Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities Sibiu

Urban economy and finances in Romania and Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries
A comparative approach


2015-2016. Romanian Academy – Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Joint Research Project.

Host Institute: Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities, Sibiu. 40 Bulevardul Victoriei, Sibiu 550024. Romanian project leader: Paul Niedermaier, CSI, Director, Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities, Sibiu. Corresponding member of the Romanian Academy. Romanian participants: Mária Pakucs, CSIII, Nicolae Iorga Institute for History, Bucharest. Zsolt Simon, CSIII, Gheorghe Sincai Inst. for Social Sciences and Humanities, Tg. Mures; Julia Derzsi, CSIII, Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities, Sibiu.

Partner institute: Institute of History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, 1014 Úri u 53, Hungary Partner Project Leader: Szabó András Péter, PhD, junior research fellow. Other hungarian participant: Mátyás-Rausch Petra, PhD, junior research fellow.

In recent years a renewed interest in the urban history of Central and Eastern Europe has revealed the lack of published primary sources on the one hand and the need for stronger cooperation and comparative approaches on the other hand. A microhistorical approach and the case studies are a necessary step in understanding how public finances and public administration were organised in our region. Current research in Western European urban history deals with similar questions of professionalization of public administration. The relationship between urban autonomy and central power after the dissolution of the medieval Hungarian kingdom is a topic that has not been explored so far. Examining economic aspects of the urban societies can reveal the underlying mechanism for failure and success.

A comparative study of several towns in the region: in Transylvania Sibiu (Szeben, Hermannstadt), Brasov (Brassó, Kronstadt), Cluj (Kolozsvár, Klausenburg), Bistrita (Beszterce, Bistritz) as well as the mining towns from the Alba county Abrud (Abrudbánya), Baia de Aries (Aranyosbánya) and Zlatna (Zalatna); the towns in Upper Hungary: Levoce (Lőcse, Letschau), Prešov (Eperjes, Preschau), shall reveal the particularities of each town and the common features. Main avenues of research and questions focus on case studies and on comparisons:

1. What were the main sources of revenues: census tax, customs, market tax, money minting, etc.?

2. How was expenditure structured: public buildings, military buildings, defense, public services, poor relief, etc.?

3. How was the public administration set up: e.g. number of employees, continuities and discontinuities in staff, relation to city council?

4. Accountability of the public administration: yearly reports in front of the city council, account books and registers.

5. Factors that influence the balance of payments: requests from central authority, wars, famines, fires, etc.

6. Relationships between towns, market towns and mining towns in a given region, such as between the mining towns of Alba and Sibiu or the formal and informal town leagues (Städtebunde).

The available primary sources differ from town to town, therefore this grid will apply to each of them differently. Extensive archival research is still needed to reach all extant sources. Also, the centrality or the peripheric situation of a town hugely influenced its public spending and sphere of responsibility. Sibiu, for instance, as the capital town of the Transylvanian Saxons, was also responsible for the financial affairs of the University of Saxons. While separate accounts books were kept for the University and the town, an overlapping of these two was unavoidable. Similarly, we can expect that smaller urban centres, such as the mining towns in Alba county, will have a smaller administration and less complex public finances. The first stages of our common project will identify and establish the towns on which in-depth analysis shall be carried out depending on the available sources. A grid of questions and a tentative database shall be created as well. A long-term project, depending on available funding, shall be the desired outcome of our collaboration. During our workshops, the participants shall decide the town(s) and period on which they can work. We can tentatively discuss source publication as well, depending on available funding.