Sources - Commons - Romania

Description of sources



Before describing the sources, several things about Romanian commons must be added. First, when we talk about commons we refer to agricultural land, forests, and meadows. While the commonal agricultural land disappeared at the beginning of the nineteenth century in all Romanian communities, common forests and the adjacent meadows survived until 1948 when the communist government nationalized all types of forest. After the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, the postsocialist government partially restituted the forest to private owners (Dorondel 2009).


Second, the medieval data about commons in Romania are scarce and mainly consist of royal acts settling disputes between communities in which the commons are mentioned. The agricultural land owned in common was most probably already a social reality before the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, it was mentioned in documents only when the commons were taken over by the noble men (boieri) (Constantinescu 1981). In Romania, however, there are no documents about the number of commoners, the regulations of commons or cadastral maps. In the medieval documents the boundaries of a common are described in local terms, using different trees, small hills, and wells that separated two lands or forests. Sometimes, the boundaries of a plot owned in common are mentioned as following: 'it lies between the River X, the big walnut tree and neighboring the X’s land'. 


Until 1910, when the Forestry Code was passed by the Romanian Parliament, the commons were managed through customary law (except for Transylvania, this area being under Hungarian, Austrian, or Austro-Hungarian rule until 1919). As for the cadastral maps, one should notice that even nowadays there are few cadastral maps of agricultural land, forests, and meadows in rural areas (Prosterman and Rolfes 1999).


In Romania, there are two types of available historical sources to study the commons. One type of sources  is formed by original documents, already translated from either Slavonic or Latin into Romanian and published from the late nineteenth century onwards in various collections of documents. A second type of sources consists of regulations dating after 1910, concerning the communal forest and pastures. Another source for the study of the commons in Romania is the ethnographical fieldwork.


Translated original sources

The oldest mentioning of communal agricultural land is in the Poems of the Roman writer Horatio, dating from the first century BC. He mentioned “the agricultural land that is not separated in private plots” of the local population from Dacia, called Dacians (inhabiting before the Roman conquest roughly the same territory occupied today by the Romanians) (Panaitescu 1964, 17).


For the Medieval and early modern period, we have documents dating roughly from the fourteenth century up to the middle of nineteenth century. One feature of the sources regarding commons in Romania is that the documents are scarce for the period before the nineteenth century. Thus, we only have a fragmented image of the medieval commons in Romania, mainly from the Kings’ courts, reproduced and translated from old Slavic language (the language of the court until the eighteenth century). For instance, it is impossible to have a clear picture of how many commoners owned a certain land or forest, of the regulations of that common, or of the boundaries of the commons for the period before the nineteenth century. 


Underneath a description of the documents that mention communal forest, land, or pasture for each of the three historical provinces of Romania (Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania) can be found.


Moldavia: Obştea

Obştea, as an association of free small landholders is described by the eighteenth-century king and writer Dimitrie Cantemir, member of the Royal Academy of Berlin. In his work The Description of Moldavia (Description Moldaviae), written in Latin, he mentions the pastures used in common by the peasant communities from Central Moldavia. The pastures were shared by all members of the village and were ruled through customary laws. The economy of these communities was exclusively based on animal husbandry. He describes the peasants’ organization in three “republics” led by a “vornic”. They elected their leaders (who were at the same time judgers too). These communities were organized in groups of 12-15 villages and the pastures were for common use by all.


The most important corpus of historical documents on the association of villages owing the agricultural land in common is to be found in Documents regarding the Romanian History A (Documente privind istoria României A; "A" stands for to documents referring to the medieval history of Moldavia while "B" refers to documents concerning the history of Wallachia). This collection of documents regarding the history of Romania consists of 11 volumes and represents the most important sources regarding the commons on the Romanian territory for the medieval period. The translated documents date from 1384 to 1625.  The second volume mentions the association of villages but no references on the number of people or the size of common land are to be found within the collection. The third volume however presents documents that point out the borders (hotar) between different villages, each village owing common agricultural land. The landmarks were usually natural topographical points (such as "the peak of a small hill", "the bottom of a small valley", or "the well built by X – a member of the village"). Most probably, these points were familiar to local habitants and that was sufficient for the political ruler who issued the documents.


Moldavia: State regional and familial archives

Gheorghe Ghibanescu (1864-1936), a Romanian historian and member of the Romanian Academy, has gathered and then published documents concerning the history of Moldavia. He found these documents in the small regional archives from few cities of Moldavia, but also in the personal archives of the noble families from this part of the country. He published Documents and sources (Surete si izvoade), which is a collection of medieval Slavonic documents. These documents show that the name of the commoners (members of the Obştea) in Moldova was răzeş. Răzeş refers to a free peasant, working and managing common agricultural land together with other members of the village. The oldest mention of răzeş dates from 1584 (Documente privind istoria României A, vol. 3, p. 258-9). Working in the same archives, he also has published in 1926 The County of Vaslui: Studies and documents (Vasluiul. Studii şi documente), a collection of medieval and modern documents concerning the history of Vaslui County (Moldavia) in which some landmarks delimitating the borders of different communal lands are described (most of the documents refer to private lands but also include some communal agricultural land and pastures).


Iacov Antonovici (1856-1931), an Orthodox bishop from Moldavia, gathered historical documents concerning the history of Bârlad, an area (and a city) from central Moldavia. These documents were published between 1911-26 in five volumes, called Documents concerning the history of the town of Bârlad (Documente Bârlădene). In the second volume, several documents dated 1791 point out the fact that commoners living in the town of Bârlad donated some land to poor people who had none. They donated land to these people in order to build houses, not to work this land.


Another historian, Aurel Sava (1902-1954), a Romanian prosecutor interested in the Romanian history of law, has published several collections of medieval documents referring to the communal forest and the fact that during the Middle Ages peasants from Moldavia collectively owned mountains, forest, and meadows. The work Documents from Putna (Documente putnene) was published in two volumes in 1929 and 1931 and includes documents from the archives from the city of Putna.


Exploring private and regional archives, C.D. Constantinescu Mirceşti and H.H. Stahl published in 1929 two volumes of documents called Documents from Vrancea, royal documents, laws, letters and sources (Documente Vrâncene, cărţi domneşti, hotârnicii, răvaşe şi izvoare). Some documents, especially those dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, describe conflicts regarding communal forest usage among commoners but also similar conflicts between commoners and merchants. Most of the documents were gathered from the local and regional archives from Moldavia.


Moldavia: The National Archives of Romania and the Monasteries Fund

The National Archives (NA) of Romania are located in Bucharest. It owns unpublished documents, organized in funds (fonduri) related to the medieval monasteries in Wallachia and Moldavia. One of the most ancient and most important monasteries from Moldavia is Neamt Monastery (Northern Moldavia). Several documents found in the archive of this monastery (Fondul Manastirea Neamt, CIV/1) describe the medieval habit of vowing when claiming property rights over a piece of land, these rights being disputed by other communities. Such cases are also described in the archival fund of the Valea Monastery, the Register of the Campulung Monastery (Condica Mânăstirii Campulung), and the Register of the Vierosu Monastery (Condica Mânăstirii Vierosu). A usual way of the members of one community was 'to take a vow while putting on their heads some soil they claim to own' (jurământ cu brazda pe cap). Villagers believed that those members who would dare to lie about the ownership of land during such ceremonial would lose their property rights, as the land was considered sacred and able to take revenge against liars (Panaitescu 1964, 96).


The work Documents regarding the Romanian History B (Documente privind istoria României B) is a collection of documents concerning the history of Wallachia in nine volumes. The main documents included in this collection originate from the National Archives. These contain several references about different aspects of commons in Walachia:

  • in the fourth volume, some documents mention that the members of the communal land are "brothers" (frati) and "sharers" or "participants" (părtaş
  • a document dated October 13, 1521 shows that frati own and work the land 'as brothers', like one single family.


These examples are only to illustrate some of the documents referring to commons. All 20 volumes (including A and B) include data about commons.


Wallachia: Regional archives

Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940), the most important Romanian historian, has compiled medieval sources, gathered in 25 volumes between 1901 and 1913, called Studies and documents concerning the Romanian history (Studii şi documente cu privire la istoria românilor). In the eighth volume (p. 55ff), he presents documents dating from after 1800 (the documents are not precisely dated), that describe the genealogy of the ancestors (moşi) who obtained the common property “of a mountain” and how 100 taleri were shared among the commoners. Several documents published in the fifth volume present different complaints of commoners against local noblemen from Moldavia who took land from the common land using fake documents as proof. Documents from the third volume present a struggle for land between commoners and noblemen or between commoners and other peasants who were not commoners. Some documents dating from the eigtheenth century (vol. 6, p. 30) present claims for lakes found on the common land: these lakes were supposed to be private and no part of the commons. Iorga also published Anciens documents de droits roumain, a two-volumes collection of documents translated from Slavonic to French and published in 1930 in Bucharest. The medieval documents he found refer to the founders of some mythical collective land and forests called moşi (Romanian for "forefathers", "old men", "ancestors"). Some documents dated 1691 describe the process through which foreigners could become commoners. This is the beginning of the break of the common  agricultural land in the Romanian Principalities. All the documents come from and refer to Wallachia.


Nicolae Blacescu (1819-1852), a Romanian historian, economist, and a participant at the 1848 revolution in the Romanian Principalities wrote in the first volume of Works (Opere) that most of the villages that owned land and forest in common are spread in the mountains and hilly forested areas of Moldavia and Wallachia. Only few villages owning the land in common were situated in the flatlands.


Transylvania: Archives

As for Transylvania, this province was part of the Hungarian Kingdom until the seventeenth century, after that forming a part of the Austrian Empire. After the First World War, Transylvania became a part of Romania. Most of the sources regarding commons concern the Romanian population from Maramureş, the Northern part of Transylvania and the Composesorate of the Romanian population from the eastern part of the province. Most documents are written in Hungarian and in Latin. Probably one of the most important sources is the collection of Latin documents regarding the history of Maramureş gathered and published by Ioan Mihalyi called Diplomas from Maramureş in the 14th and 15th centuries (Diplome maramureşene din secolul al XIV-XV) , published in Sighet in 1900. In these documents, there is information about the common property of land and forest of various villages. Sometimes, when the documents do not refer  to the village as a whole but to parts of one village, it is considered by historians that this designates the beginning of the social differentiation process that started in the fifteenth century (Popa 1997, 130).


Another important source for Transylvania, but also for the other two provinces, is the collection of documents gathered and translated from Latin and Slavonic by Eudoxiu Hurmuzaki (1812-1874), entitled Documents regarding the history of Romanians (Documente privitoare la istoria românilor). The collection consist of 12 large volumes and is one of the most important collections of documents for the Romanian history. However, there is only scattered information about commons, most of the documents referring to the political history.


Another collection of documents found in different Transylvanian archives, private and public, is called Documents regarding the small town and the Orhei County (Documente privitoare la târgul și ținutul Orheiului), published by Aurel Sava in 1934. This collection includes documents attesting the communal ownership of the forest among the Romanian border guards from the eighteenth century until the twentieth century.


At the end of this part it should also be mentioned that there are several books in which the commons in the medieval period and up to the modern period have been analyzed. There are three books that cannot be avoided when is about this topic:


  • Henri H. Stahl (sociologist), Contribution to the Study of the Commons in Romanian Villages (Contribuţii la studiul satelor devălmaşe româneşti).
  • P. P. Panaitescu (historian), The Peasant Obştea in Wallachia and Moldavia during the Middle Age (Obştea ţărănească în Țara Românească şi Moldova. Orânduirea feudală).
  • Vasile V. Caramelea (anthropologist), who wrote several books on the common forest in Wallachia and Southern Transylvania.


For full details and other works, please consult the Bibliography on commons in Romania.


Sources for a history of commons after 1910

In 1910, the first Forestry Law, passed by the Romanian Parliament, recognized the associations that owned common forests and pastures (as Obştea or Comunitate de Avere). The result was that, according to the law, villagers who owned common pastures and forests had to issue a regulation (Regulament de funcţionare) in which they had to stipulate how and by whom the commons were going to be administrated. The law also established the structure of the common’s administration and the circumstances under which the resource was going to be exploited. The exploitation of forests had to be in accordance with the Forestry Law under the state experts’ supervision. Those documents are now to be found in the regional archives. Unfortunately, none of these archives are digitalized and in some cases the lack of material conditions led to destruction of the documents. In 2000, the common forest and pastures as well as buildings belonging to the Obşte or Comunitatea de Avere were restituted by the state. Thus, the ethnographical fieldwork constitutes another source if we want to have a clear picture of the commons today in Romania.


In order to write a history of the commons after 1910, that is after the first Forestry Law to be issued by the Romanian state, the regional and county archives are the most important. Most of the  regulations (Regulamente) in which the structure, the number, and the properties of Obşte or Composesorate were clearly established are to be found in few County Archives in each of the three regions from Romania.



For the commons in Moldavia, the most important sources are to be found in Suceava County Archive (for the commons in northern Moldavia) and in Focsani, the capital of Vrancea County (for the commons in center and western part of Moldavia).



For Wallachia, the main archive containing sources regarding commons is in Pitesti, the capital city of the Arges County. Several funds (including the Prefecture Fund) refer to the Obştea forest in several parts of the Arges County, containing the Regulations from the period after 1910.


Transylvania and Border Guards

For Transylvania and for the study of the commons of the former border guards there are three important archives. One is located in the city of Caraş Severin (Southwestern Romania). A second one is located in Sibiu (Sibiu County) and the third one in Bistriţa, the  capital city of the Bistriţa-Năsăud County. For instance, the archive from Caraş Severin has several funds which include documents regarding the Comunitatea de Avere (the commons of the former guards of the military border between the Austrian Empire and Romania): Fondul Comunitatea de Avere Caransebeş, Colectia de Documente ‘Nicolae Corneanu’, Fondul Direcţia Silvică Caraş Severin, Fondul Prefectura judeţului Caransebeş. All these funds contain documents that show the history of the Comunitatea de Avere, the number of commoners, the administrative structure, and the relationship between commoners and the administrators of the common (for more details see the thorough book of Rosu (2010)).




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