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

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

“In the north and west [of Greece] you still find descendants of shepherd clans, like the Sarakatsans and the Vlachs, who have preserved a separate and distinctive identity to this day. The Vlachs are particularly interesting because their language, in contrast to all the other Balkan tongues south of Roumania, is Latin-based. No one quite knows who they are or how they came to speak Latin. Nomads, with no written languagem they have left no records. They call themselves Arumani — Romans. While they are obviously not that, the language they speak is probably not much different from that heard round shepherds’ campfires 2,000 years ago.”

— Tim Salmon, The Mountains of Greece (1986)

“Occasionally, these nomad Vlachs, illiterate and without national consciousness as most of them were, unwittingly played an important part in modern politics… the Romanian government subsidized Vlach schools, and sent Romanian clerics to preach to the Vlach nomads, as a kind of gamble.”

— Robert Lee Wolff, The Balkans in Our Time (Harvard, 1956)

“The Kutzo-Vlachs, or Rumans, of Macedonia, present an interesting ethnographic and linguistic problem. They are usually admitted to be the descendants of the aboriginal Thracians, who amalgamated with the Latin colonists and adopted their language and civilization, and maintained their national characteristics by retiring to the mountain fastnesses of Macedonia. Latin influence also survived…north of the Danube. There is a strong resemblance between the language of the Macedonian Vlachs and that of the inhabitants of Roumania, although there is no political, and not much racial, kinship between the two, and they are separated from each other by a wide belt of purely Slavonic country.

The Vlachs of Macedonia are very much scattered, their chief settlements being on the Pindus range and in the neighborhood of Monastir, Metsovo, Koritza, Krushevo, Vodena, etc. They descend in winter as far as the Gulf of Corinth, Avlona, and Durazzo, where the word Vlach has come to be almost synonymous with shepherd.

They are an extremely intelligent, fine-looking people, of considerable business ability. Their towns and villages, which are usually found on the summit of hills, are more solidly built than those of any other Balkan race. Krushevo, which suffered so heavily during a recent rising, was a notable instance.

But in spite of their love of well-built stone houses, the Vlachs have strongly ingrained nomadic habits, and in summer-time their towns are for the most part abandoned by all the able-bodied males, who wander about the country as itinerant merchants or kiradjis (dealers in and hirers of horses). Many of them are men of substance, and have business connections with all the important centers of the Balkans and Austria-Hungary.

As regards numbers, statistics vary, as usual, very considerably. According to some authorities, they are not more than 50,000; whereas Rumanian patriots affirm them to be at least half a million; probably they amount to about 100,000.

But politically, their importance is very small. They have usually kept on good terms with the Turks, who, until the last rising, treated them less badly than their other Christian subjects. They attend to their trade and take little part in political movements. For a long time they were indistinguishable from the Greeks, whose language they spoke as well as their own, and the Greek party still count them as Greeks in their statistics of Macedonia.”

— Luigi Villari, “The Races and Religions of Macedonia,” National Geographic XXIII (1912)

“Metsovo and a neighboring hamlet, Anilho, are home to an ancient Balkan people, the Vlachs. Throughout the district, grizzled old shepherds wear a traditional costume of black skirts over white woolen leggings. Women dress without affectation in richly embroidered cloaks and ankle-length gowns. The Vlachs continue to speak a Latin-based dialect similar to Romanian. Visitors invariably are struck by the familiar ring of such words as frate and casa — local patois for brother and house. Elsewhere in Greece, adelphos and spiti are the terms you would hear.

The restored mansion of Metsovo’s Tositsa family, now a museum of 19th-century Vlach furniture, rugs and tapestries, is a short uphill walk from the village square. It should not be missed. On the ground floor are the store rooms, fountains, and even the stables common to mountain dwellings of 100 and 200 years ago, while on the two upper stories can be seen opulent examples of the weaving and costumes for which northern Greece is justly famous. Admission is $1.

A few blocks away, the Idryma Tositsa Folk Art Cooperative sells outstanding examples of regional jewelry, embroidery, and woodcarving. A unique offering is women’s shoulder bags made from the embroidered sleeves of antique shepherds’ cloaks. Depending upon size, prices for these items range from about $10 to $50. Whether you buy or not, the folk art center is worth a visit, and admission is free.

Worth a special detour are two 15th- to 17th-Century monasteries a mile or so south and east of Metsovo; ask for directions at any of the village shops or hotels.”

— Alan Littell, “Far from the Greece of Classical Antiquity,” L.A. Times (July 28, 1991)

“When the Vlachs were first noted by the sources they were virtually all nomad herdsmen, though some had already given themselves to agriculture and some few others had become city dwellers. The authorities generally viewed them with distrust. Kekaumenos, no doubt the most important source on them for this period, says this about them: `The Vlachs are wholy faithless and perverse. They keep true faith neither with God nor with the emperor nor with kinsman or friend. But, striving to work against them all, they tell many lies and steal much, swearing daily most solemn oaths to their friends and easily violating them. They make contracts of adoption as brothers and alliances through baptism and scheme by such means to deceive the simpler- minded. They never yet have kept faith with any man.’

Nevertheless the Vlachs were regarded as regular subjects, served in the army and were required to pay the same taxes as the rest of the country population. There was something in their attitude and activities, however, that marked them as hostile aliens. For instance, in the uprising of the Bulgarians during the reign of Isaac Angelus, Vlachs seem to have taken the initiative. And when in 1284 Andronicus II learned that the Bulgarians were about to invade Thrace, his first measure of defense was to remove the Vlachs in Thrace…to Asia Minor. Nicetas Choniates says of the Vlachs that their hatred against the Byzantines was undying, being ever passed from father to son. In time, however, this hatred will disappear and the Vlachs in Greek lands will become Greeks.”

— Peter Charanis, “The Formation of the Greek People” (1975)

“Throughout the year [1905] much of the Greek effort had been directed against the Rumanising Vlachs… The Turkish authorities as a whole took the side of the Vlachs. Yielding to Rumanian pressure, they had recognized the Vlachs as a separate millet. Against this measure the Patriarch and the Greek bishops had protested. The result was that more and more Vlachs… worked silently against the Greeks, especially in the areas round Vodena, Monastir, and Grevena… As the year went on the murders of individuals increased, as also did attacks upon their villages. On 1st August a strong Greek band entered Plyassa (near Koritsa), burned the service books, and intimidated the villagers. The following day, a Greek band of fifty visited the village of Varla (near Grevena), murdered the priest and two notables, and again destroyed the service books. An even fiercer attack was made on Avdela (Grevena). Here in November a Greek band burned 133 houses, 6 inns, and several shops. As a result of these ferocious measures the Greeks increased their hold on many regions — particularly the Kazas of Perlepe, Monastir, Kastoria, and Vodena.”

— Douglas Dakin, The Greek Struggle in Macedonia, 1897-1913 (Salonica, 1966)

“Our own acquaintance with the Vlachs began quite by chance. In the winter of 1909-10 we were travelling in southern Thessaly in the district between Almiros and Mt. Othrys in search of inscriptions and other antiquities. In Almiros itself and in one or two of the villages to the west are a number of Farsherots or Albanian Vlachs who formerly came from Pleasa. We happened to employ one of these as muleteer and from him began to learn a few words of Vlach.”

— Wace & Thompson, Nomads of the Balkans (1914)


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