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History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

Lucian Boia

Chapter two. Origins

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1Having surveyed the stages through which Romanian historical ideology has passed, I now propose to analyze one by one its fundamental components, the great mythological configurations around which the national consciousness has crystallized and evolved.

2It is natural to start with beginnings, not just out of respect for chronological criteria but above all because of the exceptional significance of foundation myths. Each community, from the tribe to the modern nation, legitimizes itself in terms of its origins. In all times and all cultures these have been invested with great value and have been continually remembered and commemorated. Nothing is more contemporary, more ideologized, than a beginning. Foundation myths are a condensation of the community’s own consciousness of itself.

3Origins are not self-evident, not objective facts. We can invoke the founding of Rome or the Cucuteni culture; the Getae of Herodotus or the emperor Trajan; the first flint tools or the “dismounting” of Negru Vodă, Burebista or Cuza. In each case there is a choice to be made, and it is made not according to any objective scientific standard but on the basis of the ideological resources and present projects of the community. It is worth noting that foundation myths tend to multiply like links in a chain; the first foundation must be ceaselessly renewed and consolidated, giving birth to more and more new founding moments, which are, in fact, reiterations of the original foundation, links which bind it to the present.

4Thus, choosing from among the multitude of possibilities, we might recognize as a founding event the Daco-Roman synthesis on the territory of Dacia, identified with the Romania of today, and see this initial foundation as being re-actualized and consolidated by new founding events: the formation of the principalities, the union of 1600, the union of 1859, the creation of Greater Romania in 1918, or, more recently, the revolution of December 1989, to the extent to which we consider this a fresh beginning, the birth certificate of a renewed, yet eternal, Romania.

5For Bishop Chesarie of Rîmnic, writing two centuries ago, the founding phases were four in number: the wars of the Dacians and Romans, and especially the work of Trajan, later consolidated by Saint Constantine (the emperor Constantine the Great); the building of the monasteries of Cimpulung and Curtea de Argeş (symbolizing the foundation of Wallachia by Radu Negru); the translation of books from Slavonic into Romanian (under Matei Basarab, Şerban Cantacuzino, and Constantin Brîncoveanu); and—somewhat surprisingly, but the present time imposed its obligations—the reign of Alexandru Ipsilanti, under whom Chesarie was writing. (See the services for November 1778 and January 1779, reproduced by Ioan Bianu and Nerva Hodoş in Bibliograjia românească veche). The distance in time and the difference of mentality allow us, in this case, to perceive more clearly the ideological sense behind the systematization of history in terms of founding moments. The erudite cleric’s scheme relates only to Wallachia, and places religious and cultural events in the foreground. It is neither correct nor incorrect; like any other scheme it reflects a particular vision of history based on a particular view of the present.

6Romanian founding myths are simply one individual case of a quasi-universal mythological category, which, regardless of space or time, seeks to justify the present with reference to origins and to link the two ends of history by means of intermediary markers.

7That these myths fit into a wider typology can be seen, too, in the slide from traditional to modern forms. The former tend, in general, to place a high value on external interventions, capable of propelling a previously empty or amorphous space into history. We find creations ex nihilo, creations of something fundamentally new. It can likewise be observed that the foundation is personalized, with an exceptional personality being central to the founding act. All this gives the new structures a nobility and a transcendent sense; indeed, the archetypal essence of the foundation myth is inseparable from the notion of the sacred. Even in its later, apparendy secularized, forms, foundation retains a mystical significance that places it in the zone of the perennial, above the contingencies of history.

8The foundation myths of the Romanian principalities, as they are recorded in the chronicles—the “dismounting” of Negru Vodă in Wallachia and the double “dismounting” of Dragoş and Bogdan in Moldavia—fit perfetly within the traditional typology. In the same period the French and the English were dignifying their origins with invented peregrinations, bringing their founding heroes, Francus and Brutus, all the way from the far-off city of Troy.

9Modem foundation myths place a higher value on indigenous origins, in line with the “scientific”, nationalist, and democratic phase of historical discourse. The foundation is no longer perceived as a rupture, as an act attributed to an exceptional hero; it takes its place within the organic development of a community or civilization. Roots become more important than nobility of origins—a translation that we shall be able to trace in the Romanian historical consciousness too.


  • 1 The thesis is developed by Adolf Armbruster in Romanitatea Românilor. Istoria unei idei (The Roman (...)

10The modern period opens under the sign of the Roman foundation myth. This is made the real foundation, with the “dismountings” in the Romanian lands seen as belonging to a later phase, as repetitions of the first creation, the “dismounting” of Trajan. The attempt by some researchers to connect this myth to a Roman consciousness, preserved uninterrupted in Romanian society, seems to me to be illusory.1 In this case, why was an uninterrupted Dacian consciousness not also preserved? In fact, the invocation of distant origins cannot be a matter of popular consciousness but of intellectual combinations with a well-determined ideological and political purpose. Regardless of their Latin origins, the Romanians evolved until around 1600 in a predominantly Slavonic cultural environment. Their historical curiosity went no further back than the founding of the Romanian states. It was Westerners who first noted the connection between Romanians and Romans, for the simple reasons that, with their knowledge of Latin, they could observe the similarities between Romanian and the ancient language, and had access to historical texts referring to the conquest and colonization of Dacia.

11In Romanian historiography it was Grigore Ureche, towards the middle of the seventeenth century, who first noted that the origin of the Romanians was in “Rim”. A few decades later, Miron Costin composed the first “monograph” on the Roman origins of his people, under the tide About the Moldavian People. Both chroniclers had studied in Poland and knew Latin, so they were able to use sources and secondary works written in that language. Certainly nothing in their arguments concerning Romanian origins can be linked to any earlier indigenous source. At that time, in the seventeenth century, Romanian historiography was emerging from its Slavonic phase, not only in the fact that the chronicles were now compiled in Romanian, essential as this was, but in the sense of a shifting of cultural and historical reference points. The starting point became Rome, the conquest and colonization of Dacia. The principle of “external intervention” still applied, indeed with intensified force. Roman origin made a strong mark on the individuality of the Romanian lands, giving them nobility and prestige. Latin was the language of culture throughout most of Europe, and the Roman imperial tradition survived both in the Holy Roman Empire and in the desire of Russia to be considered the “third Rome”.

12Purity of origins was not in question. With the exception of the high steward Constantin Cantacuzino, who accepted a Daco-Roman mixing in his History of Wallachia, the chroniclers and later historians, from Dimitrie Cantemir to the Transylvanian School, would agree to nothing less than a pure Roman origin, with the Dacians exterminated or expelled to make way for the conquerors. For the Transylvanian scholars, having recourse to a Roman origin, and as far as possible a Roman origin without the slightest foreign mixture, was even more essential than for their precursors in the principalities. As campaigners for the emancipation of the Romanians of Transylvania, who were kept in a condition of clear inferiority by the Hungarian ruling elite, they used their origins as a weapon. As descendants of the masters of the world, whose language was still the official language of Hungary and Transylvania, the Romanians could not go on for ever accepting the supremacy of a people inferior to themselves—according to the standards of the time—in “race” and origin.

  • 2 Maior, Petru. Istoria pentru începuturile nmânilor în Dachia. Buda, 1812, 8-22. (See also the edit (...)

13The main difficulty for the Transylvanian scholars was explaining the disappearance of the Dacians, or at least their non-participation in the formation of the Romanian people. Solutions invoked included extermination, expulsion from the land of Dacia (Budai-Deleanu saw, in Dacians forced to leave their country, the ancestors of the Poles) or, quite simply, an incompatibility in civilization that prevented the two peoples from blending together. The most elaborate demonstration is that of Petru Maior, who, in his History of the Beginning of the Romanians in Dacia (1812), brings together all these arguments. Many Dacians, “unable to escape before the Roman advance, killed each other”, while others, “with all their women and children, fled from Dacia and went to their neighbors and friends, the Sarmatians”. Maior takes pains to demonstrate that the war was not a conventional one, but one of extermination. This is how he deals with the question of whether the Romans might not still have married Dacian women. Such marriages could not have taken place because, firsdy and most importantly, there were neither men nor women left in Dacia. And even if some women had survived—Maior concedes the possibility only to reduce the hypothesis to the absurd—”the very excellence of the Roman blood was nevertheless sufficient to prevent the Romans from marrying such barbarians as the Dacian women were”. Moreover, “among the Romans it was shameful to marry women of any other people”, let alone the “savages” of Dacia. The habit of “not marrying women of another language” has, Maior emphasizes, been kept by the Romanians too; this explains the survival of the Romanian people and the Romanian language. The contrast with the Hungarians is striking: “When they came to Pannonia [...] they did not even have women of their own people” and so “were forced to marry women of other peoples: Russian, Slav, Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek and others.”2 The nobility and purity of the Romanians thus emerge with enhanced value in antithesis to the Hungarian mixture.

14It may be noted that around 1800, historiography in the principalities, which had entered a phase of Greek influence with the period of Phanariot rule, treated Daco-Roman fusion as a natural phenomenon. This is a point of view which we find in Greek historians settled in the Romanian lands—Dimitrie Philippide (History of Romania, 1816) and Dionisie Fotino (History of Old Dacia, 1818-1819)— but also with the Romanians Ienăchiţă Văcărescu and Naum Rîmniceanu (the latter in an essay called On the Origin of the Romanians and in his introduction to the Chronology of the Lords of Wallachia). The 1828 Tableau historique of Moldavia, mentioned in chapter one, is not even shy of affirming the Dacian origin of the Moldavians.

15However, the Romanian historiography of the nineteenth century evolved along the national lines marked out by the Transylvanian School, and the more cosmopolitan products of the Phanariot period could not compete with the purely Romanian project of the scholars on the other side of the mountains. The Romanian national movement that emerged after 1821, the shift towards the West and towards the Western model of civilization, and the complexes of a small country that aspired to play a role in Europe by the restoration of old Dacia (Roman Dacia, it was understood), all contributed to the highlighting of the Roman model. The excellence of the foundation myth guaranteed the excellence of the Romanian future, in spite of the mediocrity of the present. Through the Romans, the Romanians could present themselves to the West as the equals of anybody, and the phenomenon of acculturation no longer meant borrowing, but rather a return to the source, to a ground of civilization shared with the civilization of the West.

16This is why, in the period between 1830 and 1860, interpretations which do not uphold the Latin purity of the Romanian nation are rare. Differences of interpretation exist, but these do not so much concern the nature of the origins themselves as their relation to the present, the degree to which they can be actualized.

17The Latinist school, represented primarily by Transylvanians but not restricted to Transylvania (since Transylvanians already occupied important positions in the cultural system of the principalities and later of united Romania), sought to carry to its ultimate conclusions the Latinism established by previous generations of the Transylvanian School. If the Romanians were pure Romans, then their history was simply Roman history, the prolongation of the history of Rome. This is what decided August Treboniu Laurian, the mastermind of the tendency, to begin the history of his people as naturally as possible with the foundation of Rome (just as Samuil Micu had done previously). If the Romanians were Romans, then they should remain Romans and cast off all foreign influences, perhaps even where the institutional organization of modern Romania was concerned (this was the viewpoint of Bămuţiu, opposed by Maiorescu) and certainly in the area of the Romanian language, the “purification” of which was to bring it as close as possible to the original Latin.

18The outstanding monument of this tendency was the Dictionary of the Romanian Language, published in two volumes and a glossary by Laurian, in collaboration with Ioan Massim, between 1871 and 1876. The appearance of this work demonstrated the key positions occupied by Latinists in Romanian culture, including the Academic Society (founded in 1867 and known from 1879 as the Romanian Academy), which had commissioned the project. The result was far beyond expectations. Once it had been purified of non-Latin elements (listed in the glossary, with a view to their elimination) and an etymological spelling system had been adopted, the language as reworked by Laurian bore only a vague resemblance to authentic Romanian. The dictionary was both the highest expression of Latinism, and its swan song. The attempt to create an artificial language only provoked laughter and permanendy discredited the Latinist school. Even such bitter enemies in other issues of national history as the Junimists and Hasdeu joined forces to denounce the sacrifice of the Romanian language on the altar of an imposed Latinity.

  • 3 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Open. Vol. 2, 57, 67.
  • 4 Bălcescu, Nicolae. Opere. Vol. 3, 13.

19However, the opponents of Latinism were basically Latinists themselves, in the sense that for them the Romanians were descended from the Romans. Until about the middle of the century there was near unanimity on the Latin affiliation of the Romanian people. Kogalniceanu, one of the most severe critics of Latinist abuses, makes a clear-cut affirmation, in his Histoire de la Valachie, of the Roman background of his people, which can be traced even in the web of Romanian folklore: “Our peasants have preserved a multitude of Roman superstitions; their weddings include ceremonies practiced by the citizens of Rome [...].” The preservation of undiluted purity seemed to him an essential feature of Romanian history, from the Romans onwards: “The Romanians have never wanted to take in marriage women of another folk. [...] The Romanians have always remained a nation apart, preserving their ways and the customs of their ancestors, without losing anything of the daring and courage of the citizens of Rome.”3 Bălcescu, too, in The Romanians under the Voivode Michael the Brave, mentions as a fact needing no further comment that Dacia was colonized by the Romans “after the annihilation of its inhabitants”.4

20All the same, there were differences between the Latinists and those who were content simply to note the fact of Roman origin. These can be summed up in three main points.

21First, the critics of Latinism did not agree with the abusive actualization of origins, that is, with the transforming of contemporary Romanians into Romans with the consequences that we have already seen (with respect to the Romanian language, for example). In opposing “Romanomania” in his 1843 Opening Word, Kogalniceanu pointed out the necessity of distinguishing between Romanians and Romans, between origins and present. The Romanians had to prove themselves alone and not rely for ever on their Roman ancestors for “assistance”.

  • 5 Şincai, Gheorghe. Hronica românilor şia mai multor neamuri. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura pentru Lite (...)
  • 6 Russo, Alecu. Scrieri. Ed. Petre V. Haneş. Bucharest Editura Minerva, 1908, 88.

22The second point concerned the purity of Roman blood. For a long time this was almost a “taboo” subject. The famous passage in Eutropius, in which all claims concerning the colonization of Dacia found their support, actually states perfecdy clearly that the colonists came “from the whole Roman world” (ex toto orbe romano). Şincai, without basing himself on any supplementary information, expanded this expression in his own way: “[...] they brought very many settlers into Dacia from the whole Roman world, but especially from Rome and Italy”, and “not just the low-class mob” but “also leading families were brought or moved to Dacia”.5 An aristocratic colonization indeed! In order to explain the regional variants of the Romanian language, Maior admitted the presence in Dacia of dialectal varieties, but argued that these were stricdy of Italian origin. In contrast, Alecu Russo, an adversary of Latinist purism, could accept without complexes a mixing of colonists coming from the most diverse provinces of the empire; the particular profile of the Romanian language could be explained precisely by the input of these different elements.6 Even without invoking the Dacians, “purity” was a thing of the past; we could not be pure Romans.

  • 7 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Open. Vol. 2, 390.
  • 8 Russo-, Alecu. op. at., 172.

23Thirdly, and lastly, the Dacians began to be perceived other than as a burdensome barbarian element, capable only of upsetting the schema of Romanian Latinity. Their never-contested love of liberty and spirit of sacrifice seemed, to the romantic revolutionary generation, to be virtues worthy of admiration and imitation. What could be more noble than sacrifice for one’s country and death in preference to slavery, symbolized by the heroism of Decebalus and the pathetic scene of collective suicide? “Decebalus”, exclaimed Kogalniceanu in his famous speech of 1843, “the greatest barbarian king of all time, more worthy to be on the throne of Rome than the rascally descendants of Augustus!”7 Alecu Russo, attempting to draw a parallel between Decebalus and Stephen the Great, expressed himself as follows: “The one and the other both had the same aim, the same sublime idea: the independence of their country! Both are heroes, but Stephen is a more local hero, a Moldavian hero, while Decebalus is the hero of the world.”8

  • 9 On the reception of the Dacians in Romanian culture, see also Babu-Buznea, Ovidia. Dacii în conşti (...)

24This admiration did not necessarily modify the Latinist interpretation of origins. Kogalniceanu spoke in his Opening Word of “the Dacians, whose soil we have inherited”—soil, let it be noted, not blood. Russo went one step further: while only Roman colonists appear in the essay to which I have already referred, in another text (The Stone of the Lime Tree—accounts of travel in the Moldavian mountains), he sees in the race of mountain people, and even in their speech, the result of a Daco-Roman fusion. For all the concessions made towards them, the Dacians appear in the romantic period—until after 1850—more as mythical ancestor figures, sunk deep into a time before history, in a land which still recalled their untamed courage. Although they only rarely kept them as a founding factor, the romantics contributed to the consolidation of the theme of the Dacians, preparing the ground for the coming re-elaboration of origins.9


25It would soon be time for a more complete and nuanced synthesis. The inferiority complex which had promoted the Romans was no longer so justified after the foundation of Romania, the gaining of independence, and the proclamation of the kingdom. The Romanians could now become themselves. Purity and nobility of blood ceased to be decisive considerations (although they continued to have a certain force in the arsenal of national arguments). The fact that Dacia had been colonized not only, and not even primarily, by inhabitants of Rome and the rest of Italy, began to be recognized and de-dramatized. The Dacians in their turn began to be recognized, first by a few non-conformists and later by Romanian historiography as a whole, as a founding element of the Romanian people. It was basically a combination, characteristic of the phase that Romanian society had reached in its evolution, of Western sources (the Romans and kinship with Latin sister nations) and sources of an indigenous nature (the Dacians). In any case, the acceptance of mixing meant that complexes had been at least partially healed. Indeed, the progress of research and of historical conceptions no longer permitted the ignoring of the native population or the illusion of an exclusively Italian colonization. By 1870 it was hard to go on claiming, with Maior’s nonchalance, that the ancestors of the Romanians had come from Italy while the Dacian men had been exterminated and their womenfolk disregarded by the conquerors. Maiorescu put a lid on the matter, pointing out that “no one in their right mind” could believe such a thing. A more adequate interpretation of the literary sources, supplemented by linguistic deductions and archaeological investigations, was opening the door towards a gradual affirmation of the Dacians.

26As we have seen, the phenomenon fits within the typology of the evolution of foundation myths. The French, too, had begun, as early as the Renaissance, to put more of an accent on their Gaulish base (so much so that the French Revolution could be schematized as a confrontation between the Gaulish people and an aristocracy of Frankish origin, with the former taking a long overdue revenge on the latter), and in Russia the traditional version of the founding of the state by the external intervention of the Varangians came to be opposed, in the name of Russian patriotism, by an emphasis on the native Slavs.

  • 10 Brătianu, Ion C. Acte şi cuvîntări (Documents and speeches). Vol. 1, part 1. Bucharest: Editura Ca (...)

27We may note the intervention in this question of a politician, even before the historians. In 1857, I. C. Brătianu published a series of articles in the newspaper Românul, under the title Historical Studies on the Origins of Our Nationality. While in the already-mentioned text of 1851 this statesman, so preoccupied with origins, had been content to invoke the multitude of Latin colonists and the transmission of their virtues to the Romanians, now the picture appears more complex. The Romanians are not just descended from Romans, but from Thracians, Celts, and Romans. Thus “we are three times stronger and more powerful”, a claim that clarifies the purpose of this approach.10 The Thracians, and thus the Dacians, symbolized rootedness in the soil of the land; the Romans the political principle and civilization; while the Celts, an unusual presence in the Romanian mythology of origins, deserved to be invoked since through them we could be more closely related to the French. The role of France in the coming union of the principalities seemed overwhelming, as was the French model of civilization. A connection to the Celts, thus to the Gauls and, through them, to the French, completed the profile of a Romania that should at the same time be itself, the inheritor of old Rome, and the eastern replica of the French model. It is a remarkable piece of advocacy, clearly illustrating the mechanism of the actualization of origins and the political charge carried by foundation myths.

  • 11 Hasdeu, B. P. “Pierit-au dacii?” . In Scieri istorice (Historical writings), ed. Aurelian Sacerdoţ (...)

28The Celts did not manage to impose their presence in Romanian consciousness, but the Dacians proceeded to install themselves permanently on the scene. In 1860, Hasdeu published in Foiţa de istorie şi literatura an important study entitled, somewhat provocatively given the predominance of the Latinist current at the time, “Did the Dacians Perish?” The young historian demonstrated that the Transylvanian School and its epigones had erected their whole scaffolding on a forced interpretation of the ancient sources. The “reduction of the menfolk” mentioned by Eutropius had been abusively amplified into the extermination of a whole people. The Dacians had not perished, Hasdeu concluded, and the colonization had not been an infusion of pure Romans but of people from the most diverse origins. Thus, “our nationality was formed out of a number of elements, none of which was predominant”. The myth of purity was cast to the winds. The Romanians appeared as a “chemical composition”, in which diverse constitutive elements gave birth to a fundamentally new synthesis.11

  • 12 * Cioban: shepherd; bad: head-shepherd; stînă: sheepfold complex with summer huts for shepherds; ur (...)

29In his numerous later works, including the Critical History of the Romanians, Hasdeu continued to attempt, despite the paucity of documentation, a reconstruction of the old Romanian civilization, which, without any diminishing of the importance of the Romans, he saw as descending to a considerable extent from the civilization of the indigenous Dacians. He had a special faith in the historical virtues of linguistics, believing that the origin and evolution of words could offer a faithful mirror of history. He carried out a veritable “hunt” for Dacian words in the Romanian language, managing to identify a total of eighty-four, plus fifteen place-names. This was a decisive argument in favor of the survival of the Dacians and their contribution to the Romanian synthesis. Significant in this connection is Hasdeu’s article “The Origins of Shepherding among the Romanians” (1874), in which he demonstrated the Dacian origin of the words cioban, baci, stînă, urdă and brînză.*12 Thus shepherding terminology confirmed Daco-Roman continuity, both from an ethnic point of view and in terms of the perpetuation of ancient practices. It is hardly necessary to say that all too few of Hasdeu’s etymologies have stood up to more recent research. The truth is that in the question of Dacian etymology it is possible to affirm almost anything, given that we know next to nothing about the essential evidence, the Dacian language itself.

30In “Stratum and Substratum: The Genealogy of the Balkan Peoples” (his introduction to the third volume of Etymologicum Magnum Romaniae), Hasdeu takes up the problem of the Dacian-Roman-Romanian connection again, this time as part of an overall perspective. He shows that the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula were formed by the superposition of successive strata: the original “Pelasgians”, then the Thracians, overlaid by the Romans, and finally the Slavs. The ultimate predominance of one of the elements should not lead us to ignore the presence of deeper layers. Underneath present linguistic differences can be seen the relatedness of the Balkan peoples (the Thracian-ness of the Bulgarians, the Dacian-ness of the Romanians, etc.). The Dacian substratum of the Romanian people is thus placed within a general schema of historical and linguistic evolution.

  • 13 Bolliac, Cezar “Despre daci” (About the Dacians). Românul, 14—26 July and 24 July—5 August 1858; “ (...)

31While Hasdeu was doing battle with words, an amateur archaeologist was turning the country upside down in search of ancient Dacian material remains. In 1858 Cezar Bolliac (1813-1881), journalist, writer, and politician, published in the newspaper Românul a veritable manifesto under the tide “About the Dacians”, in which, two years before Hasdeu, he took issue with the Latinist doctrine, unable to hide his enthusiasm at the antiquity and achievements of Dacian civilization. One sentence is worth repeating: “Our nobility is as old as the soil.” It was the Dacians who aroused in Bolliac the passion for field research. “Our mission, the mission of the Romanians, in archaeology, is above all to define what the Dacians were, what their beginning was, what their beliefs were, what level of civilization they had reached when the Romans conquered them and took their country, and finally, how they lived on with the Romans in their country, what they borrowed from the Romans and what the Romans borrowed from them.”13 Over two decades, from 1860 to 1880, he undertook countless journeys on the Danube and to the hills and mountains in order to answer these questions. On one occasion he thought he had discovered a Dacian alphabet, and another time he identified “prehistoric pipes”, the conclusion being that the Dacians did not despise the art of smoking. This made him the object of Odobescu’s irony in Archaeological Smoke Concocted from Prehistoric Pipes by a Man Who Does Not Smoke. What interests us here is not the real value of the research of this enthusiastic dilettante. The important thing is that he “stirred up” the Dacian substratum, which had hitherto been hidden in Romanian consciousness by the brilliance of the Romans.

  • 14 Regarding Eminescu’s “Dacianism” , see Călinescu, G. Opera lui Mihai Eminescu (The works of Mihai (...)

32Etymology and archaeology were joined by poetry. The Dacians are invoked repeatedly in the verses of Mihai Eminescu, the great national poet of the Romanians, generally in texts which remained in manuscript, in various stages of completion, such as the poems Memento Mori and Sarmis, and the historical drama Decebalus. Like Hasdeu, Eminescu invoked Dacians and Romans alike with equal pride. His Dacia is imagined as a primordial, ahistorical world, expressive, like his other incursions into the past, of an ideal of regression and the nostalgia of beginnings still under the sign of the golden age. There is in these verses the starting point, though not yet sufficiently crystallized, of a national mythology, the expression of the nationalist and autochthonist basis of the poet’s ideology, which was to produce an echo in the nationalism and autochthonism of later generations.14

33Dacia was also the subject of a doctoral thesis, Dacia before the Romans, defended by Grigore Tocilescu in 1876 at the University of Prague and awarded the Academic Society’s prize. Published in 1880, it was the first synthesis in Romanian historiography concerned with the history and civilization of the Dacians.

34Around this time, in the 1870s, there took place an essential reworking of the question of origins. From Romans (first pure Romans, later “mixed” Romans) the Romanians became Daco-Romans. It was a formula which seemed closer to the truth but which in fact turned out to be more fragile and unstable than the exclusive affirmation of one or other of the component elements. The stress would always fall on either the first or the second term of the expression. Who was greater: Trajan or Decebalus? In which of them do we primarily recognize ourselves? Such questions may seem puerile, but in mythology nothing is puerile; everything is invested with meaning.

35The Latin idea remained very present in Romanian society. If “pan-Latinism” (regarded coldly by France) was never affirmed to anything like the extent of pan-Germanism or pan-Slavism, this was not the fault of the Romanians. The “Dacianist” Hasdeu called imperiously in 1869 for a “pan-Latin congress in Paris”, and in 1878 Vasile Alecsandri was awarded a prize in Montpellier for his Song of the Latin Race. “The Latin race is queen / Among the great races of the world [...].” The poet put his literary triumph and the glory recently won by Romanian soldiers at Grivitsa on the same level, a sign not just of his own vanity but of the intensity of the Latin myth.

  • 15 Tocilescu, Grigore. Manual de istoria românilor. Bucharest, 1899, 22, 34.

36The dominant discourse continued, in varying degrees, to favor the Romans. Among those who proved unwilling to grant the Dacians more than was absolutely necessary we even find the author of Dacia before the Romans. In his textbook on the history of the Romanians, Tocilescu observes that after the wars with the Romans Dacia was left almost without inhabitants. The phenomenon that took place was not a simple process of Romanization, as in France and Spain, but a massive Roman colonization, in which various provinces took part (Italy to a lesser extent). The Romanian people is, essentially, a Roman people (in contrast to the French, who are Gallo-Romans, or the Spanish, who are Ibero-Romans). Dacians entered into the synthesis too, the historian recognizes, but on a limited scale.15

  • 16 Onciul, Dimitrie. “Dacia” . Enciclopedia română. Vol. 2. Sibiu, 1900, 87.

37Dimitrie Onciul expresses a similar point of view. He considers that the Romanian people was bom “especially from the Roman colonists, who, on the conquered territory, absorbed the remains of the Dacian population after the latter had been largely exterminated here in battle, as the Roman authors say, or forced to withdraw to the north and east. The opinion that the Daco-Romans are to be seen more as Romanized Dacians is not confirmed by the historical sources. The Dacians remained in the non-colonized parts, as a population distinct from the Roman population and often actually hostile to the empire, until the end of Roman domination, only to disappear then in the wave of invaders.”16

  • 17 Xenopol, Alexandru D. Istoria românilor din Dacia Traiană. Vol. 1. Iaşi: H. Goldner, 1888, 163, 30 (...)

38Other historians are more generous. In his History of the Romanians in Dada Traiana, the first volume of which appeared in 1888, A. D. Xenopol assembles a number of proofs and arguments in support of Dacian continuity. In a notably balanced presentation, he brings the indigenous and colonizing elements face to face. Taking account of the general prejudice in favor of the Romans, he feels the need to convince his readers that there is no loss in being descended also from the Dacians: “[...] the root of the Romanian people is to be identified in the historical layers in two branches which are both equally energetic, enduring, and full of virtue. Let us not therefore be offended if the blood of the Dacians turns out to be mixed into our nationality.” However, for Xenopol, too, the colonization and Romanization were decisive and were on a greater scale than occurred in other provinces of the empire. The Roman element seems to have been larger than that of the Dacians, “so that the finest examples of the Romanian race of today do not come from the Dacian character but from the Roman”. We are Daco-Romans, but more Roman than Dacian!17

  • 18 Iorga, Nicolae. Istoria românilor pentru poporul românesc (History of the Romanians for the Romani (...)

39Nicolae Iorga, in his numerous works of synthesis, on a greater or smaller scale, affirms in his rum the Daco—Roman fusion, but within the broader framework of the whole of eastern Romanity and with an insistent underlining of a substantial demographic current coming from Italy even before the incorporation of the provinces in the Roman state. “A people”, he considered, “does not come to speak another language unless a large number of people come over it who speak that language and have similar activities to its own.” The Thraco-Illyrian mass of farmers and shepherds could only be de-nationalized as a result of a massive emigration of the Italian peasantry. The process then continued in Roman Dacia, where the number of Dacians who remained “in the midst of the other Romanized Thracians was not very great, for the folk had suffered much in previous years”.18 The balance was thus tilted towards the Romans and, at least for the initial phase of the Romanization of the Balkans, even towards the pure Italian element.

  • 19 Odobescu, Alexandru. Ateneul Român şi clădirile antice at dom circular (The Romanian Athenaeum and (...)

40Roman symbols, and above all the face of Trajan himself, long remained dominant. Decebalus may stand beside him, but in general Trajan is preferred, defining the founding moment par excellence as that of the conquest of Dacia by the Romans. On the occasion of the inauguration of the Romanian Athenaeum in February 1888, Alexandru Odobescu gave an erudite lecture in which he set out to underline the relationship between the new building in Bucharest and circular-domed Roman buildings; the Athenaeum thus symbolized the Roman origin of those who had erected it. In order for the Romanian—Roman connection to be even clearer, the distinguished archaeologist proposed that a bas-relief should be placed on the façade representing “the Transfiguration which took place here in Romania when, from under the harsh and dark overlordship of the Dacian Decebalus, our land, through its happy conquest by Trajan, entered rapidly and easily into the luminous and blessed dominion of the Latin folk”. The fresco in the great circular hall was to present first of all the barbarism of prehistoric times, then the Daco—Roman wars and the triumph of Rome. Decebalus’s image was not to appear at all; on the other hand, the “noble and gentle figure of the emperor Trajan, with his gray hair and his prophetic gesture, will preside over his whole army. [...] He, to whom we, here, owe both our birth and our name, both our life and our faith. He will shine in this place, like the sun at noon.”19

  • 20 For details on the conception of these paintings, see the text and illustrations of Ateneul Român (...)

41The fresco which Odobescu sketched out as an ideal project would be made reality half a century later, in the years 1933 to 1937, by the painter Costin Petrescu. By this time the major role of the Dacians in the Romanian synthesis was recognized (and, as we shall see, sometimes even exaggerated). And yet, faithful to a persistent tradition, the founding scene presented by Costin Petrescu completely ignores Decebalus. We see only the victorious Trajan contemplating the Dacian disaster. Apollodorus of Damascus likewise appears, a more representative symbolic figure than Decebalus, in that the bridge which he built united Dacia with the rest of the empire. The mixed origin of the Romanian people is not, however, ignored; it is illustrated by the idyll of a Dacian woman and a Roman legionary. The man is of course Roman; it is he who will give the offspring their name and legitimacy.20

  • 21 For a survey of the images in which Trajan is placed alongside Carol I, see Tănăsoiu, Carmen. “Car (...)

42It is in Dimitrie Onciul’s synthesis, From the History of Romania (editions published in 1906,1908, and 1913), that we find the most concentrated expression of the Romanian pantheon. The work has only two illustrations. The first shows the emperor Trajan, “the founder of the Romanian people”; and the second, King Carol, “the founder of the Romanian kingdom”. The linking of these two founding moments, ethnic and political, appears insistently in the climactic phase of Carol I’s reign, the period marked by the jubilee of 1906. The king of Romania and the Roman emperor are represented together on a number of plaques and medallions, with inscriptions such as: “Fathers of the Romanian folk, 106-1906-1866.”21 As well as nobility of blood, Trajan also symbolized a political project: the imperial glory of Rome re-actualized in the reign of Carol I.

43While they could be accepted, more or less, as a population that had undergone Romanization, the Dacians could not offer the kingdom of Romania a sufficiently attractive political symbol. Between their barbarian monarchy and the Roman imperial insignia the choice was self-evident. The political leaders of 1900 were certainly less inclined to admire Decebalus than the revolutionaries of 1848 had been.

  • 22 Pârvan, Vasile. Dacia. English translation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928, 189.

44For all that, the ground won back by the Dacians continued to be consolidated. The autochthonist wave after 1900, amplified in the interwar period, direcdy or indirectly favored Dacian roots. We have seen how Vasile Pârvan sketched an image of Dacian civilization remarkably similar to the image (as it was perceived at the time) of traditional Romanian civilization. The work of Párvan, a historian respected for the solidity of his documentation (both literary and archaeological) and considered to be unassailable from a methodological point of view, established the Dacian factor in a position from which, practically speaking, it could not be dislodged. It was possible to go further than the conclusions of the great archaeologist, much further even, but none of the ground won for the Dacians would henceforth be given up. They now appeared as a numerous and powerful people, the forgers of a remarkable civilization, and alone among the Thracian peoples in being the founders of a state. Párvan himself sums up the essential features of the Dacian space at the moment of the Roman conquest as follows: “First of all, Dacia was a great kingdom based on a solid and homogeneous ethnic foundation: its historical traditions were already old, its social and economic structure was well marked, and it possessed an advanced culture, which, influenced at first by the forms of Celtic civilization, had for two centuries before Trajan felt the impress of the Roman. Here was a worthy rival even for Rome. This was no mere agglomeration of a number of savage tribes with a shifting population, scattered loosely over an extended territory with a complete lack of political and national cohesion such as the Romans had found in Dalmatia or Thrace or Pannonia or Moesia; here was a nation, organized, powerful, conscious of itself.”22

  • 23 Pârvan, Vasile. Dacia. 5th edition. Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică, 1972, 155. (This passage was c (...)

45“A nation conscious of itself: the formula is an anticipation of Romanian national consciousness, and, in the context of 1926, makes ancient Dacia equivalent to united Romania. The role of the Romans is not diminished as that of the Dacians is affirmed. Párvan presents a long process of Westernization, of “pre-Romanization” we might say, beginning long before the conquest of Dacia. He believes that in the Roman province of Dacia, with a thinned indigenous population and in conditions of massive colonization, the Roman element was dominant. The process of Romanization was also felt in the rest of Decebalus’s Dacia, the parts that were not annexed by the Romans and continued to be inhabited by Dacians. “Not only the Banat and Oltenia, but also Muntenia and Moldavia, through connections of ethnicity and interest with Roman Dacia on the one hand and Getic Moesia on the other, gradually received the Roman form of life. [...] The solidarity of interest of pre-Roman Dacia was remade: the Dacians of greater Dacia contributed with their race to the preservation of what the Romans in Roman Dacia had created with their culture.”23

46Pârvan succeeded, by his genius, in fixing the Daco-Roman synthesis in a perfect balance. The Romanians are, to the highest degree, both Dacian and Roman, and pre-Roman Dacia, Dacia of the Roman period (whether included or not in the empire), and modern Romania appear as historical entities which can be perfecdy superimposed and which echo each other across the millennia.

  • 24 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 1. 5th edition, 1946, 123, 173.

47A decade later, in the History of the Romanians by C. C. Giurescu (first volume, 1935), the “biological” weighting of the Dacians in the formation of the Romanian people is affirmed even more strongly, and they end up by becoming a majority even in Roman Dacia: “For all the losses they had suffered in battle, and the emigrations of tribes which, unwilling to submit to the empire, withdrew into the northern mountains, we believe that the population that remained was considerable in number and constituted the majority of the inhabitants of the new province. [...] Romanism was victorious in Dacia because it won over the natives.”24

48The Romanians could thus be defined as Romanized Dacians, having first been pure Romans, then Romans more or less mixed, and later Daco-Romans.


49But things did not stop here. The next move, somewhat inevitably given the logic of nationalism, was to be the exclusion of the Romans from the Romanian mixture. Autochthonist nationalism returned to the theme of the purity of the race, just like the first nationalists, only this time the purity was to be Dacian, not Latin. The Roman infusion had attached the Dacian space to an indisputable center of the world: Rome. Now the center was simply to be in Dacia, an eternal Dacia outside time, around which the rest of humanity would gravitate. The concept of center emerged from this about-turn consolidated, not weakened. We may observe that the shift to the center of a peripheral space, which has been in all ages on the margin of the great units of civilization, has been, and still is, the major preoccupation of Romanian nationalism.

50In 1894 the archaeologist Teohari Antonescu (1866-1910), Odobescu’s disciple and future professor at the University of Iaşi, published an essay entitled “Dacia: The Primitive Fatherland of the Aryan Peoples”. The author was a Junimist, and the text appeared in Convorbiri Literare, a periodical oriented towards the critique of nationalist phantasms but sufficiently open and tolerant to accept any original contribution. By way of a chain of deductions, starting from linguistic material, in a way that recalls Hasdeu’s method, Antonescu actually did no more than find a new fatherland for the Aryans, who had already been trailed by their researchers and admirers all over Asia and Europe. Dacia now became the starting point of a brilliant history.

51But the great discoverer of a world with its center fixed in Dacia was Nicolae Densuşianu (1846-1911), a Transylvanian settled in Bucharest since 1878, an erudite historian and fiery nationalist. He made himself noticed by a work which was appreciated at the time, Horea’s Revolution (1884), in which he attributed to the “revolution” in question the aim of founding a “Romanian political system”. But for Densuşianu the “Romanian political system” and the history of the Romanians in general could be traced far back, very far back. In his passion for the question of origins he left Hasdeu far behind, believing that he could truly arrive at the earliest beginnings. His method, basically Hasdeian but without the professionalism that, at least from time to time, tempered the fantasies of the author of the Critical History, brought into play elements of archaeology and folklore, linguistics and mythology, which he combined at will. The result was Prehistoric Dacia, an immense work of 1,200 pages, which appeared posthumously in 1913 through the efforts of an admirer, C. I. Istrati (himself a fascinating character: doctor and chemist, professor at the University of Bucharest, conservative politician, and, on top of all that, spiritist!). Vasile Pârvan regarded it as a “fantasy novel”; it is, at any rate, the expression of the strongest dose of the imaginary in Romanian historiography. It was also a truly influential book, if not at the time of its publication, when the securely installed principles of the critical school left little room for alternative theories, then certainly in the later manifestations of Dacianist autochthonism.

52Densuşianu reconstructed the history of a supposed “Pelasgian Empire”, which, from beginnings in Dacia around 6,000 B.C., allegedly succeeded, under two great rulers, Uranus and Saturn, in extending its rule over Europe, the Mediterranean, Egypt and North Africa, and much of Asia. This prehistoric equivalent of Romania had united around itself a universal empire, certainly the greatest that ever existed. It was from here, between the Danube and the Carpathians, that civilization poured forth through the other parts of the world. It was from here that the ancestors of the Romans set out for Italy. Dacian and Latin are only dialects of the same language, which indeed explains the lack of “Dacian” inscriptions in Roman Dacia: the two peoples were of the same speech. Among the arguments put forward by Densuşianu we also find a reference to the representations on Trajan’s Column, where Dacians and Romans engage in dialogue without interpreters, proof that they could understand each other very well, each speaking their own language! Thus in contrast to the other Romance peoples, which are the result of a mixing process, the Romanians are a pure race, the descendants of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and their language owes nothing to Latin, having been transmitted from time immemorial. This also explains its differences from the western Romance languages.

  • 25 Istrati, C. I. “Nic. Densuşianu. Viaja şiopera sa” (N. Densuşianu: His life and work). Dacia preis (...)

53C. I. Istrati, who prefaced Prehistoric Dacia with a long text about the life and works of its author, closes his enthusiastic evocation with a remarkable parallel: he finds the “times of unknown glory [...] which were planned and enacted around the Carpathians, and especially in the Bucegi mountains”, re-actualized on the occasion of a visit to Peleş. Dacia, center of the world; the Bucegi, center of Dacia; and Peleş in the heart of the Bucegi: here is a symbol that is both cosmic and political at the same time. King Carol I appeared to Istrati as “a new Uranus and Saturn”!25 What was Trajan beside these emperors of the earliest times, who had molded history into its first forms?

  • 26 Eliade, Mircea. “Către un nou diletantism” (Towards a new dilettantism). In Profetism românesc (Ro (...)

54In the interwar period Densuşianu’s thesis was taken up and developed by a number of amateur historians, intoxicated with nationalism. The increasingly violent clash of ideologies and the affirmation of the autochthonist spirit offered them a space for maneuver which the professionalization of history had seemed, for a time, to be eliminating. In the eyes of some, the intuition of the non-specialist even became a virtue; to go beyond rationalism was a fundamental desideratum of the nationalist Right. Mircea Eliade called for a “new dilettantism”, on the basis of the observation that “dilettantes have always had a feeling for history and understood it”; the deeper meanings and the great synthesis are more accessible to them than to the professional.26

  • 27 Portocală, N. Din preistoria Daciei şi a vechilor civilizaţiuni. Bucharest: Institutul de Arte Gra (...)

55The dilettantes were not slow to come forward. Their favorite battleground became the question of origins; even today they still make a point of glory out of the original and “patriotic” resolution of this question. One of them was General Nicolae Portocala, who published in 1932 From the Prehistory of Dacia and of the Ancient Civilizations. The enthusiastic military man broadly follows Densuşianu and is harshly critical of Pârvan, accusing the great promoter of Dacian civilization of an abusive insistence on foreign influences! The most remarkable part of his demonstration concerns the impossibility of the Dacians being Romanized. Who was to Romanize them? “Foreign and uncultivated legionaries, whose knowledge of Latin may have been limited to military commands?” And how could the half who lived in territory unoccupied by the Romans be Romanized? The conclusion could only be that the Dacians had always spoken “a rustic Latin language”. Romanization did not go from the West to the East, but from the East to the West. It was not the scholars who were right, but the Romanian peasants, with their saying: “Italians speak Romanian too, but messed up.” Romanian is not “messed up” Latin: Latin and its descendants are “messed up” Romanian!27 What the Roman conquest actually did was destroy a flourishing civilization and remove the Romanians from history for a thousand years.

  • 28 Brătescu-Voineşti, Ioan Al. Originea neamului româneşc şi a limbii noastre. Bucharest: Editura Car (...)

56Portocală was followed by a certain Marin Bărbulescu, whose name was suggestively extended to Bărbulescu-Dacu, author of The Daco-Thracian Origin of the Romanian Language, published in 1936. The conviction that the Romanian language is nothing other than ancient Dacian took hold of the writer Brătescu-Voineşti, who, before and during the Second World War, became a great admirer of the solutions and mythologies of the extreme Right. “We are not neo-Latins, but proto-Latins”, he wrote in The Origin of the Romanian Folk and of our Language (1942, new edition 1943). “The Others” speak a language similar to ours, simply because they are descended from our ancestors. The Romans are, like the Romanians, the descendants of the Thraco—Geto—Dacians. “Latin was the literary form of the language of the Geto-Dacians. The same language, when it reached France, became first the language of the Gauls, and with time French.”28 According to Brătescu-Voinesti these are axioms which no longer require demonstration; let those who maintain the contrary do the demonstrating!

57And so, we do not originate from “Rim”: the Romans, the French and all the rest come from the Bucegi!

58The Dacianism of the amateurs denied (and still denies) what is evident—the Romance character of the Romanian language—for the sake of a fictive Dacian language similar to Latin. This is, of course, not the approach of the professionals, even those attracted towards the same Dacian horizon. They do not deny linguistic Latinity, but consider that the essential lies deeper than the Roman crust. Biologically and spiritually the Romanians are Dacians, not Romans or even Daco—Romans.

  • 29 Concerning the avatars of this mysterious figure, see Petre, Zoe. “Le mythe de Zalmoxis” (The myth (...)

59Also invoked towards this end is the cult of Zalmoxis, in which the Geto-Dacians allegedly foreshadowed the Christian religion, so that they were more prepared than other peoples to receive it. Since the Romanian nation is in the first place Orthodox Christian, the connection is made to the Dacian supreme god, not the Roman pantheon. Zalmoxis offers a remarkable model of mythological logic. The starting point, in fact the only certain starting point, is a succinct and obscure passage in Herodotus (who also provides the information, evidendy passed over by nationalist exegetes, that Zalmoxis was a slave of Pythagoras). It is hard to say to what extent these lines tell us of the authentic religion of the Getae and how far they are simply the projection into the Getic space of Pythagorean doctrine. Furthermore, Zalmoxis never appears in representations of any kind, either in the pre-Roman period (figurative representations are, in any case, no more characteristic of the “oral” civilization of the Dacians than is writing) or in Roman Dacia, rich as it is in all sorts of divinities. It was on this fragile axis that the ancients themselves developed the myth of Zalmoxis, which was subsequently taken over and amplified in Romanian culture, especially in the interwar period and in right-wing circles. Gradually, those few lines of Herodotus became a whole library.29

  • 30 Eliade, Mircea. “Introducere” . Scieri literare, morale şi politice. By B. P. Hasdeu. Vol. 1. Buch (...)

60Lucian Blaga noted the “revolt of the autochthonous layer”; it was he, too, who published, in 1921, the play Zamolxe, in which the Dacian space appears as “a means of capitalizing on the ethical and metaphysical values of existence”, to quote Mircea Eliade. Eliade himself was a great promoter of the Dacian layer. This was certainly what attracted him to B. P. Hasdeu, whose Literary, Moral, and Political Writings he edited in 1937. In his introduction to this collection he insisted on a general orientation—anticipated by Hasdeu—towards appreciation of the value of autochthonous roots and reduction of the significance of borrowings. He also cites Camille Jullian, who had demonstrated, in the case of Gaul, “that the much-praised Roman civilization was no more than a brutal militarism, which destroyed the beginnings of a promising culture”. Unamuno’s “desolidarizing” of Spanish thinking from Latinity went in the same direction. “Today”, concludes Eliade, “the fascination with the Dacians goes beyond scholarly interest; everything encourages us to believe that the thirst for the ’originary’ and local’ will deepen in Romanian spirituality.”30

  • 31 Eliade, Mircea. The Romanians: A Concise History. Trans. Rodica Mihaela Scafeş. Bucharest: “Roza V (...)

61In 1943 in Madrid Eliade published in Spanish a synthesis of the history of the Romanians: Los Rumanos. Breviario histórico. The first chapter of the book was given the suggestive tide “Under the Sign of Zalmoxis”. Where origins are concerned, the author distinguished between Romanization and... Romanization. The phenomenon followed a different course in Dacia than in Spain and Gaul. “Here, unlike in other regions, the Romanization did not mean a radical change of the autochthonous ethnic substance. The Dacian learned to speak Latin, but he preserved his customs, his way of life and ancestral virtues. The new towns worshipped the gods of the empire, but in villages and in the mountains the cult of Zalmoxis perpetuated, even if, later on, under a different name. That is why, when the first Christian missionaries arrived to bring the new faith to the Daco—Romans, the latter embraced Christianity at once and before others did so: Zalmoxis had paved the way for the new faith for centuries.”31 We need hardly state that none of these affirmations have the slightest documentary basis.

  • 32 Ciauşu, Milviuţa. “Panteonul mişcării legionare” (The pantheon of the Legionary movement). Mituri (...)

62For the Legionaries, Zalmoxis had a special appeal. Their foundation myth was the Dacian myth. Indeed, P. P. Panaitescu, who had become, in the autumn of 1940, one of the leading personalities of the Legionary regime, put it in so many words in the text quoted in Chapter One, which begins: “We are Dacians!”—an assertion made on the basis of “race” and “blood”.32

63Ethnic purity—whether in the Latin or the Dacian version—belongs to a traditional tendency in Romanian culture, but the stronger accent put on race and blood cannot be separated from the context of 1940. At a time when the Nazis were claiming the superiority of the Germanic race, the exponents of the Romanian nationalist Right were not shy of invoking a similar model. All the more so as, between the Germanic tribes and the civilization of the Dacians, the reference to earliest times might even be to the Romanians’ advantage.

  • 33 Niţulescu, Horia. “Vrolegomena la o anumită durată românească” (Prolegomena to a certain Romanian (...)
  • 34 Ionescu-Nica, G. Dacia sanscrită. Originea preistorică a Bucureştilor (Sanskrit Dacia: The prehist (...)

64The years of the Second World War, a period marked by the trauma of territorial dismemberment and the hope of rebirth within restored or even enlarged borders, were marked by an instinctive appeal to Dacian permanence. Here are a few lines which appeared in the first issue (April 1941) of a literary journal with the symbolic tide Dacia Rediviva: “From far off there appears, shining, the eternal archetype of Dacia. In its profile, which corresponds precisely to ourselves, we find again our whole dimensions.”33 And in 1945, a certain G. Ionescu-Nica tried to resolve the border issue by recourse to the same mythical space of ancient Dacia as a decisive argument for the perennial oudine in which Romanian territory was inscribed.34


  • 35 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 43.

65The first phase of communism meant a retreat both for the Dacians and for the Romans. Daco—Roman origins were not actually contested, but the problem of origins as such no longer had the same importance as before. Communism had other foundation myths. Revolts and revolutions, the founding of the Communist Party, the Griviţa strike and the liberating action of 23 August 1944 became more significant points of reference than the remote Daco-Roman synthesis. Moreover, the class principle was set over and above the ethnic principle. The dividing line did not so much run between Dacians and Romans or between Daco-Romans and the others, as within Dacian and Roman society respectively. It was no longer possible to treat a certain ethnic element as a block. Under Burebista, and even more under Decebalus, the Dacian state had become a slave state. With the Roman conquest, “the rich social layer in Dacia aligned itself with the Roman invaders”, according to Roller’s textbook. On the other side were “free but poor people, and especially slaves”.35 Social struggle was combined with the struggle for liberation from under Roman domination. The Dacians formed the great mass of the oppressed, just as the oppressing class was principally Roman (or Romanized).

  • 36 See, in this connection, Tudor, Dumitru. Istoria sclavajului in Dacia Romana (The history of slave (...)
  • 37 Berciu, Dumitru. “Lupta băstinaşilor din Dacia împotriva cotropitorilor romani” (The struggle of t (...)

66The model projected onto Dacia was that of liberation struggles in colonies or in the “third world”, struggles supported by the Soviet Union and the “Socialist camp”, while the Romans came closely to resemble Western imperialists. Through perseverance in forcing the interpretation of sources, the class struggle took on unsuspected proportions, not least in the form of revolts combined with attacks by the free Dacians.36 The file on the “latrones” is particularly significant and amusing. Latrones in Latin simply means brigands. A number of funerary inscriptions from Dacia refer to the killing of inhabitants of the province by so-called latrones. The monuments are erected in memory of well-off people, and hence the idea took shape that they were killed not in the course of common robbery, but as an expression of class struggle. The latrones became oudaws, the avengers of the oppressed many. One historian went a step further and identified an actual institution of latrocinia among the Dacians, a term translated as partisan struggle!37

67Thus there was little thought given, in the 1950s, to the ethnic, Daco-Roman substratum of the Romanian synthesis. Of the two elements, however, the less favored were the Romans. They were consistently referred to as invaders, and their departure from Dacia was seen as a liberation. Even without an explicit formulation, the Romanians appeared to be rather the Romanized descendants of the Dacians, identified largely with the oppressed mass of the people of the Roman province. Beyond that it was not possible to insist. Denunciation of the Romans fitted in with the anti-imperialist and anti-Western project, but too much insistence on autochthonous roots would have given the historical discourse a nationalist tinge, and this was not, of course, the desired goal. Nationalism was to be combated just as much as Westemism. With this end in view a third element was added to the Dacians and Romans; further on we shall pause to consider the development of the problem of origins in the “internationalist” ambience of the time.


  • 38 Programul Partidului Comunist Román de făurire a societăţii socialists multilateral dezvoltate şi (...)

68The gradual shift from the historical mythology of class struggle to nationalist mythology was to restore the traditional foundation myth to its former status. Already in 1960 the first volume of the treatise History of Romania proved to be much more conciliatory towards the Romans. The influx of Roman colonists and the process of Romanization are henceforth no longer automatically devalued by an insistence on the unjust character of the conquest. The Romans continue to be criticized—no good communist could agree with the annexation of foreign territory—but only up to a point, and with a compensatory underlining of the elements of progress which they brought. The Communist Party’s Program of 1975, phrased in somewhat vague terms so as to please everybody, refers to the “negative aspects” of Roman rule, but also to the “new socioeconomic flourishing” in the period, emphasizing too that the Romanians appeared “from the blending of Dacians with Romans”.38

69All the same, the rehabilitation of the Romans did not go all the way, and in particular could not keep up with the relendess consolidation of autochthonous roots. Whether good or bad—generally bad at the beginning and good later on—they only represented one episode in a history that stretched over millennia. The nationalist ideology could find support here in a wealth of archaeological discoveries. In their own right, and quite apart from any ideological exploitation, these represented perhaps the most productive sector of historical research in the communist years. Archaeology was, however, stimulated precisely because it was through it that a solution could be sought to certain historical problems in the sense pursued by ideology. The Romanian past was thus considerably deepened, with the Dacians themselves supported by a much earlier history, from the Stone Age to Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures. However significant the “seal of Rome” might be, it could now only give a certain coloring, limited in time, to an independent history that had its own specific features and belonged to a specific space.

70If professional historians continued to pronounce—with inevitable nuances, of course—in favor of the Daco-Roman synthesis, around the middle of the 1970s a far from negligible current, made up of non-specialists but influential on a political level, took over the Dacianist thesis of Densuşianu. The historical obsessions of the “extreme Right” on the eve of the Second World War were thus transferred to the “extreme Left”, which says much about the common inclinations of the totalitarian phenomenon, especially where the nationalist variant of communism is concerned. The offensive was launched by the Institute of History of the Party, which, having falsified the recent history of the country, turned with similar intentions towards a history thousands of years old, offering it the competence of its specialists in the history of the working-class movement.

  • 39 “Începuturile istoriei poporului român” . Anale de istorie 4 (1976): 142—152. Although the article (...)

71In issue 4 (1976) of Anale de istorie, the journal of the above-mentioned Institute, there appeared a most remarkable article (unsigned) under the tide “The Beginnings of the History of the Romanian People”—conceived as a support to those who had to teach and study the course on “Fundamental Problems of the History of the Nation and the Party”.39 This text claims, not as hypothesis but as fact, the pre-Romance or Latin character of the Thracians’ language. The demonstration, since we are offered a “demonstration”, is a telling illustration of what a lack of basic professionalism and a straightforward contempt for the truth can mean. The line followed is that of Densuşianu’s work, which, from a “prehistoric fairy tale”, has become an “authorized source”. As the bibliography nevertheless needed bringing up to date, there is a reference to the “French academician Louis Armand”, who apparendy showed that “the Thraco-Dacians spoke a pre-Romance language”. If an academician says it, and a French one at that, then it must be true! The casual reader might be led to believe that the individual cited is a great historical and philological authority (we lay aside for the moment the elementary principle that appeal to authority cannot be admitted as a procedure in historical argument). In fact, Louis Armand was an engineer who held senior positions in the French railways and nuclear energy industry! Returning to Densuşianu, what the Party researchers retain from his tortuous presentation is the story, with all its humor, of the missing interpreters: “In support of this conclusion [the Latinity of the Dacian language] we have the bas-reliefs on Trajan’s Column. One of these shows a delegation of peasants discussing direcdy with Trajan, without interpreters, and when he replies it is similarly without interpreters.” This is the lowest point of the profession (since the authors had the status of “professionals”), the bottom limit reached by history under the communist dictatorship: a sign of the impertinent conviction that ultimately we can make what we want out of history.

  • 40 Istoria militará a poporului român. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Militară, 1984, 182.

72The elimination of the Romans from national history thus returned to the agenda (with or without a denial of Romanization). The Institute of History of the Party and the Center for Military History were at the forefront of this tendency. If Nicolae Ceauşescu continued, in his various historical invocations, to plead on behalf of Daco-Roman synthesis, his brother Ilie Ceauşescu lost no occasion to denounce the Roman invaders, even suggesting that the Romanian people had been formed before the Roman conquest. The period of Roman domination is judged harshly in the first volume of the Military History of the Romanian People (1984). Negative consequences of the conquest are pointed out, while the positive aspects are no longer mentioned. It is true that a “weaving together of Dacian and Roman civilization” is accepted, but it is carefully stressed, without fear of contradiction, that “the Dacian people successfully preserved its ethnic being”.40 There was no biological blending with the Romans, just the adoption of their language; at least the Latinity of the language was recognized!

  • 41 Crişan, Ion Horaţiu. Burebista şi epoca sa. 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclop (...)

73The identification of the Romanians with the Dacians led to an insistent foregrounding of the originality and values of the civilization of the latter. Nothing could be more natural (in mythological terms): the Romans had no need of such an amplifying operation, but the Dacians could only gain by retouchings and additions. Here again, a notable role was played by historians of the category mentioned above, to whom must be added some authentic professionals, such as Ion Horatiu Crişan, the author of a monograph which enjoyed considerable publicity: Burebista and his Age (1975, new edition 1977). Crişan’s method is not without interest: he first makes an apparendy correct analysis of the sources, and then advances conclusions which have nothing to do with those sources. The use of writing by the Dacians thus appears, for Crişan and other authors, to be a feature indicative of the high degree of evolution of Dacian civilization. It had become almost a political error to claim that the Dacians did not practice the art of writing, although in reality the sources do not demonstrate very convincingly that they did. But writing was not enough. By writing and other methods the Dacians must have expressed ideas of the highest possible level. The idea was launched that the history of Romanian philosophy should begin with Dacian philosophy. The essential references to the “philosophical preoccupations” of the Dacians are to be found in the sixth-century historian Jordanes, the author of a work on the Goths, whom he sought to elevate by assimilating them to the Getae, attributing to them, moreover, all sorts of intellectual aptitudes and curiosities. The fable-mongering of Jordanes or of his model Cassiodorus, who could not even distinguish Getae and Goths, can in no way be considered a source for a history which they knew only in a vague and distorted form, unless we are going to accept anything as a source. Crişan, being a professional, does not hesitate to note the exaggerations of the text, before going on to draw an unexpected conclusion—the necessity of “including in the history of Romanian philosophy a chapter dealing with the philosophy of the Daco—Getae, which ought to be researched and made the subject of a monograph”.41 It is an astounding statement. Granted, a few considerations might be possible, if we agree to be caught up in Jordanes’s game, but a monograph on the history of Dacian philosophy, when we do not even have three words written in Dacian!

74There was a certain agitation, too, around the insoluble question of the Dacian language. Whether it was a “Latin” language or different from Latin, it demanded to be reconstituted and perhaps even established as a subject in the university curriculum. At one point it was suggested that a Department of Dacian Language should be set up in the University of Bucharest. I do not know whether it was intended that Dacian philosophy should be taught in Dacian; what is certain is that all these fine initiatives collapsed in the face of one unavoidable obstacle: the non-existence of the object of study. The enthusiasts keep marching on, however. For several decades a whole “amateur movement” has been invading the territory of linguistics, imagining fantastic etymologies capable of restoring to us the language of our ancestors. This sort of “para-linguistics” with ultra-nationalist accents seems to have become a veritable social phenomenon in Romania.

75More prudent, but likewise pursuing the goal of consolidating the Dacian heritage, have been a number of academic research projects along the lines inaugurated by Hasdeu. The dedicated specialist in this direction is I. I. Russu, the author of The Language of the Thraco-Dacians (1959 and 1967). He succeeded in identifying—although his findings are considered debatable by many linguists—no less than 160 words belonging to the Dacian substratum, which, with their derivatives, could represent around 10 percent of the basic word stock of the Romanian language. The language we speak would thus have a perceptible Dacian coloring.

  • 42 Belcin, Dr. Comeliu (lawyer). “Elemente introductive la problema: Originea, vechimea şi importanţa (...)

76We should also recall in the same context the far from negligible influence exercised by the scholarly ramblings of the highly controversial businessman settled in Italy, Iosif Constantin Dragan. A legionary in his youth, Dragan was later close to the Ceauşescu regime, a characteristic transition where Dacian mythology is concerned. As the author of We, the Thracians (1976) and editor of the periodical of the same tide (Noi, tracii) that was launched in 1974, he was the leading figure of an entire movement aimed at amplifying the role of the Thracians in European history, a movement supported by all sorts of amateurs (even a lawyers’ group!) but also by some less than scrupulous professionals (among them the archaeologists Dumitru Berciu and Ion Horaţiu Crişan). In the periodical Noi, tracii it was possible, for example, to claim that the ancestors of the Romanians lived 100,000 years ago42, eloquent proof that the Romanian people is the oldest in the continent, if not in the world. As for the extent of the Thracians’ territory, Dragan generously allows them almost half of Europe, centered, evidently, on the present-day space of Romania. It is interesting that the volume We, the Thracians contains arguments and whole passages (for example those referring to the “Latinity” of the Dacian language) identical to the formulations which appeared almost simultaneously in Anale de istorie. It matters little who took the information from whom; what is significant is the identification of the Institute of History of the Party, an organism invested with scholarly and ideological authority in communist Romania, with the sort of approach practiced by Dragan.

77But even if we leave fable-mongering and irresponsible exaggerations to one side, it is clear that the Dacians have ended up by imposing themselves in Romanian consciousness. It seems that they have, in the end, won the war with the Romans. The series of busts displayed in front of the National Mlitary Museum in Bucharest is telling in this respect; Dacians outnumber Romans by three to one, the former being represented by Dromichetes, Burebista, and Decebalus, the latter by Trajan alone. We have come a long way since the Athenaeum frescoes!

78Indeed, the identification of the Romanians with the Dacians seems to be on the way to becoming a matter of European renown. According to accounts in the press, the president of Italy, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, on a visit to Bucharest, thought fit to offer the Romanian people apologies—somewhat belated—for the conquest of Dacia by the Romans. Authentic or not, the anecdote is significant for the logic of historical mythology. In fact, the relationship between the Italian president and Trajan is just as mythical as any special relationship linking President Iliescu with Dromichetes or Decebalus.


79The ongoing match between the Dacians and the Romans was somewhat complicated by the additional involvement of the Slav factor (other ethnic elements, being less substantial and more rapidly assimilated by the Romanians, could not claim to have participated in the Romanian foundation story). The Slavs, as is well known, had a significant influence on the Romanian language, as well as on early Romanian institutions and culture. In fact the appreciation of their role has also swung between extremes, according to the changing ideological and political conjuncture.

  • 43 Hasdeu, B. P. Istoriă critică a românilor Vol 1. Bucharest, 1873, 278-281.

80In the Latinist phase, and in nineteenth-century historiography in general until quite late on, the Slav factor was eliminated or drastically minimized. The tendency is easily explained in the context of the process of modernization of Romanian society and the desperate attempt (with partial and temporary success) to escape from the Slav space of the continent. It is worth noting that up to B. P. Hasdeu, modern Romanian historians did not even know Slavonic or the various Slav languages, a paradoxical situation given the Slavonic packaging of medieval Romanian culture. Hasdeu himself, who was educated in a Slav environment and who could be considered the first Romanian Slavicist, did not prove to be an upholder of Slav influence. While he sought to moderate Latinism by recourse to the Dacian substratum, where the Slavs were concerned he strove to limit their impact on the Romanian synthesis. Hasdeu considered that the Romanian people had been fully formed when it entered into relations with the Slavs. Slav words had come into the Romanian language not by ethnic contact but through political, religious, and cultural links over some seven centuries, up to the time of Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu.43

81The reaction towards rehabilitating the Slavs and Slavonic culture in Romanian history came from the Junimists of the late nineteenth century as a reply to Latinism and, in a sense, as an exercise in rising above national complexes. I have already mentioned Panu’s suggestions in this direction. What caused a sensation, however, was the Etymological Dictionary (1870-1879) of Alexandru Cihac, a close associate of Junimea. The etymologies established by Cihac led to the unexpected conclusion that the lexical base of the Romanian language was more Slav (and of other origins) than Latin: two-fifths Slav elements, one-fifth Turkish, and likewise one-fifth Latin. Romanian became a mixed language in which Turkisms and words of Latin origin had about the same weight. The almost simultaneous publication of the dictionaries of Laurian and Cihac illustrates the extremes between which the interpretation of the Romanian language, and of origins and influences in general, was evolving (with the necessary observation that Cihac’s work is appreciated by specialists as being far superior to Laurian’s linguistic fantasies).

  • 44 See Hasdeu, B. P. “În ce constă fizionomia unei limbi?” (In what does the physiognomy of a languag (...)

82This etymological Gordian knot was cut by Hasdeu with his seductive theory of the circulation of words. The structure of a language—Hasdeu shows—is not given by the mere number of words but by their circulation. Some words are almost forgotten, preserved only in dictionaries, while others are in constant use. Their value is thus very different. “It is true that Slavisms and even Turkisms exist in no small numbers among the Romanians; in circulation, however—that is, in the most vital activity of Romanian speech, in its most organic movement—they lose out almost completely in comparison with Latinisms.” It is possible to formulate complete sentences only with words of Latin origin, but no sentence is possible using exclusively words of other origins. Hasdeu’s demonstration turned the relationship round again, away from the emphasis on Slav influence.44

  • 45 Bogdan, Ioan. Istoriografia română şi problemele ei actuale (Romanian historiography and its curre (...)
  • 46 Bogdan, Ioan. Insemnătatea studiilor slave pentru români (The importance of Slav studies for Roman (...)
  • 47 Bogdan, Ioan. Români” şi bulgarii (The Romanians and the Bulgarians). Bucharest, 1895, 15.

83The Slav factor, however, was forcefully highlighted by Ioan Bogdan. For him, the Slavs became a constituent element of the Romanian synthesis: “The influence of the Slav element in the formation of our nation is so evident that we may say without exaggeration that we cannot even speak of a Romanian people before the absorption of Slav elements by the native Roman population in the course of the sixth to tenth centuries.”45 In the Romanian language there are “an enormous number of Slav elements”, adopted either directly, through cohabitation, or through political and literary contacts. The Slavonic language was used in the church and the state, and even in “the day-to-day business of the Romanians” until the sixteenth or seventeenth century; and in the life of the state “almost all our old institutions are either of Slav origin or contain, alongside a few elements inherited from the Romans, a greater number of Slav elements”.46 Romanian-Bulgarian relations in particular are treated by Ioan Bogdan in a manner which Romanian nationalism could not fail to find disagreeable. While we, the Romanians, “were departing more and more from Roman culture and becoming savage”, the Bulgarians, “who came like barbarians over us, took from their Byzantine neighbors, under the protective wings of an organized and powerful state, a civilization which was then advanced, that of Byzantium, which was none other than the continuation, in a Greek form with oriental influences, of the old Roman civilization”.47 For three centuries the Bulgarian tsardom ruled north of the Danube; this is the period in which many Slav elements of culture and political organization penetrated Romanian society. To a large extent the Slav influence was thus Bulgarian influence.

  • 48 Iorga, N. op. rit. Vol. 1, 33.

84Ioan Bogdan represented the most advanced point reached in the affirmation of Slav influence prior to the advent of communist historiography. His contemporaries and historians of the next generation had varying points of view on the issue, but there was no return to the denial or ignoring of the Slav factor. Even if the former Junimist A. D. Xenopol did not go as far as Bogdan, he allowed a considerable weight to the Slav influence and believed, like Bogdan, that the Bulgarian state also ruled over Romanian territories (a point of view which he formulated in The Theory of Roesler, and later in The History of the Romanians in Dacia Traiand). Iorga, while close to Bogdan in other respects, was far more Latinist in his unraveling of Romanian origins. He did not accept Bulgar domination north of the Danube and tended to place limits on the extent of the influence which resulted from Romanian-Slav cohabitation: “From all the life of the Slavs who were in these parts there have remained only many words that have entered our language, but more for secondary ideas and for articles of trade bought from markets on the right bank of the Danube: where principle ideas are concerned we can express ourselves completely in words which come from the old Roman inheritance. Then they have left behind certain elements of folk mythology, certain institutions, and that is all.”48

  • 49 Giurescu, C. C. op. cit. Vol 1, 247, 260.
  • 50 Giurescu, C. C. “Slavii au venit în Dacia în calitate de cuceritori” (The Slavs came to Dacia as c (...)

85The “New School”, which took Ioan Bogdan as a model, was critical of Iorga for, among other things, underestimating the extent of Slav influence, though their conclusions tended to be more moderate than those of Bogdan himself. C. C. Giurescu and P. P. Panaitescu insisted on the many Slav elements that had penetrated Romanian language, culture, and political organization, while still considering them as secondary additions to the Daco—Roman base. All the same, as far as language is concerned, Giurescu underlines that “the influence of the Slavs is greater than the influence exercised by the Germanic peoples on the languages of the Gallo-Romans or the Italians”. He accepts, but with nuances, Bogdan’s claim that we cannot speak of a Romanian people prior to its mixing with the Slavs: “This claim must be understood as meaning that the Romanian people acquired its full composition, its complete ethnic characteristics, only after the Slav element had been added to the essential Daco-Roman element, which is the foundation. In other words, we are not dealing with equal parts, either quantitatively or qualitatively, and the greater accent must still fall on the former two elements.”49 A conflictual note, which must be seen in the context of Romanian—Russian and Romanian—Bulgarian relations in the interwar period, is also added to the Slav penetration. “The Slavs”, insists Giurescu, “came to Dacia as conquerors.” And they showed even more brutality than the Germanic peoples or the Huns. The conquest also explains the Slav origin of the Romanian bqyar class, a thesis encountered in several authors, but systematized by P. P. Panaitescu (in his article “The Problem of the Origins of the Boyar Class”).50

  • 51 Istoria R.P.R., 54-56.

86The key moment in the integration of the Romanians in the Slav space was, of course, the pro-Soviet phase of Romanian communism. As we have seen, the Dacians and Romans remained in their founding position, though evoked with no enthusiasm. However, Slav influence was emphasized as much as possible. In Roller’s textbook there is no reference to the Latin origin of any word, but tens of Slavonic words are mentioned, demonstrating a powerful influence “in all branches of our economic, social, political, military, and cultural life”. If the accent had previously been on the southern Slavs (the Bulgarians), now the Kievan state moves into the foreground, with its essential role in the formation of the Romanian states “lying at the base of the Romanian-Russian relations which have developed over the centuries”.51

87The directives issued by Mihail Roller in 1952 concerning the orientation of historical research express eloquently what was being prepared: the fusion of the history of the Romanians with that of the Slavs, and of the eastern Slavs in particular.

  • 52 Roller, Mihail. “Cu privire la unele probleme din domeniul cercetărilor istorice” (Concerning some (...)

Without for a moment losing sight of the existence of the Romanized native population (Daco—Roman), the problem of whether the process of formation of the eastern Slavs also took place partially or not at all on part of the territory of our country should be studied [...]. The existence in the vicinity of our country of the powerful feudal state of Kiev, with its advanced civilization, which cast reflected light throughout the east of Europe; the struggles of the Kievan state against the reactionary citadel then represented by Byzantium; and the subsequent inclusion of part of the territory of our country within the feudal state of Kiev contributed to the development of feudal relations and hastened the process of feudal organization in our country. The extension of the Bulgarian feudal state of the ninth and tenth centuries over the territory of our country is an indisputable fact and contributed to the development of the country. This influence of the southern Slavs completed that of the eastern Slavs, which preceded it and again followed it in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when part of the territory of our country was included in the cnezate of Halich.52

88If ethnically and linguistically the Romanians remained basically Daco-Romans (but with notable Slav influences), the political foundation tended to become purely and simply Slav. The distribution of influences is worth noting: Russia first of all, then Bulgaria in second place, while Byzantium appears as “reactionary” (Greece, which Stalin had coveted at one time, had ended up in the Western sphere).

89The orientation of communism towards national values led to an ebbing of Slav influences. Without entering into the details of this issue—in which there are differences of accent from one author to another—we may note that in general the political distancing from the Slavs was translated into their exclusion from the ethnic composition of the Romanians. The strategy was simple: it comprised the pushing back in time of the “moment” when the Romanian people was formed. The tenth century—proposed by Ioan Bogdan, accepted by the interwar generation, adopted with a slight shift back to the end of the ninth century in the 1960 History of the Romanians and again in Constantin Daicoviciu’s compendium of the same tide of 1969—meant accepting that the Slavs were a founding element, albeit in a secondary role to the Daco-Romans, and that without their assimilation there could be no talk of a “Romanian people”. What was sought in the phase of national communism was not only the lessening of Slav influences, but even more their placing beyond the threshold of the formation of the Romanian people. Slav elements had to have been adopted by a Romanian people already formed, or at least crystallized in its essential structures.

  • 53 Istoria militară apoporului român. Vol. 1, 208.

90Historians proceeded to identify proto-Romanians, and a proto-Romanian language, starting from the sixth century, on the basis of political calculations that were presented as the fruit of objective research. The record again goes to the Military History of the Romanian People, in which the Romanians are already Romanians in the year 271, if not long before, with the role of the Slavs (not to mention other contributions) being proclaimed insignificant. Particularly amusing from an arithmetical point of view is the claim that “the Romanian people dates back over 2,000 years to the time when the Dacian people adopted the Latin language and Latin spirituality”.53 (In passing we might ask how it is possible to adopt a spirituality.) Subtracting 2,000 (to say nothing of “over”) from 1984, the year in which the volume appeared, we arrive at the year 16 B.C., some 120 years before the conquest of Dacia by the Romans! The explanation of the “calculation” does not lie in any new theory about Romanization, but simply in a reference by Ceauşescu to the Romanians’ antiquity of more than 2,000 years, an idea enthusiastically picked up by Ilie Ceauşescu and the authors of the Military History.

91What is meant by proto-Romanians? What is meant by a people formed or approximately formed? On the basis of what arguments could one claim that around the year 600 people spoke proto-Romanian, when for the period under discussion and even for many centuries later we do not have a single sample of Romanian or “proto-Romanian”? Is it possible, in general, to date the formation of a people—a phenomenon even more complex and harder to define than the formation of the respective language (since it presupposes a certain cultural community and self-consciousness)? When were the French, the Italians, the Germans, or the English “formed”? The exceptional insistence of Romanian historiography on this question—which has been given the scholarly designation “ethnogenesis”—is a national particularity. Any periodization of this sort responds to ideological requirements, and the requirements of communism were first of all the formation of the Romanian people alongside the Slavs, and later its removal from the sphere of Slav influence.


92Readers may wonder what my own opinion is concerning the relative weighting of the various elements composing the Romanian people. The answer is that I have no answer, for the simple reason that, put in such a way, the problem is formulated in strictly mythological terms. By way of response I could only align myself with one or other of the foundation myths in circulation. The Romanians are Romanians, not Dacians, Romans, or Slavs. Insistence on autochthonous roots puts a value in the first place on the biological stock of origins. But where is this manifested? In blood? In genes? Is there such a thing as Romanian blood? Is there a gene that is specifically Romanian, or Dacian, or Daco—Roman? The only indisputable connection to origins is ultimately that offered by the language. The Roman essence of the Romanian language, as well as the very name Român (Romanian), would tend to tilt the balance towards the Romans; perhaps in the end, although not in the way that they believed, the historians of the Transylvanian School were closer to a certain truth (at least to the only truth that can be demonstrated) than the promoters of Dacianism.

  • 54 Bloch, Marc. Apologie pour l’histoire ou Métier d’historien (Apology for history or the trade of h (...)

93But it is a very long way from this to the claim that we are actually more Romans than anything else. How much did the Romanians of the Middle Ages have in common with Dacians and Romans? Did their Slavonic culture and Orthodox religion not bring them much closer to Byzantine-Slav civilization? What, for example, is more important for defining the Romanians: Dacian origin or Orthodox religion? (The difficulty is resolved for those who see in Zalmoxis a precursor of Christ!) And nowadays, whom do the Romanians most resemble? The Dacians? The Romans? The Slavs? Or the peoples of contemporary Europe? An Arab proverb quoted by Marc Bloch says that “People resemble their time more than they resemble their parents.”54 The saying can be applied equally well to individuals as to nations. However different the Romanians may be from, let us say, the Germans, they are far closer to the latter today than to their Dacian and Roman ancestors. These ancestors belonged to “traditional” civilizations with a completely different register of mentalities and behavior than we have in our predominandy technological and urban world. We are brought close to the Dacians and Romans, of course, by all that brings us close to our fellow humans in general, regardless of time and space. Otherwise, when we turn to a more precise inventory, all we can produce are platitudes along the lines of: “We have inherited the courage of the Dacians and the rational spirit of the Romans...” A nation is not a biological organism but a social organism; it does not present itself as a simple aggregate of individuals (each with their multitude of ancestors) but as a cultural synthesis. Whatever backwardness they may have accumulated, the Romanians nevertheless present the spiritual profile of a people of the twentieth century.

94I am not at war with foundation myths. Every nation has its own, which it cultivates with care. The Romanians will go on evoking their history of the eadiest times, and it is normal that they should do so. But what must be understood, not in order to blow up the whole mechanism but to penetrate the logic of its operation, is the process of actualization, in mythological terms, of originary foundation or successive foundations. We live in the present but we relate to our origins; we have an indisputable identity but we valorize it through the identity of our ancestors. That all this belongs to the realm of the historical and political imaginary does not mean that it is without significance: quite the contrary. In strict reality we are separated from the distant past, but by its imaginary actualization the past becomes a great force in the present.


1 The thesis is developed by Adolf Armbruster in Romanitatea Românilor. Istoria unei idei (The Romanity of the Romanians: The history of an idea). Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 1972 (new edition, Editura Enciclopedică, 1993).

2 Maior, Petru. Istoria pentru începuturile nmânilor în Dachia. Buda, 1812, 8-22. (See also the edition edited by Florea Fugariu. Bucharest Editura Albatros, 1970, 98—109.)

3 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Open. Vol. 2, 57, 67.

4 Bălcescu, Nicolae. Opere. Vol. 3, 13.

5 Şincai, Gheorghe. Hronica românilor şia mai multor neamuri. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura pentru Literatură, 1967, 13-14.

6 Russo, Alecu. Scrieri. Ed. Petre V. Haneş. Bucharest Editura Minerva, 1908, 88.

7 Kogălniceanu, Mihail. Open. Vol. 2, 390.

8 Russo-, Alecu. op. at., 172.

9 On the reception of the Dacians in Romanian culture, see also Babu-Buznea, Ovidia. Dacii în conştiinţa romanticilor noştri Schiţă la o istorie a dadsmului (The Dacians in the consciousness of our romantics: Sketch for a history of Dacianism). Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1979.

10 Brătianu, Ion C. Acte şi cuvîntări (Documents and speeches). Vol. 1, part 1. Bucharest: Editura Cartea Românească, 1938, 163—176.

11 Hasdeu, B. P. “Pierit-au dacii?” . In Scieri istorice (Historical writings), ed. Aurelian Sacerdoţeanu. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Albatros, 1973, 78-106.

12 * Cioban: shepherd; bad: head-shepherd; stînă: sheepfold complex with summer huts for shepherds; urdă and brîză. varieties of cheese made from ewes’ milk. Trans.

13 Bolliac, Cezar “Despre daci” (About the Dacians). Românul, 14—26 July and 24 July—5 August 1858; “Excursiune arheologică din anul 1869” (Archaeological excursion in the year 1869). Saieri (Writings). Vol. 2. Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1983, 307. See also Babu-Buznea, Ovidia. op. cit., 76—81.

14 Regarding Eminescu’s “Dacianism” , see Călinescu, G. Opera lui Mihai Eminescu (The works of Mihai Eminescu). VoL 2. Bucharest: Fundatia pentru Literatură şi Artă “Regele Carol II”, 1935; Murăraşu, Dumitru. Naţionalismul lui Eminescu (Eminescu’s nationalism). 1934. Bucharest: Editura Pacifica, 1994; and Sorin Antohi’s considerations in Chitas imaginalis. Bucharest: Editura Litera, 1994, 111-115.

15 Tocilescu, Grigore. Manual de istoria românilor. Bucharest, 1899, 22, 34.

16 Onciul, Dimitrie. “Dacia” . Enciclopedia română. Vol. 2. Sibiu, 1900, 87.

17 Xenopol, Alexandru D. Istoria românilor din Dacia Traiană. Vol. 1. Iaşi: H. Goldner, 1888, 163, 307.

18 Iorga, Nicolae. Istoria românilor pentru poporul românesc (History of the Romanians for the Romanian people). Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1993, 16, 22 (This edition reproduces that of 1935. Earlier editions had appeared in 1908—1931.)

19 Odobescu, Alexandru. Ateneul Român şi clădirile antice at dom circular (The Romanian Athenaeum and ancient buildings with a circular dome). Opere complete, Vol. 3. Bucharest Editura Minerva, 1908, 330, 332.

20 For details on the conception of these paintings, see the text and illustrations of Ateneul Român din Bucureşti Marea frescă (The Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest: The great fresco). Bucharest, 1938.

21 For a survey of the images in which Trajan is placed alongside Carol I, see Tănăsoiu, Carmen. “Carol I şiiconografia sa oficiala” (Carol I and his official iconography). Mituri istorice româneşti (Romanian historical myths). Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest: Editura Universităţii Bucureşti, 1995, 151—152.

22 Pârvan, Vasile. Dacia. English translation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928, 189.

23 Pârvan, Vasile. Dacia. 5th edition. Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică, 1972, 155. (This passage was crossed out in Pârvan’s manuscript and does not appear in the English version of 1928; however it was included in the first Romanian edition in 1937. See note 449, p. 229, of the edition cited.)

24 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 1. 5th edition, 1946, 123, 173.

25 Istrati, C. I. “Nic. Densuşianu. Viaja şiopera sa” (N. Densuşianu: His life and work). Dacia preistorică. By N. Densuşianu. Bucharest, 1913, cxiii.

26 Eliade, Mircea. “Către un nou diletantism” (Towards a new dilettantism). In Profetism românesc (Romanian prophetism), ed. Alexandra V. Diţă. Foreword by Dan. Zamfirsescu. Bucharest: Editura “Roza Vînturilor” , 1990, 29. (Originally published in Cuvîntul, 11 September 1927.)

27 Portocală, N. Din preistoria Daciei şi a vechilor civilizaţiuni. Bucharest: Institutul de Arte Grafice “Bucovina” , 1932, 213, 245.

28 Brătescu-Voineşti, Ioan Al. Originea neamului româneşc şi a limbii noastre. Bucharest: Editura Cartea Românească, 1942, 39.

29 Concerning the avatars of this mysterious figure, see Petre, Zoe. “Le mythe de Zalmoxis” (The myth of Zalmoxis). Analele Universităţii Bucureşti Istorie (1993-1994): 23-36.

30 Eliade, Mircea. “Introducere” . Scieri literare, morale şi politice. By B. P. Hasdeu. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Fundaţia pentru Literatura şi Arta “Regele Carol II” , 1937, lxxvii.

31 Eliade, Mircea. The Romanians: A Concise History. Trans. Rodica Mihaela Scafeş. Bucharest: “Roza Vînturilor” Publishing House, 1992, 13.

32 Ciauşu, Milviuţa. “Panteonul mişcării legionare” (The pantheon of the Legionary movement). Mituri istorice româneşti, 204—207.

33 Niţulescu, Horia. “Vrolegomena la o anumită durată românească” (Prolegomena to a certain Romanian duration) Dacia Rediviva no. 1 (April 1941): 2.

34 Ionescu-Nica, G. Dacia sanscrită. Originea preistorică a Bucureştilor (Sanskrit Dacia: The prehistoric origin of Bucharest). Bucharest: Tipografia Carpaţi, 1945. The tone of the lectures included in this brochure is vehemently anti-Hungarian (at a time when the destiny of Transylvania was at issue, a territory claimed by the author using Dacian arguments). Apart from this, it is claimed that the Dacians founded Rome and that the Orthodox patriarchate of Bucharest is the oldest in Europe, naturally “if we take into account the continuity of the religious-spiritual monotheism of the Geto-Daco-Romanians”.

35 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 43.

36 See, in this connection, Tudor, Dumitru. Istoria sclavajului in Dacia Romana (The history of slavery in Roman Dacia). Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 1957; and Răscoale şi atacuri “barbare” în Dacia Roman (Revolts and “barbarian” attacks in Roman Dacia). Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică, 1957.

37 Berciu, Dumitru. “Lupta băstinaşilor din Dacia împotriva cotropitorilor romani” (The struggle of the natives of Dacia against the Roman invaders). Studii şi cercetări de istorie veche 2 (July-December 1951): 73-95.

38 Programul Partidului Comunist Román de făurire a societăţii socialists multilateral dezvoltate şi înaintare a Romăniei spre comunism (Program of the Romanian Communist Party for the forging of the multilaterally developed socialist society and the advance of Romania towards communism). Bucharest Editura Politică, 1975, 27.

39 “Începuturile istoriei poporului român” . Anale de istorie 4 (1976): 142—152. Although the article is unsigned, I consider it my elementary duty to mention at least the names of Ion Popescu-Puţuri and Gheorghe Zaharia, the director and deputy director of the Institute and the principal architects of its historical fantasies.

40 Istoria militará a poporului român. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Militară, 1984, 182.

41 Crişan, Ion Horaţiu. Burebista şi epoca sa. 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, 1977,446.

42 Belcin, Dr. Comeliu (lawyer). “Elemente introductive la problema: Originea, vechimea şi importanţa poporului român in lume” (Introductory elements to the problem: The origin, age, and importance of the Romanian people in the world). Noi, tracii 12 (August 1975): 8— 11. (“Even a mere 100,000 years of existence on this earth, and we are still led to the conclusion that we are the oldest people of Europe.”)

43 Hasdeu, B. P. Istoriă critică a românilor Vol 1. Bucharest, 1873, 278-281.

44 See Hasdeu, B. P. “În ce constă fizionomia unei limbi?” (In what does the physiognomy of a language consist?). Chapter 3 of “In loc de introducere” (By way of întroduction). Etymologicum Magnum Romaniae. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura Academiei, 1886 (new edition, Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1972).

45 Bogdan, Ioan. Istoriografia română şi problemele ei actuale (Romanian historiography and its current problems). Bucharest, 1905, 21.

46 Bogdan, Ioan. Insemnătatea studiilor slave pentru români (The importance of Slav studies for Romanians). Bucharest, 1894, 17-19, 25.

47 Bogdan, Ioan. Români” şi bulgarii (The Romanians and the Bulgarians). Bucharest, 1895, 15.

48 Iorga, N. op. rit. Vol. 1, 33.

49 Giurescu, C. C. op. cit. Vol 1, 247, 260.

50 Giurescu, C. C. “Slavii au venit în Dacia în calitate de cuceritori” (The Slavs came to Dacia as conquerors), op. at. Vol. 1, 268—278; Panaitescu, P. P. “Problema originii clasei boiereşti”. Interpretări româneşti. 1994 edition, 31—64.

51 Istoria R.P.R., 54-56.

52 Roller, Mihail. “Cu privire la unele probleme din domeniul cercetărilor istorice” (Concerning some problems in the field of historical research). Studii Revista de istorie şi filozofie (July-September 1952): 152-153.

53 Istoria militară apoporului român. Vol. 1, 208.

54 Bloch, Marc. Apologie pour l’histoire ou Métier d’historien (Apology for history or the trade of historian). Paris, 1964,15. (“Les hommes ressemblent plus à leur temps qu’à leurs pères.”)

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