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The so-called "Romanians" are the Vlachs who inhabited the territory just north of the Danube in Roman times, and today. Wallachia (home of the Vlachs), represented the outer limit or Roman expansion. The name of their country, Romania, is a take-off on Roman, and their language is recognizably derived from Latin. In these regards, Romania is the most "Latin" country in the Balkans, and in fact outside of Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.

During the Middle Ages, Romanian territory was crossed by the Magyars from modern Russia, on their way to Hungary, and Bulgars on their way to modern Bulgaria. Afterward, the Romanians were subjects of Turkey. The Vlachs were unable to repel any of these people, yet they were not crushed or absorbed by them.

How did the Vlachs manage to retain a semblance of "Romaness" when surrounding areas such as Bulgaria, Greece and Yugoslavia did not? And maybe the related question is what caused them to be more "Roman" in the first place than their neighbors?

  • See also history.stackexchange.com/questions/9181/… – knut Nov 6 '13 at 19:38
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    What else but the often-cited similarity between the Latin and Romanian languages substantially constitutes Romania's "Romaness"? – Drux Mar 1 '14 at 11:41
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    I've been told (but I I can't back it up) that the lexicon in the Romanian language shows its origins to be much further to the south-west, i.e. it originated as a form of Arumanian, which is still being spoken in Greece and elsewhere. Dalmatian only died out in 1898. So Romance languages have generally been slow to die out on the Balkans, it's just that political circumstances have happened to favour Romanian over the last few centuries, while Romance languages in other areas have not been so lucky. – reinierpost Jul 31 '15 at 21:27
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    Why do you think the Roman empire, especially the border regions were an ethnically homogeneous country (with people all speaking Latin)? Or in other words, do you have any proof that Romania was Roman even in Roman times in the ethnic sense you suggest and the majority of people spoke Latin as mother tongue? – Greg Nov 19 '15 at 22:02
  • It looks like we got the birth certificate of the Romanians: historum.com/ancient-history/… – user19457 Jul 14 '16 at 0:57
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I would say this had a lot to do with the Eastern Roman Empire's influence. You probably know, before the fifth century fall of Rome, the empire was divided east and west with two separate emperors. The west was overrun by Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Goths, etc. The east hung on for many centuries more, until the Muslims conquered the area around the late sixteenth century, I believe. We now often refer to this eastern empire as the Byzantine empire, though this is mostly a historical term. Throughout the middle ages they continued to call themselves Roman and adhered to that old culture and identity. The Byzantines encompassed a good sized piece of south eastern Europe, including modern Romania's general area and I'm pretty sure at least some of Greece for a time. You can find a lot of very interesting information about Scandinavian (Vikings) floating down the rivers of eastern Europe to trade with these people and even to become the famed and feared warriors of the Varangian Guard, the personal elite soldiers of the 'Emperors'. Harald Hadrada was one such warrior before dying at Stamford Bridge. Most relevant to your question about Romania specifically, is that in the early 1200s, Constantinople was captured by crusaders, who formed it into a state called the "Romanian Empire" or the "Latin Empire of Constantinople". So that's probably the most explicit reason for Romania in particular to take on that identity seriously, while Bulgaria and other neighbours didn't get a lot of attention as they did. I hope I've given some of the answer you were looking for and haven't rambled too much. I'm an overly keen storyteller haha 😉

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    Modern day Romania (Dacia) was abandoned by Romans during the rule of Aurelian - it was never a part of what we today call "the Byzantine Empire". – Nemanja Trifunovic Mar 14 '14 at 1:06
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    Notice that the Danube was oftentimes the northern limes of the Roman empire; present-day Romania and Bulgaria: north and south of Danube respectively. – Drux Mar 14 '14 at 7:01
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    Doesn't seem a likely explanation: if Romania was under the lasting influence of Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire one would expect Romanian language to relate to Greek rather than Latin. – Michael Oct 6 '14 at 2:44
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    @Duncan This answer does not convince me either. The term Byzantine is a historiographical one, granted, and the Byzantine called themselves Romans. But the language of the Empire was much more related to Greek than to Latin. This was evident already during the late Roman Empire (V cen.), but became more and more obvious under Justinian (VI cen.) and finally Heraclius (VII cen.) Although they could have been influenced by the Byzantine, I doubt that the weak and short-lived Latin Empire of Constantinople could had exerted such a deep and long lasting influence. How do you address these? – astabada Oct 6 '14 at 8:26
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    In 617 the official language of Byzantine Empire became Greek. So how it can influence preservation of Latin? Also, you assertion the "perts of Greece" were included in the Empire is rediculous: the Byzantine Empire was exactly known as "Greece" at the time. In the Byzantine-controlled Italian areas there was a huge influence of Greek on local (Latin-derived) language. It included other areas of Eastern Europe as well. So, -1 – Anixx Jul 29 '15 at 9:54
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As this regards an obscure period of European history, all we can hope is speculate within the bounds of reason.

It might prove useful to consider the larger issue of the Eastern Romance substratum. As Oldcat answer points out, the insular position of the Romanian language might be seen as the result of a survival as part of a larger Latin region.

From this perspective, the answer to the question comes from clarifying that the exclusive "Roman-ness" of Romanians in the Balkans in not their doing, but rather the result of larger Slavic influence and presence south of the Danube. Slavs (that is: Slavic-speakers) were also present on the territory of Romania but probably in somewhat smaller numbers.

Why were there more Slavs south of the Danube then north of it? And even so, weren't even more Romans south of the Danube, where the Roman presence was older, than Slavs?

Let's speculate.

  • The Slavs were great agriculturalists. Most important agrarian terms in Romanian are of Slavic origin and even now Romanian of Wallachia see Bulgarians as the greatest at cultivating vegetables. Romanians see themselves as a people of land-workers, but also of shepherds. There was a strong trend in Romanian historiography and culture linking Romanian continuity and Latin identity to pastoral activity and culture. Even exaggerated, that may stand for something. Large parts of the now mainly agricultural land of southern Vallachia was deep forest until recently. Possibly the Slavs were looking for open land and that was more available south of the Danube. Dacia was maybe not such a hospitable land compared to the riches closer to the heart of the empire, and it was surely more exposed to new invasions.

  • Possibly the Latin language south of Danube was more present in cities than in villages, while the Dacian provinces north of the Danube were less urbanized. Cities were the first victims of invasions and the urban Roman population had possibly better means to flee the invasions than the people of the lesser urbanized Dacia. For some reason the Latin speakers north of the Danube must have found themselves without urban structures, in the impossibility of fleeing, or in a situation where they could survive without fleeing (adapted to pastoral mountainous regions). The presence of Latin-speaking populations outside Romania in the Balkans has diminished with the assimilationist modern nation-states, but their traditions were mainly pastoral.

  • The assimilation of one language into another needs certain factors. The superstratum language has to provide certain economical and political advantages in order to replace the substratum language. (As Latin did when replacing many European languages). As the Roman state receded and was replaced by the newcomers, even if the Slavs ruled at some point in present Romania, political stability and unification may have been less present than in the Slav-speaking kingdoms south of the Danube, and possibly only there the necessary incentives to the adoption of Slavic may have been present. Themselves conquered by the Bulgars, the Slavs of Bulgaria gained political structures that were surely more developed than the ones north of the Danube: the first relatively stable Romanian polities in Wallachia date from 13th century; the Bulgars created their first empire in the Balkans in 681 and in 879 adopted Christianity; they gradually adopted the Slavic language which thus became the language of their empire, important enough to impose the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet. Meanwhile, north of the Danube new invaders were ruling, the Pechenegs and Cumans. But following the logic above, they could not succeed where the Slavs had failed: the Latin language there was not replaced. The notorious lack of political stability and of statehood north of the Danube was seen as a very improbable environment for a Latin language to survive. But the opposite might be true: absence of non-Latin political structures and stability in the Dacian/Romanian area may have contributed to the conservation of the Neo-Latin substratum language spoken by rural and pastoral mountainous people. When invasions ceased and the first states appeared north of the Danube it was too late for the language to change.

(Two powers might have played a decisive role in this obscure period of history: the Bulgarian empires and the Hungarian kingdom. The tzars of Bulgaria possibly extended their realm north of the Danube, which may raise the possibility of some movement of population. But the north of the Danube seems a territory of great instability and invasions all the way, and there is no proof of great effort from Bulgarian tzardoms of creating a stable political state north of the Danube, in the absence of which it remains greatly improbable that people could have had any incentives of moving northwards in the path of danger. There is on the other hand proof of Hungarian effort in this sense, which culminated in the creation of the two principalities at the beginning of the 14th century, after the end of the last great Mongol invasion and the stabilization of the Golden Horde north of the Black Sea. This Hungarian intervention involves no population from south of Danube, but most probably local and Transylvanian.)


On the other hand, one shouldn't forget that the question is about the survival of the language, not of the people. The present Romanians were not isolated from their neighbors. Romanian is a Romance language but the only one with significant Slavic influences. These influences were much more present in the vocabulary at the beginning of the 19th century than they are now (especially in written language; most of the population was then illiterate, the political and religious elites used Slavonic; Cyrillic alphabet was used until mid-19th century).

(And the influences came both ways. I am not expert in Slavic languages, but "месец" ("mesetz") means both "moon" and "month" in Serbian, while in Bulgarian it only means "month"; the Bulgarian word for "moon" is "луна" ("luna"), like in Romanian (and Latin). On the other hand, just like the Serbs (and unlike the Bulgarians, English and... Latin), albeit using a Latin word, Romanians have one single word for "month" and "moon".)

Also, it is interesting to consider that languages of the Balkan cultural and geographic area share certain common features that are independent of their Indo-European or Latin ancestry: the presence of a linguistic Balkanic continuity or unity - the Balkan sprachbund.


The 19th century Romanian national independence, unification and modernization coincided with a (re)discovery of the Latin identity, which gradually became the main marker of national identity. The French influence was enormous between 1850 and 1900, both culturally and politically (pushing against the receding Turkish and the increasing Russian hegemony), and contributed to a re-latinization of the language - both directly (through the adoption of French terms) and indirectly (through the adoption of Western and Latin referents of cultural identity). Only then Romanians started to view themselves as closer to Italians and French then to Bulgarians and Serbs, a trend that has its part of artificiality but is again very dominant (after the fall of communism and the renewal of pro-Western influence in that part of Europe).


UPDATE in relation to an answer that tries to dismiss the topic of the question arguing that Romanians are not the main Latin/Roman cultural phenomenon of the Balkan area, and that the same question should consider other peoples, like the Croats:

The argument considers as "Latin" or "Roman" other facts than the neo-Latin language:

  • The Catholic confession. That is considered to be a marker of Roman identity because its center is Rome and that Latin was used as cultural and liturgic language in Catholic countries, unlike in the Orthodox Romania.

  • The anthropological/genetic identity, based on which other peoples (e.g. Croats) should be considered as closer to the Roman/Latin identity.

But the Romanians are discussed here as "Latin" mainly in relation to their neo-Latin language. Using the word "Latin" in relation to the Catholic confession (because the Popes lived mostly in Rome and were mostly Italians themselves) is using the same word with a different meaning. Neo-latin identity and language is the topic here, not the use of the classical, liturgical or scientific Latin language. The question above could be read like this: why is there a (neo)Latin culture in Eastern Europe? Answering that Western Europe is by definition "more Latin" than anything that can happen in the Eastern Europe (and even that a Balkan country geographically more to the West is intrinsically "more Latin") is missing the point completely.

To give an example of how a different use of the word "Latin" may completely alienate the topic: while the Western kingship and nobility order is of Germanic origin, the rulers of Orthodox Christianity, namely the Bulgarian and Serbian kings, the Russian tzars and the Romanian voïevods were all absolute rulers within a system taken from the Byzantine emperor, which was that of the Roman Empire itself. That this system ended up being called "tzarism" instead of "Roman" is due to the fact that Russia has kept it until recently (in a modified, dynastic form, closer to Western absolutism). But, far from being related to some oriental tyranny, it is also a Roman heritage (and the term "tzar" comes from Caesar). -- But all this has nothing to do with the question.

As for the non-cultural (that is biological/genetic) Roman-ness (the author of the answer even mentions an "ethno-racial connection" between Croats and Italians), no matter the incongruity of a such non-cultural element when the topic is cultures and history, it may sound plausible that some Balkan people other than Romanians may be "more Latin" (by which the author probably means more sun-bathing) because they live on the shore of the Mediterranean. But facts are stubborn. Taking a look at European genetics (for example here or here), and namely at the map below, it is easy to see that the Red+Green combination on that map (Celtic+Greco-Roman markers) which is defining Italy is also very important in Romania. But that proves nothing as to the "Latin" character discussed here, for that "Italian" combination is also significant in Austria, Hungary, Albania, and even Greece and Turkey. Therefore, the language remains the sole meaningful marker on the above topic.

enter image description here

The same answer, while pretending to clarify the issue, brings further confusion by presenting as a significant point the fact that

Wallachia or "Land of the Vlachs", is actually in Southern Romania and is not representative of the entire country

The South of present Romania became a stathood known as Wallachia, which in Romanian was called Muntenia (munte means mountain) or Ţara Românească ("Romanian country"), but it is not at all true that only people of the southern region were called Vlach/Wallachian. The transhumant pastoralist Vlachs that reached Moravia (Moravian Wallachia) were called by the same name. The problem is different: Romanians became called Vallachian or Vlach by their Hungarian, Slavic and Germanic neighbors, a term which at the beginning simply means Roman or Italian (possibly related to terms like Welsh and Walloon). Especially Hungarians (who dominated initially all Romanian principalities and were instrumental in the creation of Moldavia as buffer-state against the last Mongol invasion) used the term to name the Romanians, first in Transilvania, then in Wallachia (therefore called Hungro-Wallachia) and Moldavia (at times called Moldo-Wallachia or Black Wallachia). It is the term Wallachian or Vlach (the latter only in modern times used specifically to name the neo-Latin speakers south of the Danube) which gave the name of the Principality of Wallachia, not the other way around.

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    +10 for the effort – AZ. Jan 15 '18 at 16:39
7

This is just speculation as I cannot back it up with any hard data but there might be a few causes:

  • Dacia went an intensive colonization process after its conquest by Trajan causing a big chunk of population to be foreigners. This, coupled with the lack of written tradition in the native Dacians and the need for a now mixed population to effectively live together made Latin the dominant language in a very short time
  • after the fall of the empire the whole area remained in a form of relative anarchy (with the Bulgarian empire having a short reign and later the Hungarian state organizing mostly northern Transylvania) without any central administration until the rise of the 2 Vlach principalities in the 14th century.
  • all successive waves of invaders mostly passed through without influencing much the local customs (not entirely true as the political stratification of early Vlachs and the "boyar" noble class was clearly of Slavic influence) and language (not entirely true as there are clearly Slavic and Cuman influences but they seem to not have been so great as to shift the local language altogether)
  • The question is why, however. All of that same stuff happened to the other Balkan areas, too, but they were turned into Slavic-speaking regions, or Hungarian. – Oldcat Jul 30 '15 at 22:11
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    @Oldcat: actually none of those things happened in the balkans. The south of the Danube was never so intensely colonised with foreigners in such a short time. Greek was the dominant culture before and after the fall for the roman empire. After the fall the area was pretty well centralized under Bysantium. The invaders that came actually settled there for a long time (slavs and bulgars) and turned the area towards a slavic culture with heavy greek influences (see the slavic alphabet) – AZ. Jul 31 '15 at 13:54
  • The Slavs were exactly what I was talking about, as I said. – Oldcat Aug 3 '15 at 17:39
  • I agree with the idea of anarchy as a base for the conservation of Latinity - in the absence of alternative stable culture. I doubt that Dacia was more populous than Moesia. But the latter must have been more attractive to the Slavs than the former. – user8690 Aug 28 '17 at 21:24
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Since this is a speculative question, I'll add mine. Romania is singular among regions in East Europe in that it is guarded on three sides - and the sides facing the directions that barbarian incursions would come - by significant hills and mountains - the Carpathians. This shield could help buffer them from attacks and from cultural influences from neighbors more than a more easily crossed border would.

Bohemia, in central Europe, has a similar border facing west and north and also has a distinct cultural difference from the Germans across the border.

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    Re Bohemia distinct cultural difference with the Germans: Yes, it is so now, after 1M+ Germans were removed from the border areas after 1945. Did you know that Kafka was living in Prague but writing in German? – Peter M. Mar 30 '16 at 16:17
  • @PeterMasiar - the question Oldcat answers is not "why are not Germans in Bohemia?" but rather "why are not just Germans in Boemia?" – user8690 Aug 28 '17 at 18:13
  • If Romanians were so successful to protect themselves from barbarian invaders, how it comes that both Bulgars and Magyars went straight through them and later the Carpathian part of Romania itself ie Transilvania was practically a Hungarian territory for a thousand years (with strong Saxon minorities also in power)? Bohemia is also a bad example: German territories and around is one of the most divided areas up till unified Germany (XIXth), with every single bush and village having a different ruler, culture, and often different religion and language, hills or not. – Greg Dec 18 '17 at 9:26
  • @cipricus That question makes no sense either. The territory was occupied by German tribes who were replaced by Slavs. Originally independent, later occupied by Habsburgs, who ruled over a mixed salad of ethnicities, a large part of them are Slavic origin. Even during the Habsburg rule the official first language of the kingdom was Czech. It is nothing to do with mountains. Also, in the XIXth century national movements, a large part of the population in Central and Eastern Europe changed their language either because forced to or to declare own national identity. – Greg Dec 18 '17 at 9:38
  • @Greg - You are right to ask all these questions, it is true the whole problem is both complicated and obscure, and it is impossible to answer in comments (please see my answer, where I have tried to consider the details, and maybe you should ask new question). But as the facts are obscure enough, we should take care in using terms carefully. Romanians did not protect themselves against barbarians politically (nobody did in Europe, all countries were created by barbarians). Because of instability, barbarians did not settle in present Romania but went further to the West and South. – user8690 Dec 18 '17 at 10:56
4

Well, there are a few points that need to be clarified:

  1. The name Romania, is not the original name of the country; its original name, was Dacia. Exactly when the name "Romania" comes into historical existence is unknown, though it most likely derives from the Roman colonial presence in Dacia.

  2. Wallachia or "Land of the Vlachs", is actually in Southern Romania and is not representative of the entire country. So to identify the Romanian people as, "The Vlachs", is somewhat inaccurate. It would be similar to misidentifying the German people as "Bavarians", even though there are several states within Greater Germany.

  3. With regard to the so-called, "Romaness" of the Romanians, it is actually quite historically limited. Although it is certainly true that the Romanian language is an inherently Latin based language, that does not necessarily qualify Romania, as a Roman land or "the most Roman part of the Balkans". I would argue that Croatia-(especially, the Dalmatian coastal region), is probably far more "Roman" in history, cultural character and temperament, as well as probably having a closeer ethno-racial connection with Italian peoples than the Romanians, making Croatia-(specifically, the Dalmatian coastal region ), "the most Roman part of the Balkans".

  4. There are of course, the Romanians of the Black Sea region, which is perhaps the most Roman or really, Greco-Roman region within greater Romania. The Greeks and Romans did settle into the Romanian Black Sea region and helped to build and refine its infrastructure-(i.e. Constanta and other ancient coastal towns). The Romanians of the Black Sea region are more.....shall we say......Greco-Roman or Mediterranean looking than the average Wallachian or the average Romanian from the Carparthian interior.

  5. In terms of religion, the Romanians have been part of the Eastern rite Church since early Byzantine times. Romania was part of the Ancient Western Roman Empire, though evolved into the Byzantine Christian world during the Middle Ages and like many of its Balkan Christian neighbors, fell victim to Ottoman Turkish Muslim conquest in the 1400's.

  6. The only vestige of Roman culture that the Romanians have held onto....is their language..........and that's about it.

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    I understand you had no intention of answering the question. But your six points added some doubts on the topic of the question and therefore on my answer which made my minutia necessary. I have deleted my previous comments here but added their main ideas into my answer. – user8690 Dec 14 '17 at 21:08

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