Urban Development in the Medieval Máramaros Cover Image
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Városfejlődés a középkori Máramarosban
Urban Development in the Medieval Máramaros

Author(s): László Szabolcs Gulyás
Subject(s): Local History / Microhistory, Social history, Middle Ages
ISSN: 2068-309X
Published by: Erdélyi Múzeum-Egyesület
Keywords: Urban Development; Royal Towns;
Summary/Abstract: The royal towns in Máramaros were a special type of market-towns type (oppida) in medieval Kingdom of Hungary. They differed clearly from the other several hundreds of Hungarian market-towns, if we look at their economic and social aspects.There are many reasons for this. Because of the huge income from the salt mines in Máramaros, it was an important region for the king already from the beginning of the 14th century. This importance partly revealed itself in the extensive privileges that the royal authority conferred upon the inhabitants of the five hospes-colony even during the reign of the Anjous. Our kings and queens regularly reconfirmed and gradually strengthened these privileges.The other sign of this importance is that, except for a few years during Sigismund’s rule, when the region was in the family of Bélteleki’s hands, these towns were permanently royal and from the age of Mathias, queenly estates. The salt chamber of Máramaros, with it’s five market towns became indefeasible royal estates at the beginning of the 16th century, being ratified by a decretum in 1514.During the end of Middle Ages we can observe that the treasury pawned a few times these chambers but the royal and queenly ownership is still a fact. This claim is not true, however, in the case of the county’s sixth market town, Úrmező, which was established later, and was possessed till almost the end of Middle Ages by a noble family of Romanian origin (Úrmezei). Úrmező became a traditional, agricultural market-town, the most common type in the country.The development of these market-towns was also determined by the multicultural environment of the region. The early period saw Hungarian and German hospes-colonists populate the towns. The Saxon colonists, arrived probably from Ugocsa, gained importance in this respect only in 14th century and were gradually assimilated by the 15th century. Their role is significant, however, in the legal history: they introduced the privileges of the nearby town Szőllős into their new homes.The bourgeoise did not have significant connections with the Ruthenes, living in the northeastern part of the county’s border, or at least this fact cannot be verified by the sources. They had more serious interactions with the various groups of Romanians, who were living outside the towns, among Ruthenes. The members of the Romanian elite were slowly assimilated into the ranks of Hungarian nobility. The town’s inhabitants have had many conflicts with this assimilated group from early as the 14th century. The causes of these conflicts were always linked to the estates: they violated each other’s borders or made claims for the other’s estate, even using violence to achieve their goals.Salt mining contributed the most directly and significantly to the town development of Máramaros. Royal authorities showed special interest in Máramaros thanks to the huge royal incomes from salt mining. After a general reform of the salt chambers in the end of 14th century, a royal salt chamber was established in Máramaros, which functioned constantly.The economical organisation of the salt chamber was closely attached to the domain of Huszt. Huszt was the centre, but also had a subordinated chamber in Rónaszék. The position of salt chamber steward was very important because it had extensive jurisdiction in the region as the chamber steward was, in most cases, the steward of the whole Máramaros. A number of subordinated chambers were established in the northeastern counties of Hungary, which were supported with salt from Máramaros: this also added to the significance of this position. The salt chamber steward of Máramaros supervised the leaders of subordinated chambers. Many times foreigners held this title, because they were familiar with the finances and economical matters required for this office. The Salt Chamber had a notable impact on society: salt cutters appeared in towns, which lived a separate life from the agricultural and industrial groups of market-towns. Salt mine workers were already a separate legal group in the age of Sigismund. They had their own judge, so they were not under the jurisdiction of market-town council.Their issues related to town citizens had to be judged in conjunction with salt cutter judges. The salt cutters were in fact a universitas: their rights and obligations were summarized by the royal authority two times during the 15th century, in the form of privileges.Salt cutters always acted as a whole to enforce their rights, as it is clearly shown by the fact that they had their own council, the so-called „tur”. This council served as a place where agreement on how to enforce financial and legal rights, even against the royal authorities, (sometimes by using violence or strikes) could be made.They received regular salary and other bonuses (salt, food, clothes etc.) and in this respect they differed from the traditional groups of market-town society, too. From these bonuses the most important was the salt as it could be used for trade and extra income. However, other intellectual and manual workers of the salt chamber also participated in salt trade, because they received regular or irregular salt supplies. Several groups of society were interested in salt trade, since royal authority often conferred salt supplies to nobles, clergymen and towns. Free trade with salt was permitted constantly during the Middle Ages in this region.In addition, the Salt Chamber provided an income for other groups. From the crew of the ships carrying salt to the different groups of craftsmen and villains, there were various work-around possibilities to the chambers.Most significant were the intellectual functions, which required education and literacy. These litteratus-groups, mostly foreigners, were responsible for the economic issues of chamber organisation. Like the salt-cutters, they lived in market- towns, mostly in Huszt and Sziget.Hence the number of litteratus-groups in these market-towns was reported to be higher than in any other parts of the country – however, this is only a rough estimate based on a few sources.Beside the litteratus-groups, there are many nobles among the town’s inhabitants.The two above-mentioned market-towns (but mainly Sziget), underwent, by the 16th century a remarkable nobilization. Moreover, the two groups overlapped one another: some nobles were also literates. It is not a coincidence, as many gaineda nobility title for loyal services through the chambers, probably at the turn of 15th and 16th centuries. They were the economic elite of these market-towns and large estates belonged to them. They owned mainly mills and noble estates and most of the estates were their property.It’s surprising and at the same time unique that this elite was not interested in becoming members of the market-town council. We have almost no records showing that they were members of a council. On the contrary, traditional market-towngroups became judges and jurymen.We have data mostly on industrial, rather than agricultural groups of markettown society. According to the few available sources, the handicraft of Máramaros was in a state of moderate development and the craftsmen constituted only a small part of the society. The only exception was probably Sziget, in the early modern period. Even less sources tell us about the agricultural groups in the Middle Ages, but it can be easily noticed that extensive livestock farming held a capital importance for living, thanks to factors of economic geography.In a legal aspect the crown towns in Máramaros were definitely market-towns. Although they were named many times in the 14th century as villa and sometimes civitas, these five towns were clearly of the oppidum-type. The name oppidum was becoming more and more frequent in sources from the 15th and 16th centuries. This reflects the changing legal circumstances: by the 15th century, as a multi-potent municipal organization functioned in these market-towns. Based on its powers, this council resembled the other market-town councils of the country. A rare characteristic was, however, that besides the magistratus, 24 or 12 „elders” also participated in local government. This custom took its inspiration from Szőllős and these market-towns could appeal to the council of this town.We get an unusual picture if we measure the general development of these five towns. The factors responsible for towns’ development elsewhere were not, or were barely present in Máramaros. We do not have information for example about the right to hold a fair in these towns, even if we suppose they had one in the Middle Ages. Monasteries of the mendicant orders, an mark of the development factor in the Middle Ages, were not established. Although there was a Pauline monastery near the southern bank of Tisza, the town’s inhabitants did not have a close connection with it. The bourgeoise weren’t interested in University studies, whereas contemporary Hungarian students regularly visited universities of Krakkó and Bécs.It seems that the town development in Máramaros was somewhat unmatched.Salt mining and salt trade contributed mostly to the town development, and other factors were of less or no importance in this aspect. Still we cannot say that these circumstances were adverse for the development of the bourgeoisie. The salt as a source of income meant good living, the Chamber meant social mobility and the indefeasible royal estates ensured stability, which allowed a unique development for the bourgeoise of Máramaros.

  • Print-ISBN-13: 978-606-739-003-2
  • Page Count: 156
  • Publication Year: 2014
  • Language: Hungarian