(part 3)

Copyright 1995 by Paul Robert Magocsi and Carpatho-Rusyn American - Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter 1995- all rights reserved

This is the third part of a general introductory article onall aspects of Carpatho-Rusyn life which we began in the Summer 1995 issue of the Carpatho-Rusyn American (Vol. XVIII, No. 2). Considering the enormous changes that have taken place in the Europearn homeland during the past few years, we feel it appropriare to provide our readers with new und updated information.-Editor


The ancestors of the Carpatho-Rusyns can be traced to Slavic peoples who began to appear in the valleys of the Carpathian Mountains in small numbers during the fifth and sixth centuries. Their presence is related to the question of the original homeland of the Slavs and the invasion into east-central Europe by nomadic peoples from central Asia.

Today most scholars agree that the center of the original homeland for all Slavic peoples was the region just north of the Carpathian Mountains in what is today eastern Poland, southwestern Belarus, and northwestern Ukraine. During the 440s, an Asiatic people known as the Huns crossed through the Slavic homeland and burst into east-central Europe, bringing with them Slavic peoples, some of whom settled in Carpathian Rus'. A century later, one of the tribes living in the original Slavic homeland known as White Croats had begun to settle in the valleys of the northern as well as southern slopes of Carpathian Rus'.

In the course of the sixth and early seventh centuries, the White Croats built fortified towns to protect their own people as well as the surrounding countryside which still included some Slavic settlers who had settled there earlier during the Hunnic invasions. During the seventh century, many of the Slavic tribes began to move out in various directions from their original homeland. Whereas some White Croats remained behind in Carpathian Rus', most moved southward into the Balkan peninsula. Their descendants are the modern Croats.

The first important event in the history of Carpathian Rus' occurred during the second half of the ninth century. In the early 860s, two missionaries from the Byzantine Empire, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, set out to bring the Christian faith to the Moravian Empire, which at the time was centered in what is today the eastern Czech Republic (Moravia) and western Slovakia. To this day, Carpatho-Rusyns believe either: (1) that before their mission to Moravia Cyril and Methodius brought Christianity to Carpathian Rus' and even established a bishopric at the fortified center of Mukacevo, or (2) that this was accomplished during the 880s by the disciples of the Byzantine missionaries. Regardless of who actually did the conversion, it does seem certain that there was some kind of Christian presence in the Carpathians well before the end of the ninth century.

The very end of that same century brought another event that eventually was to have a profound effect on Rusyn historical development. Sometime between 896 and 898, a new Asiatic warrior people, the Magyars (ancestors of the modern-day Hungarians), crossed the crests of the Carpathians and settled in the region known as Pannonia, that is, the flat plain between the middle Danube and lower Tisza Rivers. From their new home, the Magyars eventually built a state called Hungary.

When the Magyars first crossed the Carpathians, they captured the White Croat hill fortress of Hungvar (modern-day Uzhorod). There they defeated the semi-legendary Prince Laborec', who was later to become one of the first heroes of Rusyn history. Despite their military victory, the Magyars were initially unable to take control of Carpathian Rus', which during the tenth and for most of the eleventh century remained a borderland between the kingdom of Hungary to the south and the Kievan Rus' principality of Galicia to the north. In the absence of any outside political control. Slavs from the north (Galicia) and east (who actually arrived from Podolia via the mountain passes of Transylvania) continued to settle in small numbers in various parts of the Carpathian borderland, which the Hungarians and other medieval writers referred to as the Marchia Ruthenorum - the Rus' March. These new immigrants, from the north and east, like the Slavs already living in Carpathian Rus', had by the eleventh century come to be known as the people of Rus', or Rusyns. The term Rusyn also meant someone who was a Christian of the Eastern (Byzantine) rite.

Rusyn migration from the north and east, in particular from Galicia, continued until the sixteenth century and even later. This was possible because the mountains, especially in western Carpathian Rus' (the Lemko Region), were not very high and were crossable through several passes. The sixteenth century also witnessed another migration into Carpathian Rus', this one by Vlach shepherds from the south. The Vlachs were originally of Romanian origin, although they were quickly assimilated by the Rusyns. The Vlachs moved throughout the entire range of the Carpathians as far west as Moravia. Their name Vlach soon came to mean a profession (shepherd) and legal status (tax-free person) rather than a nationality (Romanian).

Carpatho-Rusyn peasants working on church lands as depicted in a seventeenth century line drawing.

The purpose of this somewhat extended discussion of early history is to emphasize the complex origins of the Carpatho-Rusyns. They were not, as is often asserted, exclusively associated with Kievan Rus', from which it is said their name Rusyn derives. Rather, the ancestors of the present-day Carpatho-Rusyns are descendants of: (1) early Slavic peoples who came to the Danubian Basin with the Huns; (2) the White Croats; (3) the Rusyns of Galicia and Podolia; and (4) the Vlachs of Transylvania. Moreover, because Carpatho-Rusyns received Christianity over a century before Kievan Rus', it is likely that they used the name Rusyn and were called by others Rusyn (Latin: Rutheni) even before the arrival of subsequent Rusyn migration from the north and east. On the other hand, because their Eastern-rite Christian religion derived from Orthodox Byzantium, Carpatho-Rusyns maintained cultural and religious ties with the Kievan Rus' principality of Galicia to the north, with Moldavia/Transylvania to the south, and other Orthodox lands (central Ukraine and later Russia) farther east. Carpathian Rus' was not, however, under the political hegemony of Kievan Rus' nor for that matter of any other East Slavic political entity until the second half of the twentieth century! Instead, Carpathian Rus' has historically been within political and cultural spheres that are firmly part of central Europe.

By the second half of the eleventh century, Rusyn lands south of the Carpathians came under the control of the kingdom of Hungary. Hungarian rule remained firmly entrenched until 1526, after which most of the kingdom was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The small amount of land that still constituted Hungary, including Rusyn-inhabited territory, was divided between the Austrian Habsburg Empire and the semi-independent Hungarian principality of Transylvania. The Ottoman presence lasted until the outset of the eighteenth century, when the Habsburgs finally gained control of all of Hungary, including Transylvania. Consequently, Habsburg Hungary was to rule Rusyn lands south of the Carpathians until 1918.

North of the mountains, the Rusyn-inhabited Lemko Region that had been within the nominal sphere of the medieval Rus' principality of Galicia was, in the mid-fourteenth century, incorporated into the kingdom of Poland. Polish rule lasted until 1772, when Galicia was annexed by the Habsburg Empire and made into one of the provinces of Austria. Thus, from the late eighteenth century to 1918, all Carpatho-Rusyns found themselves under Habsburg rule, whether in the Hungarian kingdom or in the Austrian province of Galicia.

Although since the early middle ages Carpatho-Rusyns never had any political independence, they were recognized as a distinct group within the multinational Hungarian and Polish kingdoms and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In earlier times, when Carpathian Rus' was sparsely settled, Rusyn and Vlach mountain dwellers were treated for many decades as a privileged group that did not have to pay taxes. By the sixteenth century, however, most Carpatho-Rusyns were reduced to the status of peasant serfs dependent on either Hungarian, Polish, or later Austro-German landlords. Finally, during the last few decades of the Habsburg Empire's existence, between the 1870s and 1918, there was an attempt, especially in the Hungarian kingdom, to eliminate the Carpatho-Rusyns as a group through a policy of state- supported national assimilation.

Fedir Koriatovyc, Rus' prince of Podolia and lord of the Mukacevo domain.

Carpatho-Rusyns were able to survive as a distinct people largely because of their association with Orthodox Eastern Christian churches in the otherwise Roman Catholic social and political environment of Hungary, Poland, and later Habsburg Austria-Hungary. Among the most important symbols for Carpatho-Rusyns of their Orthodox eastern-rite identity was the Monastery of St. Nicholas on Monk's Hill (Cerneca Hora) near Mukacevo. This religious center, which in the fifteenth century became the residence for bishops, was founded in the 1390s by Prince Fedir Koriatovyc. Koriatovyc was a prince of Podolia invited by the king of Hungary to administer the fortress of Mukacevo and the surrounding lands that included several Rusyn villages. As lord of Mukacevo, he is considered by Carpatho-Rusyns to be among their important national leaders.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Toronto, Ontario

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