvania possessed, he had to rely on their support.

In the 17th century, they still used their old runic alphabet. You are supposed to read it from right to left.

Here is a Székely soldier’s dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97-xs8IN9Wc
And here are more Székely dances, enjoy them:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inepmEmqgMU

You can find very good and archeologically correct drawings in the book of Somogyi Győző below: he is not only a talented artist but also a reenactor who uses sources so as to depict the soldiers very precisely.


 

The Székelys, these tough mountain people were tending their lands and lived in strict communities but in time of war, they were mostly soldiers and they traditionally guarded the mountains and their passes.

In the 16th century, many of them decided to become a peasant and pay taxes instead of the hard life of a soldier.

Prince Báthory Zsigmond could muster 24,000 soldiers in his camp in 1595. At this time, most of them had bows and arrows as well as spears but 9,200 of them were supplied with rifles. They were concerned about their ancient privileges – to be free soldiers and not peasants – and in the 15th-16th centuries were often divided by religion. They tended to support those powers who promised them the protection of their rights so they had been manipulated with great success.

In the age of Prince Rákóczi György I, they supported the Prince: their general, Zólyomi Dávid and his Székelys helped the Prince to defeat the attack of Palatine Esterházy in 1631. The Prince used them to guard the borders in 1634 when the Turk Grand Vizier was marching in Wallachia.
The Prince visited them in person during the summer of 1635 to muster their forces. Then he tried to compensate for their harms and gave them justice and more privileges. He sent them against the Turks in 1636: the Székelys bravely fought against them at Nagyszalonta, led by Kornis Zsigmond.
Yet, this is just a fragment of their history. When reading my page, one will encounter the deeds of Székely warriors almost every second time when it comes to telling a story. Not to mention the fortified churches of Székely-Land that helped them to survive the numerous raids of Ottomans and Tatars. You can find many of these fortifications if you check out my menu and visit “Castles in the Hungaries”, choosing Transylvania.

It is fascinating, that these Székely people, the easternmost Hungarians, one million of them are still living in Romania, like the Scotts on the other fringes of Europe. The comparison with the Celts gave me the idea to write my historical novel whose hero is a Székely-Scottish soldier in the 17th century. In fact, the descendants of Scottish mercenaries of the Transylvanian princes had mingled with the local Székelys, according to my sources. This is my novel, “The Ring of Kékkő Castle”: