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Hungary's Ethnic German Farmers around 1800

Part Two: Their Economy

© by Felix G. Game

Not counting the various social levels which existed outside the village, the population inside the village was made up almost entirely of people who made their living off the land. Yet not all were called 'farmer' because that word was reserved for a specific social level. Only those were called 'farmer' (Latin: colunus) who had taken possession of a type of land on which grain had to be grown, and which was subject to 1/9 or 1/10 tithe (Hungarian: úrbéri telek; Latin: constitutivum urbariale, agri sessionales). These 'farmers' in turn formed a hierarchy according to the amount of land they had taken in terms of "sessions" (session is derived from sessio; in Hungarian: hely). Thus there were 'whole farmers', 'half farmers', and 'quarter farmers'. By definition then, every other inhabitant of the village was not colunus but inquilinus (Hungarian: zsellér).

In effect there were four social levels:

1. The farmer (colonus)

Member or descendant of the first wave, the 'real colonists' who took land under the terms of the original incentive. The average farm had one ox and one team of horses. Cows were not used as draft animals. The farmers were allowed to reserve a pasture just for the oxen (ökörtilos).

Based on statistics of the average production per farmer, the annual income of a farm is calculated at 76 Gulden and 68 Denars. (Refer to this figure when reviewing the 'economic indicators' below).

Expenses of a farmer:

Apart from the tithe, farmers were under obligation to the estate owner to provide each year 27 robot-days while providing their own team of draft animals (hence a 'robot-day' is also known as a 'robot-pull'). 1 'Robot-pull' = 4 trips per day (with a wagon and team) valued at 33 Denars, or 8 Denars per trip. As an example, 26 loads of manure were required per hectare of wheat; the average price for a load of manure was 16 Denars. (Wheat was more expensive to grow because it required more manure than other types of grain). < /FONT >

Public obligations:

Tithe: The obligation to pay 1/10 to the owner of the estate was one that had to be covered immediately from most things produced in natura. The tithe was measured in Preßburger Metzen, the equivalent of 54.3 liters, or 14.34 US gallons. The ground rules for tithing did change as time went by; in 1768 the tithe had to be paid on wheat, rye, barley, oat, and corn; by 1787 the corn harvest had been exempted from the tithe. By 1790 any new acreage created by ploughing up meadows was exempt from the tithe because from the middle of the 18th Century grain crops were selling well and both farmers and landlords wished to increase the production; one way to do this was to clear additional newly cleared land (irtásföldek), or to plough up some existing meadows.

1/9: was to be paid in cash at the rate of 2 Gulden, 5 Denars;

House Tax: 1 Gulden.

State and County Taxes were not immediate, but were paid from sale of produce (a tax of 12 Gulden per farm seems to have been assessed, but there were also special "war taxes" during times of war). It is not clear how a uniform tax could be levied per house, when there was a considerable difference in the size of land that house stood on. It also made a considerable difference to the prestige of the farmer. Here is one of the ways the different sizes were known:

a. Whole session (agri sessionales)

Without needlessly complicating this, it should be realized that changes in law, plus territorial differences would require periodic amendments to the figures used here. For our purposes, however, it will be stated simply that settlers were given 47 acres as a "whole session" (1 Bauernhufe) which consisted of 34 acres of plow-land, and 6.4 acres each of meadow, and pasture. In addition, a farmer was entitled to use 8 Joch (8.5 acres) of the communal pasture for each draft animal he owned. (1 Hungarian Joch = 4316m² = 1.06 acres). < /FONT >

b. Half session

The 1768 land reform (the Urbarium , a Royal decree of Empress Maria Theresa regulating the legal relationship between farmers and landlords) established the size of half farms at 16 Hungarian Joch (17 acres) each.

After the next Urbarium of 1787 the total acres of grain of a 1/2 farmer were enlarged to 29 Hungarian Joch (31 acres).

c. Quarter session

Presumably half again of the half session.

2. The Cotter (Hungarian: zsellér, Latin: inquilinus, German: Kleinhäusler).

Not part of the first wave of settlers, and had to take smaller, and less well-located acreage, but had same obligations as the 'farmer' although in proportion to his smaller holding. Occupied a small building on a small parcel of land, on which he grew little beyond his family's personal use. Worked for others as day labourer, or tradesman.

3. The Subtenant (also zsellér in Hungarian, but subinquilinus in Latin and Holden in German).

An even smaller farmer, who may or may not have a house of his own. They owned less, had arrived later, or were surplus descendants of farmers or inquilini. Either zsellér was only entitled to use one Joch of the communal pasture, but was able to participate in the creation of additional acreage. There were two kinds of subtenants:

a. With a house, or

b. Without a house.

Sometimes married and/or single siblings of the farmer continued to live with him.

These last two categories of zsellér usually did not have enough land to provide them with a living, and they hired themselves out by the day as labourers cutting wood or working in the vineyards. But these categories also included such tradesmen as wagon makers, smiths, tanners, weavers, bootmakers, masons, carpenters, who plied their trade during the winter months.

4. The Municipal Employees

a. The Catholic Priest

Based on data about the income of Catholic parishes in Hungary in 1774, the parish received from each married farm couple a "couple fee", a Preßburger Metzen of Rye in natura and 25 Denars cash.

The priest was entitled to use 1 Joch of the communal pasture. According to archived sources of the parish of Lázi, the priest also received 1/16 (sedecima) of the wine and lamb tithe.

b. The Teacher

The teacher (ludi magister) received per farm couple 3/4 Metzen Rye in natura, and 50 Denars per semester school fee for each pupil.  He also received 'stola pay' because he was the cantor of the church. Stolage fees were listed as Baptisms (30 Denars), Introduction of the mother to the church (introductio puerperae; 10 Denars), Marriage (56 2/3 Denars), Burial (40 Denars). The rates seem to have changed over time, and according to locality because the fees for 1774 ran much lower: Baptism 5, Intro 5, marriage 11 2/3, funeral 20.

The teacher also occasionally acted as the village notary, which is equated with "mayor" for which he was paid from the cassa domestica of the county. Since the teacher was entitled to use 1 Joch (1.06 acres) of the communal pasture, and the notary was also entitled to 1 Joch, one wonders if the teacher, who was acting as notary finished up with the right to use 2 Joch of communal pasture? This also implies that the teacher was keeping animals that needed a pasture.

There were other benefits associated with being the village teacher, and they varied from place to place. The teacher normally lived in the school building. In some places he was given 1 Joch of tillable land, 6 Klafters (Klafter= cord) of firewood, and allowed to collect bunches of grapes during grape harvest. In some places he received a stalk of wheat from each sheave of the farmers for ringing the bells to keep away thunderstorms (pro pulsu campanarum contra tempestatem).

In yet another locality the teacher was also responsible for tending to the tree nursery of 63 square Klafters (= 226m²). He also maintained a garden.

c. The various Herdsmen (Pigherd, Shepherd, Cowherd, Oxherd, Koppelhüter (herdsman of an enclosed pasture)).

The herdsmen also used to collect a few Kreuzer from the farmers at Whitsuntide (Pfingsten).

d. The Nightwatchman

Beside the nightwatchman's, the wages of the vineyard keepers (watchmen) and that of the bell ringer should be mentioned.

These municipal employees addressed the farmers as gazda uram (Proprietor Sir), a custom which strongly indicates the social difference between those that were holding land and those that were not.

5. Others (that did not fit into any other category)

Servants living on the farms (both male and female farm hands). They were often paid in produce calculated by precise standards: In 1830, for example, when flour was given in lieu of wages, 1 hectoliter of flour had to weigh 60 kg, then 1 Metzen would equal 32.6 kg and depending on the going price it would be worth 1 to 1.5 Gulden. If they were given bread, it was valued at 12 Denars per pound.

Some economic indicators
Item Gulden D or Kr Comments
small Calf  

83 D

1 Gulden = 100 Denars = 60 Kreuzer

67 D

Colt     cost a bit more than a Calf
Piglet     cost less than a Lamb
Ox 58.00   after 1787
Horse     cost much more than an Ox
Yew 1.56   Between 1787 and 1790
Wether 2.00    
Ram 2.50    
1 pound Butter  

30 D

Linen per Elle  

12 Kr

1 Elle = .78cm (about a yard)
100 heads Cabbage 1.00   in 1790
Wine per pail 1.20 (1790)   1 pail = 53.3 Liters< /FONT >
100 Liters Wine 2.21    
1 Metzen Flour 1.00-1.51   1 Metzen = 32.6 Kg
a 10 Lbs loaf of bread 1.20   = 12 Denars per pound
Income of non-farmers.
(in Gulden per year)
Occupation Compensation
Property Manager (Rentmeister) 400 - 550
Cabinetmaker (Kastner) 300
Clerk/Scribe (Amtschreiber) 170
Herdsman (Hajduken) 108
Huntsman (Jäger) 140
Forest Ranger (Waldhüter) 40
Cooper (Faßbinder) 350
Cooper's Helper 120

The customary daily wage was 16 Denars. Note the price of bread at left: one had to work for 3/4 of a day for a one pound piece of bread. Everybody in the village walked about barefoot five to six months during the warm season. Hence boots (3-7 Gulden) and shoes (1.40 Gulden) lasted a long time.  They spun hemp and wool into yarn, wove linen for underclothes, bed clothes, sacks and tarps, and woollens for flannels, mens' suits and overcoats. Winter clothing was "lined" with lamb's wool. Women wrapped themselves in a large shawl.

From the above the conclusion can be drawn that a well-to-do farmer had no cash - but that he was not poor. 

Main Sources:  Georg Brunner. Die Deutschen in Ungarn. Südosteuropa-Gesellschaft. München 1989.
Dr. Otto Péterdi-Hahn. Die Landwirtschaftliche Lage eines Fronbauern um 1800 im deutschen Dorf Bakonypéterd in Ungarn. Verlag des Südostdeutschen Kulturwerks. München 1970.
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