Did You Know What Other People Have to Say about Us?

“Several Roman legions were constantly quartered in these [Thracian] provinces, and numerous Roman colonies were founded in them. Roman veterans settled in the country, and young Thracians departed annually as recruits to distant legions. The Latin language appears to have amalgamated more readily with the Thracian than with the Greek. We are informed by a Greek writer, who was himself a Roman ambassador, that in the middle of the fifth century the Greek language was unknown in the countries between the Adriatic, the Aegean, the Black Sea, and the Danube, except in the commercial towns on the coasts of Thrace and Illyria; but that Latin was the ordinary medium of communication among foreign races, both for commercial and political intercourse. In the sixth century the Thracian dialect bore a strong resemblance to corrupt Latin, and to the Vallachian language spoken at the present day.”

–George Finlay, in The Byzantine and Greek Empires (London, ca. 1850)

“The Aromanians–Wallachs or Vlachs–are another people who have always lived about Ochrid. They were the great carriers of all the Balkans, and had a capital city of their own at Moschopolis, in Albania, above Korcha, where a printing press was established…They built roads and villages which show that they are among the most genuinely Roman of the nations which survived the fall of the empire. Perhaps only the Sards equal them. They have been shepherds, muleteers and traders, and became brigands too, but they were also great builders of towns like those on the hilltops of Italy (Oppida) with a feeling for stone excelled only in Dalmatia, where a large Aromanian element, the Morlachs (Sea Vlachs) settled.”

–Firmin O’Sullivan, in The Egnatian Way (Pennsylvania, 1972).

“It is easy to see the reasons behind [the Romanians’] insistence on the Vlachs coming from a proto-Romanian homeland in Dacia, just as it is easy to see why Greeks like to think of Vlachs as autochthonous and really Greek. For Greece…the Vlachs presented both a threat and a challenge. If they could be shown to be Greeks, then Greece could claim to have citizens north of Bitola. If, on the other hand, they were not Greeks, then the claims of Greece to Macedonia were seriously threatened by an alien minority two hundred miles south of the present border. The Romanians, anxious to get hold of Transylvania and the Dobrudja in spite of the presence of a large non-Romanian element in both areas, saw the presence of a large vaguely Romanian element in Greece as a great opportunity for bargaining.

The days of Balkan racial politics should, however, surely be over…

“Like Basque and the Romantsch dialects of Switzerland and North Italy, Vlach would seem to owe its survival to the remoteness of the areas in which it was spoken and to there being more than one language with which it was in competition. The growth of the monolithic national state and the improvement in communications have weakened the chance that Vlach will survive much longer.

The distinguishing feature of the Vlachs…is their language.”

–Tom Winnifrith, in The Vlachs: History of a Balkan People (New York, 1987)

“Today the Vlach language breathes its last. I don’t believe the coming generation will speak it. I want now to pose a question to you…Is it to the moral credit of Hellenic culture for this language to be lost after having been spoken for two thousand years and more? Is it right for any language to be lost, even this one?

It is not just he who speaks Greek who is a patriot. If we wanted to mention the names of patriots who spoke and still speak Vlach it would take us much time and paper.

Greece must not only permit Vlach to be spoken, but it must protect that language…Measures should be taken and the Vlachs supported morally and economically until their villages revive and are as renowned as they were in the last two centuries. What centuries of conquerors and hordes of barbarian invaders did not achieve in Vlach lands will, I am afraid, now be accomplished by the centralization and urbanization which are ruining those lands.”

–Konstantinos Kouros, in a letter to the Editor of the Greek newspaper Stochos (May, 1985)

“Metsovo, hidden in the snow-covered peaks of the Pindus mountains where it nestles among forests of firs, provides an authentic glimpse into a part of Greece’s past never pictured on thr travel posters.

Most inhabitants of the town wear the colorful old hand-woven costumes and practice the ancient crafts of embroidery, wood carving, weaving, and cooking just as they did centuries ago. But unlike the inhabitants of Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village, the Metsovites are not play acting but stay in costume twenty-four hours a day. Their old ways never died, but were researched, encouraged, and revived by the government and descendants of the town’s renowned philanthropists, including the Averoff-Tositsa family.

The citizens of Metsovo, who belong to a people called the Vlachs, speak not only Greek but also their own language, which, like Romanian, is descended from Latin. The ancient crafts, skills, beliefs, even recipes, have been rescued from oblivion by Evangelos Averoff, one of Greece’s leading political figures, and his nephew.”

–Nicholas Gage, in Hellas, A Portrait of Greece (London, 1987)

“In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Aroumani maintained their language and therefore their identity because of their economic monopolies and the millet system. But Roumanian is still learned today in the villages, not becuase of any one particular reason, but because identification as Aroumani continues to confer advantages in diverse contexts. Aroumanian ethnic identity condenses multiple experiences and meanings—non-Greekness, ecological and economic marginality, unique control of muleteering, and dominance of the cheese trade—and thus has great non-specific potential uses. It not only unites Aroumani in diverse contexts, but also connects upper and lower classes.”

–Muriel D. Schein, in “When is an Ethnic Group? “, Ethnology 14 (Jan. 1975)

“Many of these Aromani became very rich and rose to high positions, such as Dumba who became counsellor to the Emperor Franz Josef, or Nasica from Samarina who became chairman of the Federal Power Commission in the United States. They have even included among their descendants members of the British Parliament, such as Piers Dixon. …the Aromani, alone among Balkan peoples, combine in themselves the strongest traditions both of Latinity and of Hellenism.”

–John Nandris, in “The Thracian Inheritance,” Illustrated London News (1980)

“There is no race in all the Balkans so mysterious and so individual as the Vlachs. They shelter themselves in the Greek church, adopt Greek culture as a disguise, and serve the Hellenic idea. It is rare to meet a man among them who does not speak Greek more or less fluently and well, but at home the national Latin idiom persists, and their habits, their ways of thinking make them a nationality apart.”

–H.N.Brailsford, in Macedonia: Its Races and their Future (London, 1906)

“One thing about this heritage of ours. I’ve come across so many of the women who are from the Vlach villages who are very strong; they’ve always had to take care of the family…so the women take over, the men go, start a baby on the way and off they go to various places to earn a living. And they send money to their families…the women are quite independent.”

–Euterpe Dukakis, interviewed in The GreekAmerican (New York, 1988)

“Vlach women, unlike women in a Greek village, are treated by the men with far greater respect and in some cases almost as equals. The women pay calls like the men and both converse together freely.

The social life of the Vlachs in which both sexes meet on almost equal terms and the fact that a Vlach girl has no dowry means that theoretically in both betrothal and marriage there is a certain freedom of choice on both sides. How much this is so in practice it is not possible for a stranger to say. Among the Greeks no girl can hope for marriage unless her parents can give a dowry large enough to attract some suitable young man…the Vlachs all condemn this system alleging that it prevents free choice…[T]he position of women among the Vlachs is better than in Greek villages where a girl has no choice at all.”

–Wace & Thompson, in Nomads of the Balkans (London, 1913)


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