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This page refers to the historical figure. For other uses, see Avram Iancu (disambiguation)
Avram Iancu - portrait by Barbu Iscovescu

Avram Iancu (1824, in Vidra de Sus, today Avram Iancu in Alba county, Kingdom of Hungary—September 10, 1872, Baia de Cris) was a Transylvanian Romanian lawyer who played an important role in the local chapter of the Austrian Empire Revolutions of 1848–1849. He was especially active in the Ţara Moţilor region and the Apuseni Mountains. The rallying of peasants around him, as well as the allegiance he paid to the Habsburgs got him the moniker Crăişorul Munţilor ("The Prince of the Mountains").


Early life

The former Piarist College of Cluj, today the Báthory István Liceum

Born into a family of peasants that had been emancipated from serfdom, Avram Iancu attended school, studying humanities in the Piarist College of Cluj, and then graduating from law school. He became a law clerk in Târgu Mureş (formerly known as Marosvásárhely/Neumarkt am Mieresch) where he learned about the events of March 1848 of Vienna and Pest. His attitude at the time showed the nature of the conflict that was to engulf Transylvania: while Iancu welcomed the transition, he was indignant at the fact that Hungarian revolutionaries (many of whom were landowners) refused to debate the abolition of serfdom (which, at the time, covered the larger part of the Romanian population in Transylvania).

Back in the Apuseni, he started rallying the peasants in Câmpeni, organizing protests that were recognized as peaceful by the authorities, but nonetheless got them worried. Iancu and his associate Ioan Buteanu quickly became the main figures of the Romanian-led actions in the area, especially after they took part in the Blaj Assemblies starting in April. In Blaj (formerly known as Balázsfalva/Blasendorf) both opted for the main, radical wing of the movement. Centered on Alexandru Papiu Ilarian, the group opposed the Hungarian revolutionary option of uniting Transylvania and Hungary. It got into conflict with the minor wing around Greek-Catholic Bishop Ioan Lemeni, one which chose not to boycott the elections for the Hungarian Parliament.

While the union was carried of on May 30, 1848, the majority of Romanian activists looked towards Vienna and Emperor Ferdinand, sharing the cause of the Transylvan Saxons. Things became heated after July 11, when Hungary declared its independence. Austria started to open itself to the Romanian demands, while bloody conflicts ensued between the Hungarian nobles and their Romanian serfs. The last Assembly in Blaj saw the Habsburg governor, Anton Freiherr von Puchner, approve of the arming of National Guards for Romanians and Saxons. On September 27, the lynching of Austrian plenipotentiary Count Lemberg by a Pest crowd cut off any dialogue between the two centers. The new Emperor Franz Joseph and the Austrian government granted the Romanians numerous liberties and rights; although Lajos Kossuth's government abolished serfdom, this was no longer a match for the Imperial offer.




The Austrians clearly rejected the October demand that the ethnical criteria become the basis for internal borders, with the goal of creating a province for Romanians (Transylvania grouped alongside the Banat and Bukovina), as they did not want to replace the threat of Hungarian nationalism with the potential one of Romanian separatism. Yet they did not declare themselves hostile to the rapid creation of Romanian administrative offices within Transylvania, one which prevented Hungary from including the region in all but name.

The territory was organized in prefecturi ("prefectures"), with Avram Iancu and Buteanu as two prefects in the Apuseni. Iancu's prefecture, the Auraria Gemina (a name charged with Latin symbolism), became the most important one as it took over from bordering areas that were never really fully organized.

In the same month, the administrative efforts were put to a halt, as Hungarians under Józef Bem carried out a sweeping offensive through Transylvania. With the discreet assistance of Imperial Russian troops, the Austrian army (except for the garrisons at Alba Iulia and Deva) and the Austrian-Romanian administration retreated to Wallachia and Wallachian Oltenia (both were, at the time, under Russia's occupation).


Avram Iancu's remained the only resistance force: he retreated to harsh terrain, mounting a guerrilla campaign on Bem's forces, causing severe damage and blocking the route to Alba Iulia. He was, however, challenged by severe shortages himself: the Romanians had few guns and very little gunpowder. The conflict dragged on for the next months, with all Hungarian attempts to seize the mountain stronghold being overturned.

In April 1849, Iancu was approached by the Hungarian envoy Ioan Dragoş (in fact, a Romanian deputy in the Hungarian Parliament). Dragoş appeared to have been acting out of his own desire for peace, and he worked hard to get the Romanian leaders to meet him in Abrud and listen to the Hungarian demands. Iancu's direct adversary, Hungarian commander Imre Hatvany, seems to have taken profit on the provisoral armistice to attack the Romanians in Abrud. He did not, however, benefit from a surprise, as Iancu and his men retreated and then encircled him. In the interval, Dragoş was lynched by the Abrud crowds, in the belief that he was part of Hatvany's ruse.

Hatvany also angered the Romanians by having Buteanu captured and murdered. While his position became weaker, he was permanently attacked by Iancu's men, until the major defeat of May 22. Hatvany and most of his armed group were massacred by their adversaries, as Iancu captured their cannons, switching the tactical advantage for the next months. Kossuth was angered by Hatvany's gesture (an inspection of the time dismissed all of Hatvany's close collaborators), especially since it made future negotiations unlikely.

However, the conflict became less harsh: Iancu's men concentrated on taking hold of local resources and supplies, opting to inflict losses only through skirmishes. The Russian intervention in June precipitated events, especially since Poles fighting in the Hungarian revolutionary contingents wanted to see an all-out resistance to the Tsarist armies. People like Henryk Dembiński mediated for an understanding between Kossuth and the Wallachian émigré revolutionaries. The latter, understandably close to Avram Iancu (especially Nicolae Bălcescu, Gheorghe Magheru, Alexandru G. Golescu, and Ion Ghica) were also keen to inflict a defeat on the Russian armies that had crushed their movement in September 1848.


Bălcescu and Kossuth met in May 1849, in Debrecen. The contact has for long been celebrated by Romanian Marxist historians and politicians: Karl Marx's condemnation of everything opposing Kossuth had led to any Romanian initiative being automatically considered "reactionary". In fact, it appears that the agreement was in no way a pact: Kossuth meant to flatter the Wallachians, by getting them to champion the idea of Iancu's armies leaving Transylvania for good, in order to help Bălcescu in Bucharest. While agreeing to mediate for peace, Bălcescu never presented these terms to the fighters in the Apuseni. His personal documents (commented by Liviu Maior) show that the un-realistic assumptions of Kossuth had made him view the Hungarian leader as a "demagogue".

Even more contradictory, the only thing Avram Iancu agreed to (and which no party had asked for) was his forces' "neutrality" in the conflict between Russia and Hungary. Thus, he secured his position as the Hungarian armies suffered defeats in July, culminating in the Battle of Segesvár, and then the capitulation of August 13.

Later years

Avram Iancu agreed to disarm as soon as the Austrians took over, and wrote a detailed report to the new governor of Transylvania, General Ludwig von Wohlgemuth (in 1850). In order to avoid suspicion of Romanian separatism, the document does not mention the contacts with the Wallachians. As the Austrians granted the abolition of serfdom, they also forbade all representative institutions in Transylvania. While Hungarian nationalism was slowly fitting in the pattern that would make the Ausgleich acceptable for both sides involved, the Romanian option raised more and more irritation. The revolutionary zeal it had found under Iancu, although profiting the Monarchy, could also prove to be a weapon used for very different goals (the Austrians were especially fearful that the Eastern Orthodox faith of the Romanians would accommodate itself with Pan-Slavism, completing the gap between Serbia and the Russian Empire).

It is very possible that Iancu was not able to properly observe the changes. While decision for his initial arrest (in December 1849) was quickly overturned after local protests (and explained as an abuse), he was censored throughout his life, had his library confiscated, and was placed under surveillance. He was even arrested a second time, in 1852, after it was presumed that his presence alone served to inflame local sentiments. Soon after his release, Iancu visited Vienna and attempted to petition the Emperor. He was prevented to do so by the police, a public humiliation which provoked a nervous breakdown from which he never recovered. It is said he started wandering through the Apuseni villages and playing a pipe.

He asked for his body to be buried under Horea's tree in Ţebea (by tradition, the place where the Revolt of Horea, Cloşca and Crişan had started).


  • Keith Hitchins, Românii 1774-1866, Bucharest, Humanitas, 1996
  • Liviu Maior, 1848-1849. Români şi unguri în revoluţie, Bucharest, Editura Enciclopedică, 1998
  • Ion Ranca, Valeriu Niţu, Avram Iancu: documente şi bibliografie, Bucharest, Editura Ştiinţifică, 1974 (most contemporary documents about Avram Iancu, including his report to Wohlgemuth)

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