Spish (Hungarian: Szepes; Slovak: Spis) — county in the northcentral Hungarian Kingdom bordering on the Austrian province of Galicia to the north, *Sharysh/Saros county to the east, Liptov to the west, and *Abov/Abauj and Gemer/Gomor counties to the south. In 1910 Spish county covered 3,668 square kilometers and had 172,800 inhabitants, of whom 97,100 were Slovaks; 38,500 Germans; 18,600 Magyars; 12,300 Rusyns; and 6,200 others. It was named after the Spish castle (Spissky hrad), which was its administrative center until the sixteenth century; thereafter, its center was Levoca (Hungarian: Locse).
The county is basically a mountainous region drained by two river systems: the Poprad and Dunajec flow northward into the Vistula-Baltic watershed; the Hornad and Torysa rivers flow southeastward into the Danubian Basin. Spish was traditionally known for its cultural and political diversity. In the twelfth century the county became home to German/Saxon settlers, and towns like Levoca (German: Leutshau) and Kezmarok (German: Kasmark) were to retain a Germanic character until the twentieth century. Between 1412 and 1772, 15 towns and 13 villages in the heart of Spish were ruled by Poland (including Stara L’ubovna, Poprad, Spisska Nova Ves, and Spisske Podhradie), and as a result they took on a Polish flavor. Rusyns lived for the most part in several villages north of Stara L’ubovna, a town that from time to time functioned as their local cultural center. There were also other isolated Rusyn villages, including a cluster in the far southeastern corner of the county (Zavadka, Porac, Slovinky, Helmanovce, Kojsov). After the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 a small portion of Spish county along the Dunajec River was ceded to Poland; however, the vast majority its territory (including the farthest western Rusyn village of Osturna) became part of Czechoslovakia. According to present-day boundaries, the former territory of Spish county includes the districts (okresy) of Poprad, Kezmarok, Stara L’ubovna, Levoca, Spisska Nova Ves, and Gelnica in Slovakia, and a small area near the town of Zakopane in far southern Poland.
Bibliography: Istvan Udvari, “A szepessegi ruszinok nepelete Maria Terezia koraban/Zivot spisskych Rusinov v obdobi panovania Marie Terezie,” Neprajzi Tanulmanyok, Vol. XIX (Komarno, 1994), pp. 317-332; Peter Svorc, ed., Spis v kontinuite casu/Zips in der Kontinuitat der Zeit (Presov, Bratislava, and Vienna, 1995); Antoni Kroh, Spisz: wielokulturowe dziedzictwo (Sejny, 2000).
Paul Robert Magocsi
Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.