Northern Vlach peoples - the Romanians

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age of migrations


The term Vlach is the Slavic word for non-Slavs derived from a Germanic word. In the same way the Romanian word for Germans, Neamţ, is from the Slavic for Germans derived from niemy for "mute" meaning "does not speak Slavic". Today the northern Vlachs live in northeast Serbia, northwest Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia and a few in the Ukraine and Hungary. See the page on the southern Vlachs for the Vlachs of the Pindus and Macedonia that separated linguistically around the time of the Slav immigrations and now are known as the Arumani. The origin of the Romanians and Vlachs remains a mystery, and gives rise to disputes regarding Transylvania. There are few written references to the Vlach peoples as most written accounts during Byzantine and medieval times were from the towns, plains and coasts and it is unlikely the authors even aware of the peoples living in the hills and mountains. However, the existence of Romanians today is proof that they have been living in the Balkans throughout the turbulent periods of history. 


Before the times of the Roman Empire the Balkans were inhabited by Illyrians in the west, Thracians in the south, Dacians in the north and Greeks in the far south. During the period of Roman rule of the Balkans nearly all of the Illyrians and Thracians tribes were converted to Latin speakers. It is less certain how many of the Dacians were converted to Latin as there was only just over one hundred years of Roman rule and the area of Roman rule did not include all Dacia. From inscriptions it looks probable that many Romanised people took the opportunity to move north into the new Roman province. There is a little evidence that trade continued with the Romans after they left the province.

Age of migrations

The Romanised Illyrians and Thracians continued to live in their homelands until the Slav migrations of the 6th century. However, the region of Dacia was subjected to many waves of migrating tribes. The Vlachs are generally pastoral nomadic peoples of the mountains. Possibly the highland pastoral life separated the Vlachs from waves of migrating eastern tribes which took the lowlands by preference as they came from the plains of the Steppes or the lowlands of Germany. This would look possible when comparing the current oldest Romanian ethnographic regions with the sites giving evidence of the migrating peoples in Transylvania.


The Slavs started settling in the Balkans from the 6th century and lived in the areas of modern Hungary and Transylvania down to the Aegean coast. Unlike other migrating peoples there has been considerable interchange between the Slavs and Romanised peoples. Many customs are common between the Bulgarians and Romanians today suggesting that Romanised Thracians were assimilated into the Bulgarians. The Romanians have absorbed much from the Slavs. Romanian uses many Slavic words for everyday life, the basic double apron woman's costume is attributed to the Slavs, many river and place names are Slavic, the system of Voivode rulers is Slavic. Interestingly in the two places where the modern Romanian states were founded (Argeş and Rădăuţi) the woman's costume is the pre-Slavic fotă.

South Danube Vlachs

It has been suggested that south of the Danube the Vlachs were once more numerous and occupied a much greater area than now. The region between the Serbians and Bulgarians has place names with continued Latin origins, whereas those further into Serbia area have no Latin base. This area of modern east Serbia was mostly associated with the Bulgarians until the expansion of Serbia just before the Ottoman times. The Vlachs provided a separation of the southern Slavs which may have lead to the separate  Bulgarian and Serbo-Croat languages.

Transylvania and the Hungarians

Towards the end of the 9th century seven Hungarians tribes settled on the Pannonian plains under the leadership of Arpad. These plains were ideal for the life style of people from the Steppes. At first the Hungarian attentions were to the west with a number of campaigns into western Europe but as expansion in this direction was blocked attentions were directed towards Transylvania. The conquest of Transylvania was carried out in stages long after their settlement in Pannonia finally was completed in the late 11th century. The only information available from these times are in the ancient Hungarian ballads and chronicles. All the Hungarian chronicles refer to the pre-conquest peoples of Transylvania, although modern politics causes these to be overlooked, misrepresented, or discounted.

If these chronicles are true, Transylvania was ruled at that time by Menumorut, Gelu and Glad, who were Vlachs. The Vlach organisation had similarities to that the Slavs, with "seats" in the "knezats" (administrative leaders) under the regional voivode. These were later reflected in the Hungarian organisation of administrative units called Szek or Stuhl under the voivode of Transylvania. The Voivode was under the control of Hungary, but one can see from the names of Voivode that many were Vlach names. The Vlachs continued to have ties with the eastern Roman Empire (Orthodox  Christians) which was seen as dishonesty towards the Hungarian king. In these cases the Hungarians king would take control from the voivode. In this way the voivodes of Banat and Bihor became annexed into Hungary.. Some areas with a strong Romanian voivode have continued as Romanian areas to the present day, such as the Apuseni, Făgăraş and Hunedoara. There were Slavs, particularly around Bistriţa, who were driven out by Saxon settlers in the 12th century.

2nd Bulgarian Empire

The second Bulgarian Empire was mostly Slavic, the Bulgars had been assimilated by the more numerous Slavs. However, it is almost certain that there were significant numbers of Vlachs in Bulgaria. The Vlachs were a minority and probably continually being assimilated into to the Bulgarians as is still happening today. The Asen brother who founded the dynasty and second Empire (John I Asen 1186-1196, to John III Asen  in 1279) were possibly Vlachs. In 1204, the Pope recognised Kalojan (1197-1207) as "King of the Bulgarians and the Vlachs."

Wallachia and Moldavia

The Padzinaks (1091-1171) and Cumans (to 1241) were Turkic tribes occupying the regions of modern Wallachia and Moldavia as part of the powerful Cuman Empire ruled from Kiev. After devastation in 1241 by Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, and pressure from the Hungarians the Cuman tribes dispersed. This gave the Vlachs the opportunity to form the Romanian countries of Wallachia and Moldavia. Initially these were based in the towns of Curtea de Argeş in the Muntenian Carpathians, and Rădăuţi in north Moldavia. As these countries became secure the capitals moved down from the mountains and the Wallachian Vlachs were joined by immigrants from south of the Danube. At the start the Hungarian king exerted rule over these new countries. The Romanians freed themselves from the Hungarians not long before coming under Ottoman control.

Who are the modern Romanians? My personal view....

I think it is likely that the Romanians of today are a number of Latinised peoples combined by language. There may be some Dacians, but peoples from south of the Danube could predominate. The migration from the south could have happened in several waves; during Roman times, as the Slavs occupied their lands, and when Wallachia was formed. It seems most likely that there were Romanians in Transylvania before the Hungarian conquest, although they may have been nomadic and concentrated in the highlands. This highland lifestyle has continued almost uninterrupted until the present day.


© Eliznik2005, First issue 2002, Last updated Dec-05