The country is most familiar with Debrecen as a “cívis” city, but in fact, many of the smaller settlements in the Great Plain used the term “cívis”.

According to the Lexicon of Ethnography, the “cívis város” (“cívis city) is the “distinctive name of the great market towns of the Great Plain, which obtained or approached the status of free royal towns, but whose citizenship consisted mainly of peasant farmers”.

According to Árpád Kálnási, linguist, the “cívis” people were a so-called peasant citizen, but not only peasants but artisans also belonged to this group. The “cívis” people were engaged in agriculture and crafts, but in their spare time, they went to the theater and were enthusiastic donors. They did not produce more than was needed for their own use, and they only sold their products on the market when money was needed.

The “cívis” citizens paid attention to the fate of the city, gave donations, and hosted orphaned children for lunch. They were very family-centric, and it was rare for a father, for example, not to take care of his own child. They were closely related to the Puritan view of life-based on the Reformed religion.

According to the linguist, the true “cívis” class disappeared around the 1950s when they were forced into production cooperatives and their lands were taken away.

Famous Hungarian writers use the “cívic” terms of the past

Many great writers and poets studied in Debrecen including János Arany, Ferenc Kölcsey, Zsigmond Móricz or Mihály Fazekas.  You can clearly trace the “cívis” language in their works. All poems of János Arany have a dictionary for Toldi’s love because it contains too many “cÍvis” words. It is not a surprise. The poet visited houses to collect “cívic” terms during his study. 

Lexicon to understand the “cívis” life

The lexicon series entitled “A debreceni cívis élet lexikona “ of Árpád Kálnási, linguist, contain information about the daily life of the “cívis” people, which is not, or only occasionally, found in the history books. You can read about the “cívis” cuisine, names of illnesses, and traditions. It draws the readers to the life and everyday life of a once rich culture-rich social class.

You can also find terms like “csámesz”, which is a low, wide, two or four-wheeled chariot, or “briffung” which simply meant that you passed the exam.

Photo credit: facebook.com/Debreceni Református Nagytemplom (Fortepan/Magyar Földrajzi Múzeum)