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Old 01-06-2022, 09:14 AM   #39
Soldier of Macedon
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So, I spent a bit of time taking a closer look at the history of the Eastern Romance peoples and what follows is a summary on the topic along with some thoughts and questions. In a typically Balkan kind of way, there are diametrically opposed interpretations, particularly between Romanians and Hungarians. The debate is not helped by the obscurities that exist in primary sources and the political biases evident in contemporary perspectives. It was also interesting to note how some of the narratives that are often taken for granted are difficult to adequately substantiate, whichever side of the argument. Anyway, to begin. Historically, the Eastern Romance peoples were known by the exonym “Vlach,” with the endonym “Roman” (along with its variants) not recorded until later. Their languages form a distinct branch derived from Latin and their traditional territory is geographically isolated from the rest of the Romance languages in Europe, most of which are found in a contiguous area in the western half of the continent. Although they are now spoken in Romania, Moldova and scattered pockets across southeast Europe, their ancestral language (Proto-Romanian) arose in a more compact area where it developed common features that distinguished it from other Romance languages. As such, there are a few schools of thought regarding the origin of the Eastern Romance peoples and their languages, with the “Dacian theory” being the most prominent among Romanians, for obvious reasons.

The Roman occupation of Dacia commenced at the beginning of the 2nd century and concluded by the second half of the 3rd century, lasting for approximately 170 years. It has been argued that the native inhabitants were so thoroughly Romanised during this short period, that even after the end of Roman rule, they continued to speak Latin, which was unrelated to their own Dacian language. Although historical Dacia covers the modern states of Romania and Moldova, it is worth noting that Roman Dacia, as a province, constituted only the western territories inhabited by the Dacians. Comparative Roman influence in the rest of Dacia often ranged from inconsistent to negligible. Thus, whilst some Dacians were certainly Romanised, many of them were not. The latter appear to have been hostile to the occupation and their kinsmen who remained free made several incursions into Roman Dacia. These events, along with raids from Gothic and Sarmatian tribes that were present in the area, led to the eventual downfall of the troublesome province. Absent the protection afforded by imperial forces, many of the Roman colonists would have undoubtedly retreated along with the military, which is evident by the gradual abandonment of Roman placenames in the region. To account for these anomalies, proponents of the “Dacian theory” point to Roman military expeditions and the establishment of forts along the northern bank of the Lower Danube in subsequent centuries, which, together with the varying use of Latin for commercial and religious purposes, is meant to imply an ongoing cultural presence in the region. Although it is possible that this may have had a positive impact on the sustainability of the Romans and Romanised Dacians who are said to have remained behind, it does not explain why the rest of the Dacians would adopt Latin as a primary spoken language, given that they were not only outside of Roman control, but, to a large extent, anti-Roman in sentiment. Surely the Dacians, who had their own language, would not need to utilise the foreign language of a nearby colonial power to communicate between themselves. Even if one were to accept that Latin was employed as a lingua franca by the Dacians, Goths, Sarmatians and others, its usefulness beyond the Roman frontier was limited and progressively curtailed as time went by. Moreover, it is unlikely to have become their primary spoken language, for without the benefit of a guiding authority or an influential number of native speakers, such conditions may have eventually produced some type of Latin-based creole, which could not have been the catalyst for the development of Proto-Romanian.

For around 900 years following the Roman withdrawal from Dacia, there is little evidence that points to the continued existence of a local Roman or Romanised community that used Latin (or Eastern Romance) as a primary spoken language north of the Lower Danube, despite the purported association with a ruling class who conquered much of Europe. Assuming their ethnogenesis occurred in antiquity, the progenitors of the Eastern Romance peoples must have been small in number for quite some time. To maintain their language and survive through various incursions and entities over several centuries, all the while going unnoticed as a unique and identifiable group by chroniclers, is nothing short of remarkable and unparalleled in other former Roman provinces with similar circumstances. Their transition from obscurity to population growth in Dacia may have relied on the assimilation of neighbouring Turkic tribes, such as the Pechenegs and Cumans, which would explain why Eastern Romance peoples, particularly those who later migrated to areas south of the Danube, were often associated with transhumant pastoralism, a practice common among steppe peoples. How this amalgamation came about and whether it had anything to do with the dissemination of Christianity is another question. Even after the Romans had evacuated their forts and ceded territories north of the Lower Danube, traces of a Christian presence, however limited, could be found in the region. This may have become more pronounced in the east of Dacia after Bulgaria became a Christian state in the 9th century, but it was sparser in the west of Dacia until the Hungarians established dioceses of the Latin rite at the beginning of the 11th century. Today, Romania and Moldova are predominantly Orthodox, however, alone among the adherents of Orthodoxy in that part of Europe, the Eastern Romance peoples derive much of their Christian terminology from Latin. It has been argued that this is an exclusive legacy carried over from earlier times, but it is worth mentioning that the aforementioned Latin churches predate the first unambiguous record of the Eastern Romance peoples. Whether they may have augmented such terminology, however, is debatable.

The earliest historical accounts about the Vlachs are problematic and a source of contention between opposing parties. Their existence north of the Danube is first mentioned at the beginning of the 12th century (Russian Primary Chronicle) and followed by another reference at the turn of 13th century (Anonymus, Gesta Hungarorum). In both cases, there are doubts about the terminology and location. Their existence south of the Danube is mentioned earlier, thus the first record of the Vlachs in general comes from the second half of the 11th century (Scylitzes, Synopsis of History) and places them in Macedonia. All three works contain anachronistic information pertaining to the Vlachs, in that they refer to events that are supposed to have occurred decades or even centuries before they were actually written. This has caused some controversy with respect to the accuracy of certain details. Subsequent historical accounts are more contemporary or closer to the period in which the events took place. One chronicler from the second half of the 11th century (Kekaumenos, Strategikon) locates the Vlachs in Thessaly during his own lifetime. However, he also relays a story or myth about their earlier dwellings near the Danube and Sava rivers before migrating south into Macedonia, Epirus and Hellas (i.e., Thessaly). One from the middle of the 12th century (Comnena, Alexiad) refers to Vlachs in both Thessaly and Thrace. Another from the second half of the 12th century (Cinnamus, History) highlights the participation of Vlachs in an expedition against Hungary. A chronicler from the early 13th century (Choniates, History) wrote of Vlachs in Galicia and near the Haemus Mountains (i.e., the Balkan Mountains). There is some dispute about the last two historical accounts and whether the Vlachs that were mentioned lived south or north of the Danube. Taking all of the above at face value, one could put forth the case that the Eastern Romance peoples originated south of the Danube. However, it could also be argued that the majority of these chroniclers were far more familiar with that region than they were with Dacia and elsewhere north of the Lower Danube, which would explain the earlier references.

Unsurprisingly, the “Balkan theory” for the origin of the Eastern Romance peoples is favoured by the Hungarians, who assert that there were no Vlachs in Dacia when they began to raid and migrate across the region in the 9th century. Proponents of the “Balkan theory” also argue that Latin, which was the administrative language of the Roman Empire until the first half of the 7th century, had a far more enduring presence south of the Danube compared to Dacia. However, even if it assumed that Latin was adopted as a primary spoken language by at least some of the people in that region, there is still a gap of more than 400 years between the reign of Heraclius (the emperor who replaced Latin with Greek) and the first mention of the Vlachs. This is an unusual absence given the position that Latin had previously held and raises doubts about the extent of its use among the local population. Another argument against the “Balkan theory” is that there is no record of a large-scale migration northward across the Danube that would explain the numerical superiority or cluster of Eastern Romance peoples in Dacia. Although the opposite is also true, the Eastern Romance peoples south of the Danube don’t occupy a territory that is both large and contiguous, and their distribution speaks to their past lifestyle as transhumant pastoralists. From a geographical and cultural standpoint, therefore, one may suggest some variant of the “Dacian theory” as a more likely candidate for their linguistic homeland. Nevertheless, the “Balkan theory” continues to feature as a part of the discussion. In addition to the Hungarians, it also has support among the Albanians, who view it as essential for their claims of indigeneity. On that point, there are some key similarities between Albanians and Eastern Romance peoples that should be highlighted.

Just like the Vlachs, the first unambiguous record of the Albanians comes from a historical account that was written in the second half of the 11th century (Attaleiates, The History). Despite their existence being attested late in history, it is a common assumption that these two groups represent the sole surviving descendants of the Romanised Paleo-Balkan peoples, which, depending on the narrative, may include the Dacians, Thracians and/or Illyrians as their forebearers. Yet, there is scant linguistic evidence to support this thesis and aside from a few possible examples that may be contested or dubious, ancient placenames of an Albanian or Eastern Romance provenance cannot be found on either side of the Danube. Instead, they only begin to make a steady appearance after the Albanians and Vlachs enter historical record. Even today, they do not abound except in countries where their languages have benefitted from statehood, such as Albania, Romania and Moldova, all of which have their fair share of Slavic placenames. One of the more routine excuses for this conspicuous absence is that Albanians and Eastern Romance peoples supposedly fled to the highlands following the “mass migration of Slavs” that began in the 6th century and only chose to reassert themselves after 500 years of self-imposed isolation. Interestingly, the earlier incursions of Goths, Sarmatians and others didn’t create enough panic to provoke such drastic measures. In any case, setting aside the discredited theory of this “mass migration,” which has been disproven by genetic and archaeological evidence (or lack thereof), the notion that they gave up their lives as soldiers, administrators, aristocrats and sedentary peasants to hide in the mountains for centuries and adopt a life of pastoralism, only to re-emerged in the Balkan lowlands around the exact same time and not too far from each other, is both creative and necessarily simplistic, resting as it does on ambiguity more than fact. A more obvious and demonstrable similarity can be observed in their languages. They share several unique features, including words that cannot be identified with any Paleo-Balkan or modern language in southeast Europe. Furthermore, over half of the Albanian lexicon (including much of its church terminology) has a Latin origin and a significant amount of its Latin-derived vocabulary shares the same development as Eastern Romance languages. That indicates a period of intense contact between the two groups before the Albanians settled in the western Balkans. Although some have proposed Moesia or Thrace as a geographical compromise between the multitude of theories, the exclusion of the Turkic cultural element from Dacia makes it difficult to explain why both Albanians and Vlachs have often (albeit not exclusively) been characterised as transhumant pastoralists and share some of the same terminology in relation to this practice.

Lastly, there is the matter concerning identity. From the early historical accounts mentioned above, some chroniclers (Kekaumenos, Strategikon; Choniates, History) had a tendency to classicise their terminology and link the Vlachs to Dacians or Mysians, one (Cinnamus, History) inferred that they are descendants of colonists from Italy and another (Anonymus, Gesta Hungarorum) referred to Romans in Pannonia (i.e., Hungary) and Vlachs in Transylvania (i.e., western Dacia) without implying a connection between the two. In some instances, the ambiguous nature of such terms and the uncertainty as to who they referred to specifically merely added to the confusion. A Roman heritage for the Vlachs started to become more pronounced in historical accounts during the 15th century, due in no small part to humanists from the Christian west. Spurred on by the historical romanticism of the Renaissance period, those from Italy seemed particularly enthusiastic when reporting on the existence of a “Roman” element in the east. One traveller from the beginning of the 15th century (Archbishop John of Sultanieh, Libellus de Notitia Orbis) noted a population living among the Serbs and Bulgars who boasted about being Romans. Other humanists from the middle of the 15th century (Poggio Bracciolini; Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini – Pope Pius II), who may have relied on reports from travelling officials or missionaries, wrote about Roman colonists left over in Dacia, with one referring to the Vlachs as an “Italian race.” Moving forward, these stories would be repeated by others. From the 16th century, Italian humanists and travellers (Tranquillo Andronico, Francesco della Valle et al.) began to document the use of the “Roman” endonym by Eastern Romance peoples in what would later become the modern states of Romania and Moldova. It was also applied to their language. Another historical account from the second half of the 16th century (Ferrante Capeci) mentioned the “Roman” endonym in relation to the Vlachs and suggested their presence in Transylvania predated that of the Hungarians and German Saxons. However, the same chronicler also stated that the Vlachs descended from Italians and Lombards and that their language was similar to modern Italian. An Italian monk from the end of the 17th century (Ireneo della Croce) recorded a slightly different variant of the endonym (Rumeri) for the Eastern Romance peoples in Istria, but it was an isolated reference and would not be documented by Istro-Romanians themselves until the 20th century (Andrei Glavina). As for those further south, some of the earliest recorded examples come from Vlachs with links to Macedonia who were residing in Austria and Hungary at the beginning of the 19th century (Mihail Bojadzhi; George Roja). These individuals appear to have been associated with the Romanian national movement and used the name “Roman,” not “Rraman” or “Arman,” which are used as endonyms by Vlachs today. Interestingly, the so-called Megleno-Romanians continue to use “Vlach” in reference to themselves and their language.

As implied throughout, the information lends itself to a variety of interpretations and the sequence of events poses a number of questions. For example, why was there a prolonged silence on the part of chroniclers when it came to a native Latin-speaking community, be they in Dacia following the Roman withdrawal or in the Balkans after Latin was discontinued as the administrative language of the Roman Empire? Is it coincidental that Vlachs and Albanians were first recorded around the same time and within reasonable geographic proximity, given the region? And why was their existence attested so late, given their supposed pedigree? As the Vlachs were mentioned in several historical accounts beginning from the second half of the 11th century, why did it take more than 300 years (at least) before the “Roman” endonym was recorded? Why did authors of Slavonic and Greek written works, who were culturally and geographically closer to the Eastern Romance peoples, fail to record the “Roman” endonym earlier than their western counterparts? Did the churches of the Latin rite and the Italian humanists contribute to the propagation of the “Roman” endonym? What role did the civic and religious identities from the Roman and Ottoman empires play in the process? Were the developments uniform among Eastern Romance peoples on both side of the Danube, did one side influence the other, or did they occur concurrently before converging later in history? All food for thought. Anyway, if Carlin or anybody else interested in the topic finds disagreement with what has been written or wishes to fill in some blanks, feel free to provide your input.
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