Historical names of Transylvania

Transylvania has had different names applied to it in several traditions.


The first reference to the region was as the Medieval Latin expression terra ultra silvam ("land beyond the forest") in a document dating to 1075. The expression Partes Transsylvanæ ("area beyond the forest") appears in the 12th century in Legenda Sancti Gerhardi and subsequently as Transsilvania in medieval documents of the Hungarian kingdom.


The names of Ardeal in Romanian and Erdély in Hungarian are believed to be connected. However, the original source and meaning are disputed and claimed by both Romanians and Hungarians.

The first Hungarian form recorded was Erdeuelu (12th century, in the Gesta Hungarorum) while the first Romanian form recorded was in 1432 as Ardeliu.[1][2] The initial a/e difference between the names can be found in other Hungarian loans in Romanian, such as Hungarian egresgooseberry’ → Romanian agriș, agreș, as well as in placenames, e.g., Egyed, Erdőd, Erdőfalva, EsküllőAdjud, Ardud, Ardeova, and Așchileu.

Another possible source for the name could be the Celtic word Ardal which means land or country.The region itself has been under Celtic influence at some point as there are many places with names derived from the Celtic language, e.g. Duna, Donau, Dunerea and Temesvár, Temeswar, Timișoara (Hun/De/Ro).

Hungarian viewEdit

The consensus of Hungarian linguists and Hungarian historians on the etymology of both Erdély and Transylvania is as follows:

  • The modern Hungarian form Erdély was derived from Erdő-elü, literally ‘beyond the forest’. Erdő means ‘woods, forest’, and the archaic elü suffix meant ‘beyond’ (modern reflexes: dialectal elvé ‘beyond’, dialectal el, elv ‘the place beyond’) and was applied to a type of border region (gyepű) and the associated social and economic organisation; for example, Gyepűelve (near Ungvár), and archaic Havaselve, ‘Wallachia’, lit. "beyond the snowy mountains" (Transalpina in Latin, modern Havasalföld), refers to a region lying beyond the Carpathian mountains if viewed from Hungary, and was under strong Hungarian political influence during the Middle Ages.[3] If viewed from Hungary, Erdő-elü probably refers to the fact that the Transylvanian plateau is separated in the northwest from the Great Hungarian Plain and Crișana plains by the well-forested Apuseni mountains.[4] Alternatively, from the point of view east of the Carpathians, the name could suggest that the Hungarian name was created in Etelköz/Atelkuzu (Hungarian homeland in southern Ukraine), prior to settling on the Hungarian plain.
  • The Medieval Latin form Ultrasylvania (1077), later Transylvania (from another point of view after the foundation of Hungary in 895), was a direct translation from the Hungarian form (rather than the Hungarian being derived from the Latin).[5] This theory is also supported by the Romanian historian Ioan-Aurel Pop.[6]

Romanian viewEdit

Several Romanian perspectives have suggested alternative etymologies:

  • A letter from around 960 from the Khazar king Joseph to Chasdai ibn Shaprut, the rabbi of Córdoba, mentions the "Ardil country" (Eretz Ardil), rich in gold and silver.[7][8][9] Today, in Hebrew, Ardeal is written identically: ארדיל. This theory therefore suggests that Ardi(a)l was the primary form of the name, thus "Ardeal" is an original Romanian toponym.[improper synthesis?]


The oldest occurrences of this form are from the 13th century:

  • In the year 1241: in Annales Sancti Trudperti and in the Annals of Zwifalt: "Tartari terras Pannonie, Septum urbium, Moraviae vestaverunt[10][11]
  • In the year 1242: in the notes of the friar Erfurt: "Eodem anno Tartari in Ungaria, terra scilicet Septem castrorum, civitatem dictam Hermanii villam in Aprili expugnantes, usque ad centum ibi peremerunt...[12]
  • In the year 1285: "Eodem anno Tarthari terram Ungarie que dicitur Septemcastris, intraverunt et multos christianos captivaverunt et occiderunt” and "...quid audientes Septemcastrenses”.[13]
  • In the year 1296: a reference to a particular "maister Dietrich von Siebenbuergen”.[14]
  • In the year 1300: Ottacher of Styria mentions "Sybenburger”.[15]

There exist a number of theories on the etymology of Siebenbürgen, the German name for Transylvania.

The most widely accepted theory is that Siebenbürgen refers to the seven principal fortified towns of the Transylvanian Saxons. The name first appeared in a document from 1296. An alternate Medieval Latin version, Septem Castra ("Seven fortresses") was also used in documents. The towns alluded to are Bistritz (Bistrița, Beszterce), Hermannstadt (Sibiu, Nagyszeben), Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca, Kolozsvár), Kronstadt (Brașov, Brassó), Mediasch (Mediaș, Medgyes), Mühlbach (Sebeș, Szászsebes), and Schässburg (Sighișoara, Segesvár).[citation needed]

Other theories include:

  • Siebenbürgen means "Seven Castles" but does not refer to the towns of the Transylvanian Saxons. Transylvania and the Mureș valley seem to have been the first portion of land within the Carpathians where Magyars gained a foothold. According to legend, each of the seven Magyar chieftains erected an earthen 'castle' in this region.[16]
  • Siebenbürgen means explicitly "Seven Towns" or "Seven Castles". However, this etymology seems to originate in the dialectical tradition of the first, mainly Low German, Flemish and Dutch settlers, in whose homelands there are hilly regions called "Zevenbergen" (a town in North Brabant, the Netherlands) and "Sevenbergen" (east of the town of Hameln on the river Weser, Germany).[17]
  • Saxon settlement in Transylvania began in Sibiu. An early German name for the town was Cibinburg (akin to the Cibiniensis Latin name of the area). The alternate name Cibinburg was corrupted into Siebenbürgen, and became the name for the whole region.[5]

The Slavic names of the region (Sedmigradsko or Sedmogradsko (Седмиградско or Седмоградско) in Bulgarian, Sedmogradska in Croatian, Sedmograjska in Slovene, Sedmihradsko in Czech, Sedmohradsko in Slovak, Siedmiogród in Polish, Semihorod (Семигород) in Ukrainian), as well as its Walloon name (Zivenbork), are translations of the German one.

In Ukrainian, the name Zalissia (Ukrainian: Залісся, meaning "beyond the forest") is also used.


  1. ^ Lucy Mallow, Transylvania, 2nd edn. (Bradt Travel Guides, 2013), 16.
  2. ^ Rupprecht Rohr, Kleines rumänisches etymologisches Wörterbuch: 1. Band: A-B, s.v. “Ardeal” (Frankfurt am Main: Haag + Herchen, 1999), 82.
  3. ^ Benkő Loránd; Kiss Lajos; Papp László (1984). A magyar nyelv történeti-etimológiai szótára (in Hungarian). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-3810-5.
  4. ^ Armin Hetzer, “Alloglotte Sprechergruppen in den romanischen Sprachräumen: Südostromania”, Romanische Sprachgeschichte, vol. 23, part 2 (Berlin-NY: Walter de Gruyter, 2006), 1843.
  5. ^ a b Engel, Pál (2001). Realm of St. Stephen: History of Medieval Hungary, 895–1526 (International Library of Historical Studies), London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1-86064-061-3
  6. ^ Pop, Ion-Aurel (1997). "Istoria Transilvaniei Medievale: De la Etnogeneza Romanilor pana la Mihai Viteazul" [The Medieval History of Transylvania: from the Romanian Ethnogenesis until Michael the Brave] (in Romanian). Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  7. ^ Otrokocsi, F. F. (1693). Origines Hungaricae (in Latin). I. p. 27. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  8. ^ Halevi (1914). Sefer ha-Kuzari. Vilna.
  9. ^ Marțian, Ion (1925). Ardealul nu derivă din ungurește (in Romanian). Bistrița.
  10. ^ Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores. X. Hannover. 1852. p. 59.
  11. ^ Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores. XVII. 1861. p. 294.
  12. ^ Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores. XVI. 1859. p. 34.
  13. ^ "Annales Polonorum". Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores. XIX. p. 684.
  14. ^ Urkundebuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen. I. p. 143.
  15. ^ Wolff, Apud J. (1886). "Die Landesnamen Siebenbürgens'". Programm des vierklassigen evangelischen Gymnasiums in Mühlbach (in German). Hermannstadt. p. 16.
  16. ^ Kontler, László (1999). A History of Hungary: Millennium in Central Europe. Budapest: Atlantisz. ISBN 963-9165-37-9.
  17. ^ Popa, Klaus (1996). "An Outline of Transilvanian-Saxon History". Retrieved 2013-10-03.