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Total population
Estimated: 665,000 in Romania
180,000 outside Romania
Regions with significant populations
Romania (mostly in the counties of Harghita, Covasna and parts of Mures), southern Hungary and the rest of the world



Predominantly Roman Catholic, with Hungarian Reformed and Unitarian minorities

Related ethnic groups


The Székely (Hungarian pronunciation: ['se?k?j]) or Szekler people (Hungarian: Székely, Romanian: Secui, German: Szekler, Latin: Siculi) are an ethnic subgroup of the Hungarian nation.[1] Their origin has been much debated, it is, however, now generally accepted that they are either Hungarians, or the descendants of a Magyarised Turkic peoples, transplanted there to guard the frontier, their name meaning simply "frontier guards".[2] Their organization was of the Turkic type, and they are probably of Turkic (possibly Avar) stock.[contradiction][3] By the 11th century they had adopted the Hungarian language.[3]

Along with the Saxons, the Székely played a key role in the defense of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary against the Turks [1] in their role as guards of the eastern border. Today they live mostly in Székely Land of Transylvania, which roughly corresponds to the current counties of Harghita, Covasna and Mures in Romania, with a significant population also living in Tolna, Hungary. Based on official 2002 Romanian census numbers,[4] approximately 1,434,000[5] ethnic Hungarians live in Romania, mostly in Transylvania. Of these, about 665,000 live in the counties of Harghita, Covasna and parts of Mures, with a Székely majority (65%). The Székely therefore account for a significant part (45%) of the Hungarian minority in Romania. When given the choice on the Romanian census between ethnically identifying as "Székely" or "Hungarian," the overwhelming majority of Székely choose the latter. Note that they were not allowed to choose both of them. On the last Romanian census (2002), only 150 persons declared their ethnicity as "Székely".

With the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, Transylvania (including Székely Land) became part of Romania, and the Székely population was a target of Romanianisation efforts.[6] In post-Cold War Romania, where the Székely form roughly a third of the ethnic Hungarian population, members of the group have been among the most vocal of Hungarians seeking an autonomous Hungarian region in Transylvania.[3]


Aranyosszék exclave

About 5,000-15,000 Székely live in the former territory of Aranyosszék. Székely villages there include Felsõszentmihály (today part of Mihai Viteazu Commune), or Felvinc (part of Unirea Commune).


The Székely were considered the finest warriors of medieval Transylvania. They were part of the Unio Trium Nationum ("Union of Three Nations"), a coalition of the three Transylvanian Estates, the other two nations being the (also predominantly Hungarian) nobility and the "Saxon" (that is, ethnic German) burghers. These three nations ruled Transylvania, usually in harmony though sometimes in conflict with one another. During the Long War, the Székely formed an alliance with Prince Michael the Brave of Wallachia against the army of Andrew Cardinal Báthory, recently appointed Prince of Transylvania.

Controversy about origins

There are various ideas about Szeklers' ancestry:

  • The Székely have historically claimed descent from Attila's Huns[2] (repeated in Procopius' De bello Gothico), and believed they played a special role in shaping Hungary. After the Magyar tribes settled in Pannonia, they believed that they had special rights to that land as an inheritance from Attila.
  • The theory of Székely descent from the Huns lost scholarly currency in the twentieth century. Some scholars have suggested the Székely are simply Magyars, like other Hungarians. Their strong cultural differences stem from centuries of relative isolation in the mountains. This is supported by Y-chromosome DNA studies (see below).
  • Some scholars believe there was a two-fold Hungarian migration to Transylvania and the Pannonian Plain, one prior to the main Magyar conquest of the Pannonian Plain in 896. According to this theory, the Székely are a Hungarian group that settled in Transylvania during this first migration.
  • A Y-chromosome DNA study of former Bucovina Székely families shows their male genetic ancestry to be typical of south east Europe. This suggests the mix of DNA ancestries pre-dates formation of language differentiation in these regions and conforms to historians' theories that the Székely were a Hungarian people.[7]
  • Other theories have suggested Avar, Gepid, or Turkic ancestry. Some historians have dated the Székely presence in the Eastern Carpathians as early as the fifth century.
  • A small number of scholars believe that they are related to Scythians who may have joined the Magyars on their trek westward and assimilated into the proto-Hungarian culture.
  • The Székely formed as an ethnic group in the early Middle Ages as the result of an intermingling of Slavic and Romanian populations with Finno-Ugric peoples who had migrated from the east. [1] Later they underwent cultural and linguistic Magyarisation. [1] As they lived some distance from the ethnic Hungarian heartland, they developed their own folklore and dialect.[1]


The Sun and Moon are the symbols of the Székely, and are used in the coat of arms of Transylvania and on the Romanian national coat of arms. The Sun and Moon symbols represented proto-Hungarian gods. After the Hungarians became Christians in the 11th century, the importance of these icons became purely visual and symbolic. Their original religious significance was lost. The Székely have succeeded in preserving traditions to an extent unusual even in Central and Eastern Europe. The most comprehensive description of the Székely land and traditions was written between 1859-1868 by Balázs Orbán in his Description of Székely land.

Population by county

The Székely live mainly in Harghita, Covasna and Mures counties. They form a majority of the population in the counties of Covasna and Harghita.

CountySzékely% of county population% of worldwide Székely population

The relatively small and isolated Székely population on the border of Cluj County and Alba County (former Aranyosszék) assimilated more significantly during the 20th century than inhabitants of the more concentrated Székely areas. They are estimated to be less than 20,000 today. The Székelys of Bukovina form a culturally separate group with its own history.


Ever since the abolition of the Hungarian Autonomous Province by the Ceausescu regime in 1968, some of the Székely have pressed for their autonomy to be restored. Several proposals have been discussed within the Székely Hungarian community and by the Romanian majority. One of the Székely autonomy initiatives is based on the model of the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia.[8] A major peaceful demonstration was held in 2006 in favor of autonomy [1].


In Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, the eponymous vampire count regards himself as a Székely, and very explicitly presents them as a separate nation from the Hungarians. He describes a history for his people, claiming a descent both from the Huns and also from an "Ugric tribe from Iceland". He even goes so far as to claim that "after the battle of Mohács, we threw off the Hungarian yoke". However, this version of Székely history owes far more to the imagination of Bram Stoker than to any historical fact. The historical Vlad III Dracula was actually a Vlach leader of Wallachia, and Iceland was never settled by any Finno-Ugric peoples; only Vikings and Irish.

Far more accurate in their depictions of the Székely are the novels of Tamási Áron, a twentieth-century writer from Farkaslaka who set universal stories of love and self-individuation against the backdrop of Székely village culture.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Piotr Eberhardt. Ethnic Groups and Population Changes in Twentieth-century Central-Eastern Europe. M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY and London, England, 2003. http://books.google.com/books?id=jLfX1q3kJzgC&printsec=frontcover&dq= Ethnic+Groups+and+Population+Changes+in+Twentieth-century+Central- Eastern#PRA1-PA334,M1.  
  2. ^ a b "Szekler people". Encyclopćdia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/ EBchecked/topic/579333/Szekler.  
  3. ^ a b c " Székely". Columbia Encyclopedia. 2008. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Szekely.html . Retrieved 2009-01-25.  
  4. ^ (English) (Romanian) (Hungarian) Hungarians in Romania, on the site of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania. Accessed 16 July 2006.
  5. ^ Population census of 2002 (Romanian) - recensamant 2002 --> rezultate --> 4. POPULATIA DUPA ETNIE
  6. ^ Ramet, Sabrina P. (1997). "The Hungarians of Transylvania". Whose Democracy?: Nationalism, Religion, and the Doctrine of Collective Rights in Post-1989 Eastern Europe. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 67-69. ISBN 9780847683246.  
  7. ^ "Bucovina Székely", Eliznik.org, accessed 28 May 2009
  8. ^ (Romanian) României îi este aplicabil modelul de autonomie al Cataloniei (The Catalan autonomy model is applicable in Romania), Gândul, 27 May 2006

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