FOR CENTURIES Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Empire. In the 9th and 10th centuries when the kingdom was being established, power became more concentrated in the hands of the Hungarian nobility. Although older chronicles mention members of the Slavonic aristocracy having a certain share of power at an earlier point in history, this later ceased to be true and the highest nobility, with few exceptions, were of Hungarian origin.
However, the privileged classes also included the middle and lower gentry in which there were numerous Slovaks. Ethnic-Slovak gentry – squires or zemans – mostly inhabited the northern districts. But by the 14th century zemans began to have conflicts with the higher aristocracy. This was often due to a lack of labour, leading to the more powerful nobles recruiting serfs from the zemans’ lands to work on their own.
The lower gentry also grew gradually poorer because their property was being divided into smaller parts, so they sometimes had to find new ways of making a living, often in administration or the army. Later, some of the zemans lost all their serfs and had to physically work their own land or were even hired by richer nobles.
Even the poorer gentry could be distinguished by their way of dressing or by their houses – usually not luxurious, but different from simple cabins in that they at least had stone foundations.
In this postcard from 1918, we see an old zeman from Podhradie, near Považská Bystrica.
20. Dec 2010 at 0:00 | By Branislav Chovan