The Saxons or the Saxons of Transylvania (German phrase Siebenbürger Sachsen, colloquially Sachsen, in Saxon Soxen dialect) are a population of German ethnic origin, established in the South and North-East of Transylvania in the mid-12th century. The colonisation of the Saxons of Transylvania was initiated by Géza II King of Hungary (1141-1162), because of economic and military reasons. For several decades, the main charge of German colonists was to defence the border of the Hungarian Kingdom at the South of Transylvania, the process of German colonisation in Transylvania continuing until the 14th century. The origin of the inhabitants’ name following the colonisation of Transylvania by German colonists whose main provenance was Rhineland Palatinate, is controversial and still unelucidated by the researchers, because a relatively small number of the colonists were of Saxon origin, noticing that paradoxically, the name of “Saxons” was taken by themselves in the 14th century. The first documentary mentions of the 12th century and of the beginning of the 13th century refer to „Flandrenses”, „Saxones” and “Teutons”. The documents of the papal archives of the same period prefer the name of “Teutons”, and the Arpadian documents name them “Saxones”. The name of “Saxons” (Saxones) given to colonists is documentarily attested only in 1206, when Andrew II King of Hungary (1205-1235) conferred privileges to Saxons (in Latin primi hospites regni) of Cricău (Krakau), Ighiu (Krapundorf) and Romos (Rumes) and ensured them an own legal status. Since the royal chancellery inculcated the name of “Saxon”, the Germans of Transylvania were names unitarily Saxons. At the beginnings of colonisation, the name of “Saxons” was given to poor mineworkers and to convicted persons of Saxony, the language spoken by the Saxons being named, in Saxon dialect saksesch (in German sächsisch) quite recently, while the villagers themselves used to designate their way of speaking as cadetsch (in German deutch), so German, while literary German (in German hochdeutsch) was designated in Saxon dialect as muëseresch, i.e. the “language of Austrian soldiers”, who were considered foreigners.
The first German colonists (Frankish, Wallonian and Flemish) – came from the territories of the basins of rivers Rhine and Moselle. Apart from the Magyar crown, an important role in the process of German colonisation at the south of Transylvania was played by The Teutonic Order, the Cistercian monastery Igriş of Banat, as well as the Cistercian abbey Cârţa of Ţara Făgăraşului, the territory of the south of Transylvania colonised by Germans having a surface of about 30,000 sq km. From the territorial and administrative point of view, the territories inhabited by the Saxons were organised in the County of Sibiu or Sibiu Province. Later, during the first half of the 14th century, during the reign of the Angevin king Charles Robert of Hungary, the Saxons were organised in Saxon Chairs which will become later – the Medieval fortified citadels and churches of Transylvania, the Saxons being self-governed, organised in a large administrative unit named Königsboden.
The Mongolian invasion of 1241 largely destroyed the Hungarian Kingdom, even if the Saxons did all the best to resist, and many of their dwellings were destroyed. Before the invasion, plenty of Transylvanian tows were had been fortified and were economically developed. Many were protected by Kirchenburgen – massive wall fortified churches. The rapid expansion of the towns populated by the Saxons gave to Transylvania the German name Siebenbürgen (in Latin Septem Castra), referring to seven of the fortified towns: Bistritz (Bistrița, Beszterce), Hermannstadt (Sibiu, Nagyszeben), Klausenburg (Cluj, Kolozsvár), Kronstadt (Brașov, Brassó), Mediasch (Mediaș, Medgyes), Mühlbach (Sebeș, Szászsebes), Schässburg(Sighișoara, Segesvár).
Together with the nobility of Transylvania, with the clergy and with the Székelys, the Saxons were members of Unio Fraterna, concluded in 1437 during the Insurrection of Bobâlna run by Antal Nagy Budai. by this agreement, the four entities promised mutual support against the external (Ottoman expansion) and inner (villagers’ insurrections) dangers, which led to the tacit exclusion of Romanian, Jewish, Greek and Armenian peoples of the political life of Transylvania. Joseph II Holy Roman Emperor tried to dissolve Unio Fraterna at the end of the 18th century, in order to modernise the empire and to remove the medieval organisation. Even if his actions did not have the effect intended, the Saxon intellectuality started to have the minority conscience, the numerical ratio placing the Saxons in an inferiority position against the Hungarian and Romanian nationalists, who started to affirm the demographic argument. During the Revolution of 1848, some of the Saxon intellectuals supported the Romanian people’s trials to obtain political rights, so the pastor Stephan Ludwig Roth, who supported the Romanian ideals of obtaining political rights, was executed by the Magyar resurgent people during the revolution. Even if the trial of the Magyar forces to obtain higher control on Transylvania was defeated by the Austrian and Russian forces in 1849, the understanding between Austria and Hungary of 1867 had negative effects on the political rights of the Saxons. During the Austria-Hungary, the Magyar bourgeoisie launched a vast policy of Magyarisation in order to fight the nationalism of all the other ethnic groups of the Magyar part of the Kingdom. At the end of the First World War, the majority of the Saxons supported the unification of Transylvania with the Romanian Kingdom.
The rights and obligations of the German colonists were included in the so called Andreanum (in German Goldener Freibrief der Siebenbürger Sachsen), a document issued in 1224 by Andrew II King of Hungary. By this important document, there were confirmed to the German population, settled on the territory bordered by Drăuşeni and Orăştie, the territorial, administrative, jurisdictional and ecclesiastic autonomy, stipulating also its obligations to the kings of Hungary. The Saxon communities were governed by a mayor (in German Honn, Hann, Ortsvorstand, Dorfrichter), and from the introduction of the Austrian and Hungarian dualist regime and from the dissolution of the Saxon Nation University (Sächsische Nationsuniversität), the Saxons lost the basis of their autonomy. Practically, since 1867, the main representative institution for the Saxons was the Lutheran Church which undertook, among other, the administration of Saxon education. From this perspective, the situation did not change in 1918, when Transylvania became a component part of Greater Romania, the recently formed Romanian State did not recognise the corporative rights of minorities, so that the Lutheran Church had to big efforts to support financially the Saxon education. This situation lasted until 1940, when the authority over the schools was taken by the German Ethnic Group of Romania, recognised as legal entity after a law-decree issued on 28th November 1940 by Marshal I. Antonescu. Following the instauration of communism, the entire education system, including the schools where teaching was in a different language than Romanian, was managed exclusively by the Romanian State.
During the Second World War, following the Dictate of Vienna, North Transylvania was attached to Hungary; on this occasion, for the first time in history, the territories inhabited by the Transylvanian Saxons being divided and about 70,000 Germans (re)became citizens of Hungary. Following all these territorial changes and by the population displacement, the amount of the German ethnic group living in Romania decreased with more than a third. After 23rd August 1944, when Soviet troops occupied Romania, many of the Saxons of North Transylvania, especially those of Ţara Năsăudului, as well as the Banat Swabians, were evacuated by Germania, so that about 100,000 of them absconded from the Red Army. Those remaining in Romania were included in Mandatory Work Divisions and deportations in Soviet Union and in Bărăgan. The remaining Saxons were not expulsed by the communist government, but the Romanian State was remarked by the so-called “sale” of minorities, which affected the German ethnic group of Romania, as well as the Jewish people. Practically, the German Federal Government paid a certain money amount for each German ethnic receiving the approval of the authorities of Bucharest to emigrate.
Being considered Auslandsdeutsche (“foreign Germans”) by the German government, the Transylvanian Saxons received the right to German citizenship, and most of them emigrated in Germany, both before the fall of communism and during the first years after 1989. Following the massive emigrations, the amount of Saxons of Romania decreased visibly and Saxon villages remained desert, being abusively occupied by Romani people, for a long period of time, until the Romanian legislation becoming in 1990 a democratic one, established the legislative bases in order for the “fugitive” Saxons to be able to retrocede the houses and lands taken from one generation to another.