Being an Ottoman Vlach: On Vlach Identity(ies), Role and Status in Western Parts

Vjeran Kursar



Following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, the Vlachs, still a
largely nomadic and semi-nomadic population, made special
arrangements with the conquerors. They served as a colonising force in
newly conquered areas, manning auxiliary military units such as voynuks
and martoloses, etc. In exchange, the Ottomans granted the Vlachs wide
exemptions and autonomies that made them significantly different from
the ordinary subject population – re‘âyâ. During the course of time, with
centralisation and changes to state structure, the economic system and
military organisation occurring, many of the services that the Vlachs used
to provide for the Ottomans, became superfluous. As a result, the 1520’s
saw the beginning of Vlach sedentarisation and a reduction of their
privileges. By the end of the 16th century, these privileges resulted in the
majority of Vlachs’ social standing being equalled to that of the filuricis,
and later with ordinary re‘âyâ peasants.
The Vlach response to the pressure of the state was threefold: (1)
rebellion and migration to enemy territory, (2) acceptance of new realities
and the loss of Vlach quality, and (3), assimilation with the “ruling people”
by means of Islamisation. The 18th century, on the other hand, witnessed the
rise of “conquering Orthodox merchants,” originally Vlachs, who
distinguished themselves through wealth acquired in international trade.
Despite their success, however, they once again, relatively quickly assimilated
into host societies, following the fate of their nomadic predecessors.


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