The Vlach, or the Origin of Romanians

The Vlach, or the Origin of Romanians

Notice: This is only a concise consideration concerning a topic that should be developed in a deeper and more complete essay. The following research has been done by neutral scholars -neither Hungarian nor Romanian-, leaving aside nationalistic conceptions and political purposes and taking account of documentary sources, historic, anthropologic and linguistic factors.

One of the major controversies regarding the complexity of the Balkan region concerns the rights over the Carpathian Basin, more specifically the land known as Transylvania, that is contended by Hungarians and Romanians. Both peoples have peculiarities that distinguish them from all their neighbours, as none of the two is culturally Slavic and by territorial continuity both together constitute a non-Slavic island that splits the Slavic realm into two separate parts. Such island is composed by two main nations which are quite different from each other, and Transylvania, the apple of discord, is in the middle of both.
Since the existing documents and historic records attest in favour of the Hungarian position, the Romanian authorities resorted to the creation of a new theory that may legitimate their rule over Transylvania, already acquired as a consequence of the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the Treaty of Trianon (1920): thus the “Daco-Roman continuity” theory was framed.
This theory is very simplistic and is based on a single historical fact whose relevance has been enormously magnified in order to create an apparent link between the past and the present: the Roman occupation of Dacia.

The Vlach People

Before exposing the main topic of this research, it is necessary to define an essential term that is applied to indicate the Romanians since they were mentioned the first time in historical records: “Vlach”. This was the only name used by all mediaeval chroniclers and historians in reference to the people today known (and only since the later 18th century c.e.) as “Romanians”. The primary origin of the word is Germanic and was applied to the Celtic tribes, meaning that is surviving today in the English name of Wales. Since most of the Celts were Romanized (Gaul, Celtiberians, etc.) and adopted Latin language, the term turned its meaning into “Romanic-speaking” or simply “Roman-like”. Such is the case of the Walloons or toponyms like Valais or, properly, Walachia or Wallachia ‒ the land which modern Romanians call Vlahia, Valahia or “Ţara Românească”, that means “Romanian country”, implicitly recognizing that it is more than any other the true land of the Romanians. From the Germanic tribes this term was transferred to the Slavs that used it in specific reference to the Romanic peoples, including Italians, French and Latin-speaking Balkan tribes. The Slavs passed this word on to Hungarian ‒Olah‒ and Greek ‒Blacoi‒. In old Slavic tongues, the term Vlah/Vlach and its variations meant “Italian”, but also Roman, Romanian, or Romanic-speaker. Such meaning is still kept in Polish: Włochy/Włoch = Italy/Italian; Wołoszczyzna/Wołoch = Walachia/Romanian. In Hungarian the term Olah, meaning Walachian, is slightly modified into Olasz to indicate Italian. Also the Franks in the Balkan region were sometimes called “Blach” in the Middle Ages. In Southern Slavic tongues the term vlach had also the meaning of “shepherd”, due to the fact that almost all Vlachs (Romanians) were herd-breeders.
Therefore, in this essay the name “Vlach” will be used as the proper historic name of the Romanian people and should be understood as interchangeable whenever is not specified otherwise.

The Daco-Roman Myth

The present-day Transylvania was inhabited in Roman times by the people known by Greeks as Gæta, whom Romans called Dacii, that were a Thracian people. The supporters of the Daco-Roman continuity assert that the Dacians were colonized by Romans in such a way that they adopted Latin language and became the ancestors of present-day Romanians (or even dare to say that the Dacians’ language was close to Latin, which is utterly improbable). The occupation lasted about 160 years only, a period that was characterized not by an idyllic relationship between the two peoples but by violent rebellions of the Dacians against the invaders with consequent retaliation and repression. After the Romans evacuated Dacia because of the imminent Barbaric invasions, which actually happened, the hypothetical Daco-Romans were supposed to have survived for about a millennium hidden in caves and forests in Transylvania, not being noticed by the different peoples that populated the land in successive waves of immigration. Of course, there is not a single document that might prove such a theory, and from a logical viewpoint is quite unlikely that an entire people would be completely ignored by all Germanic and Eurasian settlers for such a long period.
Indeed, the Dacians have nothing or very little to do with modern Romanians and their language was not related at all with Latin ‒ there is no possible cultural or ethnic continuity between the Dacians and the Romans, and even if it was, it would be irrelevant with regards to the historic rights over Transylvania. The Vlach were not Dacians, but an Illyric people, originated in the south-western Balkans by the south-eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea ‒ namely, the present-day Albania and Slavic Macedonia.
In Roman times, the ethnic composition in the Balkans was roughly distributed as follows: Greeks in the south, Thracians in the eastern half by the Black Sea up to the Tiras River (Dniestr), Illyrians in the western half by the Adriatic Sea, and Sarmatians/Yazyg from Pannonia up to the Bosphorus, throughout all the lands of the Thracians/Dacians, with whom they coexisted. The Yazyg were direct ancestors of modern Hungarians.
There are countless proofs that utterly disavow the Daco-Roman myth. Here we intend to present some of them considering three main aspects of research: historical, religious and linguistic facts.

1. Historical Facts
The Roman occupation of Dacia was bloody and relatively short-lasted if compared with other areas where Latin language did not prevail ‒ like Britain or Pannonia, lands where Romans ruled for more than three and half centuries, or like Judea, from which Romans even deported almost the whole of the original population.
The Roman presence in Dacia (106-271 c.e.) was characterized by frequent revolts of the local inhabitants, and the occupation did never achieve a complete control of the region since different Dacian tribes kept their independence in earthen fortifications that they built on mountain peaks, and others moved outside the imperial borders. Roman historians attest that the pugnacious Dacian people were hard to surrender and even women and children fought the Roman legions. In such a background it is honestly very difficult to imagine a process of assimilation of any kind. Far from adopting the invaders’ language, the Dacian groups that were not subjected by them would have reverted any process of Romanization (in case that there was any) as soon as the Romans fled away from the country. Romans evacuated Dacia not only because the Gothic invasions were at the gates, but also because they had no support of the native population that perhaps would have welcomed the Goths and in such conditions the Romans were unable to keep the control of the region ‒ on the contrary, if the Dacians would have been assimilated, the Romans would have dared to afford the Germanic hosts with the support of the local inhabitants. Even with favourable conditions, such an assimilation would have been impossible in such a short period, an unique event in the history of mankind. A further fact is that the Roman rule over Dacia did never concern the whole territory, but was only partial, and withdrawal from the eastern area begun several years before the definitive evacuation. Consequently, the theory that suggests a possible Daco-Roman blend is untenable in the light of the historic events.
Perhaps archaeology may give any hint? Dacians were skilled fortress-builders and Romans excelled in building towns and roads, notwithstanding, no remains of such constructions have yet been found in Transylvania except the Roman roads. The Roman population of Dacia was not so numerous and consisted mainly in soldiers with no particular interest in colonizing or spreading the Roman culture, so they did not build important towns but only garrison strongholds. Indeed, it was the imperial policy to allow the subdued peoples to keep their own culture and language; Romanization was not an overriding issue. When the Roman emperor decided to remove his legions from Dacia in 271 c.e., the Roman soldiers and settlers were transferred to the south, in present-day Bulgaria. It is very unlikely that also the Dacian inhabitants joined them in their relocation, as they had not any good reason to do so ‒ and in such case, the non-Romanized Dacians from beyond the boundary would have repopulated the land weeping away any trace of Roman culture. Historical records and archaeological finds show overwhelming evidence that by that time and until the 12th century c.e., the Vlach people, that spoke Romanian language and had Romanian culture and religious tradition, were dwelling in another place: in southern Illyria, from where the majority of them were slowly moving towards present-day Romania through a long-lasting sojourn in Bulgaria.
Archaeological evidences show that after the Roman evacuation the Dacians did not perform any kind of continuity, they did not dwell in the former Roman towns, which seem to have been deserted. Constructions in stone or brick were no longer made, nor monuments or inscriptions of any kind, and even burial rites changed. The Dacian culture was completely different from the Roman one, and no sort of continuity through assimilation is documented after the Roman retreat. Before the definitive disengagement in 271 c.e., the Roman emperor Gallienus (253-268) ordered the withdrawal from eastern Transylvania. From the archaeological finds pertaining to this period it emerges that peoples from the neighbouring lands ‒that may be independent Dacians‒ occupied the areas left by the Romans. It is obvious that the Dacian population of Muntenia and Moldavia, being outside the empire had never been Romanized ‒ as very likely not even the subjected Dacians were. It is a fact that the towns were the heart of social, cultural, political and economic life in the Roman Empire, and it was in them that any likely assimilation might have happened. In the case of Dacia, there was no Daco-Roman urban development, but only Roman. The towns that were built in Dacia by the Romans ceased to exist as soon as they abandoned the country. Even though the Roman settlements in Dacia were inhabited by a mixed population of Roman contingent coming from many different regions of the empire, those of Italian origin were not numerous and consisted mainly of government officials ‒ whose sojourn was usually limited in time and consequently they were often replaced by other colleagues. Only very few of the inhabitants from Italy were permanent residents. The majority of the Roman settlers came from different regions of the empire (about twenty provenances are mentioned), from the most remote areas in Africa, Spain, Britain, Asia Minor, etc. The supporters of the Daco-Roman continuity myth allege that since they had different origins, they had to know Latin in order to understand each other. As a matter of fact, only part of these settlers were Romanized, and many were not at all ‒ and anyway, they were not autochthonous people but foreign occupants.
Reports from eyewitnesses attest that Romans abandoned Dacia in a great hurry because of the attacks of the Goths and mainly because of the raids carried on by the Yazyg, who are said to have made thousands of Roman prisoners and caused enormous devastations. The Yazyg ‒Jász‒ may be properly regarded as early Hungarians. The emperor, knowing that all the territories north of the Danube were lost, removed the Roman soldiers and inhabitants from Dacia to the lands by the southern shore of the river, in Moesia. Therefore, those Latin-speakers that sojourned in Dacia during the Roman occupation were foreigners, and their descendants cannot advance any claim on that country.
Of all the Balkan provinces of the empire, Dacia was the one on which the Roman rule was the shortest. Latin-derived languages did not survive after four centuries of Roman rule over Pannonia, Thrace, Illyria ‒except in some areas of the Adriatic coastland‒; how could it be preserved in Dacia, where Romans left almost no traces of themselves? In only 165 years, the only part of the native population that could have learnt the Latin language would have been people that had some important relationship with the Roman officials or wealthy traders that may have reached economic agreements with the imperial authorities. Another glaring example for comparison is Britannia, today England, on which Romans ruled for 365 years, where they left hundreds of remains, towns, roads, baths, etc. and where the Roman past is attested by a large amount of toponyms and even cultural features like the Scottish kilt. It is more than plausible that Latin was widely spoken in Britannia after more than three and a half centuries of Roman influence; notwithstanding, few years after the first Germanic invasions, no Latin-speaking people remained in the whole land of Britannia. It is true that English is of all Germanic languages the one having the largest number of words of Latin etymology, yet it is not a Romance tongue. Some common English toponyms show their origin in Roman terms like castrum, that derived into the endings ~caster/~cester/~chester of British towns (as Lancaster, Leicester, Winchester, etc.). If the Romanization of Dacia was so complete as alleged by the supporters of the Daco-Roman theory, a huge amount of archaeological finds and Latin toponyms should have remained, but there is nothing of all this. There is not even any account of any fierce fight of the supposedly Romanized Dacians against the Gothic invaders in defense of the Latin cultural values (as they had fought the Romans before). After the evacuation, Romans did not leave anything. They established the Danube as the last frontier, and built a series of fortifications along the river in order to prevent attacks from the other side. The Greek historian Procopius wrote by the middle of the 6th century c.e. about the fact that Romans renounced to any attempt of keeping any cultural influence or diffusion of their language in the lands of the Goths and other Germanic tribes, which means that a Latin-speaking people would have had possibilities of survival only within the imperial borders, that is south of the Danube.
Soon after the Romans left the country, Goths and Gepids pounced on Transylvania and ruled for a whole century, until they were defeated by the Huns in 375 c.e. The Huns built a powerful empire that lasted until 454 c.e. It is in this time that the Székely people established a permanent presence in Transylvania, as they were part of the Hun tribes that did not return back to the east. Goths and Gepids continued to live in the region and even though not any important political entity was founded, they remained the dominant population group and kept a relative control on the territory. One century later, the Avars (a people related with the Huns and Magyars) came from the east and ruled over the whole Carpathian Basin for two and a half centuries.
We have important documents written in this period, among which those of Procopius, a Greek chronicler and Jordanes, the Goth historian:
∙ Procopius wrote: “The River Ister (Danube) flows down from the mountains in the country of the Celts, who are now called Gauls; and it passes through a great extent of country which for the most part is altogether barren, though in some places it is inhabited by barbarians who live a kind of brutish life and have no dealings with other men. When it gets close to Dacia, for the first time it clearly forms the boundary between the barbarians, who hold its left bank, and the territory of the Romans, which is on the right”. – Peri Ktismaton (Buildings), Book IV, 9-10. Procopius shows in an unequivocal manner that there was no Roman-like people dwelling in the lands on other side of the Danube, namely, in Dacia.
∙ Jordanes wrote: “I mean ancient Dacia, which the race of the Gepids now possess. This Gothia, which our ancestors called Dacia and now, as I have said, is called Gepidia, was then bounded on the east by the Roxolani, on the west by the Yazyg, on the north by the Sarmatians and Basternae and on the south by the river Danube. The Yazyg are separated from the Roxolani by the Aluta river only”. – Getica, XII, 73-74. Not even Jordanes did mention any Romans or Romanized inhabitants in Dacia, but “Yazyg, Roxolans and Sarmatians (Alans)”, namely, Hungarian ancestor tribes! Jordanes also identified the Dacians, that were known by Greeks as Gæta, with the Goths, by saying: “Then, when Burebistas was king of the Goths” – Getica, XI, 67. Burebistas was actually a king of the Dacians in 60-44 b.c.e. We cannot know how much reliable this assertion of Jordanes might be, however, it is obvious that he found a noticeable resemblance between the Dacians and his own Germanic people so as to identify each other as the same, and not between Dacians and Romans. Therefore, we may conclude that it is quite likely that Dacians joined the Goths and mixed with them.
During the Avar kingdom, in the 6th century c.e., successive waves of Slavs moved from the Russian plains to the Balkans and settled in Transylvania, leaving there some place names and the vojvoda administrative system that continued under Hungarian rule. They usually adapted the Roman toponyms to their own phonetics, nevertheless, in the lands north of the lower Danube we do not find any inherited Latin toponyms: not a single name of a Roman town or any other kind of settlement was preserved. The most obvious explanation of this is that the Slavs did not find Latin-speaking inhabitants when they migrated to these territories in the 6th-7th centuries.
In 679 c.e., Khan Asparukh of the Bulgars (another Hun-related ethnos), crossed the Danube and founded a new kingdom in present-day Bulgaria in alliance with seven Slavic tribes. The Bulgars extended their rule on both sides of the lower Danube. It was the Bulgarian kingdom that exerted its influence on Transylvania ‒that was inhabited mainly by Slavic peoples‒ until the arrival of Árpád’s hosts. By the mid-9th century, Bulgarians adopted Christianity according to the Byzantine rites, the very same religion practised by the majority of Romanians, and it is indeed in Bulgaria where they acquired it. Khan Boris in 865 c.e. turned his title and name into Czar Mikhail as a sign of his conversion. Slavic (Slavonic) was established as the official liturgical language, the one inherited by the Romanian Orthodox church. When the Magyars entered the Carpathian Basin by the end of the 9th century c.e., they confronted the armies of Czar Simeon of Bulgaria, that by that time ruled over Transylvania through Slavic vassal princes. The region was predominantly populated by Slavs in that period, and not any Romanic-speaking group was present. After several battles with victories on both sides, the Bulgarians lost Transylvania that was seized by the Magyars, while Muntenia and Oltenia (both regions composing present-day Walachia) were occupied by the Besenyö (Petchenegs).
It is essential to point out that there was not a single toponym in Transylvania that might have had Latin origin when the Magyars arrived in the region. Most of the place names and river names were Slavic except some few, which were not Romance anyway.
Concerning this historical period, the supporters of the Daco-Roman myth consider it to be the background for the epic accounts of the Gesta Hungarorum, which are often quoted by them with the purpose of proving that the Vlach were the inhabitants of Transylvania before Árpád conquered the land. This literary work, that belongs to the fiction genre, mentions the dukes of Bihar, Bánát and Transylvania, who are said to be respectively a Khazar, a Slav and a Vlach. There is no trace of such characters in any contemporary document because they are completely imaginary. On the other hand, very prominent personalities that were indeed quite engaged with the Magyar conquest like Emperor Arnulf of the Franks, Kings Svatopluk and Mojmir II of Moravia, Czar Simeon of Bulgaria or Leon VI of Byzantium are not mentioned at all in the Gesta Hungarorum ‒ any trustworthy history treatise would not fail to mention them. Besides this, important battles are omitted and there are many anachronisms mainly regarding with peoples that were not present in the Carpathian Basin in that period, like Cumans and Vlach. The author was an anonymous writer of the 12th century c.e. that projected the situation of his time back to three centuries earlier, and his accounts are in sharp contrast with the contemporary sources that reported the Magyar conquest as eyewitnesses. Such documents attest that the peoples involved in the events related with the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin were Slovenes and other Slavic tribes, Moravians, Avars, Bulgarians, Franks and Gepids, but no Romans, Vlach or Cumans. The author of Gesta Hungarorum may have been led into confusion by Slavic accounts about the fact that the Magyars seized the Danubian Basin from the Franks, that were then called (as well as Italians) “Voloch”, “Vlasi” by the Slavs ‒ hence the Hungarian translation of the toponyms containing the term “frank/franc” into “olasz[i]“, and the Romany name of France, “Valshi”, derived from the Slavic term.
Bulgaria was annexed to Byzantium in 1018 c.e. and remained as part of that empire for almost 170 years. It is in that time that the Vlach begin to be mentioned more often, always south of the lower Danube. In that period, the last wave of the great migration of peoples arrived in the Balkans: the Kumans, that had an intensive interaction with the Vlach. By that time the immediate neighbours across the Danube on the north shore were the Petchenegs, with whom the Kumans were traditional rivals, both peoples being of the same stock. At last, the Kumans absorbed them and the present-day Walachia came to be known as “Cumania”. The Kumans were characterized by their ambiguous behaviour: while they were continuously attacking Byzantium, other Kumans were serving as mercenaries in the Byzantine army. The Kumans were on both sides or else as a third party, sometimes fighting against Bulgarians and sometimes allied with them, mainly supported by the Vlach. Also Slavic kingdoms engaged Kuman mercenaries, that frequently had to fight Kuman raiders. Many of them were also in Hungary, and became an important contingent of the Hungarian army. Their character led them to be in continuous contrast with Hungarians, and as a result they were expelled and gathered the Kuman/Vlach tribes in Bulgaria. They were later requested back in Hungary, but on their way they joined the Vlachs in the revolt that led to the independence of Walachia in 1330. Few decades later, the Kumans disappeared as an ethnic entity, being assimilated by the different nations where they inhabited and becoming an important component of the Romanian nation. Then it was the first time in history that the Vlach established themselves in territories north of the Danube.
Their arrival in Transylvania happened only in the 13th century c.e., when the Hungarian kings allowed the Vlach to settle in that land, including Vlach rulers, to protect them from the Turks that had conquered Walachia.

There is still much more to say concerning the historical facts, but as it was said in the introductory note, this is only a concise consideration. So as a conclusion of this chapter, we can say that it is enough to point out that the Yazyg presence in the Carpathian Basin is contemporary with the Thracian period, and ancient toponyms and river names show overwhelming evidence of this fact, including the name of a former Romanian capital: Jassy ‒ Jászvásár (Yazyg Market).
In the Middle Ages, the term Vlach was the only one known by all authors who wrote about the ancestors of the people today called Romanian. Consequently, the name Vlach is the most appropriate and historically correct; ʹVlachʹ and ʹRomanianʹ are thus interchangeable, because there is no mention of any other people with the same characteristics.

2. Religious Facts
The supporters of the Daco-Roman myth have a quite bizarre explanation of the conversion to Christianity of the early Romanians: they assert that they became Christian around the 4th or 5th century c.e. while hidden in the caves in Transylvania! There are many inconsistencies in such theory, for example:
∙ Who passed on to them the Christian message, and how did those hypothetic missionaries find them while the rulers, warriors and settlers did not know about their existence for one thousand years? Would the conquerors neglect a potential slave working force? Could it be possible that not even one of the Goths, Gepids, Huns, Sarmatians, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, Magyars or Kumans has ever found at least by chance one of the troglodytes? Nor any of the monks or whoever would have been going to the caves with the Gospel has ever been discovered?
∙ Why the alleged caves have still not been identified, and not any religious object, relic, image or inscription has been found in any cave or catacomb, neither on walls nor on gravestones, as in every other place where Christianity, either openly or secretly existed?
∙ There is not any Romanian church or writing or document of any kind in Transylvania previous to the 13th century c.e. Why did these Christians remain hidden even after Transylvania was under Christian Bulgaria since the 9th century c.e.? Why did they stay in such conditions until four centuries later?
∙ After the discovery of a Latin-speaking Christian people by the church authorities (because if they became Christians there must have been somebody who was sent as missionary that reached them), Transylvania would have been regarded as an outpost of Christendom in barbaric lands, and churches and monasteries would have been founded, mainly after the later 9th century c.e., when the Bulgarian rulers would have favoured such a promotion of Christianity within their domain. Why nothing of all this did happen? Would the Romanians still need to be hidden, while in Bulgaria they were free citizens and had the same religion?
∙ The liturgical language of the Romanian church has never been Latin, but Old Slavonic until the later 19th century c.e. Why would the proud descent of the Romans accept such a thing, when their own language was the official one of the church? How could they have adopted the liturgy of a people that theoretically arrived, being still heathen, one century after the Romanian’s own conversion, and how did they get in touch with those peoples being hidden in caves?
∙ Since the earliest available records concerning the religious membership of the Romanians, it is clear that they have always belonged to the Eastern Slavic rites church, that since 1054 c.e. is separated from Rome and belongs to the Orthodox confession ‒ notice that Romanians are the only Latin-speaking people that is not traditionally Roman Catholic. In that period, the whole Transylvania was under the Hungarian crown. When the schism took place, Hungary remained with Rome and the king declared the Eastern Slavic church illegal in all the territories of the Hungarian domain. Therefore, why did the alleged Daco-Romans join the Orthodox church? And how did they manage not to be banished? Or else, who allowed them, as subjects of the Hungarian king, to follow a confession already declared illegal?
There is only one possible explanation for all these mysteries: Romanians were not in Transylvania in those times!
There are many other facts connected with the Romanian’s religion that provide overwhelming proofs that their origin was in southern Illyria and not in present-day Romania. It is evident that the whole of the Romanian people must have been dwelling in the Slavic territory that after 1054 c.e. separated from Rome passing to the Orthodox confession. Transylvania belonged entirely to the Roman-Catholic area after the schism. Also the Slavic peoples that adopted Latin alphabet (Croatians, Slovenians, Czech, Slovaks, Polish) remained with Rome; these facts limit the territory in which the Romanian people developed to the southern Balkan area, namely present-day Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria, that is south of the lower Danube. Additional facts narrow such territory even more: When Byzantium annexed the kingdom of Bulgaria, the emperor assigned all the Vlach people to the archbishopric of Ochrida, that is in southern Albania, according to the original homeland of this people. Indeed, the whole Romanians were still under the archdiocese of Ochrida until the 18th century c.e., even when other Orthodox Slavic rites bishoprics existed much nearer to Romania. Until the later 19th century c.e., as the liturgical language was Old Slavonic, most of the priests and clergymen in Romania were Bulgarian or Serbian. These are clear evidences that show which the original land of the Romanian people was…
The supporters of the Daco-Roman myth may argue that indeed there are also Roman-Catholic Romanians, but we know with absolute certainly why and when they adopted such religion:
The first group were the Cumans, that embraced the Roman church in the 13th century c.e. in Moldavia (then called Cumania).
The second group were Romanians that, being Orthodox, were forced to accept the union with Rome in 1698 c.e. by the Habsburg monarchy that ruled over Transylvania, under strong pressure through denial of civil rights to those that refused to convert. Those were the first Romanians that joined Rome in history of religion.

To conclude this chapter, which has been exposed in a very concise manner, we can say that the religious heritage of Romanians reflects their ethnic origin and mainly their geographic homeland until at least one century after the separation of European Christendom into Roman and Orthodox, division that was sharply defined by territory and that involved entire nations. The only Balkan peoples that belonged to the Orthodox church and had Old Slavonic as liturgical language instead of Latin dwelled south of the lower Danube until the later 12th century c.e.

3. Linguistic Facts

The Daco-Roman myth was framed mainly on the basis of Romanian language, which is classified in the Neo-Latin group. Such classification is correct; what is erroneous is the explanation given by the supporters of such theory concerning the reason by which it is a Neo-Latin tongue, and the place where it supposedly developed from Latin into modern Romanian. As most languages, it has also features that do not correspond with the general pattern shared by the other tongues of the same group, but belong to the substratum ‒namely, the language spoken by the original population before they were Romanized‒ and other characteristics adopted from external influences in different historical periods. These features and the evolution of Latin into Romanian show in a definite manner the actual origin of the language and its geographic distribution according to historical stages.
At present there are two main dialects of the Vlach language: Romanian and Aromanian, and both have also a sub-dialect: Istro-Romanian from the first one and Megleno-Romanian from the second one. Aromanian and Megleno-Romanian are still spoken in the original homeland of all Vlach peoples ‒Albania, Macedonia and Greece‒ while Istro-Romanian is represented by an exiguous number of speakers in Istria. Evidences prove that there was only one Vlach language until the 11th century c.e., when the mediaeval ancestors of present-day Romanians began to get in touch with the peoples dwelling in the lands north of the lower Danube and thus they progressively acquired loanwords from them, while Aromanian continued its development separately. Yet, both dialects are still understandable to each other.
The characteristics of modern Romanian show that this language evolved in the southwest of the Balkan region since its very origins and during the centuries of Roman domination, that there was an intensive interaction with Albanian and a close relationship with the Southern-Italian dialects during that period, and that later it developed within the Bulgarian realm until the 11th century c.e.
On the other hand, there is a complete absence of Old Germanic terms that must have been transferred into Romanian, at least in a minimum amount, during the centuries of Gothic-Gepid rule, if Romanians were actually in Transylvania as the Daco-Roman myth supporters claim. There is also not any toponym in Transylvania having Romanian etymology before the 13th century c.e., nor any originally Romanian name for that region is recorded ‒ actually, the present and historic denomination (Ardeal/Transylvania) has been taken after Hungarian (Erdély). Indeed, the Romanian term ʹArdealʹ has no meaning, but is an adaptation of the Old Magyar name Erdő-elve, that means “land beyond the forest”, translated into Latin as “Transylvania”. Such a name reflects the Hungarian viewpoint, as for Romanians that region should have been called “Transcarpathia”, the land beyond the Carpathian Mounts! Consequently, if Romanians were already there when Hungarians arrived, why then did they adopt the Magyar name? How could have they completely forgotten the denomination by which they knew the region before the arrival of Árpád’s hosts?
In order to present in a comprehensible manner the linguistic aspects of Romanian that are relevant to the origin and evolution of the language, we will consider its relationship with Albanian, with Italian dialects and with Slavic separately.

The Romanian-Albanian Connection

A good amount of the non-Latin features present in Romanian language have their correspondence in Albanian, not only concerning lexicon but also structure, phraseology and idioms. These characteristics belong to two linguistic periods: the substratum, that is the language spoken by the Vlach before their Romanization ‒which may be the same of Albanian or a similar language‒, and the subsequent close contact between both peoples throughout a long period, mainly regarding their common life-style as shepherds.
Since the controversy about the origin of Albanians is presented by two main theories, one proposing the Illyrian stem and the other the Thracian stem, the advocates of the Daco-Roman myth vehemently support the second possibility, as they cannot deny the strong links between the Vlach and the Albanian peoples in early times. It is not our task to discuss about the origin of Albanians here, and in any case it is irrelevant whether one or the other theory is the right one, because the whole complex of proofs point out in a definitive manner to the area of present-day Albania and surrounding territory as the birthplace of the early Romanians and not the eastern side of the Balkans ‒ even if the Albanians would not be autochthonous but coming from any other place, it is in the area they live today where both peoples met and not elsewhere. A further factor is that there is not any historical record attesting any hypothetic migration of Albanians from Dacia (and there is not any vestige of their presence in that land), while there are many documents proving that the Vlach people lived since the early centuries by the southern Adriatic coastland ‒even before the Roman occupation of Dacia!‒ and as a matter of fact, there are still historic Romanian communities (Aromanians) living there.
Linguistic research has determined that most of the words shared by Romanian and Albanian are not loans from one tongue to the other but have a common origin in the substratum, before than these two languages began to be distinguished from each other. Romanian terms that are similar to Albanian mainly regard primary elements like body parts, names of animals and plants, and words specifically related with the pastoral life. It is significant that such vocabulary in Romanian is not found in Slavic or any other language spoken in the Balkans but only in Albanian. Another interesting fact concerns the very name of the capital city of Romania: Bucureşti, a word that is similar to the Albanian term “bukurisht”, having the same meaning.
While the Vlach people were thoroughly Latinized, Albanian language has also received the influence of Latin since early times. A common territory and life-style shared by both peoples have produced the same semantic changes in both languages: a considerable number of Latin terms have undergone identical changes of meaning without parallel in any other tongue, and they cannot have happened just by chance or by any logical reason except because both peoples were living in a common environment and in the same territory.
Among the unusual features present in Romanian that are explainable by a comparison with Albanian we find also the definite article, that in Classic Latin precedes the noun but is enclitic in Romanian and follows the same patterns as in Albanian, and the personal pronoun in accusative case, that contains the suffix ~ne, exactly like in Albanian.

The Romanian-Italic Relationship

If the Slavic, Hungarian and Albanian terms were removed from Romanian language, it would fully qualify as a Southern Italian dialect. There are many structural, phonetic and idiomatic aspects that are amazingly similar between Romanian and Salentine-Apulian, Neapolitan, Calabrian and other tongues of Southern Italy, and also some elements of the North-eastern Italian dialects spoken by the Adriatic coastland.
Today in Salento (the “heel” of Italy) we can hear that local people greet each other saying “ce faci?”, that is exactly like in Romanian, or else in Sicily they leave each other saying “ne vedem”, which is also the same expression used in Romanian; if we are in Naples perhaps we can by chance hear the phrase “sora ta” with the same literal meaning as in Romanian, or maybe that a young man would “nsura”, pronounced like “însura” in Romanian and with the same meaning… These are only few examples from a long number of similar parallelisms. Such amount of expressions are not a coincidence but the result of an active interaction between the early ancestors of Romanians and Southern Italians in the period previous to the arrival of the Slavic peoples in the Balkans, that is, before the 6th century c.e. ‒ This evidence is not unknown by the Daco-Roman myth supporters, but purposely neglected.
From all the common features that regard the Italic dialects on one side and Romanian on the other, it results evident that both groups have undergone the same evolution process since the early stage, when still Classic Latin was spoken, until the arrival of the Slavs in the Balkans, for about six centuries of close contact and geographic proximity. Concerning the similarities between Salentine Apulian and Romanian, a possible link may be the ancient Messapii and Iapigii, peoples that inhabited on both sides of the Adriatic Sea, though mainly in Italy. The origin of these peoples has still not been determined with certainty; some scholars suggest that they were Illyric tribes that sailed to the opposite shore and settled in the south-eastern region of Italy, while others assign them a Mycenean origin. It is not relevant where did they come from, but it is significant the fact that many toponyms and inscriptions left by the Messapii in Italy have a correspondence on the opposite shore of the Adriatic. They probably established colonies or trade centres in Illyria or were in some way related with Illyric peoples. We discard the possibility that the Vlach were Messapii because of their quite different life-styles: the Vlach have been shepherds since old, while the Messapii were strenuous warriors. Notwithstanding, as the same language may be shared by completely different peoples and linguistics by itself alone is irrelevant to determine ethnic origins, it is however essential for establishing where a people sojourned and for how long. So, according to their common characteristics, we can assert that Vlach and Messapii have been neighbours and once they both have adopted Latin as their language, the tongues spoken by both peoples followed a similar evolution.
The Greek influence over both Southern Illyria and Southern Italy ‒called “Magna Grecia”‒ has affected Romanian as well as the Italic dialects in some aspects, like the replacement of the infinitive in composed verbal forms. It is noticeable that Italic and Southern Balkan languages, as well as Romanian, behave according to a common pattern that is exclusive of them, which consist in replacing the infinitive with conjunctive. This feature is absent in Central/Northern Italian dialects. Another phenomenon concerning the infinitive that is verified in the same way in Romanian and Italic is the elision of the Latin ending ~re; for example: cânta[re], asculta[re], dormi[re], etc.
Regarding the pronoun, the genitive used as dative was quite a rarity in Classic Latin but became the rule within a geographically continuous area during the process of transition towards the Romance languages, a case that would not have been verified in Romanian if it was spoken in a separate region. It is from Mediaeval Latin that we can explain, for instance, the use of leur, loro and lor in French, Italian and Romanian respectively (while the same pattern is not valid for the other Neo-Latin languages).
The plural of the noun in modern Italian and Romanian is formed by replacing or adding an ending vowel (~i/~e), while in all the other Romance languages consists in adding a final ~s to the singular form. When these two different patterns arose, they were sharply defined geographically, being the ending vowel the characteristic of the languages spoken from Tuscany southwards.
There are still more features, morphologic and phonetic, which Romanian shares with Southern Italian dialects, like the postposition of the possessive pronoun that is typical of Neapolitan dialect, which assumed the same structure as Romanian, or the frequent ending ~u for the male gender nouns. Romanian shares some linguistic characteristics also with Sardinian as well as with North-eastern Italian dialects and with the unfortunately extinct Dalmatian language.
It is relevant for our research to remark that there is hardly a Latin-derived word in Romanian related with administration, science, arts and crafts, and whatever belongs to normal activity of city-dwellers: this fact is another evidence against the Daco-Roman myth, because Roman occupants in Dacia were officials, legionaries and civilian settlers, not farmers or shepherds; therefore, how is it possible that Romanian language has not inherited any of these words that belonged to the essential Roman vocabulary in that period? Even non-Latin languages have at least few Latin-derived terms concerning this aspect. As a matter of fact, such words in Romanian have not a Germanic origin either, which leads us inexorably to the conclusion that Romanians were not in the Carpathian Basin during the centuries of Gothic-Gepid rule. The Romanian word for city is oraş, whose Magyar origin (város) suggests that they began to dwell in urban centres only when they got in touch with the Hungarian realm ‒ namely, when the mediaeval Romanians, then known as Vlach, were offered asylum in Transylvania by the Hungarian monarchs when the Turks seized Walachia.
Romanian language shows overwhelming evidence to have followed the whole evolution of Latin spoken in the south-western half of the Balkans, that belonged to the Eastern Roman Empire until the Slavic invasions in the 7th century c.e., period in which the ancestors of modern Romanians, namely, the Vlach, had an intensive contact with the peoples living in Southern Italy and by the Adriatic coastlands.

The Slavic Influence

Romanian language has received a relevant contribution from Southern Slavic, even though such influence has been artificially reduced in the later 19th century c.e. by the so-called “re-Latinization” of Romanian ‒ actually, it must be properly referred to as “Latinization”, because it was not a return to a previous situation but the introduction of new foreign elements to reform the language. It was also within this process that the former national name was changed from Vlah to Român. The original Romanian alphabet, that was Cyrillic until 1868 c.e., was replaced by the Latin alphabet, to which some additional characters (not existing in any other Neo-Latin language) were added in order to represent the phonemic elements that previously were satisfactorily supplied by the Cyrillic characters. Through this process of Latinization, the percentage of Slavic terms in Romanian had been halved. Nevertheless, there are still many Slavic words and other linguistic features that attest the long sojourn of the Vlach/Romanians in the Slavic territories south of the lower Danube, mainly in Bulgaria.
One of the features of Slavic origin that has been widely exploited in favour of the Daco-Roman myth regards a Roman character that was adopted by Southern Slavs since they settled in the Balkans, that is Trajan, the conqueror of Dacia. Several Roman constructions in Illyria (roads, towers, gates, garrisons) were either built by that emperor or ascribed to him, toponyms that the Slavs have conserved as a standard designation of any Roman structure, under the Slavic forms Trojanj, Trojanov, Trojanski, etc. The name of the Roman emperor became legendary among Southern Slavs, a character that was transferred to their Vlach neighbours and that would have been used many centuries later by the supporters of Romanian extremist nationalism.
There was only one Vlach language until the 11th century c.e.; it is in that epoch that the earliest differences between present-day Romanian and Aromanian began to arise, as the Vlach people expanded over a vast area from the original homeland by the Adriatic Sea throughout the Bulgarian Kingdom and subsequently numerous Vlach settled in Cumania, north of the lower Danube (then re-named Walachia). Since that period, the influence of Bulgarian was stronger on the Romanian branch than on the Aromanian one. However, well documented sources attest that until the 13th century c.e., there were still Vlach people of the northern group living in Kosovo and some of their names are mentioned in an account written by Stefan Prvovenčani Nemanja, king of Serbia: what is interesting is that those names do not belong to the Aromanian branch because they contain a pattern that is exclusive of the Romanian language spoken in the north.
It is in fact when the whole Vlach people were living within the borders of the Bulgarian Kingdom that they acquired the words regarding social and politic organization (7th-8th centuries c.e.) and ecclesiastic order (9th century c.e.), as well as the first alphabet ‒Cyrillic‒. Romanian, indeed, was not a written language but only spoken until that time, being the bulk of the Vlach population transhumant shepherds and not town-dwellers. Of course, if they would have been descendants of Roman soldiers and settlers, they would have already had a written language with Latin characters… The religious vocabulary in Romanian language shows in a clear manner that the Vlach people were educated within the Bulgarian Orthodox church, a fact that would be unexplainable if Romanians would have been outside the borders of the Bulgarian realm before the schism (1054 c.e.) or immediately after, as the terminology that is properly Orthodox should have needed some years to be consolidated as different from the one of the earlier common church. This evidence implies that Romanians were closely related with Bulgaria at least until the 12th century c.e.
Among the extensive Slavic lexicon present in Romanian language, there are most of the words related with human feelings and relationship: terms like “love”, “dear”, “bride”, “wife”, “betrothal”, etc. are all of Slavic origin. Many words that belong to everybody’s essential vocabulary are Slavic, including every time that a Romanian says «yes»: «da». Furthermore, Slavic has heavily influenced on Romanian pronunciation and cadence, for example in the iotification of the vowel “e”, that in Romanian is often pronounced “ye”, which is a typical feature of Slavic languages.
The Slavic influence on Romanian was clearly exerted by Southern Slavs, namely, the branch that founded the historic kingdoms of Bulgaria and Serbia, after centuries of coexistence in the same territory. Contrary to the Daco-Roman myth, the Slavs that dwelled in Transylvania were not the Southern but the Western Slavs, to which belong Czech, Slovaks, Slovenes and Poles (and later the Slavicized Croats), and their impact in Transylvania has never been so strong as they were not the rulers of that land but subject to the Avar Ring. Furthermore, none of the Western Slavs adopted Cyrillic alphabet, and they did not join the Orthodox church but remained under the Roman Catholic one. Consequently, if the Daco-Roman myth was true, today Romanians would not be Orthodox but Roman-Catholic, they would have always had a Latin alphabet and their Slavic words would not be of Bulgarian-Serbian background but rather Slovenian-Slovak terms.

History records and scientific research on the people and their culture, their language and their religious tradition show the truth about Romanian origins. Unfortunately, an artificial and untenable theory has been deeply embedded on that people to the detriment of truth and honesty by fanatic nationalist leaders. The knowledge of the truth will not cause their expulsion from the land where they live, on the contrary, will grant them the freedom that they have never had…

Chronological Summary
In order to illustrate what has been exposed in this essay, we present here a summary with reference maps:

The Balkan Region in the 1st century c.e. was inhabited by four main ethnic groups:
1. The Hellenic culture, represented by Greeks and Macedonians, in the south ‒ Greek colonies and Hellenized peoples existed also in Asia Minor and on the Balkan eastern coastland in Thracian lands.
2. Thracians, composed by several tribes, dwelled in the eastern half of the Balkans, having as western borderline the Tisia-Ister-Margus rivers (Tisza-Danube-Velika Morava). Dacians were a Thracian group of tribes settled north of the Danube. Only the Thracians living south of the Danube were partially Latinized.
3. Illyrians inhabited on the western half, between Macedonia and  Pannonia, having as eastern border the Savus-Ister-Margus rivers (Sava-Danube-Velika Morava). They were in close contact with the Italics, with whom shared the evolution of Latin into Romance until the 6th century c.e. Romanian language developed within this group. Latin was never adopted by any people beyond the Danube. 4. The Yazyg, a Sarmatic tribe that dwelled in the region north of the Illyrians (Pannonia) and throughout the Thracian lands (including Dacia) up to the Bosphorus. They were the first ancestors of modern Hungarians in Europe. The diffusion of Latin language in the Balkan Roman provinces was carried on with success only in the areas south of the Ister-Dravus rivers (Danube-Drava), excluding the Hellenized areas in which Greek language was consolidated. All the region south of the Danube was annexed definitively to the empire between the years 6-10 c.e. Rome kept Pannonia and Moesia until year 378 c.e. Notwithstanding, Latin language did not prevail in Pannonia after more than three and a half centuries of Roman domination, while in Moesia endured until the Slavization of the region. It was in the Illyric coastland that Latin-derived languages developed in a continuous manner until the Middle Ages, as an homogeneous linguistic zone with the Italian Adriatic coast. Dacia, that was only partially occupied between 106 and 271 c.e. was never Latinized, as none of the lands beyond the Danube. Free Dacians and Goths conquered the lands abandoned by the Romans. After the Gothic invasions, Huns, Avars and other peoples took the control of the Balkan region. During the 7th and 8th centuries c.e., the Slavs achieved in conquering the area south of the Danube-Drava line and Slavicized some of the previous conquerors, like Bulgars and Croats. They were Christened by the Byzantines in the 9th century c.e., adopted the Cyrillic alphabet and followed the religious schism of the 11th century c.e. These facts marked a separation from the other Slavic peoples dwelling north of the Danube, that adopted Latin alphabet and followed Rome ‒ this region included all peoples dwelling in the Carpathian Basin. Even the Cumans, that settled between the lower Danube and the Carpathian Mounts in what later became Walachia and Moldavia, belonged to the Roman-Catholic realm and had Latin alphabet. Consequently, it is impossible that any people would have developed a Romance language written in Cyrillic characters and later joined the Orthodox Slavonic church if not only south of the lower Danube. The Romanian language shows evidence of having been originated from a substratum that shares in common with Albanian, spoken in Southern Illyria. A branch of the Vlach people still inhabits in that original homeland. Being transhumant shepherds, they expanded over a vast area south of the lower Danube during the Slavic invasions and afterwards, becoming an ethnic component of the Kingdom of Bulgaria. There, Romanian language had its first alphabet, as it was only a spoken tongue until then. It was in the 11th century c.e. that the Vlach language split into the present-day Romanian and Aromanian. The first group crossed the Danube and settled in Cumania, then re-named Walachia after them. The earliest records of their presence in Transylvania do not precede the 13th century c.e, when Romanians were offered asylum by the Hungarian Kingdom after the Turks seized Walachia. The Carpathian Basin since the fall of the Roman Empire until the Treaty of Trianon (1920)
‒ Peoples that belong to the Hungarian ancestry written in red ‒ During the 14th and 15th centuries c.e. the politic order in the Balkans was subverted by the expansion of the Turk Empire, that obliterated the Byzantine influence and progressively subdued the Balkan states south of the lower Danube: Epirus in 1340, Bulgaria in 1396, Byzantium fell definitively in 1453, and Serbia was annexed to the Ottoman Empire in 1459 c.e. By the beginning of the 16th century c.e., the only region in which the politic hegemony of the Ottoman Empire was still not exerted was the Carpathian Basin, under the Hungary-Bohemia crown alliance. The Principalities of Walachia (1290) and Moldavia (1352) were the first Vlach states that existed north of the Danube. They emerged after the end of the migrations from the east, in the lands once occupied by Petchenegs and Cumans. They were however not fully independent but under Ottoman suzerainty. The Ottoman Turks expanded throughout the Balkans and subdued the Kingdom of Hungary. They even threatened the Austrian Kingdom and laid siege to Vienna in 1529 c.e. Only Transylvania remained as an independent Hungarian Principality, politically constituted on a three-nationality Act of Union: Magyars, Székely and Saxons. The Vlach were still not represented, although they were constantly immigrating since the 13th century c.e., as they had better conditions that in Walachia. The Principality of Erdély lasted from 1526 until 1683 c.e. During this period the Hungarian population decreased because of emigration to other European states, owing to Turk raids and wars carried on with the purpose of annexing Transylvania to the Ottoman Empire. This depopulation allowed the Vlach to settle in abandoned areas. The succession of wars between Austria and the Ottoman power concluded with the Treaty of Sremski Karlovci in 1699, by which the Turks released most of occupied Hungary and Slavonia to Austria. Since then, the whole Hungarian realm, including Erdély, belonged to the Austrian Kingdom until 1867, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was established. It was in 1861 c.e. that the name “Romania” came to existence the first time in history, with the union of Walachia and Moldavia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismembered after the Teaty of Trianon (1920), and Transylvania was annexed to Romania, which caused a strong upheaval on the socio-cultural balance of the region and the impoverishment of the people.

Remark: This essay has not been written with political purposes or any other goal except exposing the historical truth, and is not intended to exalt or despise any people or culture. The maps illustrate two millennia of history and can be compared with any other source if there is any doubt about their accuracy.

2010-10-16 23:18:28


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