The origins of Romanians is, for me, one of history's more interesting problems and I mostly agree with the "Immigrationist theory".

The great mystery for me is how could they become the majority in Transylvania if not already there? They are now about 70% (2011 census). I did not found much around Internet: "The first official estimation to the demographic breakdown in Transylvania is the estimation of the the Austrian administrative authority (Verwaltungsgericht) from 1712-1713. According to that the population of Transylvania was 47% Hungarian, 34% Romanian and 19% Saxon. However this is not based on census data." (from Did Transylvania, historically speaking, belong to the Romanians or the Hungarians?) But there is no accurate data, I believe: Demographics and historical research (wikipedia).

My interest is pure historical, not political. Are there in the world situations when the original population was slowly replaced by immigrants?

Please help me articulate a good question.

  • 5
    What is the mystery? Significant population changes following eg large migrations, war, diseases regularly happens in history. Settlers filling up the empty lands or certain ethnics having higher fertility than others are not unheard off.
    – Greg
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 16:28
  • 1
    @Greg could you be more specific? Diseases, wars affect everybody and there is no record of large Vlachs migration, to my knowledge. Higher fertility ... do you have some facts around? Or some examples as it "regularly happens in history" ?
    – Liviu
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 16:38
  • 9
    Unless you live in the rift valley in Africa, your ancestors were immigrants at some point.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Liviu - Yeah, I looked them both over. I could come up with good arguments either way, but its really a very minor difference. One side of the Danube or the other in a few hundred years (say 10 generations or so) during a dark period when there isn't a lot of written info to be had (so no sure way to decide). Probably best to assume either could be true, and go on our merry way until new info arrives.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 20:42
  • 2
    maybe it helps that Pál Teleki made a pretty precise ethnic map of Hungary in 1910. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/… Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:07

3 Answers 3


I don't think their current majority is an insurmountable problem for any immigration theory. At roughly the same time the coastal German tribes were migrating to England, and the southern Slavic people were migrating into the Balkans. Both are clearly a majority in those locations today.

My main problem with the immigrationist theory is that it (very very mildly) violates Occam's Razor. It doesn't really seem necessary to explain the facts we have, and simpler explanations are available.

But not that much simpler. The difference between the two basically boils down to which side of the Danube they were living on for a few hundred years. These are years which happened to be some of Europe's least literate years, so we don't really have any records to tell us which it was.

So in the end, it really could be either, and it wouldn't be a huge difference which.

  • Anyway, the immigration theory proposes a peaceful entry on the land of stronger forces by a Roman population without the backing of the Roman state.
    – user8690
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 23:30
  • The German comparison cannot work, but I agree that the differences between theories are small.
    – user8690
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 23:35
  • 1) Are you sure the Germans are majority in England? How about Normans? 2) Are you sure Bulgarians are entirely Slavic? Maybe they are a strong mix, with Bulgars by exemple. 3) These two migrations are well known ... but there is no such large "Romanian" migration, no ? "which side of the Danube they were living" ... What about Transylvania? So they were floating over Carpathians and the Saxons and the Székelys saw nothing ? No record about it?
    – Liviu
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 21:07
  • @Liviu - This comment was very confusing. However, yes, I'm quite sure Anglo-Saxons (iow: "the English") are a majority in England. I don't know how many people still speak Anglo-Norman, but it won't be many.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 2:35
  • 1
    @TED Nonsense "This version of history is now regarded by many historians as incorrect, on the basis of more recent genetic and archaeological research. Based on a re-estimation of the number of settlers, some have taken the view that it is highly unlikely that the British Celtic-speaking population was substantially displaced by the Anglo-Saxons and that instead a process of acculturation took place, with an Anglo-Saxon ruling elite imposing their culture on the local populations" QED
    – Liviu
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 21:53

The question can be put like this:

In case the "immigrationist theory" is true, how did Romanians/Vlachs became the vast majority in Transylvania?

The simplest answer is that there were too few Hungarians there when Romanians (slowly) arrived, that not many (Hungarians) came and stayed after that, and that those who did come to stay moved slower than the (slowly migrating) Romanians; if Hungarians were a majority at some point, too many of them left and/or too many Romanians came to stay.

Can it be so simple?

An odd thing here is that we have a fact ("Romanians/Vlachs became the vast majority in Transylvania"), a theory ("immigrationist") that is supposed to explain the fact, and a question that asks how is it possible to go from the theory to the fact. The relation between these elements is already rather obscure. Wasn't the theory itself supposed to give the answer? What other use it may have then? Possibly the OP has "adopted" the theory in spite of this, for other reasons than its explanatory value in relation to the facts, probably because it seemed preferable by comparison to other theories. (Although I even suspected him for a moment of cunningly formulating an argument ad absurdum against the "immigrationist" position. I don't know if he is aware that his question can be played like that too...)

But do we really need such theories? Do facts need theories? Maybe descriptions are preferable, that is clarification of facts, context and concepts.

If the answer seems so difficult to provide, couldn't it be that the problem lies with the immigrationist theory? Not in that it talks about migration, but in that it involves the need for a theory. It is this need that induces a mystery. Without it the answer would be so "simple" that it would cease to be sought for its "theoretical" value (position within a theory or another) and would be appreciated for its virtues of simplification and clarification, as a good description.

"Continuity", on the other hand, seems to me less mysterious, but still obscure and in need of clarification. I think that the only material proof present is the Romanians themselves, their language and their location on the map. But that is the fact itself, not a justification of facts, which is not needed anyway. "Continuity" should not be seen as a hypothesis, an explanation for a fact we investigate, as it represents the very fact that needs (or not) to be explained. That we cannot explain it doesn't mean it has thus become more mysterious than before, doesn't mean we cannot see it as good as before, and doesn't force us to enter even darker corners. If I don't know how a thing got here I am not forced to say that it shouldn't be here, that therefore it must come from a different place and that I must find what this place is. It might be more economic to say that because we cannot say how it got here, it maybe that it was here in the first place, or something very close to that.

If we have to imagine something rather than nothing, I don't think that it is harder to imagine the continuity than the migration.

Personally I find even more difficult to imagine:

  • a Latin-speaking population starting to migrate up and down (or mostly up), and especially migrating outside the empire; is there another case in Europe of a Latin speaking population (originating from the Roman empire) migrating like that?

  • a population migrating from south to north (or SW to NE) when most of the population movement then and there is north to south (or rather NE to SW); how come those people were going where everybody was fleeing from? and how come they stayed in a place where nobody else wanted to stay (given that the aforementioned population finds itself in majority there)?

  • a migration that is extremely slow compared to all the other migrations that took place, one that never amounts to an invasion; are there other cases in Europe of such phenomena?

  • a Latin-speaking population migrating at a very low speed not only in an improbable direction to an improbable place, but, of all the improbable places up north, to the precisely one place that had been previously occupied (and that the concurrent theories say it never left);

I can imagine a migration that is so slow and discrete that amounts to a sort of geographical cross-Danube continuity, close to the "admigration theory", but that seems to me another name for no-migration.

The empire was on the defensive and no (other) such Roman invasion/occupation of territory and assimilation/outnumbering of the population already occupying it can be documented. On the contrary, the general scenario of all other neo-Latin countries fits here rather well: a Roman population militarily and politically subjected by invaders that adopt the neo-Latin language. As for the mystery of the adoption of Latin by the local population in less than 200 years of direct Roman rule, maybe it can be explained - or, even better, described, because a good description of facts may be enough - through the aforementioned cross-Danube geographical continuity - after the Aurelian transfer to the south and during Byzantine and Bulgarian empires presence on the river.

There is a logical (or philosophical) problem (or illusion) here, something like a wittgensteinian "mental cramp" that needs soothing: theories or explanations can be more or less probable, but a fact (Romanians in Transylvania and on the whole territory of Dacia) cannot be probable or improbable. It seems to me that sometimes this discussion is opened in a context where the probability/improbability of explanations contaminates the description of the facts as facts. It's the theories that need justification, not the facts. - That is, in a rational and scientific discourse; in a political discourse, it might be the other way around (as the scientific gratuity of a theory can coincide with its political "utility").

Not only the "immigrationst" theory (favored by the Hungarian nationalistic discourse) can be affected by the "mental cramp" of fact-justification; the "continuity" theory (favored by the Romanian nationalistic discourse) is affected too when the Romanian population (the "fact") is seen as a proof of historical continuity from a start point of "origin", which in turn is seen as a justification of the initial fact. All this is circular, a logical trap that can be by itself tempting, but is also favored by affective/political/moral context.

I think that the question itself can be completely disconnected from the "immigrationist theory" (and from concurent theories as well), even though without theory much of the mystery is lost.

Why haven't Hungarians colonized Transylvania more densely when they could? why haven't they anticipated the possibility of finding themselves one day an ethnic minority in a province they had dominated for almost a millennium?

I can try some answers but they are all very modest:

  • in spite of what some Romanians like to think, the Dacian/Romanian teritory was not really a magnet for everybody; it was attractive enough for some people to come but not attractive enough for most of them to stay; when counting ethnicities came in fashion, Romanians (that is the people who somehow got there, spoke neo-Latin and didn't leave) found themselves a majority;
  • like other invading powers, when Hungarians came to Europe they pushed West until they were stopped, and then they settled in Pannonia; a movement to East was contrary to this trend; they initially administered Transylvania, Moldavia and even Wallachia as merely marches facing Eastern threats;
  • at least for Hungarians and at least Transylvania was not attractive enough; they had plenty of grassland in their flat part of the country and it's that what they preferred; (in the map below: Transilvania is populated in majority by Romanians but it is the least populated part of 1910 Hungary);
  • until recently nobody was thinking in terms of ethnicity, or if they did they were never in charge of affairs; somebody was populating those areas, and they did serve the King of Hungary and the Prince of Transylvania and ensured access to the country's resources.

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  • Edit in response to comments by JohnDee:

I think the OP is looking for an answer, not just a discussion (in comments). The question reflects a sort of philosophical wonder in front of the facts and is related to the larger mythological problem of "origins", the root-idea that we have a need for theories of origin. This can also be related to the 'mental cramp' already mentioned: as theories need rational justification (arguments), facts are also imagined as "in need" for something similar, a fact-justification, an odd role that can only be played by an "origin". I find interesting to see that questions can get answers in the absence of that need.

Personally I tend to prefer "continuity" because it seems to be "closer to facts": not in the sense that facts are in its favor, but that it is "closer" to being a description of facts more than a "theory" (a description of relations between facts, and even between facts and their origin). I find that more "economic": lesser assumptions that entail fewer further explanations. - Simply put: a "theory" should not provide more questions than answers.

To give an example of how the "immigrationist theory" can entail farther need for explanations: if arrival of Romanians in Transylvania needs explanation, the same is the case in the territory of their own two Valach/Wallachian provinces, Wallachia and Moldavia. Those must have been populated by Romanians that came from Transylvania at a later date; their territory must have been either almost completely empty, or populated by Slavs and/or other people that became not only a minority but were completely assimilated by the newcomers. - If nobody populated those territories before, why is that? and why only Romanians did? If they were populated already, why were Romanians so good at imposing and preserving their language when they lacked political institutions of their own?

The post is already too long, but I fear the OP (given the comments made) may not find it clarifying enough (or interesting enough to read). I fear such clarifying discussions tend indeed to become very complex (but there is no point in being apologetic about that, as I think rational tension is the only alternative to the irrational one).

On the other hand, I need to prevent further misunderstanding on the point of personal sympathy or inclination towards one theory or the other (and I do not wish post or comment any more) by underlying that:

  • I very much doubt that what is called "theories" in the question and answers here can really be considered such in the proper (scientific) sense; the term can only be used by a loose analogy and for the sake of discussion; they are rather "facts" themselves, namely historical facts of the 19th and 20th centuries; these "ideas" have been thrown in an arena that had nothing scientific about it, and they look flimsy when taken out of there with a scientific grasp;

  • If considered as real theories (meaning they should favor understanding, better description and clarification), they are not equal; I think that we clearly have two extreme theories that exist more by historical than logical necessity (immigration vs historical continuity), and a third middle theory which was constituted as an ad hoc effort to avoid both the political and the logical problems of the other two: the geographical continuity (or the admigration theory), which, as such, seems the most reasonable one;

  • I find it more useful in any case to emphasize the very problem of the utility of theorization than to adopt a theory or another; but when these theories are opposed and arguments are presented in favor or against one or the other, that shouldn't be seen as personal sympathy but merely as back and forth movements in a detective-like effort of drawing a more detailed and clear picture.

  • I really think the "historical continuity" is a trap, so that one may be tempted to jump to "immigrationism". But that's like jumping from the frying pan into the fire (or "from the lake into the well" as they say in Romanian): for one anti-continuity objection you can find two anti-migration ones. That is because the more we improvise theoretically in response to a pre-envisioned theory, the more hypothetical facts are imagined that cannot be explained. This whole network of theories involved here is a larger trap, a net from which we have to cut loose in order to even think clearly.

  • The OP is looking for a discussion of the migrationist theory. If you're not interested in the theory, then why are you interested in this question? "until recently nobody was thinking in terms of ethnicity" That's revisionism, some groups were very closed.
    – John Dee
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 1:35
  • 3
    @JohnDee- I am interested in and I discuss the theory, namely the point in the theory that makes the OP question seem hard to answer. I argue that the question is answerable (not necessarily by me, but I give some example of possible answers), but that it should be disconnected from the concurrent theories about "origins". - I don't understand at all the remark on ethnicity and revisionism; my point is just that the issue of ethnic identity and majority - addressed by the OP - is only a 19-20th century concern, with no impact on the problem of "origin".
    – user8690
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 12:08
  • 2
    @JohnDee - I have posted more within the answer, as the space for comments was too limited.
    – user8690
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 12:41
  • @cipricus You clearly sympathise with the other theory, so please keep your opinion out of here, particularly because it attracts some brotherhood.Thank you!
    – Liviu
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 21:10
  • @Liviu - I think I have said enough in the answer and surely more than what you call my "sympathy". In fact I've expressed quite the contrary of sympathy towards what can only be called "theories" by a loose analogy (but that's a larger discussion). My effort was, no matter the theory, to purify the air, to bring discussion out of the fumes of mystery ("The great mystery for me is"). I have provided a simple answer to your question ("there were too few Hungarians there when Romanians... arrived") and one independent from the "theory" ("Why haven't Hungarians colonized more densely...")
    – user8690
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 8:46

After looking back at this interesting question I think it still hasn't received an answer, and the reason might be that there isn't one, scientifically I mean.

I have already posted an answer, because the question is interesting, only, I was initially interested more in the dispute between theories and especially in contradicting the idea that we really need such theories, thus being closer to @Greg's comments, then in providing a separate answer.

Some statements I have made in my first answer could count as an answer to the question though, although lost in the mass of the text: the main idea being that no matter how Romanians got there and in what numbers, fewer Hungarians came there anyway (implicitly saying that what counts is not who was or came there first, but who was or came more).

That seemed all right to me then, but now I realize that I haven't really taken seriously the question because I haven't taken seriously the "Immigrationist theory" - and that not because I do not believe it more than the "continuity" theory, but because agnostically I considered it in itself both gratuitous and improbable.

Now I see a problem with my own position (which, if I had to chose a theory, might push me closer to the "admigrationist" version or, why not - to a new version which might be a combination of all the others): it refuses to answer the OP's question: if the immigrationist theory is true, how have Romanians become a majority?

Why Hungarians or other populations have not populated Transylvania more densely is therefore a very similar question, and there might be the answer.

As an answer to the question that takes the immigrationist theory for a fact (and distancing myself from a skeptic and relativistic stance as much as I can) I could give this:

  • Romanians/Vlachs couldn't have become a majority, no matter the circumstances of their arrival, unless they lacked competition in terms of population numbers.

I find improbable the alternative hypotheses (which would have dismissed the question as having too obvious answers):

  • large numbers of Romanians (more than Hungarians) coming from Serbia and Bulgaria to Transylvania (and from there to Moldavia and Wallachia, or directly to the three future principalities at the same time) seems improbable: peoples were chased from that region, not towards that region (like the Cumans, who found refuge in Hungary; if Romanians came with them, then it must have been from Wallachia!), a such "invasion" (imagining the Hungarian king wouldn't have opposed it) couldn't have taken place before Hungary stopped the Mongols for good (but then it was too late for Romanians to "come", as Hungary was already helping creating Moldavia and dominating Wallachia, which must therefore have been already populated with Romanians coming from Transylvania or from south of the Danube); I heard a version of the theory with Vlachs leaving the Balkans during the wars between Bugar(ian)s and Byzantines or during the first Ottoman attacks: it is hard to find sufficient stretch of time between "too soon" and "too late" for a big migration: I am not contradicting thus the immigrationist theory, but I am only saying that the population involved couldn't have been large (precisely what the OP sees and is puzzled by) .

  • "Higher fertility" might have counted as a factor only in the very recent times (end of 19th century maybe), and it is hard to explain why that might have happened. The rural-urban divide cannot be played between Hungarians and Romanians to a sufficient extent. (Otherwise we might as well say that there were less Saxons than Hungarians because Hungarians had higher fertility rates.)

I'm not sure I have answered it yet, unless I answer why Romanians were more adapted to Transylvanian environment than Hungarians.

Let's take again the Saxon example: they not only came in fewer numbers than Hungarians (and Romanians), but they were not coming to live in a way that would have ever made them a majority in Transylvania. At a different scale, the same must be true for Hungarians: some were peasants, but some were military, bigger or smaller nobles, posted like the Szekelys in strategic locations, serving certain specific tasks. The large majority of Hungarians populated the western plains; Romanians coming to Transylvania from the Balkans (the south) is a hypothesis, but Hungarians coming to Transylvania from Pannonia (the west) is a certain fact. (They came from Ukrainian plains to the Pannonian ones and then to Transylvania.) But not enough came to Transylvania to become a majority, and the ones that came didn't came to simply "populate" or "overpopulate" the region, they had other more specific (military, commercial) purposes. Why would they have left Pannonia, which was more suited to their way of life, and come to Transylvania en masse?

Romanians within the immigrationst theory are described as a pastoralist people, that is, through the logic of their economy and lifestyle, migrating easily in mountainous regions (from northern Greece, Dalmatia, Macedonia and Istria to Maramures and Moravia).

To put it shortly: it might not seem that obvious now, but maybe in the past Hungarians prefered the flat regions of Pannonia more than Transylvanian regions of mountains, hills and forests. The contrary might have been true for Romanians/Vlachs.

Also, if Romanians were already in Transylvania during the tremendous Mongol attacks, it is possible that their less exposed habitat favoured them.

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